Clarissa Johal: #FolkloreThursday - Shinigami #Japanese

Thursday, September 22, 2016

#FolkloreThursday - Shinigami #Japanese

My teens and I have been re-watching Death Note, an anime based on the manga series. If you like complicated plots that question morality and blur the line between good and evil, give Death Note a try. One of the main characters (and my favorite) is Ryuk, a shinigami. That said, today's post is on shinigami.

Shinigami (死神, The Japanese Grim Reaper
Creative Commons
Shinigami are the Japanese personification of death and depicted as gods or supernatural spirits. However, the word shinigami didn't appear in classical literature until the Edo period, when it appeared in writings with themes of double suicides. Interpretations of the word differ; some state shinigami were gods, ghosts or evil spirits, while others assert the word expressed the fleetingness of life.

Folk religion also spoke of shinigami. According to custom, those who attended the sick at night, must drink tea or eat a bowl of rice before sleeping, or risk being visited by a shinigami.
In the Shizuoka Prefecture, a shinigami could possess someone and lead them to mountains, seas, and railroads where others had died. The dead would then be allowed to ascend, with the possessed invited to take their place. In the Okayama Prefecture, while it was expected to visit a grave during Higan (a Buddhist holiday), one would be at risk of possession by a shinigami. If you visited the grave during sunset, it would be necessary to also visit the grave during sunrise.

When the western notion of death entered Japan, shinigami were thought to exist within human nature. They became the subject of many works of fiction, and now show up in manga, anime, and novels such as Pokemon, Death Note, Bleach, Black Butler and Soul Eater, just to name a few.

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