Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kamikakushi 神隠し

Ok, this time a longer essay on kamikakushi. 
This is basically a shortened, condensed version of the article I researched for. I don't really mind if someone takes it, but in this case, as in any other "written" case, please quote. Yes, this is my habit.
I don't mind being not credited for video files (even not "thank you-ed", if that matters), audio files and all, but this is part of my work.
Hope you'll enjoy it^^


Kamikakushi literally means “hidden by the gods” and appears in various contexts, sometimes depicting nothing more than disappearance of one person, and sometimes describing psychological and sociological background for the event. In Legends of Tōno, collected by Yanagita Kunio in 1909, kamikakushi are people who were taken to the deep forests surrounding Tōno, some of them returned as half-witted and broken, some were shot by hunters, and some remained forever in the woods.
The popularity of kamikakushi stories dimmed from that time. Only recently in Japan
a new wave of interest in those stories emerged, but as time has changed, the stories changed as well. The term itself lost its connection to the powerful and menacing nature, and became a replacement for a disappearance of everyday things.
One thing remained unchanged – the desire to get lost, and to severe all the ties with society and civilization. This is the core of kamikakushi, the only path to become free in any way possible.
          In the few stories collected by Yanagita about kamikakushi, a reader can discover a regular pattern. This pattern is somewhat scary, considering relatively small territory and time span of the stories. As an example may serve story number eight. The young girl, playing under the pear tree disappears suddenly without a trace. The only things that remain are her straw sandals. She comes back thirty years later as an old woman in ragged (but not dirty!) clothes, and with hint of a smile she explains that she wanted to see everyone once more for the last time. And disappears for the second, final time. This is a typical example of kamikakushi. There are others, and among them another pattern appears. Person who is “predestined” to meet with kamikakushi is a hunter. It is him who always meets “hidden by the gods” person, talks with them, and sometimes kills them. The explanation is simple and lies in another pattern.
          Each case of kamikakushi takes place in particular surroundings. If we take a look at the time of it – it is always, or almost always, dusk, twilight. It indicates that whoever kidnaps those people does not belong to the human world. The other premise to the same conclusion – the place. It is always wild nature, on the ridge of civilization, for instance stream, gorge, waterfall etc. These two circumstances leads us to one conclusion, the beings behind “hiding” are not human, according to Mircea Eliade’s conception of sacrum and profanum.
          But here another doubt appears – some kamikakushi women tell the hunter that their spouse (kami? ijin?) ate the children they delivered to him. This shines a light on the concept that kamikakushi may be nothing more than a slight form of insanity.
And why a hunter is the one who have the opportunity to meet the “hidden” folk? Hunter is a someone who is neither villager, nor wild. He also stands on the border between worlds, that is why, in my opinion, he’s the most frequently met by kamikakushi.
          In modern Japan, where civilization removed every hidden place of unnatural power, kamikakushi as a phenomenon managed to survive. It slightly changed its meaning. It no longer depicts “hiding by the gods”, but it became to be treated as a substitute for every disappearance, that is why some teenagers on the website devoted entirely to kamikakushi and called Kamikakushi Dōmei, write about lost ball pen as kamikakushi. It also appears in movies and TV series, but is always explained in more or less scientific terms. Often a missing person is found dead, and the culprit is always a human, not supernatural being.
          Kamikakushi indicates nowadays the longing to be free, away from society and its restraints, even if one has to pay the highest price. It has always had such a meaning, and in my opinion, will never lose it. Because Japanese people bound tight by rules of their own society will always feel the need to be unique, to be free and to roam carefree through the wild forests.