Japan has its fair share of chilling stories, spanning from the uncanny to the downright horrifying. Just see this list regarding some popular urban legends. If you need further proof, take a look at all the Japanese horror movies and the many remakes.
The modern age, with its flashy technology and well lit-hubs, makes the ghosts and demons of yore seem trivial if not amusing. Horror will not surrender so easily, however, and every October people clamor for the scares. America has Stephen King. England has Clive Barker. Japan has Ito Junji.
Born in 1963, Ito Junji has the look of a mild, bespectacled professor. Nothing about him screams horror, but he is actually an imaginative author and artist, working within one of Japan’s most well known mediums: manga. What started as a hobby soon became a lifetime career, and Ito has created more than twenty works. His comics are often inspired by other Japanese horror artists and H. P. Lovecraft, and many involve small towns where unusual things happen. He continues to scare readers to this day. Here’s a look at five of his most frightful tales.
His first and most famous work, Tomie is a story about a schoolgirl. The titular character is far from normal, though, and everyday actions often careen into the wild and supernatural, terrifying and changing those who come into contact with her. Described as being unbelievably beautiful, Tomie effortlessly draws men to her. Sometimes she turns them on each other for her own amusement. Other times, she drives women to insanity, usually with fatal consequences. Tomie has inspired more than five film adaptations.
No, there is no relation to Japan’s famous ninja superhero. Translated as “spiral”, Uzumaki is a short, three-volume series about a sleepy rural town that has been cursed by spirals. The town’s inhabitants slowly start to obsess or panic over spirals that begin to appear everywhere. A potter collects clay from an eerie swamp and discovers that when fired, every piece of pottery has a spiral pattern. A beleaguered widow becomes paranoid about the spirals found on the human body and tries to erase them. Will the people persevere with their lives, or will the town fall under the spiral’s curse?
This is a story about monster fish that take over the world. Really. A couple on vacation near the beach spot what appears to be a fish with legs, and soon, these legged creatures are wreaking havoc and invading cities. Tiny guppies with legs might be grotesque, but hardly capable of toppling humanity. But what if there are thousands? What about sharks and killer whales on lethally sharp legs? Before long, the word is out that these creatures are not mutants of nature, but caused by man. The two-part story opens up questions about pollution, ethics, and what lives on in the deep, murky sea.
Like Stephen King, Ito Junji has also amassed a number of short stories, all worth a read. Tomie is actually the first in the series. The Horror Comic Collection contains some truly creative storytelling and spans sixteen volumes. There are demonic circuses, distressing neighbors, vampiric women that feed on blood trees, a town without streets, and much, much more.
Even artists that make a living off horror need a break every now and then. One of Ito’s recent works, Cat Diary is inspired by the author’s own life with his new cats. Unable to resist adding a touch of the otherworldly, one cat has a pattern on its back shaped like a skull, and Ito’s character initially believes the cat is cursed. Funny anecdotes abound, speaking to the hearts of cat owners everywhere.
Omizutori is an ancient two-week long festival that occurs at Todaiji Temple in March. This is a truly exciting event that encompasses many rituals, including a fire and water ceremony.
Hinamatsuri is a special occasion in Japan that celebrates girls, wishing for their happiness and health. Have you ever seen one of the signature, grand doll displays? They are an important part of the event, as well as other customs like doll floating and eating special food.