Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Noh Way To Go

Magnet # 366:  Japanese Noh Demon Mask

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Jasmine & Matt

Still looking for the right mask to wear this Halloween?  Well, this one ought to scare the heck out of any Trick-or-Treaters who knock on your door.  It's used in Noh performances, which have been part of Japanese culture for centuries.  Only men participate in these dramas, and some of them wear masks.  This particular one, which is called a Hannya Oni, would be used to portray a woman who has transformed from rage and jealousy into a demon and inspire fear in the audience.  I think it gets the point across pretty clearly.  As more and more visitors around the world have been introduced to Noh theatre, the masks used in them, or others based on them, have become popular souvenirs that customers can use to frighten their friends and family worldwide.

Not only does Japan produce some pretty scary masks, it's also home to one of the creepiest places on Earth - the Aokigahara Forest.  It's located at the base of Mount Fuji, one of the most sacred areas in the nation.  Here, the trees are very densely placed, blocking sound and even a good deal of light from the outside world.  It's also said to be eerily devoid of any wildlife.  And despite its also being known as the Sea of Trees, a somewhat idyllic name, this is not a peaceful place.  Legends and folklore have held for centuries that it is haunted by demons and goblins.  Perhaps the most frightening spirits said to stalk the woods are the yurei, ghosts who have been taken unexpectedly and unnaturally from their lives.  And if the proper burial rites are not performed, they enter a state of purgatory where they howl their suffering on the winds, haunting anyone unlucky enough to encounter them.  Many of these are said to be concentrated within Aokigahara Forest.  In the 19th century, the site was used in a pretty abominable practice - that of ubasute.  This was undertaken by poor families who abandon their young, old, or infirmed that they can no longer care for to the elements, where they die by exposure, starvation, or dehydration.  It was most often used during times of famine and drought, and some feudal officials even ordered its use.  Now, many of those left behind may still be trapped in their final resting place, terrorizing those that disturb it.  Aokigahara was also a place where suicide was popular over the years, but with the publication of Kuroi Jukai in 1960, the rate of suicides committed in the forest has risen alarmingly high.  That novel tells of two young lovers who are haunted within Aokigahara and eventually kill themselves there.  There are plenty who have followed in their example - since the 1950s, over 500 have died in the Sea of Trees, and most of them were suicides.  On average, about 30 lives end there annually.  The most disturbing year was 2003, when about 100 bodies were discovered there.  Since then, local officials have stopped publishing the suicide rate, and they've also placed signs throughout Aokigahara, encouraging visitors not to take their lives.  And while they've worked in some cases, the forest is still said to be the second most popular place in the world to commit suicide, coming in behind San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.  Some say that the trees themselves have become malevolent from all of the death, preventing visitors from leaving, and that the spirits are calling out for lost souls to come there and end their lives.  Perhaps most disturbing is the annual body search, which has been held since 1970.  Aokigahara is known as the most haunted place in Japan, and with good reason.  I know I'd be a little nervous about visiting it if I ever got the chance.

With its lovely, graceful geishas, serene art, and booming urban culture, Japan has many different sides, but most don't tend to think of the nation as a particularly creepy spot.  However, it clearly has a dark side, no matter how well it is hidden.  And despite all of its rapid, industrial growth, there are some areas of Japan that have remained more or less untouched by the modern world.  It seems that no matter how advanced the nation manages to become, the dark forest of Aokigahara will remain steeped in its ages old reputation of being a place where the dark side of Japan gathers to prey on those who enter, particularly those who have lost their way in life.

No comments:

Post a Comment