Vengeful ghost that manifests in physical (rather than spectral) form) from the Kinsei-Kaidan-Simoyonohos, 1808.

Religion and Onryō Spirits

Most Japanese participate in rituals and customs derived from several religious traditions.  Japanese people embrace any religion and don’t discriminate other people’s beliefs. This stems from the polytheism culture of the Japanese. Polytheism is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, having their own rituals and ceremonies. Majority of the populace practice Buddhism, Shinto, or are simply non-religious. Most of the religious events are regarded as more of a cultural event or tradition so even non-religious people pray at a temple or a shrine and join religious activities. This ideology towards religion and beliefs, Japanese people tend to accept and celebrate other religious events such as Christmas, adding a little twist to make it uniquely Japanese.

Vengeful ghost that manifests in physical (rather than spectral) form) from the Kinsei-Kaidan-Simoyonohos, 1808.

Vengeful ghost that manifests in physical (rather than spectral) form) from the Kinsei-Kaidan-Simoyonohos, 1808.

Shinto and Buddhism

Two major religions are practiced in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto, the ethnic religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices, carried out diligently to establish a connection between the ancient past and modern times, is practiced by almost 80% of the population. While Buddhism was introduced to Japan by five Chinese monks from Gandhara (an ancient kingdom extending to the Swat valley and Potohar plateau regions of Pakistan and the Jalalabad district of northeastern Afghanistan) who travelled to Japan during the Kofun period (250 to 538).

Onryō or “vengeful spirit”

Onryō, or “vengeful spirits”, are just one of many supernatural creatures and spirits in the Japanese indigenous religion of Shinto. Shinto traditions and practices can be traced back to the oldest extant chronicle in Japan from the 8th century, the Kojiki, as well as the second oldest book of classical Japanese history, the Nihon Shoki. These ancient Japanese writings are historical records of a collection of Japanese mythology and native beliefs.

 Image of the Buddhist monk Genbō who was the abbot (sōjō) of Kōfuku-ji in Nara in the 8th century.Japanese traditional belief and literature talk about a “wrathful spirit” believed to be capable of causing harm to the living. Onryō is based on the idea that enraged and powerful spirits of the deceased could cause harm and even death to the living.

Image of the Buddhist monk Genbō who was the abbot (sōjō) of Kōfuku-ji in Nara in the 8th century.

The earliest record of possession by an onryō is chronicled in Shoku Nihongi, an imperially-commissioned Japanese history text completed in 797. It tells of the events leading to the death of Genbō, a Japanese scholar-monk and bureaucrat of the Imperial Court at Nara and the rival of Fujiwara Hirotsugu. Hirotsugu died in a failed insurrection, known in history as the “Fujiwara no Hirotsugu Rebellion”. Shoku Nihongi states that Fujiwara Hirotsugu’s soul was the cause of Genbō’s demise.