The rivalry between British and Japanese ghosts

japanese ghost rivalry

I had no idea of the concern aired in the early 20th century by the keepers of all things paranormal regarding the potential usurping of the traditional British ghost by the Japanese variety. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Daily Mail, but I have to say that this article from 1933 opened my eyes to the rivalry that existed at the time. The author of the article does ultimately declare that the Japanese hitodama is a worthy contender for the spectral throne but equally I have read a number of earlier newspaper articles that are less impressed by these foreign phantoms. Does anyone know more about this subject?

Daily Mail, 1933

‘There seem to be no bounds to this Japanese competition with Britain. If there is one staple commodity of ours which has hitherto feared no comparison with foreign rivals it is the British ghost. He seemed a natural by product of our Tudor architecture. The panelled walls and stone-flagged passages of the moated granges and turreted castles of Britain provided an environment most favourable for his development, which was assisted by the gloomy and predominantly misty character of our climate. It might have been thought impossible for a, country whose houses are built of flimsy wood and paper to compete with us in this respect. After two visits to the Tokyo Ghost Exhibition I regret to report, however, that in eeriness, blood-curdling horror, malevolence, and general spookiness the Japanese ghost is in no way inferior to the British article.

Fortunately for our native spectres, however, the otherwise most efficient phantoms of Japan have a structural defect which renders them instantly recognisable. No attempt at Japanese spirit-dumping can possibly delude British ghost-hunters into the belief that they are being offered a genuine homebred apparition. The difference lies in the fact that Japanese ghosts have no legs. Down to the waist they correspond to the best European models. The form is generally cadaverous, and of a graveyard pallor. The dank hair’ falls in matted disorder over eyes that smoulder with a baleful glow. The hands are long, and skeletonised, and arc carried breast-high. But the legs merely taper off into a wisp of greyish vapour. Thus the Japanese ghost cannot walk; he merely floats along. Such traditional British effects as phantom footsteps or the dragging of chains are impossible for him. Continue reading