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Supernatural Abductions in Japanese Folklore

Supernatural Abductions in Japanese Folklore

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02/01/2013

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Supernatural Abductions in Japanese Folklore
BYCARMEN LACKERCambridge University
Part
1.
THE THEMEThe belief that children may in an unguarded moment
be
kidnapped by a subtle and malignant enemy of supernaturaldescription is a fairly widespread one throughout the world.
In
western Europe fairies and korrigans were widely credited withpowers of abducting babies, leaving in their place a hideouschangeling with a huge appetite and misshapen head. In Japana rather similar belief in supernatural kidnapping s~lrvived nmany districts until modern times.
A
boy or young man whounaccountably disappeared frorn his home was assumed to benot lost but
stolen,
to be the victim of kamigakushi or abductionby a god.
If
all reasonable search for hinl proved fruitless itwas concluded that some god or goblin had carried him off toits own realm. In such emergencies the whole village consideredit a duty to turn out at sunset with lanterns, and to march roundin procession, banging loudly on bells and drunis and shouting,"Bring him back, bring him back
!"
If these measures failed to bring the child back within afixed period of time, the relatives could as a last resort requesta miko or white witch to recite appropriate spells. If these intheir turn did not prove efficacious within seven days the childwas given up as hopelessly lost.Not infrequently however, as a number of stories both oraland literary attest, the measures were fully justified by success.Suddenly and without warning, the tales run, the child reap-pears, deathly pale, in some oddly inaccessible place such as theeaves of the local temple or the space between the ceiling andthe roof of his own house. For several days he lies in a dazed
 
112
CARMEN BLACKER
stupor. Then he recovers and tells as best he can what hasbefallen him.Sometimes he is a halfwit when he recovers andis able to recount nothing of his adventures.But more oftenhe relates that a tall stranger appeared while he was playingand carried him off. They had gone on a long journey overmountains and seas, sometimes into underground passages andcaves, sometimes as far as the Great Wall of China, sometimesas far as the sum and moon. At length he had begun to feellonely and homesick, whereupon in a trice he had found hiizlselfdeposited in the odd spotwhere he was eventually discoveredby his relations.Such stories have not only been handed doxvn in oral formin many villages, but can also be found in strange profusien inthe written collections of tales in which Japanese literature hasbeen so rich since medieval times.Let us look first at three examples recorded from oralsources.On the evening of September 30th 1907 a child in a villagein Aichi prefecture disappeared just as everyone was busy pre-paring the white rice cakes to be offered to the god at a festivalthe next day. When the celebrations were over and the childstill found to be missing, a frantic search was made throughoutthe village. For some hours all efforts proved fruitless. Thensuddenly a loud thump was heard on the ceiling of the child'sown house. They climbed up to see what had caused the noise,and found the child stretched out unconscious, his mouth coveredwith white rice calie. When at length he recovered his senseshe told them that he had been standing under the big cedartree in the shrine precincts when
a
stranger had appeared andtaken him away. They had walked over treetops and gone intomany people's houses, where always there was a delicious feastof white rice cakes to eat. Eventually he had felt himselfthrust into
a
narrow place, which turned out to be the ceiling
of
his own house.The child afterwards became an idi0t.lA similar episode occurred near Kanazawa in 1877. A youngman of about twenty suddenly disappeared, leaving his woodensandals under
a
persimmon tree. All efforts to find him provedfruitless, until again there was a loud thump on the ceiling andthere, in the same cramped space, lay the young man with his
1.
Yanagita Kunio, "Yama
no
Jinsei",
Teihon Yanagita Kunio
Sh.2,
IV,
p.
77.
The
story was related
to
Yanagita by Hayaliawa KBtarB.
 
SUPERNATURAL ABDUCTIONS IN JAPANESE FOLKLORE
1L3
mouth all green as though
he
had been eating leaves.He too,on recovering consciousness, told
a
tale of an old man who hadcarried him off and taken him to many distant places2Another story from the Kumano district relates how on thenight of the 19th of the fifth month of the year 1808 a boy wentout to the lavatory and didno1 return. They searched every-where in vain until in the small hours of the morning he wasdiscovered standing on the eaves of the go-down, his top haircut off and his clothes covered with cob-webs and ears of susukigrass.For three days he slept soundly. Then he woke up andtold how a mountain ascetic had appeared, taken him by thehand and flown up into the sky. They had flown a great distanceat an incredible speed, alighting now and then on various holymountains which he described accurately. He was enjoying him-self very much and would have liked to see more places, butwas worried about
his
family at home and begged to go back.From Kurama they had come home in one leap, and he had foundhimself standing on the eaves of the go-down with the lanternsof the search party flashing below.3If the child does not some back within the required time inresponse to the spells and the noise on the bells and drums, hisrelations must look for signs which will indicate that he hasindeed been stolen by a god, and not simply been lost or drowned.In Shinshfi province a sure sign that he has been stolen is tofind his shoes neatly placed together under a tree. In nearly alldistricts a further proof of supernatural kidnapping is that heshould be seen again briefly and mysteriously once.
A
child of five in a village in Bungo province cried so per-sistently and exasperatingly one one night that his parents turnedturned him out of doors as a punishment. They heard his criesgrowing fainter and fainter in the direction of the mountain,until in alarm they rushed out to bring him back, only to findthat he had completely disappeared. Spells, drums and bellswere all of no avail. Nothing more was seen or heard of himfor ten years. Then a man called Sh8ichi happened to be walk-ing in the mountains not far from the village. Suddenly he saw
2.
Ibid., p.
78.
This story was told to Yanagita by a man who wasa neighbour of the kidnapped youth, and whose own son had discoveredhim under the roof.
3.
Minzokugaku,
11,
9,
p.
558.

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