Asian Horror Encyclopedia: E



Earth spider :  A monster spider from ancient Japanese lore.  It was the subject of a fine painting by Kenkō Hōshi, dating back to the late Kamakura period.   It depicts a hideous, giant spider with a green body and  a head resembling a cat with whiskers and pointed ears.  Two swordsmen are hacking off its head.  A pile of human skulls lie beneath its abdomen.

The legend behind the painting is even stranger.  The tale has a giant skeleton flying through the sky pursued by the two swordsmen on the ground.  It disappears but they rush into the house of a 290 year woman who wants them to kill her.  In the evening, thunder announced the arrival of a pantheon of monsters and a beautiful woman.   In the morning after that dreadful night, the hero, Yorimitsu, found white blood on his sword, a sure sign of an earth spider.   He  followed the blood trail into the spider’s lair deep in the mysterious Japanese mountains.  When he cut off the head, 1990 heads grew in its place.  He burned them all  and was reward by the grateful authorities.  This story in a significantly altered form became the subject of a popular Nōh play, Tsuichi Gumo (The Earth Spider).

Ebisu : One of the Seven Gods of Fortune.

Edogawa, Rampo : Japanese mystery and horror writer (1894-1965).   He was inspired to write detective fiction by Poe and also by Japanese author Ruiko Kuroiwa (1862-1920).  His real name was Hirai Tarō but early on, he adopted the “Edogawa Rampo” (Edgar Allan Poe) pseudonym.  Edogawa greatly admired Ruiko who wrote detective stories and published the influential periodical, Yorozu choho (All Things Morning News).   Ruiko often serialized foreign detective novels, introducing Rampo and the Japanese public to a new facet of literature.

Mystery fiction in Japan is a very broad genre.  It often embraces horror, dementia, bizarre behavior, cult religions, drugs, and sadism.   In the 1930’s, it got so far out of hand that the government banned mystery fiction, compelling writers to seek refuge in other genres until the end of the war.

Edogawa was very interested in having his short stories translated into English.  While he could not speak English very well, he could read at a respectable level.  He worked with his translator for five years to produce Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Taking great pains, the translator would write a single sentence in English, and Edogawa would criticize it and not continue until it was corrected to his satisfaction.

While his most famous tale in English, “The Human Chair,” is not an outright horror tale, it has an interesting plot twist.  It shows demented logic of an unbalanced mind. The basic premise, that the protagonist hid himself inside an armchair to touch the object of his obsession, is rather implausible but entertaining. In his introduction to the 1966 anthology Beyond The Curtain of Dark,  Peter Haining briefly referred to the story as “new,”  even though it was written in the 1920’s and had been translated into English in 1955.  Strangely enough, Harlan Ellison picked it as his favorite horror story in the anthology, My Favorite Horror Story, edited by Mike Baker and Martin Greenberg (DAW Books: 2000).

“The Hell of Mirrors” is an “over-reacher” plot, the oldest horror device that goes directly back to Frankenstein.  There are some things man should not tamper with.  Ken Tanuma’s obsession with mirrors and optical devices leads him on a bizarre path comparable to the deranged heroes of Lovecraft.  Japanese and Western Science discusses this tale in the context of the scientific interest in Japanese magic mirrors in the early 20th Century. 

“The Red Chamber” and “The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture” also have elements of horror fantasy.  The former with its story-telling-club framing device, reminiscent of many familiar fantasies such as Dunsany’s Tales of Jorken or even Arthur Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart.  Like “The Hell of Mirrors,” the latter story has a unique use of optics to transfer a character to another place.   Written in a modern style, it stands in line with the global tradition of the magic painting which recalls the famous tale from the Liaozhai, “The Painted Wall.”  Herbert Giles called this story to Alice in Wonderland for its physical transposition of worlds.

Edogawa still has broad influence today.  Mikami Shinji, creator of the Resident Evil videogame, said that he was inspired by Rampo. Iron Man Tsukamoto’s new film is based on Rampo’s novel Gemini. The relatively recent 1969 movie, Kyofu kikei ningen (The Deformed Man, dir. Teruo Ishii)  is based on the Edogawa story by the same name.  Edogawa still fascinates readers and audiences today and will continue to do so through the 21st  century.

Egg :  In Korean folklore, giant eggs mysteriously appear in the countryside, containing strange creatures or humans with supernatural powers.  The egg is a gift from heaven, a divine impregnation of the earth and appears in the founding legend of  the Korean nation.  King Hyokkose was truly a “son of Heaven” in that respect. 

The sacred egg motif also appears in horror media, notably monster movies such as Mothra and Gojira..

Elixir of life : Like Western alchemy, the elixir of life, or the golden elixir, exists in both Chinese and Japanese lore.  In one Japanese  legend, Lady Kayuga acquired it from the inhabitants of the moon.  Mount Fuji also is thought to have the elixir in various forms.

In China, the story of the elixir is long and complex.  One source is  the polygonum root (he shou wu or foti root) which is reputed to have the power to increase its consumer's qi, thus lengthening his life.  Another is the legend of Xu Fu, advisor to the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, who sought the elixir on a Japanese island.   It is alleged that the Chinese alchemists  inadvertently invented gunpowder during the Tang Dynasty while trying to make the elixir.

Emma-O : Emma-O is the Japanese Lord of the Dead and the great Judge.  He comes from Buddhist lore, originally called Yama in Sanskrit.  One of the worst sentences he can give is to drop the guilty into a cauldron of molten metal.

Enchō, Sanyūtei : Popular Japanese storyteller  (1839-1900, pseudonym of Debuchi Jirokichi).  His most famous ghost story, “Botan Dōrō” ("Botan Lantern")  was written in the 1860's but definitively transcribed in 1884.  It was retold by Lafcadio Hearn as "A Passional Karma," and it appeared in many forms.  It was filmed in Japan at least seven times starting in 1910.  According to East Magazine (July 2000), Eiho Hiresaki's painting, "Ghost in a Mosquito Net"  inspired Encho to write the story.  It has a complicated plot that involves the ghost of Otsuyu, who is in love with a ronin named Shinzaburo, and it ends in jealousy, murder, and adultery.

His story, Shinkei Ruigafuchi  ("The Ruigafuchi Pool"), also has a complex, coincidence-driven plot, but the supernatural element is the ghost of Toshika, drives the her former lover, Shinkichi, insane, causing him to kill his new love, Ohisa.  After this, he goes on a killing spree with few parallels in Japanese literature.

Another of his rakugo tales,  "Kaidan Chibusa no Enoki" ("Ghost Story: Enoki’s Breast") was filmed in Japan in 1910.

Ero-guro : Japanese shorthand expression for erotic-grotesque.  It has been common among avant-garde manga artists, but actually dating back to early Showa (1920’s and 30’s) era’s mainstream decadent art.  It also applied to a school of anti-Marxist literature, ero guro nansensu bungaku, or erotic, grotesque nonsense literature and later to film-making and even anime.  See also Garo, Hanawa Kazuichi, Hanawa Waichi.

Eroticism :  Horror literature contains a lot of veiled eroticism.  It is comparable to pornography in that the aim of the writing is invoke a specific set of emotions, in the former sexual arousal, in the latter fear mingled with disgust.  Fear is the primary aim but ideally there can be a sense of ecstatic cosmic awe or eroticism.

Chinese and Japanese vampire and succubus tales are unmistakably sexual.  The horror element allows the story to circumvent the societal taboos.  The female vampires are often beautiful, underage women whose temptation is greater than any man, even in religious orders, can resist.

It is interesting to note that Lafcadio Hearn was the first translator of “Clarimonde,” Theophile Gautier’s voluptuous tale of vampire lust and the seduction of a young monk.  This pattern appears in Asian horror as well.

Another factor common to the horror culture is horror’s role in the rites of puberty.  Horror and ghost tales frequently describe seduction and first sexual experiences, especially of young men.  They can be victims of supernatural beings with lust as their fatal flaw.  Fox maidens and vampire creatures are frequently seducers and destroyers.  Horror may be a way of dealing with the anxiety of sexual experience, the loss of bodily fluids and strength.   Sex is a loss of control, a surrender to the dark forces of the body, a plunge in the abyss, an intimation of death.  See The Snake Wife. 

Evil Eye :  Many folkloric and occult systems prescribe talismans and amulets against the evil eye, a spell cast by the piercing look of a sorcerer or shaman.  Asian horror culture seems to lack this feature, so common to other cultures.   To be sure, they have their share of talismans and charms, but none to ward off the evil eye.  See also Eyes.

Exorcism : Still practiced throughout Asian, even in heavily industrialized countries like Japan.  The New Year’s tradition of  throwing beans out the front door of Japanese homes is a holdover from an ancient Chinese exorcism ceremony.

Chinese exorcism springs from Taoist magic.  The Taoist practitioner most frequently exorcised the sick, believing them to be possessed by a malevolent spirit.   See also azusa.

Eyes : The eye can be a source of terror.  In rare cases, individuals have a fear of eyes and cannot make eye contact.  The eye appears humorously in Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro.  It is at its most horrifying in The Ring, where the only feature of the ghostly Sadako’s face that is visible is her hideously upturned eye.  It appears on the cover of the manga and the video. 

“The Talking Pupils” is a peculiar tale in the Liaozhai where a blinded man hears two tiny imps, one in each eye, conversing.   The man was improperly staring at a beautiful noblewoman whose maid threw dust in his eyes.  The dust grew into a thick cover, rendering him totally blind.  He thought about suicide but took comfort from learning Buddhist sutras and decided to live.  Thus redeeming himself, the little creatures in his eyes decided it was too dark in eyes and made a hole in the crust covering one eye.  His wife saw the two tiny men climbing down his nose.   He could see again and lived a virtuous life.

In a footnote, Giles adds that the Chinese widely that each eye contains a tiny creature in human shape.  He attributed this to the minified reflection of the observer in the pupil.