Kosodate Yūrei – The Child-Raising Yūrei

Kosodate_Yurei_Shigeru_Mizuki

Translated and Sources from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara, Nihon no Yūrei, Inga Monogatari, and Other Sources

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Yūrei require a tether, something to connect them to the physical world, something strong enough to prevent them from moving on to the next world. Depending on the nature of this bond, a different type of yūrei can manifest. The bond of a mother to her child is one of the oldest and strongest of these tethers.

What Does Kosodate Yūrei Mean?

The kanji for the kosodate yūrei is descriptive. Kosodate (子育て) means child-raising. An alternate term substitutes amekai (飴買い) for the amekai yūrei meaning the candy-buying yūrei. Variations of the story can be found all over Japan, but most kosodate yūrei stories follow a consistent pattern.

The Legend of the Kododate Yūrei

Beisai_Kosodate_Yurei

There are multiple versions of the kosodate yūrei told all across Japan. Most of them follow an identical pattern. This version is told in Nihon no Yūrei by Ikeda Yasaburo as a personal recollection of a story that had been told to him:

“The name Tsukiji nowadays brings to mind a bustling fish market in Tokyo, but it was not always so. In the olden days, the area known as Tsukiji was packed with temples, mostly belonging to the Honkan-ji temple complex. The area was also covered in cemeteries.

Along the banks of the Sumida River that flows near Tsukiji, there were also stands selling fresh fish and the sweet sake for children known as amazake. In one story, late every night a woman clutching a child would come to a certain amazake dealer to buy the sweet sake from him, which she would then give to her child to drink. The sake dealer, sensing something mysterious about this woman, followed her from his stall one night and watched her as she made her way towards the main hall of the temple, where she disappeared like a blown-out candle. When she vanished, the sake dealer could hear the cry of a baby coming from somewhere in the cemetery. Tracking the sound to a freshly-dug grave, the sake dealer enlisted the help of some others to dig up the grave, and when opening the coffin discovered a crying baby nestled in the arms of its mother’s corpse.”

The legend has its origins in China, where it can be traced back to the book Yijian zhi (1198; Records of Anomalies), with the story of the mochikae onna, the rice cake-buying woman:

“One time, a woman who was pregnant died, and was buried in the ground. After that, a nearby rice-cake dealer began to have a strange customer come night after night, an odd woman carrying a baby. The woman always bought a rice cake for the baby. The dealer was suspicious, and stealthily tied a red string to the woman the next time she came in. After she left, he followed the red string and found that it led to a grave hidden under some bushes. After telling the bereaved family, they dug up the grave to find that the woman had given posthumous birth in her coffin. The bereaved family happily took the child to raise, and had the mother’s body cremated.”

Rokumonsen – Six Coins to Pay the River Crossing

Kosodate Yurei Painting

Another part of the kosodate yūrei legends are the use of rokumonsen, the six coins placed with dead bodies in order to pay the toll across the underworld River Sanzu. In many versions of this legend, the kosodate yūrei is using these coins. Often the story continues for five nights, until the body is dug up and the final coin is found resting in her dead hand.

Many other merchants receive even less. In several of the tales, the mother uses the tanuki trick of passing off leaves as coins, and the merchant is left with only a wallet of foliage after the true nature of the woman is discovered.

But coins or leaves, the loving mother rarely buys food for her child, no rice or nourishment, but often the small sweet candies or toys that a child would crave, caring more for the baby’s happiness than its welfare.

Kosadate Ame

Kosodate Ame

Kosodate yūrei remain a popular figure in Japanese folklore. To this day, a small shop in Kyoto still sells kosodate ame—child-rearing candy—and claims to be the very shop where the kosodate- yūrei came to buy candy.

Translator’s Note:

The kosodate yūrei is so similar to another type of ghost—the ubume—that they can almost be considered a different name for the same spirit. There are differences, however. The ubume is closely associated with blood, and with the Buddhist hell of Chi no Ike, the Lake of Blood, where women who died while pregnant were said to be consigned. Ubume also try to get someone to hold their baby, which kosodate yūrei never do.

Yurei FAQ – Five Facts About Japanese Ghosts

Hokushū Shunkōsai Ghost of Oiwa

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Yurei—Japanese Ghosts—follow certain rules; obey certain laws. They have a specific appearance and purpose. These rules supply authenticity, making them culturally relevant and recognizable. Also, these rules make them more horrifying than the constantly changing Western ghost, which can be played for laughs, romance, or fear at any given moment.

Each aspect of a yurei is bound by centuries of culture and tradition. There is a “why” behind everything, and the story of the individual aspects of the yurei can be as fascinating as the yurei stories themselves.

Click the title of each to be taken to the full story.

5. How Do You Say Ghost in Japanese?

yurei

A country as obsessed with ghosts as Japan is obviously going to have more than a single word. Just as in English, there are several words meaning “ghost,” but each with a different usage and feel.

4. What is the White Kimono Japanese Ghosts Wear?

dead body

Black hair. White face. White kimono. Whisper the word Japanese ghost to anyone, and that is the image that will appear in their head. For Americans, the image generally comes from Japanese horror films where white-kimonoed girls crawl from TV sets or rise from wells. But to Japanese people, the costume of a white kimono has a more somber feel. Most likely over their lives they will wrap more than one loved one in the traditional burial garment called a kyokatabira.

3. What is the Triangle Headband Japanese Ghosts Wear?

yureisankakuboshi

What are those odd, triangle-shaped hats or headbands worn by some Japanese ghosts? That is a difficult question to answer because, while there are several opinions, nobody really knows.

2. Why do Japanese Ghosts Not Have Feet?

Yurei_Japanese_Ghost

The gentle drops of falling rain. A lonely willow tree standing near a graveyard. And a Japanese ghost, called a yurei, waiting below. This is our image of a yurei, and when we imagine this picture of the yurei, it has no feet.

1. What’s the Difference Between Yurei and Yokai?

Yokai_or_Yurei

What is a yokai? What is a mononoke? What is a bakemono? Are yurei also yokai? These seemingly basic questions have no precise answers. Almost everyone has their own ideas, and they seldom agree with each other. Because folklore isn’t a science.

Manekute no Yurei – The Inviting Ghost Hand

Mizuki_Shigeru_Manekute_no_Yurei

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Other Sources

Late at night, when you have to get up to go to the bathroom, a mysterious hand beckons you from a wall. That’s strange enough, but when you go into the room the hand was inviting you to, no one is there. Most likely, you have encountered the yurei of someone who died in that room long ago—they want something, but have only the strength to manifest a single hand to plead with you.

These kinds of stories are typical in Japan, especially in yurei in houses. Generally, they want nothing more than for someone to acknowledge their presence, and read a sutra in their honor at the local temple. Manekute no Yurei tend to gather around houses near temples, or the particularly pious, those who they feel will be able to perform the desired ceremony.They are spooky, but amongst the least dangerous of the types of yurei.

Here is a typical story from the Edo period:

An abbot was making a trip to Akiyama village, when he heard the sounds of footsteps behind him. The abbot was particularly sensitive to ghostly matters, and knew at once what it was. “Ah, that is a poor, lost soul who died in the terrible drought in this village awhile back. So sad to think it is still hanging on long past its time.”

When he arrived at the village, the abbot prepared a copy of a Buddhist sutra. This done, he returned to where he had heard the footsteps and waited for dark. Sure enough, a milk-white hand thrust out to him from the darkness. The abbot laid the sutra in the disembodied hand and began to chant the memorial service for the dead. The unknown yurei disappeared and was never heard from again.

Translator’s Note:

Another yurei story for Halloween, this one short and sweet compared to the last tale of bloody revenge. The Manekunote Yurei (招く手の幽霊; meaning招く手 (manekute; inviting hand) +幽霊 (yurei) is one of those ghosts where there was probably a story or two about it, and Mizuki Shigeru made up a name the phenomenon to include in his yokai encyclopedia. I haven’t found any other reference to the Manekunote Yurei, except for those that specifically site Mizuki as a source. However, like many of his stories the Manekunote Yurei has escaped Mizuki’s pages and into the popular imagination.

Menekute_no_Yurei_TV_Show_1

Menekute_no_Yurei_TV_Show_2

Pictures of a Manekute no Yurei on a TV show from this site.

But naming aside, this is another story that illustrates one of the fundamental principles of yurei, Japanese ghosts—they want something. Western ghosts can linger in a place like psychic residue, or play over and over again like a strip of looped film. But not Japanese ghosts. They are bound to this world by a specific desire, and when that desire is satisfied they move on. One of the most basic desires—and the most common—is the desire for more ritual. Yurei need to be properly feted before they can peacefully move on to the afterlife.

The unusual element of this story is the disembodied hand. It is atypical for yurei to manifest only a hand, and the will of the dead person must be weak indeed if that is the best that they can do.

Further Reading:

For more tales of random body parts, check out:

Tanuki no Kintama – Tanuki’s Giant Balls

Kyōkotsu – The Crazy Bones Yōkai

The Speaking Skull

The One-Armed Kappa

The Severed Heads Hanging in the Fowling Net

Yuigon Yurei – The Last Request Yurei

Yuigon_Yurei_Mizuki_Shigeru

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Ehon Hyaku Monogatari, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

It is said that people who die with some lingering issue—those who didn’t properly close up their lives before dying—go into the afterlife with an overwhelming thirst. They want water. They beg and cry for water. But no one can see or hear them.

This story comes from an acquaintance who I will call A-san. She lives in Musashino city, Tokyo, and one night she met these yuigon yurei. When she was in middle school, one of her classmates suddenly showed up at her house one night. She appeared at the door and mumbled the words “Water please …. Water please … “ A-san ran to the kitchen to get a glass of water, but by the time she returned her classmate was gone. A-san thought it was weird that the girl was so thirsty but she couldn’t even wait the few minutes it took to retrieve the water.

She found out later her classmate had committed suicide that very night.

Later, when A-san told this story to her classmate’s mother, she was overwhelmed by A-san’s kindness in offering her dead daughter a final drink of water, and the two of them went together to place the glass before her child’s grave.

Translator’s Note:

This story is a first-person account from Mizuki Shigeru, telling the story he had heard from a friend about a late-night visit from a yuigon yurei. The term yuigon yurei (遺言幽霊) translates somewhat literally into “last-request ghost,” and refers to yurei making some sort of plea from the living. Usually this is for a drink of water, but it can be for other things—a prayer service, for example. The water-requesting version is also sometimes referred to as a Mizukoi Yurei (水乞幽霊; Thirsty Ghost).

This illustrates how yurei have needs even after death. It is a common custom in Japan to place offerings of food and drink before graves. Usually these are just comfort foods—a can of favorite beer, a pack of cigarettes, a pack of chips. On more formal occasions like the Obon Festival of the Dead they will get a bowl of rice and ritual sake.

The story comes for Yuigon Yurei comes from Mizuki Shigeru, but he modeled his picture after Takehara Shusen’s Yuigon Yurei picture from his Ehon Hyaku Monogatari (絵本百物語 ; Picture Book of a Hundred Stories).

Takehara Shunsen Yuigon Yurei

Takehara wote:

“Those who die without making their final testament, or with some unfinished business or desire, will find themselves thirsty in the afterlife. They will cry bitterly for a drink of water.”

Further Reading:

For more yurei stories, check out:

The Ghost of Oyuki

Shoraida – The Rice Paddy Ghosts

Gatagata Bashi – The Rattling Bridge

The Speaking Skull

Aizuwakamatsu no Yurei – The Yurei of Aizuwakamatsu

Shoraida – The Rice Paddy Ghosts

Shoryoda Mizuki Shigeru

Translated and Sourced from the Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Japanese Wikipedia, An Explanation of the Tateyama Mandala and the Tateyama Faith, and Other Sources

The great Hida mountain range of stretches between Gifu and Nagano prefectures. In the mountain range, on the summit of Mount Norikura, lies the Swamp of Senchogahara. One day the mountaineer Uemaki Taro was traveling near Senchogahara, when he came on a group of men and women together—about 10 of them—drinking from the swamp water.

Uemaki was justifiably terrified when he saw their were wearing the white katabira robe and triangle hat that are the garb of yurei. He was even more terrified when the group of yurei looked up and saw Uemaki watching them, and their eyes began to glow red as if on fire. Uemaki closed his eyes tight against the terrible sight and chanted the Amida Buddha’s name over and over again. With this display of devotion, the horrible ghosts vanished instantly.

Uemaki reasoned that the ghosts were making their trip to the Hell Valley of the sacred Mount Take, and had stopped to appease their thirst along the way. When he returned from the mountains, he told others of his terrifying tale and warned them of wandering ghosts on Mount Norikura. Over the years Uemaki’s story passed into legend, and the ghosts of the mountain became known as the Shoraida (精霊田)—the Rice Paddy Ghosts.

Translator’s Note:

Another Halloween tale of Japanese ghosts! This one is short, but has a few unusual characteristics. First is the name. The kanji used here–精霊田—is unusual. Well, the reading is unusual. Normally the kanji 精霊 is read either Seirei or Shoryo (See What is the Japanese Word for Ghost?) This is the only instance I know of it being read Shorai. Also the kanji 田 (ta; rice paddy) is an odd addition since the yurei appear at a swamp (沢) and not a rice paddy. But Japanese yokai have never been known for adhering to strict naming conventions.

Also, this is another tale of Tateyama (立山; Mount Tate). Tateyama—whose name translates as “standing mountain” has a long history of ghosts and the supernatural. Along with Mount Fuji and Mount Haku, it is one of the “Three Holy Mountains of Japan (三霊山)” and was the center of its own religions cult from the Heian period to the end of the Edo period.

Tateyama Jigoku TaniPhoto of the Tachiyama Jigokudani from this personal blog

Up near the summit of Tateyama is a placed called Jigokudani (地獄谷)—Hell’s Valley. The place earned its name due to the desolation of its volcanic rock surface and the sulfurous steam that pours of vents in the mountain. There are also several mineral-laden pools of boiling water that are a deep red color and called Lakes of Blood (血の池; Chi no Ike). This references a specific level of Hell in Japanese Buddhist mythology, and there are several “Chi no Ike” across Japan.

Tateyama_Pool_of_BloodImage of the Pool of Blood sold to pilgrims to Tateyama. Image comes from the Tachiyama Museum

Around the Heian period a religion sprang up based on the Tateyama Mandala, which showed a map of the mountain including pilgrimage sites. Tateyama was considered an actual portal to Hell and the gods, and someone walking the true path would find themselves in the welcoming arms of the Amida Buddha. Itinerant priests and aesthetics would carry copies of the Tateyama Mandala with them to preach the faith, and through a form of sympathetic magic guide the faithful through the map of the mountain which was said to have the same benefit as making the pilgrimage itself.

Stories sprang up based on the Tateyama Shinko (立山信仰Tateyama Faith), including ones of bands of yurei taking the trip together to the far mountain. It is implied from most of these stories that the dead are on their way to the Jigokudani instead of the merciful arms of Amida. But you shouldn’t feel too bad for them. Later variations of the Tateyama Shinko placed the every-helpful Jizo in the Jigokudani, allowing the suffering a final way out of their plight and into the Western Pure Land.

Further Reading:

For more Japanese ghost stories, check out:

Gatagata Bashi – The Rattling Bridge

Chikaramochi Yurei – The Strong Japanese Ghost

The Ghost of Oyuki

The Yurei Rock of the Cemetery

The Speaking Skull

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