Asian Horror Encyclopedia: B



Badger :  The badger is a supernatural creature in Japanese literature and art, often dangerous as in traditional tale, “The Story of Crackling Mountain”, retold by  Davis in Myths and Legends of Japan.  Also, in the tale “Common Sense”, Hearn describes how a badger fooled a Buddhist priest into thinking he was seeing a vision of the holy Fugen Bosatsu, until a lowly hunter shatters the illusion.

Bakemono :  Generic Japanese term that primarily means monster but also goblin, spectre, apparition.  The creatures include mononoke, kappa, oni, tengu, and yamanba, or mountain witch.

Bakeneko :  Japanese goblin cat.  This is general an oversized, white monster cat, featured frequently in anime, especially Ranma ½ where the bakeneko is seeking a wife.

Bakin : Japanese novelist (1767-1848).  Japan’s most acclaimed novelist and a student of the gothic writer, Santō Kyōden,  he is the author of one of Japan’s greatest novels, Nanso Satomi Hakken-den (literally Nanso Satomi’s Eight Dog Warriors).  Originally written between 1814 and 1832, filmed and even made into an anime (Japanese animation), this story contains many supernatural elements: evil spirits, dogs that perform incredible feats, and people with mysterious powers.  He fills the story with bizarre ghosts, demons and supernatural forces.  In Japanese and Western Literature, Martins-Janeira praises this book as a major work of fantastic literature.

Baku :  The baku is a Japanese supernatural creature known as the “eater of dreams”.  It’s a mixture of different animals (lion, horse, cock, etc). Japanese peasants used to ask the baku to eat up their bad dreams to prevent them from coming true or harming them.

The baku plays a significant role in the animated film Urusei Yatsura 2: The Beautiful Dreamer. 

Bampiru no kai : Vampire tale by Kurahashi Yumiko.  Sadly, this tale is not included in the collection of her translated stories.

Bampu : Vampire in some Japanese dictionaries, usually kyūketsuki (lit. blood-sucker).

Bancho Sarayashiki : A famous Japanese traditional ghost story.  There are differing versions of the tale, but it generally involves the maid Okiku who was falsely accused of breaking a valuable plate.  Out of shame, she drowned herself in a well.  She haunted the well by counting up to nine and then letting out a frightening cry.  The reason for this was that the broken plate was one of a set of ten, but since one was broken only nine remain.  A priest relieves Okiku's tormented spirit by shouting "ten" after she does her usual count of nine, and the well is haunted no more.

The story is the basis of a Kabuki play by the same name, and it inspired Yoshitoshi to include it in his final collection of prints called Shinkei sanjûrokkaisen (New Series of Thirty-six Ghosts). Hokusai also made a fine illustration for the tale.  It inspired the novel of the same name by Okamoto Kidō which in turn was filmed in Japan at least seven times, starting in 1914.


Director of The Ring, Nakata Hideo connects the well theme in Bancho .Sarayashiki with the well in his movie.  He said that wells are symbolic of a link to the unconscious.  Like bridges and torii, wells communicate with the world of the dead.  This may explain the fascination with wells in horror literature and film.  See also Hokusai, Kiku Mushi, and Okamoto Kidō.

Bandō, Masako  Popular Japanese horror writer.  Her novel, Shikoku, was made into a film in 1999.  It is a supernatural horror drama in which a young woman's spiritual investigation leads her to an island that is the  gateway to the underworld.  The Japanese island of Shikoku is unspoiled in its isolation from modernity.  It has 88 Buddhist temples that protect it from the openings to the world of the dead.  It is here that the heroine tries to bring her late 16 year-old daughter back to the land of the living.

Bara-musume : literally “rose girl”, in some works a fragile girl, but in others a Japanese femme fatale, more dangerous to encounter than a tiger.

Baudelaire, Charles  :  According to Chieko Mulhern, Mori Ōgai made the first mention of  the notorious French poet in Japanese in 1892, followed by a more thorough discussion by translator Ueda Bin in 1900.  The Meiji decadent writers frequently expressed empathy for the Baudelairean fascination with death and decay,  also attributable to Baudelaire’s American soulmate Edgar Allan Poe.

Bells :  Prominent in Asian horror lore as an instrument of torture as well as a device to dispel evil.  Lafcadio Hearn translated the Chinese tale “The Soul of the Great Bell” wherein a young girl sacrifices herself in the molten metal to make a bell casting successful.  In Buddhist literature, there is a part of hell that burns sinners in a lake of molten metal.  In a similar Korean folktake, “The For Mother Bell”, the girl’s mother volunteers her for the sacrifice and while the casting was successful, the bell has a plaintive sound when it rings.  The Korean bell can still be seen today at a Korean monastery.

In the Noh play Dojo-Ji, a hanging temple bell serves as a hiding place for a Buddhist priest, Anchin.  In gravest danger,  he is the object of the amorous advances of an attractive young princess. Angry at him for hiding , she transforms herself into a dragon and she flies into the bell, causing it to drop on the ground.  She and the priest are trapped together inside the bell for some time, until her wrath exhausted, she finally leaves.  Inside the bell, they find the priest burned to death.

Benten :  One of the seven Gods of Good Fortune in Japanese mythology.

Bio Hunter : Horror manga by Hosono Fujihiko.   The manga is a classic body horror story where a demonic virus horribly transmutes the DNA of those it infects.  They become huge, grotesque creatures who feed on human livers.   Livers are the food of choice for a whole slew of Asian creatures from ghouls to kappa to Korean fox girls.   The “Bio Hunter’s” are the scientists frantically working to find a cure for the virus.

Biological Horrors : Beginning before Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, biological science has been the subject of horror.   Contemporary Japanese horror exploits biology as a major theme using DNA, parasites, mutations and even mitochrondria to create horror.  The association of hospitals and horror has been well established, but the laboratory is the true birthplace of horror.  Horror often deals with the forbidden, the unclean, the impure and the disgusting and biological research is rampant with all four of these.


The horrors of biology have antecedents in ancient Chinese literature.  In his monumental work, Oriental Humor, Reginald Blythe recaps a story from the Hsiyangtsatu that has echoes in modern weird writers.  In “A Human-faced Boil,” a man discovers that the boil on his arm could drink wine and eat food.  If he fed it too much, his arm would swell like a distended stomach.  This foreshadows biological horror tales involving strange growths that take on a life of their own. 


The early Weird Tales pulp magazine was overrun with such tales, two of the most anthologized being Donald Wandrei’s “It’ll Grow on You” and Edward Lucas White’s “Lukundoo.”  In the latter, a growth of a man’s arm turns into a miniature head.

In contemporary Japan, the manga Parasyte by Iwaaki, Hitoshi (not to be confused with Parasite Eve) is the story of an alien invading a boy’s hand.  It is a well done biological horror with the twist that the invader befriends the host body and helps him battle other parasite invaders.

The blockbuster Parasite Eve springs immediately to mind in this connection.  Inside every human cell, mysterious organelles perform thousands of tasks to preserve life and defend the organism as a whole.  Parasite Eve suggests that one of the less understood organelles, mitochrondria, might have its own agenda – to take control of human evolution.

Black Opium : Story collection (Fumée D’Opium, 1904)  by French author, Claude Farrere (1876-1957), It is a historical cycle of opium dreams set in the China.   Not in the realistic China found in travelogues and diplomatic records, but the China of fantasy.  He arranges the tales chronologically from the earliest days of opium to the final one near the time of his writing.  While his attitude lies closer to Fitz-Hugh Ludlow and Thomas DeQuincey than Herbert Giles, he intrigued a generation of Europeans with the idea of Asian travel.

Blavatsy, H.P. : American writer and founder of Theosophy (1831-1891).   She produced a volume of occult short stories call Nightmare Tales, now a rarity in the book-collecting world.  One of the tales, “A Bewitched Life” is about a skeptical businessman in Japan who gets drawn into  a number of occult secret societies.  The horror is that the man suffers terrible hallucinations and can foresee things he would rather not know.  It is an interesting insight into the early Western exaggerations of the mysterious powers of the Orient.

Body horror : A subdivision of horror culture dealing with disgust of the human body.  This is allied with biological horror a popular sub-genre of Japanese horror.  Body horror generally dates back to the early 1900’s and feature stories of bodily invasion and transformation.  The legendary pulp magazine, Weird Tales, seemed to specialize in this type of tale.  Edward White’s ”Lukundoo” is an early classic of this type.  It had a homunculus growing as a tumor on the protagonist’s arm. 

According to Clive Barker, body horror is the essence of horror.  The idea that one’s body ages and horribly decays is certainly a key element of horror, but as Noel Carroll says that this does not take into account the supernatural or other aspects of horror.  In Barker’s A-Z of Horror, he devotes the “J” section to Japan, specifically the horror films of Tsukamoto Shinya,  Tetsuo - The Iron Man and its sequel are well known to English-speaking horror fans, one can see Barker’s interest in them.  They are the ultimate body horror films, where the body hideously transforms into metal monstrosities.

The Japanese popular culture takes body horror a step further, horribly mutating bodies in demonic creatures, usually with no trace of the original body.   Anime revels in the complex transformations that changes ordinary humans into demons or other fantastic creatures with bulging muscles and veins and exotic sensory organs.  Bodies often incorporate any nearby inanimate objects and turn them into useful appendages.  One interesting variation of this is the manga Eat Man, whose hero has the useful ability to  chew up bolts and bits of metal and covert them to fully functional weapons.   

Bommatsuri  : Japanese Festival of the Dead.  See Bon Odori.

Bon Odori : In Japan, traditional Buddhist Festival of the Dead, comparable to the Hindu sraddha.    It originated from a Buddhist monk who asked the Buddha how to release his mother from the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.  Buddha suggested he do good works in his mother’s name.  When this worked, the monk danced a dance of joy, the O-Bon Odori.  This dance is a central part of the festival. 

Bones, Chinese Oracle : Tens of thousands of oracle bones have been discovered in China, dating back to the Shang Dynasty.  These are usually the shoulder bones of oxen, sheep or goats, but sometimes other animals were used such as turtles.  The bones were inscribed with questions addressed to animistic deities and heated in a fire until the bones cracked.  The resultant markings were interpreted according to the angle of the cracks whether the answer was positive or negative.

Bramah, Ernest : American mystery and oriental fantasy writer (1867-1942) .  He is largely forgotten today except for a series of episodic fantasy tales set in China.  The hero, Kai Lung, is a story-teller/adventurer who wanders about China meeting the famous, the infamous and the extraordinary.   This again is set in  the China of the Western imagination, not the real China.  The two key collections of these tales are Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat and The Golden Hours of Kai Lung.  Originally appearing in brightly colored hardbound editions during the 1930’s, his tales were reprinted in fantasy paperback boom during the 1960’s and 70’s, by Penguin in the U.K. and Lin Carter’s Adult Fantasy Series in the U.S.A.

Bridges :  In Japan especially, bridges have been the source of supernatural lore since ancient times.  Like the torii, they symbolically connect the realms of the living and the dead.   Here are two examples of bridge lore, one ancient and one more recent.

An interesting tale from the Heian Period (794-1194) has a scholar’s grieving son earnestly praying for his revival as the funeral procession goes over Modoribashi bridge.  The scholar, Miyoshi Kiyoyuki, revived long enough to comfort his son but then succumbed again to death.  The name Modoribashi means “Bridge of Returning” for this incident.  In the Edo Period, this bridge became an important point of offerings for condemned men wishing to be reborn and during World War II, men crossing the Modoribashi believed they improved their chances of returning from the war.

Another ghostly bridge is the scene of a love triangle murder-suicide, so popular in traditional Japan.  A samurai named Ogawa had a beautiful wife and a treacherous friend named Murakami.  Murakami fell in love with the samurai’s wife and killed him to free her for himself.  She avenged her husband’s death, killing Murakami with a long sword and jumped off the bridge over the Kandagawa river outside Tokyo.   From this occurrence, the locals began to claim the bridge to be haunted and called it Sagatamizubashi which means “Bridge of the Unseen Figure” or Omokagebashi or “Bridge of the Shade..”

Burke, Thomas :  British author of short stories (1886-1945).    His tales are often set in London’s notorious Limehouse district, which is the local  “Chinatown.”  His most famous story collection is Limehouse Nights (1916) which was followed by a sequel, More Limehouse Nights. In contrast to the high colors of the oriental fantasies of Bramah and Owen, Burke wrote about the seamy side of life of the Chinese living in London.  One of his stories, "The Chink and the Child" was filmed as Broken Blossoms by D.W. Griffith in 1919.

Butterflies : Symbol of the human soul in Asian literature. Butterflies have been an object of fascination in Chinese poetry and philosophy.  There is of course Lao Tzu's famous dream of being a butterfly.  The Chinese philosopher Rosan claimed that spirit maidens used to tell him tales of ghostly butterflies.

The Japanese adopted the butterfly lore from China and retold many famous legends.  In Hearn’s "Dream of Akinosuke," one of the goshi sees a butterfly, representing his soul, go into Akinosuke's mouth while he is dreaming of marrying into a royal family of ants.  In Davis’s Myths and Legends of Japan, butterflies can be a good omen heralding the arrival of a loved one, or an frightening swarm of dead souls on their way to the netherworld.   Butterflies have a significant reference in  the drama “The Flying Hairpin of Kochoo.”  Kochoo, the heroine commits suicide, and her hairpin turns into a butterfly that brings vengeance against her tormentor.  In “The White Butterfly,”  the soul of Akiko, the celibate Uncle’s dead fiancée, alights on the pillow of his death bed.