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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Takaonna – The Tall Woman

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Japanese Wikipedia

The takaonna (tall woman) is a yokai with an interesting hobby. If she is walking along, and sees a two-story brothel, she stretches the bottom half of her body so she can peek in on men enjoying the delights inside. It’s said that the takaonna was a homely woman who could never attract male companionship, changed into a yokai by her own desire.

Takaonna were first illustrated by Toriyama Seiken in his The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons (Gazu Hyakki Yagyo ). He drew a picture and a name, but with no story or explanation for the stretching yokai.

Folklorist Fujisawa Morihiko first recorded the story of the ugly woman peeking into brothel windows in his book Complete Discussions of Yokai (Yokai Gadan Zenshu), although he speculates that the local legends of the takaonna probably came from people seeing Toriyama’s illustration, then imagining a story to go along with it. Novelist Yamada Norio furthered the legend of the takaonna in his book Travels in the Weird Tales of Tohoku (Tohoku Kaidan no Tabi). Yamada tells of a woman consumed by jealousy and lust but too ugly to get a man, who then transforms into the takaonna and menaces anyone enjoying the pleasures of the flesh that she was denied.

There is a possible (but obscure) connection to a more horrible creature from Wakayama prefecture, a female demon called the takanyobo (tall wife).

It is said that the takanyobo was once the wife of Kijishi, a woodcutter of Kizaku village. She was a strong woman who would go and cut wood with him in the forest. He thought he was a lucky man to have such a wife, but she was actually a yokai. Kijishi was a successful woodcutter, and he always kept a servant. But the servant wouldn’t stay long. Over a year, Kijishi went through 30 servants. It was only when his own baby also disappeared that Kijishi discovered the truth at last—his yokai wife had eaten them all.

Kijishi confronted his wife and threw her into a well. He thought to let her die down there, but to Kijishi’s surprise she stretched the bottom half of her body right to the top of the well, then clambered out and made her escape into the night.

Translator’s Note:

The kanji for the tall woman is exactly what it says 高 (taka; tall) + 女(onna; woman). She is most likely an original creation of Toriyama Seiken, who apparently wasn’t feeling very creative because he didn’t give her a story. Fortunately the people of the Edo period filled in for him, and came up with a nice little urban legend based on his image.

I think the connections are obvious between the takaonna and the later kuchisake onna (split-mouth woman). Both yokai are urban legends more than folklore, both are hideously ugly women, and both have a grudge against the beautiful people they can never be, and the love (or sex) they can never share.

Further Reading

For more female yokai stories, you should read:

Bakeneko Yujo – The Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo
Nure Onago – The Soaked Woman
The Long-Tongued Old Woman

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