In Japan, ghosts can be much more than simply chain-rattling spirits. They hunger, and not only for the things you expect. Some of the hungry spirits (or Gaki) yearn for vomit or baby poop (yes, you heard me right). Many of the Gaki originate from sins people did while alive, a group of hungry ghosts are nothing more than mischievous spirits, called yasha.
Nature Spirits into Demons and Back
The yasha are supernatural beings that can range from caring to murderous. They began in India as benevolent nature spirits who watched over the earth and the forests. Yet as they migrated into China, they shifted into ghost-like spirits who preyed on travelers.
Finally, as these spirits entered Japan, they were seen as a demon-god (kijin) to be worshiped and feared. They mixed with the legends of the amanojaku and oni.
The Last Twenty Gaki
In the last post, we explored the first sixteen hungry ghosts. Here are the other twenty to make the full consort of 36.
17 Underworld Ghosts
These spirits live in caves or with snakes in their burrows. They suffer from hunger and chills, a result of extreme thirst. These Gaki can also create epidemics. In life, they put someone in jail for personal gain.
18 Supernatural-Power Ghosts
The most powerful of the Hungry Ghosts, these spirits may experience some joy. They inhabit the deep mountains, the middle of the sea, or other remote locations. Demons surround them, constantly staring at them. In life, they abused power by stealing other people’s property.
19 Blazing Ghosts
The bodies of these spirits continually burn with a blazing fire, making them cry out in pain. They wander the countryside, desiring to loot villages or robbing people. In life, they looted and robbed.
20 Infant-Excrement-Eating Ghosts
Only the excrement of babies will do for these spirits, who linger around cribs. They target mothers who let their babies sit in their own poop too long. When a child cries, people believe that the ghost has appeared to the child. These spirits are yakṣa rather than the deceased.
21 Desirable Appearance Ghosts
These ghosts will shift appearance, becoming attractive or repulsive to gain access to food. They can prey on people’s lust. Additionally, they can transform into animals to swoop in to steal food. These spirits are considered yakṣa, a class of nature-spirits.
22 Island Ghosts
These spirits are always thirsty and live on uninhabited islands. They slurp up the morning dew, but it offers them little respite. The heat of even a single winter day would feel hotter than ten-times a summer’s day. In life, these people abused those in difficult situations, like refugees or lost travelers.
23 Assistant-to-the-Underworld Ghosts
Also known as Assistants of Yama Armed with Sticks, these hungry ghosts managed other ghosts and spirits. Yama, the Indian god of the Dead, record sinful acts committed by humans and bring these sinners back to Yama. Physically, they have scrunched-up hair draped over their faces and long ears with protruding stomachs. People pray to these ghosts on their deathbed, which means these Assistants linger between the human world and the underworld.
24 Child-Eating Ghosts
These Gaki are malicious, feeding off the energy of infants. They wander in search of children to kidnap, but are often unsuccessful (thus their hunger). In life, they were healers who promised to cure a sick person with prayers, but abused their position.
25 Energy-Eating Ghosts
These Gaki lurk around critically ill people and siphon off their energy. They might also target depressed people, gradually creeping into that person’s life to absorb their “vital energy.”
26 Brahmanic Rākṣasa Ghosts
These ghosts haunt crossroads and back all eyes. They linger and await the right opportunity to latch onto a victim and possess the body. While controlling the person, they will act recklessly in an attempt to kill the person. In life, these people were religious leaders who lost their faith.
27 Hearth Ghosts
These Gaki loiter in kitchens or religious establishments to steal food. They also gorge on temple leftovers, mixed with coal. In life, these were people who stole food from religious sites.
28 Dirty Street Ghosts
These Gaki live on dirty city streets, skulking in places where vomit and urine stains the streets. They dine off this refuse as their nourishment.
29 Wind-Eating Ghosts
Each time this ghost reached for food or drink, it proves to be an optical illusion and vanishes with the wind. They are tormented by illusions of sustenance, only to have nothing in the end. In life, these people made empty promises and donations to charity.
30 Coal-Eating Ghosts
These hungry ghosts wander through cemeteries, searching for the remains of a cremated body. They then scarf down the ashes generated from cremation fires. In life, they were in charge of prisons and let the inmates suffer from hunger.
31 Poison-Eating Ghost
These ghosts nosh on poisonous fumes and toxic grass. Their food ends up killing them and then they regain their life only to hunger for these poisons again. They live in caves on mountains with extreme hot or cold weather. The mountains are home to wild beasts (lions, hawks or tigers) who pluck out the eyes of these unfortunate Gaki. Additionally, it can sometimes rain knives from the sky. In life, they poisoned someone to steal that person’s property.
32 Jungle Ghosts
These Gaki roam the jungle, driven by intense hunger. As they traverse the wilds, branches and thorns cut their skin, jungle animals attack them, and fierce birds swoop down. When they finally arrive where they think there’s food, they discover it’s the wrong place. These ghosts are punished for a very specific punishment. Often, virtuous men would plant trees and provide people with water while traveling. These thieves steal the water, making the travelers thirsty and weak, and thus easier to rob.
33 Living-in-Cremation-Grounds and Eating-Hot-Ashes Ghosts
Similar to the Coal-Eating ghosts, these long titled ghosts lug instruments of torture on their back to mimic the acts they committed in their former lives. In addition, they also carry red-hot irons on their head. In life, they stole offerings and flowers from temples.
34 Living-in-Trees Ghosts
These ghosts are reborn inside trees, where insects and animals chew away their bodies. Also, the weather that batters the tree also affects these ghosts. It’s believed that hermit monks, who live away from civilization, will be tormented by entire forests of these Gaki. In life, they stole wood from Buddhist temples.
35 Crossroads Ghosts
These ghosts reside in the classic haunted area of crossroads. People will make offerings to these spirits to ward off illness or difficulties at work. In life, they stole food from travelers who were crossing through remote parts of the world.
36 Mara-Body Ghosts
These Gaki superficially feed off the confusion generated by the daily lives of Buddhist temples. They frighten monks with sinister sounds or nightmares. Their goal is to disrupt and undermine the entire community. In life, these people spouted false doctrines.