百物語怪談会 / Hyakumonogatari Kaidan-Kai: Will you be afraid? II

Some information:


Hyakumonogatari Kaidan-Kai/百物語怪談会 or better known as ‘The 100 ghost stories ritual’ is one of Japanese summoning rituals in Japan. Originated from a test of courage between 7 samurai back in 1660, the game spreaded to the rural area and became feudal Japanese favourite past-time. Hyakumonogatari is literally translated in part as hyaku – one hundred, monogatari – a story. Kaidan, however, is a crucial component to the establishment and the ongoing development of the ritual. In modern Japanese culture, Kaidan means ‘to narrate the strange’, different from the contemporary definition as ‘frightening ghost stories’ (Davisson, 2011).

The samurai engaging in the ritual.

Many kaidan(s) represent the Japanese relationship with Shintoism – which has been linked to since birth and their belief in the supernatural. Part of the reasons why kaidan, as well as the ritual, still manage to survive after hundreds of years is due to the ever increase number of explanation/stories to the inexplicable in daily life. In the digital age where beliefs in the supernatural aren’t the same way they were in Edo period, kaidan(s) now act as social commentary, “expedient means for covertly expressing social and political criticism” (The Appeal of Kaidan, 2000).

Regarding the popularity of the ritual in the present day, Hyakumonogatari Kaidan-kai has been responsible for inspiring a lot of the horror elements in Japanese modern media such as anime, manga, movies and games (Plumb, 2010). In the gaming industry particularly,

“Japan is extremely prolific when it comes to horror games. For more than a decade the country has dominated the horror game market, so much so that every single top-tier horror franchise has its roots in Japan”

(Chris Pruet, 2010). 

Moreover, Japanese horror films also hold a solid position in the industry following with various American adaptations and remakes (McRoy, 2008), one notable example is ‘the Ring’ (2012). this is to say that Japanese horror subculture has built up a big global audience over time acrossing different  media channels. Thus, leading us to find out and participate in this ritual.

Kaidan Restaurant, an anime based on the Kaidan element.

Yami Shibai – A ghost storytelling anime – inspired by the ‘100 ghost stories ritual’.

To play this game, originally, participants need to prepare 100 lit candle in a separate dark room where no light could penetrate and a circular mirror in the middle. After each player tell a ghoulish tale, the storyteller would blow out a single candle, look into the mirror and make their way back into the room where the rest are seating. As the final candle is extinguished, it is believed that someone or something terrible would befall onto the participants. However, in the modern day, to save time and money, there are different versions of the game where people only gather for a few stories. In this case, we decided to (semi)-participate in the 100 ghost stories ritual this way.

Our experience:

To make sense of our experience of the ritual, we have employed several auto-ethnography methods as can be seen in the above video:

  • Narrative ethnographies: Participating in the experience of ‘100 ghost stories’ by re-telling, finding out and translating the text version of the stories.
  • Reflexive ethnographies: Documenting ways a researcher as a result of doing fieldwork.
  • Layered accounts: Finding existing research on Japanese horror culture and Buddhism to analyze our data as well as to explain how personal background influence our understanding of this sub-culture.

Final thoughts:


After participating in the ritual ourselves, we have come to realized the iconic element of 100 ghost stories. From the preparation, the settings, the rules and the invocation of the ritual, they all act as guiding posts to help participants immerse into the 100 ghost stories experience similar to that of an Ouija board (The Appeal of Kaidan, 2000). With each person contributing to the increasing stories over the course of the ritual, the experience became more inclusive and more engaging after each story, creating what is known as the appeal of the Kaidan. To experience that firsthand, all of us are both fascinated and a bit terrified with each coming to realize and make sense of the ritual in different ways:


The ritual, from my perspective, is not only representative of Japanese horror culture and their spiritual belief, but it also brings forward the Japanese notion of courage and shame. I believe in the original version where 7 samurais got together and play this game, their self-esteem and their sense of shame were challenged. And it is really interesting looking at that notion of this ritual because initial thoughts of participating in Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai frightened me. Being a person not so interested in any type of evocation of the spiritual, the ritual’s appeal coming from the desire to prove oneself and seek for recognition had me thinking. After experiencing the ritual, I realised this is not exclusive to Japanese concept of shame but in the Asian context, including the Vietnamese society, which is collectivist by nature, shame is intricately tied to the fear of rejection and loss of familial and cultural community support (Louie, 2014). In an episode of anime xxxHolic portraying Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, mocking those who fear and praising those who dare highlighted this interesting aspect in Asian culture where an individual received status from the group and hence, approval from others is important (Shin n.d.).


I was probably the most excited person (also quite scared)  among the 3 to walk into this experience. Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by the mystery of the spiritual world since a long time ago. Back when I was a child, I think most of us Vietnamese children had some experience with parent scare, where they would threaten us to do things unless we want to be taken away by a ghost or a demon. It has been so traumatizing that it took me 9 years to get over the fear of the unknown and even now I haven’t completely shaken off the feeling. However, having participated in this experience has not only given me a chance to revisit my past but has also helped me appreciate the memories of the death. Now, I no longer see spirituality as apart from myself but rather a part of myself. I think it is extremely important for the younger generation to pass these types of experience on to the future.


“Japanese horror is deeply rooted in the folk tales from their culture, similar to how Grimm’s brothers and other fairy tales are the inspiration for some American or European horror. These folk tales began as oral tradition passed down from each generation to the next, and originate through Shinto belief system that is indigenous to Japan” (Balmain, Colette, 2008). These stories were used to reinforce cultural norms and explain the enigmatic in pre-scientificHorror narratives can take many forms and shapes, constituting variations upon vairiations; on the one hand, tales of horror told in one culture will be different from those enjoyed in another, and on the other hand, there are certain semi- universal, recurring motifs and elements that can be easily recognised -however the matter of can they be easily understood is under the question.

Finally, we have came to the conclusion that Japanese ghost stories have always been significant in popular culture. Not only do people use this type of story to simply give others the goosebumps, but the social/political commentary (The Appeal of Kaidan, 2000) and moral lessons elements have also interwoven into the fabric of postmodern society. Furthermore, these stories, along with the ritual have given us a glimpse into the spiritual world that is more humane than sinister. They teach us to understand and respect the death and to pass on their memories to the future. Thus, the ever increasing number of horror tales that help preserve the Japanese cultural heritage to this day. This is why these thousand-year-old scary stories can still be found lurking in our digital society.

Our presentation: https://prezi.com/sctzsu8bugey/hyakumonogatari-kaidankai/


  1. Pruett, C. (2010). The anthropology of Fear: Learning About Japan Through Horror Games. Inteface: The Journal of Education, Community and Values 10 (9).
  2. Reider, N. (2000). The Appeal of “Kaidan”, Tales of the Strange. Asian Folklore Studies, 59(2), p.265.
  3. 百物語怪談会 Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai. (2018). 百物語怪談会 Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai. [online] Available at: https://hyakumonogatari.com/ [Accessed 17 Oct. 2018].
  4. Plumb, A. (2010). Japanese Religion, Mythology, and the Supernatural in Anime and Manga. The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, 8(5), pp.237-246.
  5. McRoy, J. (2008). Nightmare Japan. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  6. Davisson, Z n.d., ‘What is Hyakumonogatari?’, Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, weblog post, viewed 15 October 2018, <https://hyakumonogatari.com/what-is-hyakumonogatari/>
  7. Ellis, C, Adams, TE & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.
  8. Shin, B n.d., Understanding Shame and Its Effects on Asian Americans, Asian American Christian Equippers, viewed 15 October 2018, <http://aace.link/understanding-shame-and-its-effects-on-asian-americans/>
  9. Shin, B n.d., Understanding Shame and Its Effects on Asian Americans, Asian American Christian Equippers, viewed 15 October 2018, <http://aace.link/understanding-shame-and-its-effects-on-asian-americans/>

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