Japanese Ghost Stories to Help Your Language Studies
Japanese is said to be heavily context reliant, which means that the circumstances around a conversation greatly influences what is said. Whether it is through body language or the use of varying levels of polite language, a number of external factors play into every conversation. For this article, I’ll go over Japanese Ghost stories and how their dialogue is used in cultural and situational context.
If you are familiar with children’s TV and games, you might have heard of youkai (妖怪). Youkai are the non-human entities that inhabit this world, and can come from the spirits of animals, minor gods, or even people.
Nowadays, Studio Ghibli and Yokai Watch have turned modern youkai into cute merchandising opportunities whereas the youkai of old would regularly eat children. GeGeGe no Kitaro is an example of how youkai are portrayed in today’s pop culture.
For modern scares, yuurei (幽霊) are the monster of choice. Much like their Western counterparts, a disquieted soul will roam the Earth seeking vengeance against those who wronged it in life. These yuurei are said to haunt everything from hospital hallways to school toilets. As they are almost always vengeful, the word yuurei carries an implied menace.
One of the most famous yuurei is the Kuchisake-onna, (口裂け女). A disquieting ghost that takes the form of a long-haired woman wearing a mask. But why is the Kuchisake-onna special?
The following may save your life one day, so pay attention!
At first she will ask whether she is pretty.
Literally translated this would be “I beautiful?” which is not grammatically correct, but given the situation we understand the meaning.
“私はきれいですか？” (watashi wa kire desu ka?) Is long and not particularly scary, so she cuts the particle. A rising intonation at the end of the sentence shows that it is a question without the need for the “ですか？” (desu ka?) marker and is often used in informal situations, like being accosted by a ghost.
If you are wondering what to say, the answer to this question, (even if your partner is not a ghost) is always “はい！” (hai).
She will now peel back her mask and ask “これでも？” (kore demo) You could translate this as being “now too?” Which makes sense as she leans in and show you her mouth, but a more natural translation into English would probably be something along the lines of “how about now?” Again, she foregoes the “ですか？” in favor of a rising intonation.
You must reply with a hearty “ はい！” if you want to live.
If you followed this short guide you will survive. Unfortunately, no matter how you answer you will walk away with a wider smile, which is why this particular yuurei is so famous.
The only thing scarier than Japanese grammar is the kuchisake-onna.
Japanese grammar isn’t the easiest, but if you come to understand some of the culture around the language and can pick up on context clues it will make learning a lot easier, especially when you move into the world of business Japanese.
Just try to avoid speaking to long-haired, scissor wielding, mask wearing strangers in abandoned hospitals.
Japanese Ghost Stories on LingQ
Using LingQ is the best way to learn Japanese because it allows you to import content that you love. You can easily import any Japanese ghost story you find online (or anime, dramas, songs, and so on) into LingQ and it will automatically create a brand new lesson for you. Highlight new words and add them to your vocabulary deck. You have an infinite amount of content to learn from. Good luck!
Also, LingQ is available on mobile. Take your lessons wherever you go and listen to your target language, read your transcripts, and create review flashcards. LingQ’s language learning apps are available for both Android and iOS.
Sam De Roeck is a native English speaker living in Japan. He should probably study Japanese more, but he spends all his time watching horror movies instead.