A sequel of sorts to Turning the tables from a while back; the Meiji-era Japanese version of contacting the spirit world through the medium of moving furniture and incomprehensible messages. Kokkuri consisted of three bamboo rods connected to make a tripod, with a round tray or lid balanced on top. As with the Western Ouija Board, three or four people would lightly touch the lid. One person chanted “Kokkuri-sama, Kokkuri-sama, please descend, please descend. Come now, please descend quickly.” Note that -sama is the level of honorific politeness above -san, a bit like saying “Mr. Kokkuri, sir” although there isn’t really a direct English equivalent. After about ten minutes of this, the person says “If you have descended, please tilt towards [somebody present].” If all was well, the lid would move and could be used as a way for whoever or whatever had “descended” to answer questions.
Kokkuri was seemingly as popular with the Japanese populace as seances and Spiritualism were in the West during the same period. The similarity of Kokkuri to these practices is no coincidence, since it was generally acknowledged as having been imported along with many other innovations that arrived after Japan’s borders were re-opened to the rest of the world. Exactly who brought it to Japan, how, and why, were and are unresolved subjects.
Unlike the Christian West, where seances took on an unavoidably moralistic, pompous and morbid dimension because of their focus on supposedly speaking to the dead (and also of course because moralising, pomposity and morbidity were among the guiding principles of the Victorian age) the less Manichean and more animistic Japanese incarnation of table turning was conceived primarily as a kind of play, albeit play that could conceivably or nominally be taking place with “real” yōkai like the kitsune (fox spirits) or tengu (goblins). It never took on the sinister edge of the Ouija Board, which had also originally conceived as a genteel entertainment; they’re still officially marketed as games, mainly in deference to American fundamentalist hysteria and the lasting influence of The Exorcist, which is strange considering that film’s so ineptly made and ridiculous. To quote Beetlejuice, it keeps getting funnier every single time I see it.
Thanks for this enlightening post – I have never heard of this Japanese practice of calling in spirits so I found it quite interesting.
Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.