Tokyo Ghost Story

tokyo_ghost_storyOiwa Inari Tamia Shrine is located between Tokyo station and the Sumida river. This small shrine is connected to one of the most popular ghost stories in Japan, Yotsuya Kaidan, a 19th century Kabuki play. The story’s main character is a woman named Oiwa. Actors visit this shrine to pay respect to her spirit before performing her role.

Oiwa is betrayed by a husband that murdered her father. She is horribly disfigured by a poisoned face cream given to her by Oume, a rival for her husband Iemon. Iemon, repulsed by Oiwa’s appearance, sends an accomplice to assault her to give him grounds for divorce. His partner cannot go through with the deed and reveals the plan to Oiwa. Showing Oiwa her disfigured image in a mirror, she is incensed. In her rage, she fatally injures herself with a sword. She dies cursing her husband, becoming an onryô, a vengeful spirit. By the end of the story, her spirit is revenged. A bloody tale, but a popular one.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Mõja-okuri: The End of New Years

tokyo_moja_okuriMoja-okuri is a rite that signals the end of the New Year celebrations in Japan. This ritual takes place on January 18th at Senso-ji, also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple in Tokyo.

After dark, the lights are turned off in the temple grounds. It is pitch black. Two priest dressed as demons and carrying flaming torches run out of the main hall and through the precincts. They leave the temple grounds and go to a nearby site where the torches are extinguished in a small pit. The whole event is over in five minutes.

The priests represent evil spirits—one red, one blue. If the sparks from the torches fall on you, it is believed you will have good health throughout the year. People collect the ashes that fall from the torches as good luck charms.

Nagayama Kofun and the Mozu Necropolis

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Nagayama Kofun is considered one of the satellite mounds of Daisen Kofun. Whether this was an individual grave site or a site for servants or retainers is unknown. The moat of Nagayama Kofun at one time had a rather mundane function—for 95 years, it was a popular fish farm were local sport fishermen came to relax. The farm was closed in 2011 after a long, and somewhat odd, legal battle with the city of Sakai. Click on the image for a larger view.

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Chinaoka Kofun and the Mozu Necropolis

kofun_chinaokaChinaoka Kofun is the oldest of the Mozu Necropolis. While there are many spectacular Kofun in Sakai, of the known 107 historical sites, sixty one have been destroyed and many of the remaining forty six damaged. Only the tip and sliver of the main mound remains of Chinaoka Kofun, the rest destroyed by the encroaching neighborhood. A small shrine has been built next to the Kofun, which can be seen to the left of the electric pole in the image. Click on the image for a larger view.

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Jounoyama Kofun and the Mozu Necropolis

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The Japanese had been building Kofun in this area for hundreds of years. The early graves were small mounds. Jounoyama Kofun, like many of the smaller mounds, is now a small neighborhood park. What treasures these burial sites may have contained are long since lost. Click on the image for a larger view.

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Itasuke Kofun and the Mozu Necropolis

Today, the large Kofun are off limits to people, but they were, at one time, open. In 16th century Japan, Daisen Kofun would be visited for hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. Itasuke Kofun had a concrete bridge built to it made for a housing development; its remains are still visible. Opposition to the project prevented it.kofun_itasukeSakai, like many cities in Japan, is a dense urban area. The Kofun act like wildlife sanctuaries. In winter, huge murders of crow can be seen gathering over these islands in the evening, and, in the summers, cicada electrify the air with their song. The moats are populated with fish and a host of water birds—heron, egrets, ducks, and divers.

Itasuke Kofun has a population of tanuki, Japanese raccoon dogs. Locals come to the bridge and use sling shots to fire uncooked hotdogs to the animals. The tanuki are quite use to the game. If the trajectory of the sausage is way off, they sit calmly on the bridge and watch it disappear into the moat. Only when the shot is well aimed will the animals make the effort to catch the flying food. In the image, three tanuki are visible on the bridge trying to ascertain if this photographer is bringing lunch.

Gobyouyama Kofun and the Mozu Necropolis

kofun_nintokutennoryo2Gobyouyama Kofun shows the scale of the inner moat—many of the larger Kofun have lost their narrower outer moats. This grave site was once the okusha, or inner shrine sanctuary, for Mozu Hachiman Shrine.
kofun_gobyouyamaThe Kofun were originally bare, but the forests were allowed to grow in part to help preserve the earthworks from erosion. The forests can be spectacular in their own right.

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Daisen Kofun and the Mozu Necropolis

kofun_nintokutennoryoBetween the 3rd and 6th centuries, the Japanese were making grave sites known as Kofun. Sakai, just south of Osaka, is home to forty six of these sites. The largest is Daisen Kofun, which is thought to be the resting place of emperor Nintoku. Covering about 80 acres, this keyhole shaped burial mound has three moats and twelve satellite mounds. The Kofun are the property of the Imperial Household Agency and entry is forbidden. This is as close as you can get to this massive structure, whose shape can only be perceived from the air.
kofun_daisen_sakaiThis site seems so removed from the modern Japanese city that surrounds it. But its presence is dominating. It is of this world, but clearly separate from it. Click on the images for a larger view.