Aoandon – The Blue Lantern Ghost

Translated and Sourced from Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

In the 100 candles game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, when the last story is told and the last light extinguished, something is said to appear from the darkness. For some in the Edo Period, that “something” had a name—Aoandon, the Blue Lantern Ghost.

Who is the Aoandon?

Toriyama Seiken originated the legend of the Aoandon in his kaidan-shu Konjaku Hyakki Shui (今昔百鬼拾遺; Supplement to The Hundred Demons from the Present and the Past). According to Toriyama, the Aoandon is a female spirit with long black hair, two horns poking out of her head, black, sharp teeth, and dressed in a white kimono. She is a sort of merger of the Aoi Nyobo (Blue Wife) and Hannya (Devil Woman) of traditional Japanese folklore.

The name Aoandon (青行燈) means very simply “Blue Lantern,” and is a reference to the blue-tinged lanterns that became popular as the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai game evolved.

Toriyaam Seiken’s Aoandon

Written on Toriyama Seiken’s Aoandon picture:

“When the final lantern is doused, and the shadows hang heavy, the Aoandon appears. In modern games of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, the lanterns are covered in blue paper giving an eerie light. People gather on dark nights to trade stories of evil things. But to talk about evil things is to summon them.”

Blue Lanterns and Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai

The game Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai started out very simple; a hundred lit candles were placed in a room, and as ghost stories and weird tales were told in order, a single candle would be extinguished. With each story the room got progressively darker. When the final candle was expunged, some supernatural creature was said to be summoned.

Exactly what was summoned was never made clear. In one of the earliest recordings of a Hyakumonogatari Game, in the kaidan-shu Tonoigusa (宿直草), the game was played in a cave by a group of samurai. When the last candle was being put out, a giant hand appeared to come down from the ceiling. A quick slash of a the sword showed that the hand was nothing more than a spider, whose enormous shadow cast by the last candle had appeared as a giant hand.

As the game left the warrior caste and moved into the realm of the townsfolk, it evolved. In order to create a spookier atmosphere, candles were replaced by specially prepared blue lanterns to give the gathering a more mysterious feel—an early form of mood lighting. These lanterns, called andon, consisted of paper panels in bamboo frames set over candles or oil lanterns. Normally the paper was white, but for Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai gatherings the white paper was replaced with blue. (Andon can still be seen all over the world nowadays, although most of them are electric instead of burning actual candles or oil.)

The game got even more sophisticated over the centuries, and even a little bit more lazy. Instead of lighting a hundred lanterns, sometimes oil lamps were prepared with specially made wicks that counted down from one hundred. Which each story, part of the wicks was cut, bringing the light down until the final cut. Some games would place the lantern in a room away from the main gathering place, next to a mirror. After each story, the storyteller would have to walk alone into the room, cut their wick and then stare into the mirror.

Many gatherings actually cut their event short after the 99th tale, with no one being brave enough to walk into the room for the final story.

Speak of the Devil, and the Devil Appears

It has long been a tradition in Japan that talking about ghosts and monsters attracts ghosts and monsters. They need the right atmosphere to appear, and the 100 candles Hyakumonogatari Game was all about setting the right atmosphere. If you talk about it, it will come.

But until Toriyama Seiken wrote about the Aoandon in his Konjaku Hyakki Shu, there was no consensus on what appeared. Toriyama did what he often did when inventing new yokai; he took a common phrase or word and imagined a spirit to go along with it. In the case of the Aoandon, he imagined the extinguishing of a blue lantern, and the ghost woman that might be waiting in the dark, or looking back at you from a mirror.

Like many of Toriyama’s creations, there were attempts to craft a story onto the Aoandon. Artists Kondo Misaki imagined a woman consumed by jealousy who transformed into a yokai and was cursed to haunt these blue lanterns, waiting for her chance to appear. When the mirror aspect of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai was invoked, she served as Japan’s version of Bloody Mary, a test of courage and the tricks your mind can play on you when you are alone with a mirror in a darkened room.

Translator’s Note:

The Aoandon is not exactly the most exciting yokai—pretty much a name and a picture—but since this is officially my 100th post on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (and my blog finally lived up to its name) I thought it was time for the Aoandon to appear. I am nothing if not a traditionalist.

However, this particular game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai is far from over. I have lots more yokai to do and many more Japanese ghost and monster stories to translate for you. Thanks for reading!!

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cynthia O'Keeffe
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 13:04:05

    Awesome! Knowing this, I can ‘set the mood’ for telling stories when the grandchildren are older! The pics of the blue lantern and Aoandon are lovely. Can you give us a translation of the writing on the drawing of Aoandon?

    Reply

  2. Blue Satan
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 13:17:58

    I wouldn’t like being in a middle of a Hyakumonogatari when the 1oo th lamp is extinguished, but at the same time a would love it!
    Congrats for your 100th post and i hope that you continue making posts of yokai for a long time!

    Reply

  3. Blue Satan
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 13:30:33

    And if you´re intesrested in, you can take part in a little contest that i have done in my blog. In the right part of mi blog there is a quiz. I give a clue, that is “a yokai that is related to January in some way…´´ and I have put 10 posible anwers. Good luck, but i don´t think you will have problems with it.
    The quiz is announced in my last post: http://yokaiscorner.blogspot.com.es/

    Reply

  4. Richard Freeman
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 14:11:38

    The Hyakumonogatari tradition inspired me to start work on a four volume collection of 100 Japanese horror stories. Volume one should be out for Xmas from CFZ Press.

    Reply

  5. Zack Davisson
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 14:13:50

    That’s cool Richard! I would love to participate! Let me know if there if there is anyway I could join in.

    Reply

  6. Susana
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 14:20:46

    Hello;

    I found your blog months ago, and read it complete back then. I now read your new entries everytime you update, but never left a comment before. I thought it was a nice moment to comment and congratulate you on your 100th entry and thank you for all the great posts you make!

    I enjoy reading this blog a lot, and I learned many things from Japanese folklore that I didn’t know despite feeling interested by it since time ago.

    In this case, I knew about the game, but nothing about the Aoandon, it was very interesting to read about it. I’m sure I won’t participate in this game EVER XD Now more than before.

    As I said, thanks for your posts and keep the good work.

    Greetings from Spain :]

    Reply

  7. osarusan
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 15:24:01

    You chose my favorite yokai for your 100th post! Congratulations, and thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  8. Zack Davisson
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 15:29:47

    Thanks Matt! And as you all should know, Matt Meyer made the beautiful “The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: a Field Guide to Japanese Yokai” that everyone should own a copy of:

    Reply

  9. Mouryo
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 22:13:18

    I would like to know what exactly Toriyama wrote on his woodblock print

    Reply

  10. Frank
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 02:53:10

    Congratulations on reaching 100 posts. Thanks for the blog, it’s a pleasure to read.

    Reply

  11. María Theodorou
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 05:26:05

    Congrats on your 100th story! Maybe since these stories are in digital format, Aoandon appears on the reader’s screen once he/she reads them all XD (That could be actually done with a visit counter, but for the sake of the people who suffer from heart diseases, let’s discard that idea >.<) I really enjoy your posts, keep up the good work! Greetings from Spain :)

    Reply

  12. 83n831
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 07:07:50

    Worth reading in this context: Luis H.Schwarz and Stanton P. Fjeld, “Illusions Induced by the Self-Reflected Image,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 146 (1968):277-284. Hearing anecdotal stories that seeing weird things in mirrors was a diagnostic symptom of mental illness, the researchers took several subjects into darkened rooms and asked them to look into mirrors. To their surprise, people who had been evaluated as “normal” were more apt to experience intense hallucinations than those who had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. “Responses classed as perceptural distortions were so varied and remarkable that they are comparable to those reported with the use of hallucinogenic drugs,” the researchers concluded.

    Reply

  13. 83n831
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 07:10:53

    And, of course, congratulations on your really useful compilation of legend and folktale, which I continue to share with my fellow academic folklorists whenever I can! I’m game for 100 more! (I see weird stuff in mirrors all the time, mostly with pronounced turkey wattles in the neck.)

    Reply

  14. Sen
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 11:11:53

    thank you for this interesting story and congratulations on one hundred stories ^.^

    Reply

  15. Zack Davisson
    Dec 03, 2012 @ 10:10:28

    By popular demand, I added a translation of the text on Toriyama Seiken’s picture!

    Reply

  16. Trackback: Swallowing Lies – a Flash Friday story | Andrew Knighton writes

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