Lecture 2 Japanese Ghosts
Review: How do you become a ghost? • 1. Die a sudden or violent death, accidental (eg. drowning) or murder • 2. Die with deep passion in your heart (in Buddhism, regardless whether good emotions or bad emotions) • 3. Leave unfinished business to attend to • 4. The proper religious rituals haven't been performed
What happens if any of these four things occur? • Tama will not proceed as it should towards becoming a Kami or Buddha, but instead remains tied to this world, to the suffering of the flesh. • The tama, no longer attached to a living being, but not deified and enlightened either, becomes what we would call a ghost, caught between two worlds.
The mechanism by which ghosts come into existence stays pretty much the same throughout Japanese history (and actually stays pretty consistent across cultures) • However, what ghosts look like and how they are pacified is culturally specific and even within Japan changes a lot from 800.C.E. to the 20th century.
What do ghosts mean? • Ghosts and other supernatural beings both in the premodern and modern period, in the West and in Asia, dramatically reenact both publicly and privately the failure of political, social, and religious structures.
Ghosts as expression of cultural anxieties • So one thing we think about when we see a ghost is: what is going wrong in society? • e.g. How do ghosts relate to contemporary anxieties and fears?
Critical Analysis: Analyzing Ghost Stories 1) Who is the author/creator? Male or female? Socio-economic class? 2) Who is the patron responsible for having the image/story created? 3) Who is the intended audience? Male or female? Socio-economic class?
4) What is the religious belief system and historical context framing it? • For example: • Christian attitude toward ghosts • Japanese religion’s attitude toward ghosts
5) How is the story or image supposed to affect that audience; i.e. what is the goal of the story? Didactic? Entertainment? 6) Are there any political and economic issues at stake? Who benefits from this version? 7) Genre: History? Fiction? Play? Image? Anime? Movie?
Encouraging Critical Thinking • How are images and stories being used to manipulate people? • How do ghosts and the supernatural relate to contemporary anxieties and fears? • X Files (paranoia: the truth is out there) • Alien abduction • Horror movies (“Last Girl” phenomenon)
Function of Angry Ghosts in 9th-11th c. Japan 1) Explanatory (rational, “scientific”) 2) Political issues/class oppression 3) Issues of gender oppression 4) Religious Issues
Explanatory Function • Natural disasters • Epidemic and individual disease
Political Situation in 9-11th c. Japan (Heian period) • How does political situation contribute to development of belief in angry ghosts? • Heian aristocratic politics • Northern branch of the Fujiwara clan killing off their rivals • What are political rivals likely to become?
Social Situation of 9-11th c. Japan • Urbanization • Social problems • Overcrowding • Bad water (cholera) • Malnutrition • Increase in crime
Political Function of Angry Ghosts • How did angry ghosts and disease deities become tied to social protest/unrest? • One reason: underlying belief in harmony between virtuous ruler and state of nature • "Disasters of all kinds were a barometer of social injustices" (Neil McMullin)
Second reason for ghosts being tied to problems in political and social context: • Ghosts hold grudges • So they are often used as symbols of political rebellion and subversion
Angry ghosts become rallying points for protest • Peasant rebellions • Peasant martyrs as angry ghosts • e.g. Sakura Sôgorô • Exiled/murdered aristocrats • Used by aristocratic families opposing the ruling faction
Examples of Exiled Aristocrats • Prince Sawara (died 785) • Sugawara no Michizane (died 903) • First raijin (thunder deity) • After pacification: Tenman Tenjin
How Ghosts Get Power • Two major correlates to power in ghosts: • 1) The level of political ranking in life • 2) The level of anger just before death • The more public political power they control in life, the more dangerous they are to the general public after death. • Sugawara no Michizane (845-903): very high ranking minister, died in exile • Became God of Thunder after death; caused epidemics, earthquakes etc. • Eventually was pacified as Tenma Tenjin, the deity of scholarship
Social Issues: Oppression of Women • Female ghosts often represent suppressed anger about how society treats women • Female ghosts who appear battered and disfigured reveal the mistreatment of women (e.g. Oiwa) • Women who have been abandoned by their husbands can turn into very horrific, vengeful ghosts. • Anxiety about pregnancy
Power and Gender • Women rarely have political power • Therefore female ghosts are not usually understood as causing disasters on a national level, but tend to cause problems only for the men who mistreated them. • Nevertheless, they can become voices of dissent within the narrower realm of gender politics
Summary • In 9-12th century Japan, angry ghosts function in a number of useful ways to deal with social and political issues • Next section: look at examples from 10th century and 15th century Japan to see how female ghosts were functioning in premodern Japanese society
Lady Rokujô of The Tale of Genji: historical context • Written around 1000 C.E. • Society: about 10,000 literate aristocrats living in Kyoto. • Social structure: Polygamy (men can have as many wives and mistresses as they wish or as many as they can afford) • Women sit at home waiting for their husbands or lovers to come visit them (very passive and frustrating)
Critical Analysis Questions • 1) Who wrote the story? • Lady-in-waiting at court, Murasaki Shikibu • 2) Who was her patron? • Main patron was the Consort she served and the Consort's father, Fujiwara Michinaga, the most powerful man at court. • Marriage politics are important reason for MS being able to write
3) Intended audience besides Empress and her father? • Very high class: other ladies-in-waiting; the Emperor, other male courtiers • What is the religious belief system and historical context framing it? --Belief in angry ghosts, possession illness, esoteric Buddhist rituals of exorcism --marriage system of the time
4) What was her goal? Entertainment alone? 5) Are there any political and economic issues at stake? Who benefits from this version? • MS keeps her job; Empress Shoshi’s salon is made more attractive so Emperor will spend time with her and prefer her and her children 6) Genre: “novel” with illustrations (read aloud or, more rarely, privately)
Main Characters • Prince Genji (about 18-19 years old) • Main Wife: Aoi (or Aoi no Ue) is about 8-9 months pregnant with their son • pregnancy a very dangerous time for women, easily susceptible to possession (real life example from Murasaki Shikibu’s diary) • Neglected Mistress: Rokujô, about 25 years old, the widow of a Crown Prince
Basic Plot • Carriage incident at Kamo Parade • Rokujô is infuriated, hurt pride • In dreams she attacks her rival, beating her • She suspects that her tama leaves her body • Wakes up with her clothes and hair smelling like burnt mustard seeds used in exorcism • Aoi no Ue is indeed very ill and exorcists are called in to try and find out who is possessing her
Tale of Genji Exorcism Scene • In Tale of Genji Buddhist priests fail to exorcise or even identify Rokujô • Instead Rokujō reveals herself to Genji directly and tells him how angry she is • Rokujô manages to kill Aoi just after Aoi gives birth to a son • anxiety about dangers of pregnancy
Rokujô as a “living spirit” • Rokujô very ambivalent -- her torment causes her tama to wander and attack others • As a woman with no public office, her angry spirit can only cause personal anguish to Genji and his family • Nevertheless, Rokujô functions as a voice of dissent, a dramatic means of expressing for all Heian women the pain and resentment caused by polygamy.
What happens to Rokujô later in the book? • Meets Genji one last time before she goes to Ise Shrine with her daughter (Chapter 6, “The Sacred Tree”) • Dies four years later, after her return to the capital. Entrusts her daughter and her estate to Genji (her estate funds Genji’s political ascent) • Many years later, after her daughter has become Empress through Genji’s support, she attacks Genji’s current wife through possession illness after he slights Rokujô in conversation. • Angry voice of dissent to the very end of the book, even after death.
Summary • What might the author Murasaki Shikibu’s goal be in Tale of Genji? • What does Rokujô serve as? • “Madwoman in the Attic” concept developed by scholars Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar from studying Jane Eyre • Rochester’s mad wife in the attic is able to express anger over gender oppression that the “good heroine” wouldn’t be allowed to state
What Rokujō represents Rokujô as male ideal’s antithesis Her negative qualities: jealous, resentful, strong-willed and destructive, ambivalent How she fares in the novel: Within the structure of the narrative, she is condemned for her behavior -- she loses Genji, leaves the capital, and dies early in the story.
negative: Rokujo's inability to suppress those forbidden emotions turns her into a symbol of excessive attachment and an emblem of chaos and destruction. positive: Her spirit becomes a dramatic means of expressing for all Heian women the pain and resentment caused by the marriage system.
Psychological Complexity Very complex character psychologically. Her wandering spirit expresses • 1) her own repressed and ambivalent feelings • 2) the guilt and unconscious fears of the hero, Genji, who caused those conflicts. • 3) the feelings of her victims, who remain silent but are inwardly tortured.
Rokujō 400 Years Later:Aoi no Ue (Noh play) • Noh theater: highly refined form of masked dance-drama that had its origins in theatricalized shamanic rituals (Carmen Blacker, TheCatalpa Bow, pp. 19-20, 31) • Aoi no Ue is a reenactment of a dramatic exorcism and pacification of the angry spirit of Rokujô
Noh Theater Plots often involve ghosts: • •1) Ghost appears as an ordinary person (usually to a wandering priest) • •2) Turns out to be a ghost, who has returned to this place because they have an attachment to it -- this is where they have died, or where some important event (good or bad) occurred • •3) Returns in true form and re-enacts traumatic events (dance/song) • • 4) Priest recites Lotus Sutra and performs rituals etc. • • 5) Ghost achieves enlightenment and vanishes
What Noh ghosts want: Release from their passionate attachment Appearance as ghost is therapeutic: • Re-enactment through dance and song is cathartic • Prayers of priest are ritually effective
Politics/Economics • Is Noh subversive/critical of social issues? Why? • Patronage: • Early: Buddhist temples • Late: Samurai warriors
What female supernatural beings look like in Noh • First half: ordinary people/villagers (often very young or very old) • Second half: appear in true form (deity, benign ghost, demon or demonic ghost)
Ordinary village woman Here, very young, in the prime of her beauty
100 year-old woman poet, Ono no Komachi Mask: Rōjō Komachi (Aged Komachi)
Benign Ghost Ghost of an aristocratic woman longing for long-lost love