It was a good Christmas for me this last year. I was under the weather, recovering from surgery, but my family filled my stocking with enough haunting books to keep my spirits up. The first book I got was from my baby sister, Rose. It is a collection of Japanese ghost stories by Lafcadio Hearn. The book is absolutely beautiful, filled with Japanese depictions of ghosts and monsters from folklore in rare color. Just flipping through the book is a visual journey into the dark world of Japanese folklore and it is a beautiful one. The stories are very different from American ghost stories. The book is called Kwaidan, which is translated as meaning ghost story.
My favorite story was a story of a Rokuorkubi. According to Wikipedia, Rokourkubi "look like normal human being by day, but at night they gain the ability to stretch their necks to great lengths. They can also change their faces to those of terrifying oni to better scare mortals." The depiction of Rokuorkubi in Hearn's book is an original translation and is different from Wikipedia's depiction and a little more terrifying. The story in the book tells of a wandering priest who was once a Samurai. He is sleeping in a forest known to be haunted by horrible ghosts and demons when a kind man comes upon him He was taken in by the kind man and given a bed only to wake up in the middle of the night to find the bodies of the residents of the house lying on the floor in front o his room without a their heads. At first, he assumes some dreadful spirit has killed everyone and taken their heads, but upon careful examination he discovers that the bodies are the bodies of Rokuro-Kubi. The heads of the Rokuro-Kubi had separated from their bodies to do evil in the night. The Samari hides the bodies from the heads and battles the Rokuro-Kubi only to have one of them attach itself to his sleeve. He is almost executed because people assume the head is a souvenir he has taken of a someone he has slaughtered, but at the last minute a wise judge sees the markings on the neck of the Rokuo-Kubi and knows the demon for what it is.
This is just one of the tales gathered by Hearn who was a translator and scholar of Japanese folklore from the turn of the last century. Although the book I was given was subtitled Japanese Ghost Stories, I have seen the book in other places called, Kwaidan, Stories: Studies of Strange Things. Other stories include tales of murdered birds that haunt the murderer and a young woman who makes her betrothed wait for her after death. They are a beautiful glimpse into another world of death and I enjoyed them all. This book was made into a Japanese film in 1965 which I am definitely going to try to see.