Japan Folklore: Kanamara Matsuri

Kanamara Matsuri

Photo credits: pictureasiastudio.wordpress.com

The festival of the "Steel Phallus"

The Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り) is often welcomed by foreigners as yet another quirk from Japan, but in fact, the origins of this festival are very old and they are related to Shinto religion.

It all began in the Edo period, in 1603, when the town of Kawasaki was the destination for travelers who found their enjoyment in tea houses and, in private, entertained themselves with prostitutes. Prostitutes that used to visit the Kanayama temple to pray for protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

There is also a legend that revolves around the name of the Kanamara Matsuri, according to which a demon with sharp teeth lived in the vagina of a young girl. Any man who had intimate relations with her ended up irreparably castrated. Her husband too fell victim of the demon on the first wedding night and the girl, now desperate, asked for help to a blacksmith. The man forged an iron phallus that broke the demon's teeth and freed the woman from the curse. To celebrate, a small Shinto temple was erected becoming the place where the iron phallus is still venerated today.

The tradition was lost in late 1800s but, in the 1970s, chief priest Hirohiko Nakamura decided to revive the lost festival.

For centuries, the Kanayama temple has been the place where couples pray for a child, or where to pray for luck in business, an easy delivery or simply family harmony.

Photo credits: matome.naver.jp

3 Mikoshi and no preconcept

Every year, on the first Sunday of April, priests of the Kanayama Jinja in Kawasaki organize this festival.

The parade opens up with a shinto ceremony at the shrine where sake and fried fish are distributed to all visitors as a wish for good luck. Finally, the big pink penis placed on an altar is brought to the temple. At this point, the parade actually starts following three mikoshi, each containing a huge phallus. The first one stands erect and is made of a polished black metal. The second is an old wooden one, ancient and gnarled, and both are transported by carriers of the shrine who sing along the procession. The third one is entrusted to a joso group: they are members of a cross-dressing club called Elizabeth Kaikan. Its members, with their bright make-up and colored wigs, move the mikoshi in the air preening for the cameras.

After the parade, everyone gather to enjoy street-food, sexual-themed competitions and the cheerful atmosphere. Among the proposed challenges there is the sculpture contest, with sculpture that must have a phallic shape of course, or a rodeo with a big rotating penis. The festival is attended both by locals and tourists that, for the occasion, leave aside all taboos. The great majority of people wear all sorts of extravagant things, as fake penis-noses, while eating foods of the same shape.

We can also come across young women posing for photos while riding on swings that for the occasion have the shape of wooden penises.

This Festival, still loyal to its origins, celebrates sexual awareness and the prosperity of the whole community donating all the proceeds to HIV research.

Photo credits: flickr.com


Japan Folklore: Miko

Miko (巫女)

"The Shrine Maiden"

Photo credits: pinterest.com

We have seen them in many different anime: Rei Hino, the brave Sailor Mars from Bishōjo senshi Sērā Mūn, the mysterious Kikyō from Inuyasha, or the cheerful Hiiragi twins from Lucky Star.

All these characters shared the same occupation: they were miko, girls that serve as helpers in Shinto temples managing various functions. In fact, we find miko committed to helping the priest in his functions, they keep the temple clean and collect the offerings of worshippers.

Defining this figure by Western standards in very difficult. Miko are not comparable to Christian nun, nor are they actual Priests, even though in Shinto women are allowed to become priests. They are more similar to the oracles of ancient Greece, or to shamans, as in ancient times they were gifted with the possibility to talk with the kami, Shinto deities. By entering a state of trance, they could intercede with the gods and then communicate their will to the humans. These divinatory gifts and their ability to communicate with the world of the spirits were recognized as Divine will.

The origins

Photo credits: dannychoo.com

Their origin dates back to the Jōmon period, the Japanese Prehistory, which goes from around 10,000 BC. up to 300 AD. One of the earliest record of anything resembling the word ‘miko’ can be found in the name of the Shaman queen Himiko (c. 175 - 248). She was the ruler of the Yamatai, the most powerful among the kingdoms in which archaic Japan was divided. But we do not know if Himiko was a miko or not.

The word ‘miko’ is made of the kanji 巫 "shaman, unmarried virgin",  and 女 "woman", and it is generally translated as ‘Shrine maiden’. An archaic form of the word is  神子 “Divine child”.

Their strong connection with the deities is also testified by the fact that miko danced the kagura (神楽), literaly "god-entertainment” or “music for the gods". This is an ancient Shinto dance rooted in Japanese folklore that links to the goddess of dawn,  Ama-no-Uzume. It is said that with this dance the goddess  managed to convince Amaterasu, the goddess of sun, to leave the cave where she was hiding after quarreling  with her brother Susanoo, the god of the storm.

The kagura dance was often presented at the imperial court by those miko who were in fact seen as the descendants of Ama-no-Uzume.

In ancient times, miko were considered essential social figures, and this role meant great commitment and responsibility. Their divine bond identified them as messengers of the will of the kami, but not only this. It  also placed them in the position to influence the social and political life, and therefore the fate of the village where they served.

However, they underwent a considerable crisis starting mainly from the Kamakura period (1118-1333). In fact, there were attempts to try to take hold of their shamanic practices, and miko, without anymore funds, were forced into a state of mendicancy. Some of them sadly fell into prostitution.

After a period of great transformations during the Edo period, in 1873, the Religious Affairs Department  (教部) issued an edict called Miko Kindanrei (巫女禁断令). It prohibited all spiritual practices of young miko.

How to become a miko

Photo credits: thirteensatlas.wordpress.com

The path to become miko was long and difficult. Chosen by the clan on the basis of her spiritual strength, or because she wa a direct descent of a shaman, the girl began her preparation at a young age, usually with the first menstruation. It took three to seven years to become a full-fledged miko.

The girls would wash in cold water, practice abstinence, and perform other purification acts. Everything was aimed at learning how to control their state of trance.

They learned a secret language only known to shamans, and they also needed to learn the names of all the kami relevant to their village. They also learned the divinatory art of fortune-telling and the dances they needed to perform in order to enter the state of trance necessary to talk with the deity.

At the completion of this training there was a ceremony that symbolized the marriage between the miko and the kami she would serve. Dressed in a white robe that represented her previous life, the girl entered a state of trance and was asked which kami would she serve. After that, a rice cake was thrown at her face causing her to faint and she was laid down in a warm bed until she woke up. Then, she would wear a colorful kimono symbolizing her marriage with the deity .

Due to this bond with the deity, young girls had to remain virgin. Still, there were cases of miko with a particularly strong spiritual power that  continued their service even after marriage.

Miko today

Photo credits: muza-chan.net

Nowadays the figure of miko still exists but they are mostly young university girls who work part-time at the temple. They assist the kannushi or 'man of god' in the various functions and rites of the temple, perform ceremonial dances, keep the temple clean and sell omikuji, sheets of paper on which is written a divine prediction. They generally do not need any specific preparation and do not necessarily need to be virgins, though they are still required to be unmarried. The kagura dance has become a mere ceremonial dance and it is no longer a way of coming into contact with the divine entity.

Their traditional outfit consists of a white haori representing their pureness,  for the upper part of the body, and a pair of red hakama. Red or white are the ribbons in their hair.

During the ceremonies they use bells, sakaki branches, or offer prayers playing a drum.  Among other ritual objects there is also the azusa-yumi, a bow that was once used to ward off evil spirits. In the past they also used mirrors to attract the kami and katana.

Maybe miko have lost their divine bond, but they still retain the millenary tradition of taking care of the temple, remaining one the most famous figures of modern Japan.

Photo credits: pinterest.com


Japan Folklore: Hōnen Matsuri

Hōnen Matsuri

Photo Credits: google.it

The Honen Matsuri is celebrated every year on March 15 throughout Japan. The most famous one takes place at the Tagata Jinja, in the small town of Komaki, outside Nagoya, with photos and videos available on the Internet. But in other parts of Japan, such as the Honen Matsuri of Okinawa, this festival is still considered a sacred and secret rite and no photo or recording is allowed. Even speaking or writing about what has been seen is technically prohibited.

Hōnen Matsuri (豊年祭),  literally “Harvest Festival”, has a 1500-year-long history: its purpose is to guarantee the fertility of the harvest for the following year. A ritual full of blessings for the harvest, but also for all sorts of prosperity and fertility in general. This celebration could take on obscene features, at least in western eyes,  because its symbol is a 280 kg cypress pine phallus, with a length of 2.5 meters. But it is absolutely not like that.

Phallic rites have in fact prehistoric origins. It is believed that this local indigenous rites, and the corresponding vaginal fertility practices and beliefs, were easily accommodated by the new system of Taoist beliefs that were taking root in Japan. System of beliefs that would later form the Way of Yin and Yang, the traditional esoteric cosmology. The local fertility cults co-existed and appear to have been encouraged, institutionalized and presided over by the royal elites from Nara.  Élites who established themselves as feudal lords over expanded local areas.

The celebration of fertility

An important element of Japanese Shinto festivals are processions, in which the kami (Shinto divinity) of the local shrine is transported across the city in a mikoshi 神輿 or 御輿 (palanquin, small portable shrine). It is the only time of the year in which the kami leaves its shrine to be carried around the city. It is said that this transporting of the deity rite is based on a legend about the enshrined kami, Takeinazumi-no-mikoto. He had an enormous penis and took a local woman, Aratahime-no-mikoto, as his wife.

At 9:00 am preparations are underway: food stands peep out with their chocolate bananas carved in the shape of a penis and decorated at the base with marshmallows. Here and there, stalls of souvenirs, statuettes and other objects to be offered to the loved ones wishing for great fertility. These statues allow couples to pray for a child, the unmarried pray for a husband or wife, while farmers hope for abundant harvest. Everything enlivened by the unfailing distribution of all-you-can-drink sake contained in big wooden barrels.

Photo credits: thingstodoinnagoyawhenyouredeaddrunk.wordpress.com

The ceremony begins around 10:00 pm. Priests sprinkle the road with salt to purify the way ahead of the carriers. They also say prayers and impart blessings on participants and  mikoshi, as well as on the large wooden phallus that has to be carried along the parade route. The starting point is a shrine called Shinmei Sha (on even-numbered years), located on a large hill, or the Kumano-sha  shrine (on odd-numbered years), to arrive at the Tagata Jinja shrine. Once here, there is the traditional mochi nage rite: participants fight to grab one of the small rice cakes thrown by the officials from their raised platforms. These sweets will bring good luck for the next year.


Japan Folklore: Tennin

Tennin

Photo credits: google.it

The roots of Buddhism in Japan are very deep and follow the history of the country itself, thus evolving together with it. In fact, Japanese Buddhism largely consists of the continuation or evolution of ancient schools of Chinese Buddhism. Some of these schools, now no longer existing in their country of origin, once introduced into the Japanese archipelago continued to live and change.
Furthermore, through these religious relations, Chinese writing and culture were also introduced in the country representing the base of the proper History of Japan (6th century). Buddhist monks will retain the position of the most important intermediary and interpreters of the continental culture in Japan for a long time.

Celestial Beings

When we refer to Buddhism, we are immediately led to think of Buddha. In reality, there are other very important figures that accompany the Buddha and who live in the Buddhist paradise with him. Among these figures we find the Tennin, that are the result of a long process of assimilation and transformation.

Tennin , whose name is made up of the kanji 天 which means sky and 人 person, are literally "celestial creatures", spiritual beings. They include the HITEN 飛天, Flying Beings, the UCHUU KUYOU BOSATSU 雲中供養菩薩, Bosatsu on Clouds, the TENNYO

天女,Celestial Maidens, the TENNOTSUKAI 天の使い, heavenly messengers, and the KARYŌBINGA 迦陵頻伽, who are Celestial Assistants that appear in many forms but that usually possess the body of a bird and the head of  a Bodhisattva.

Photo credits: google.it

They are not specially worshiped, although people do accord them some veneration by placing flowers, water, and rice at their feet. Their function is to protect Buddhist law by serving the DEVA, or else, the TENBU group, that includes other divinely spiritual beings, and creatures like the Dragon, the bird-man Karura, plus Celestial Nymphs and Heavenly Musicians among them.

Most originated in the ancient Vedic traditions of India. The Sanskrit word used to refer to this celestial beings is Apsara, often represented as divine beauties and dancers who populated Lord Indra’s court in Indian mythology. In Japan the Apsaras take the name of TENNIN.

In the arts, they frequently appear as dancers and musicians adorning statues, paintings and temples in China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Their attributes are not clearly specified in Buddhist texts and therefore their appearance is quite varied. In Japan, they are often shown standing or sitting on clouds or flying in the air in graceful poses. They are often shown playing musical instruments or scattering flowers to give praise to the gods, and usually wear light and floating celestial garments, embellished with scarves of gauze, the Tenne.


Japan Folklore: Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions

Photo credits: Inside Japan Tours

Meri Kurisumasu!

In Japanese “Merry Christmas” is translated as “Meri Kurisumasu”, written both in Hiragana (めりーくりすます) and in Katakana (メリークリスマス). Santa Klaus, the chubby man dressed in red, is known as  Santa-san (サンタさん、サンタクロース), name imported directly from the USA. But in Japan there is another figure very similar to Santa Klaus, even if not strictly related to Christmas. It is Hotei-osho, a Japanese god of good fortune according to Buddhist tradition, and he is said to bring gifts too.

Christmas is not considered as a national holiday but, as it falls between December 23rd, the current Emperor Akihito’s birthday, and December 31st, schools are often closed for December 25th. Instead, it is considered a normal working day for offices. The atmosphere to which we are generally accustomed can be perceived since the end of October: decorations, lights and Christmas music crowd streets, shops and stations.

Photo credits: Condé Nast Traveler

The origin of Kurisumasu in Japan

Christianity was introduced in Japan by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries in the 16th century. During the early years of Christianity many Christians were arrested, tortured and killed because of their beliefs. Only in the 17th century churches began to grow again and in the 20th century several missionaries returned to Japan. Today, Christians in the country of Rising Sun are about 1% of the population, and it can be said that the spread of Christian traditions started at the end of the 20th century. Christmas is universally recognized as a day of celebration for children and adults in the country of the Rising Sun too, although not considered in its religious spirit. Seen as a period of happiness, it has become an indispensable tradition. In particular, Christmas Eve is seen as an opportunity for couples and lovers to spend time together and exchange gifts. Married couples as well take some time for themselves leaving the children with Ji'i-san and Ba'a-chan (grandfather and grandmother).

Photo credits: JapanToday

“Kurisumasu” traditions

In addition to the exchange of gifts, seen more as a romantic gesture between couples, there are two other curious traditions that make December 25 very special in Japan.
The first is Fried Chicken and the second is the Christmas cake.

Photo credits: Google images

This time of year is the most fruitful for restaurants of the fast-food chain KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). Here people order their fried chicken for Christmas days in advance. Everything started from an advertising campaign launched all over the country by the American chain in the 70s: "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" (Kentucky for Christmas!). KFC used it to attract the eastern population by offering them a complete menu in Christmas packaging that included chicken, salad and cake.

Photo credits: Google images

On the other hand, the Christmas cake is usually a simple sponge cake with cream and strawberries, and Christmas-themed decorations.
Also, it is not unusual at this time of year to hear the notes of Jingle Bells and All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey, as well as a vast amount of songs made by Japanese bands and singers like Nozomi Sasaki and Momoiro Clover Z.


Japan Folklore: Botan Dōrō

Botan Dōrō

The Peony Lantern

Photo credits: allabout-japan.com

There are many stories where unlucky lovers are separated by destiny that sometimes leads them to death together (Romeo and Juliet and Tristan and Isolde are the most famous). But none is like the story Botan Dōrō or The Peony lantern (牡丹 燈籠). Two lovers, divided by the world of the living and the world of the dead, are inextricably bounded by their oath of eternal love.

This legend sees the light in the book Jiandeng Xinhua written by Qu You during the first part of the Ming dynasty. Subsequently, it was revived during the Edo period by the Buddhist writer and priest Asai Ryōi on the wave of the Kaidan phenomenon (怪 談). This Japanese term refers to all those stories that tell of mystery and ghosts, written with two kanji: Kai (怪) that means "strange, mysterious, enchanted appearance" and Dan (談) "recited narration".

This legend is recognized as one of the first Japanese stories about ghosts to become a movie in 1910. With numerous re-editions over the years, it is perhaps the most productive one among cinema, television adaptations and Pink Movie, Japanese Soft Porno genre.

The beautiful Otsuyu

Photo credits: pinterest.com 

The legend  says that during the first night of the Obon (the commemoration of the dead according to the Japanese Buddhist tradition) the samurai Ogiwara Shinnojo meets a beautiful woman and her child servant. The two hold in their hands the traditional lanterns of peonies and the samurai asks the child the name of the beautiful woman. Otsuyu was her name and the samurai is not able to do anything but fall madly in love and swear his eternal love for her that same night. From then on, the two meet every night burning with passion for each other. However, the beautiful woman and the child would always disappear before dawn. Because of this strange behavior, and also because of a sudden illness of the man, an old neighbor gets suspicious. Entering his house, he discovers that the samurai was not laying in bed with a beautiful woman but with a skeleton! The old neighbor then speaks with a priest who in turn warns Ogiwara that discovers that his beloved is actually a ghost. Ogiwara also understands that his illness is due to the fact that sleeping with a spirit consumes the vital energy of a person. The priest blesses the house of the samurai leaving protective spells and good luck charms so that the woman and the child cannot enter it anymore. The same evening the woman tries in vain to reach her beloved but, failing, desperately screams her love for Ogiwara, that eventually yields letting her enter the house. The next morning, the neighbor and the priest find Ogiwara dead clutching the skeleton of Otsuyu.

From the horror style of the Edo period to the romanticism of the Meiji period.  

Photo credits: tumblr.com 

The Kabuki version of this story is very famous, but there is a substantial difference between the two. In the theatrical versions, in fact, the protagonists know each other before the death of Otsuyu. Their families have been close for a long time and this had encouraged the birth of love between them. This version is the perhaps the most renowned one as it is pregnant with romance from beginning to end. Their love, the youthful passion, and then the frustration for a forced separation cause by the boy's illness. During this period of separation Otsuyu dies believing that Saburo had not survived. But Saburo recovers and, desperate for the death of the girl prays to her spirit during the Obon festival. That same evening, he meets on his way home a woman and her servant holding a lantern of peonies. To his great joy, the young man realizes that the woman is his Otsuyu who, from that night on, will go visit him every night. But their joy will not last long. In fact, a servant, spying from a crack in the wall of Saburo's room, realizes that in reality he lies every night with a skeleton. A Buddhist priest is immediately called and talismans are attached to the door of the house to prevent the spirit from entering. Yet, every night the girl returns to cry out her love for Saburo, who, desperate for the new separation, falls ill again. But the awareness of loving her anyway and despite everything means only one thing. Death! The talismans are removed to allow the spirit to enter once again. For the last time. However, the young protagonist dies happily in the arms of the one he loves.

This difference of themes can be attributed to the different periods in which the two versions were written. The original one dates back to the Edo period with the macabre vein that characterizes the Japanese folklore of the time. The theatrical one is more recent and sees the light in the Meiji period, the period in which Japan approaches the West thanks to the opening of Emperor Mutsuhito. Opening that did not occur only on a political level, but also on a cultural level thus influencing tastes and customs, and this legend is an example.


Japanese Culture: Ramen

Ramen: The “emperor” of Japanese cuisine.

Photo credits: narutonoodle.com/

Until a few years ago, for ethnic cuisine enthusiasts, going to a Japanese restaurant strictly referred to consuming Sushi: a dish made of raw fish and rice.

This dish, with its colourful and evocative shapes, winks at the most fashionable diners (but not just them!), who have the opportunity to taste "first with their eyes, then with their mouth".  But now another famous dish from Japan has finally made its way to our tables with many people going crazy about it.

We are talking about Ramen (ラーメン,拉麺 rāmen), perhaps the real representative dish of the country. It is so famous throughout Japan that each region boasts a different way to prepare it. Different region, different recipe. Let’s taste them all then...

It is a soup dish with many ingredients: noodles, pork, Nori (海苔) or dried seaweed, boiled eggs, and the kamaboko which is also known as surimi. Its most famous form, the spiral one, is called Naruto (like the manga character of the same name whose name derives from this ingredient). Ramen can be made with either a seafood-based or meat-based broth, various garnishes, and different ways to flavour it; sesame seeds or pepper, for example, miso or soy sauce.

Story of a Soup

Photo credits: travelcaffeine.com

Although it is unclear when the popularisation of this plate began in Japan, it originally came from China as one of its main ingredients is the Chinese mian,or wheat noodles. But we must say that in recent years, there has been a reintroduction of this dish in China, as ramen is no longer considered a traditional dish from China, but a Japanese imported product. In China, they are called rìshì lāmiàn or "Japanese style Lamian", which is considered as a completely different dish from the Chinese lāmiàn.

Ramen has always been a dish to be enjoyed outside and at the beginning of the 20th century, there were numerous kiosks manned by Chinese handlers. Then, after the Second World War, Japanese soldiers returning from China, where they had learned this culinary tradition, opened several restaurants across the country. From that point on, there has been an evolution that led to ramen as we know it today.

It is so appreciated that in 1994, the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, which is entirely dedicated to this delicacy, was opened in Yokohama.

‘Company’ Ramen.

Photo credits: jpninfo.com

As previously mentioned, it was not an oddity to taste bowls of ramen in street stalls in the past. These stalls are still popular today, although not as widespread as they once were. This is because ramen is also considered a street food to be enjoyed in traditional Yatai's or stalls. On the other hand, the best restaurants are the Ramen-ya with just a few seats at the counter and at the tables as well, but with the purpose of eating ramen only. It is not unusual to find ramen in amusement parks or in karaoke's menus. It may also happen that after work colleagues stop by an Izakaya, a pub with the formula Nomihodai "all you can drink" - Tabehodai "all you can eat". Here, with a limit of three hours, diners can enjoy ramen together with liquor and other foods with a fixed-price menu.

Honourable mentions and regional variants

Photo credits: zerochan.net

Although the classic recipe is common throughout Japan, there are always innovative variants.

Here we have to mention the Blue Ramen, of beautiful and brilliant colour, and we want to specify that this is completely natural! But this is an extreme innovation.

“Traditional” regional variants are:

  • Tokyo variant, with thick noodles, chicken and soy broth, garnished with bamboo shoots, shallots, sliced pork, seaweed, spinach, an egg and a little bit of Dashi. We recommend that you try shops in Ikebukuro, Ogikubo and Ebisu wards.
  • Sapporo is famous for their "winter" version, sometimes garnished with seafood, butter, pork, corn and bean sprouts.
  • Yokohama has the le-kei , coddled eggs for which each customer can choose the desired softness and then break it so to flavour the broth, also adding onion, pork, spinach and seaweed.
  • Kitakata, with its thick but flat noodles, served with pork broth.
  • Hakata and its broth made of pork bones, thin noodles, ginger, vegetables, mustard and sesame seeds.

If reading this article made you really hungry we want to recommend some places where you can taste ramen in Italy:

Nozomi

Via Pietro Calvi 2, 20129 Milano, Italia
+39 02 7602 3197
http://www.nozomi.milano.it/

Casa Ramen

Via Porro Lambertenghi 25, Milano, Italia
+39 02 3944 4560
https://www.facebook.com/casaramen

Zarà Ramen

Via Solferino, 48, 20121 Milano, Italia
+39 02 3679 9000
https://www.facebook.com/zazaramen/

Mi-Ramen Bistro

Viale col di lana, 15 | Viale Col Di Lana, 15, 20136, Milano
+39 339 232 2656
http://mi-ramenbistro.it/

Osaka

Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi 68, 20121 Milano, Italia
+39 02 2906 0678
http://www.milanoosaka.com/

Ryukishin

Via Ariberto 1, 20123 Milano, Italia
+39 02 8940 8866
http://www.ryukishin.it/

Banki Ramen

Via Dei Banchi 14 Rosso, 50123, Firenze, Italia
+39 055 213776

Waraku

Via Prenestina 321/A, 00177 Roma, Italia
+39 06 2170 2358
https://www.facebook.com/Waraku-192626757583758/

 


Japanese Folklore: The Ring

Ringu: The cursed tape

Photo credits: Movieweb.com

The Ring is the fortunate American horror movie with Naomi Watson in the role of the protagonist that in 2002 haunted cinemas all around the world. Earning more than $250 million dollars at the box-office it revived a suffering genre giving the bravest spectators shivers. The movie had a sequel, The Ring 2 out in 2005, and The Ring 3 recently came out, fifteen years after the original movie.

Samara Morgan is a little girl with long raven hair and snow-white skin, and from this description she might appear like a pure Snow White. But reality is quite different. With her famous words “You will die in seven days” she is a ghost that brings to death all those who watch her cursed tape thanks to an infinite ring.

Nowadays, Samara is among the ultimate ‘villains’ of the American horror genre (together with Jason from Friday the 13th, or Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street with his supernatural and demoniac nature). And we might as well say she is one of the many possible Halloween masks.

Photo credits: flickr.com

However her birth is not American but Japanese, as she was born from the pen of the writer Koji Suzuki author of the novel of the same title Ring ( リング Ringu). Suzuki is also the author of Spiral, one of the sequels of The Ring, and Dark Water which gained a movie and an American remake. Here the protagonist is Jennifer Connelly and it's undoubtedly a terrifying movie, yet unable to reach the fame of The Ring.

The American Remake of The Ring in not so different from the original subject (This is true at least for the first movies). In both films the protagonist is a journalist that is trying to solve the mystery behind the inexplicable deaths caused by the viewing of a cursed videotape. The woman will end up involving her family in this spiral, in a desperate run for their lives. But the ghost is not that of a disturbing child now, but that of a young woman.

Sadako 貞子

Photo credits: Movieclips.com

Sadako is the ghost of a nineteenth years old girls with long hair that cover her face completely and that coming out of the television brings the unfortunate person to a violent death.

This ghost is in reality a very complex creature, like all Japanese ghosts, as their cruelty is driven by nothing but revenge. Unfortunately, when the mission of seeking vengeance from those who had hurt them in their human life is accomplished, hatred has already taken over. Every possibility of redemption gone.

Sadako Yamamura was her human name and in each movie we have an insight into her story discovering something about her character. But it's in the prequel of the first story-line, The Ringu 0:Birthday, that we have a complete vision of her human life.

Photo credits: anythinghorror.wordpress.com

Before she became the restless ghost that characterizes the whole story, Sadako was born from a forbidden intercourse. Her father unknown, he was said to be a demon, her mother was a priestess devoted to dark arts. Since her childhood she was harassed by voices saying that being close to her brought misfortune and death because of her enormous but dark powers. She could have had a little light of hope in a tormented life when she moves to Tokyo with professor Ikuma. The professor, her mother’s ex-lover, treats Sadako as his own daughter and reached adulthood she joins a theater company. Here, due to a series of tragic events she becomes leading actress, but this also led to the rise of her evil part.

In fact, we will find out that there are two entities inside her, the human part that is good, and the demoniac part with the appearance of a child. The abuses she suffers and the death of her good part by the hands of her colleagues will bring out her demoniac side, with the consequent series of tragic events.

Photo credits: noset.com

Ikuma will try to kill the evil Sadako too, trowing her in a well and sealing it, but the entity survives the fall even if it is now imprisoned. Inside the well the demon will grow stronger and stronger until its hatred takes concrete form in the cursed video tape that in seven days leads to death whoever watches it.

But in spite of all this we can’t help but pity here, miserable soul. In her last moment of human lucidity, before her demoniac side takes over, she remembers of Toyama the only man she had ever loved.

The movies have a substantial differences from Koji Suzuki’s books regarding the story of this character as the young girl has an even more tormented and complicated life, ending with her fatal death.

Banchō Sarayashiki 番町皿屋敷

Photo credits: Wikipedia

The character created by Koji Suzuki, like many other of the Japanese modern horror genre, takes a cue from an old legend.

We are speaking about the story of Okiku and the nine plates. The Kabuki theater has often used this legend for its representations and there are many versions of it.

The protagonist is always Okiku a young and beautiful servant that works for the family of a samurai, Aoyama Tessan, that is in love with her. Countless times the girl refuses the samurai’s approaches, so to induce her in temptation he makes her believe she had lost a precious porcelain plate part of a set of ten. The poor girl desperately cries because she knows that the punishment will be severe, but the samurai comforts her saying that in exchange for her love she won’t be punished. Okiku still refuses him and the samurai blinded by rage pushes the girl into a well killing her.

Okiku comes back as a ghost to torment her assassin and keeps counting to nine and then start crying. Only a monk and exorcist is able to purify her spirit during one of her appearance. After he had her count to 9 the monk screams TEN!,in this way the spirit is free and ready to go to heaven.

Photo credits: Wikipedia

As we said, there are many variations to this story, more or less similar to each other. In one of them the story takes place in the Himeji castle where Okiku dies because of a conspiracy within the court, or because the shogun, her lover, kills her because she voluntarily breaks the tenth plate.

Anyway, in every version we are brought to pity this character, surely obscure but tormented at the same time.