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The Convenience of Casting Curses and Charms in Japan

From its ancient origins to its modern face, Japan has a world of hexes, malevolent magic and spells waiting to be discovered.

By 5 min read

These days, people are experiencing a lot of stress and work problems due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many seem to be suffering from severe or borderline severe stress and anxiety. In such a tough environment, it’s not surprising that people are looking for ways to let off steam. One of the many manifestations of this is a rise in cursing, which isn’t limited to simply muttering, “Chikusho!” (“Dammit!”) under your breath, but instead includes the type of horrible hexes mostly reserved for the most terrifying horror movies.

Join us as we go on a tour of the accursed side of Japan.

1. A curse for cutting ties

One of the most common and cheapest curses are shrine curses, which are usually performed at enkiri (separation, severing of relations) shrines, such as Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha, Ashikaga’s Kadota Inari, and Tokyo’s Enkiri Enoki. These shrines are used to call on the enshrined deities to use their power to help the worshiper cut ties with (mostly) unpleasant people. If you’ve ever thought that you could stop bad habits, such as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs or gambling, if a certain someone stopped coming around, this curse is for you.

2. A curse that lasts generations

“Onryou” is a curse that can last generations.

Of course, simply cutting a tie with someone is not such a strong curse. For some people, this simply isn’t enough. Instead, they may wish to hold a grudge even after death. In Japan, many people still believe in onryou, or malevolent spirits called back from the grave to continue a grudge, not just against a person but also their ancestors.

Onryou attracted attention in 2007 when Shigenaga Tomioka used the word to coerce the people in charge of shrines in Japan to remove his sister from her role as head priestess, and appoint his son instead. In Shigenaga’s case, he threatened the descendants of the people with a kind of curse called a tatari, which guarantees generations of misfortune and woe.

Unfortunately, Shigenaga turned out to be just as terrifying in the flesh as was unable to wait for the next world and was arrested for killing his sister with a samurai sword.

3. Japanese dolls for jilted lovers

“Wara ningyou” dolls are used by spurned partners on their ex lovers.

Imagine turning up to your house and finding an upside down doll of you nailed to your door. Known as wara ningyou, these dolls are an intimidation curse. The doll is often left where someone can see it like a particularly unsubtle version of The Blair Witch Project or that horse’s head scene in The Godfather.

Despite what most people believe, these effigies are not always negative as they can be used to trick murderous spirits into taking the doll instead of the real person. However, this can be just as creepy. Many campfire stories tell of people waking up to find their wara ningyou gone, presumably taken by soon-to-be-disappointed evil spirits.

Of course, this ability of wara ningyou to stand in for someone can also be used negatively. To make a cursed doll, the aggrieved person writes down their victim’s name or takes a bodily piece of them, usually hair or nail clippings, and puts it inside the doll. The idea is to manifest that person within the doll and then when a nail is put through it, bad things are sure to happen.

4. The infamous ‘hour of the ox’

The early hours of the morning—”the hour of the ox”—are the most common times for hexers to nail a cursed doll lest they be spotted in the act and become cursed themselves!

One of the most infamous times to nail up a doll is during “the hour of the ox,” usually around 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. This curse is known as the “hour of the ox visitation” and is—at least historically—a popular curse for women who are enraged at their lover’s misbehavior. Contemporarily, though, guys have made use of them but mostly in parody, such as Spa! magazine’s report of this guy who cursed the coronavirus (Japanese).

The jilted partner visits the shrine in the early morning, ideally wearing candles on their head, and nails a wara ningyou to a tree. The very act is such an affront to the resident spirits that they take the most horrific vengeance against the hapless former lover—quite literally bringing the wrath of the gods onto them.

5. Computer curses

Nowadays, curses are more easily and conveniently available online.

In the modern world, of course, maledictions haven’t died out, instead, they’ve simply become more easily and conveniently available. Going to all the effort to create a cursed object or visit an area takes more time than most people are willing to expend, so now Japanese online services can take care of the hex—for a nominal fee, of course.

One service that draws a lot of attention is 日本呪術研究呪鬼会 (Nihon Jujutsu Kenkyu Jukikai), or the Japanese Magic Research Curse Association, in Osaka, which will take care of casting spells on your behalf for sins such as (according to their website): “adultery, returning to one’s spouse following a fling, stealing from someone and cheating.” The company offers various prices from a ¥20,000 basic service all the way up to a ¥300,000 complete package, presumably guaranteed to reduce the target to a quivering wreck.

If a month’s salary sounds too expensive, don’t worry. These days, you can also purchase budget options online and have them shipped to your house. There are pages dedicated to purchasing all the things needed for your cursing on Amazon, Yahoo Auctions and Mercari with prices constantly going down because of all the demand.

Fighting the curses

What should you do if you do find yourself on the receiving end of some particularly malevolent voodoo? Well, much like the Jujutsu Kaisen manga, there are real-life masters who exist to fight curses. Temples offer services where a priest will come to your house and cleanse it of evil spirits or sell you a charm, talisman or amulet to ward off the evil eye.

So, unless you want to become a victim of a magical jinx make sure to be good to all the people in your life. If you can’t manage that, at least make sure that you keep an eye on where your nail clippings have disappeared to and what your partner is doing between the hours of 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Have you heard of any strange tales of Japanese curses on friends or family—or even experienced it yourself? Let us know in the comments!

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