Yurei is the Japanese word for “ghost.” They are the souls of the dead unable-or unwilling-to shuffle off this mortal coil. Just as in the West, some yurei haunt a specific place; others tend to foam freely. But the similarities with foreign ghosts end there. The yurei are driven by emotions so uncontrollably powerful that they have taken on a life of their own: Rage. Sadness. Devotion. Revenge. Or even the simple belief that they are still alive.
Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide
By Hiroko Yoda & Matt Alt; Illustrations by Shinkichi
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Age Rating: All Ages
Yurei Attack! is the third book in a trilogy of survival guides that includes Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack! While yokai and ninja are better known to western audience, yurei have made it into our consciousness, mostly through J-Horror movies, books and manga such as The Ring and The Grudge. So knowing what kinds are out there how to deal with them could save your life.
Yurei Attack! is broken up into 7 chapters. Four chapters describe the kinds of ghosts that attack and how, with tips on how to avoid them. They are categorized as Scary and Sexy, Furious Phantoms, Sad Spectres, and Haunted Places. One chapter is about the haunted games that people play, one tells the tales of people who have had encounters and survived, and the last chapter shows what Jigoku, Japan’s version of hell, looks like.
The main element that connects all yurei is emotion. Each category is associated with an emotion; anger, jealousy, sadness, regret. These emotions become overwhelming, making the spirit unwilling to move on, or even admit they are no longer living. The haunted places are filled with negative emotions, mostly having to do with war as either the place of a battle, or prison. Even a beautiful waterfall can can be haunted. A few places have rumors of ritual sacrifice that keeps the souls rooted to the place. Sometimes a spirit can be appeased and it will move on, but sometimes, a spirit emotion can be so strong, that it transcends the original reason, and becomes a reason until itself.
Most of the stories have their roots in the 14-18th centuries, through the Sengoku and Tokugawa periods, where there was a lot of death, intrigue, and free time to write, draw and talk about them. The games also mostly come from Tokugawa and forward. It’s the games that will be most familiar to western readers, as they are the easiest to insert into manga. The telling of One Hundred Stories, curses, and Kokkuri San have all appeared in localized titles. I really liked the section on “Houses with Histories,” and how they are treated in real estate even today.
Each entry is short and concise, mostly only taking three pages to tell including how to survive an encounter. Many yurei aren’t dangerous. They just send a chill up your spine. Some, such as Furisode Kaji and Sugawara no Michizane are blamed for causing terrible disasters and needed to be appeased. Many are also historical to semi-historical, though a few, such as Lady Rokujo are from works of fiction. Some are even associated with yokai, and grow out of being a who and into being a what. The best way to invite trouble your way with most yurei is playing the games, because once called, spirits don’t always go back.
I enjoyed Yurei Attack! I love ghost stories, so getting to read so many was really a treat. Shinkichi’s illustrations are delightful yet creepy. Her vision of Jigoku is truly hellish. The only thing missing that would have this volume just that much more perfect was a map of where all the places are in Japan. There is a short blurb on how to get to many of the spots, but I would have liked a map as well. It also included a glossary and bibliography that is a great resource for further reading. There is also a short section on toys based on demons and ghosts, that were popular in Japan.
Yurei Attack! is a fun capper to this trilogy of supernatural titles. Anyone interested in Japanese ghosts or the supernatural should check it out.