Michaeline: Ghosts on the Brain

Okiku, a ghost from a well, at night. She's got a sad expression on her face, and she's blowing out a stream of cold air.

Okiku, the ghost rising from a well. Note how her body is made of plates . . . and she’s SO over 2020 and all its nonsense. Phew! (Image via Wikimedia Commons. Hokusai)

People are moaning and groaning that Halloween is going to be cancelled in North America this year, and others are vaguely annoyed by this attitude – mind you, I’m seeing this on Twitter, and most people are not even taking 280 characters to express their feelings about this, so half of what I report here may be my own imagination.

In Japan, Halloween has become quite popular, but mostly among the kids who go to English classes, and among the candy manufacturers. There’s a whole display of special orange, black and purple snacks for Halloween. Not bite-size candies to pass out, per se. And not really anything particularly scary. Just the candy company mascot dressed up as a witch, a vampire or a Munch’s Scream Guy. So, I HAVE been to a couple of Halloween parties in Japan, but they are mostly mass events where kids parade their costumes (95 percent of which are witches, vampires or Scream Guys), and then say in English, “Trick or Treat” at a booth to receive a small piece of candy.

I’ve hosted a couple of Halloween parties when my kids were small, but let’s face it. I’m not influential enough to change Japanese Halloween culture.

So, in Japan, anyway, it’s not going to be a big deal. They might have the mass events, with extra masks. It’ll be interesting to see if they tap into the horror of this year, and have more Zombie Nurses (2 percent of the costume parade) or COVID victims (obviously, this would be a debut costume), but I doubt it. Most people who celebrate will grab a bag of Scary Themed butter shoyu potato chips, and call it a season.

But anyway, I’ve got ghosts on the brain since July. August is when the ancestors are supposed to return home for a three-day holiday called Obon, and ghost stories are said to be a delightful cooling device when you don’t have an air conditioner – the chill down your spine during a session of evening stories is quite welcome.

For the first time, I’m thinking about Japanese ghosts. I have a modern story about an English teacher who gives a student a ride home every night (note: this is not approved behavior by any school board), then finds out she’s a ghost. I also am thinking about a retelling of Okiku, a maid whose employer wants to seduce her, and when the normal bribes don’t work, he tries blackmail by hiding a precious plate from the family collection, and blaming Okiku for the loss. I want to use Okiku’s

August 1928 cover of Ghost Stories magazine. Fully dressed white lovers from the 1920s with expressions of fear on their faces. The man is holding the woman, and she cuddles up to his chest.

Joe and Tish may have other adventures during the pandemic. The living are a horror show! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

ever-so-great grand-niece. Maybe she’s Japanese American who has gone back to Japan? I’m not sure.

I’m up for other ghost stories, too. The one I told on Elizabeth’s writing sprint is about Bohemian Catholic ghosts (2nd or 3rd generation Americans) who get trapped with a WASP (or maybe agnostic) couple during the pandemic.

Reality is feeling just a little unreal these days. You read the news, and think a dozen times a week, “Man, I never thought I’d see this in a newspaper as a real thing.” It feels like you should be able to poke a hole through the tissue, and see the old, normal world again. Ghosts feel like the perfect beast of burden for carrying some of these thoughts. They are both real and unreal in fiction, and their narrow view of reality clashes with that of the living . . . and maybe even with each other.

One thought on “Michaeline: Ghosts on the Brain

  1. I’m looking to see our president ghosted come Nov. 3! But you’re right, Michaeline, this time does seem perfect for a ghost story, since it is full of scary and unbelievable things.

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