Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Shinigami: Japan’s Grim Reaper

One depiction of a Shinigami
by Shunsensal Takehara

In Japanese folklore, the Shinigami pronounced (shin-ee-game) is a god of death. They like the Western culture’s Grim Reaper usher people to the afterlife.

One stark contrast between these two entities is the Grim Reaper is feared, whereas the Shinigami is perceived as a helper.

The traditional Japanese, through their Shinto faith, believe death is a natural part of the cycle of life—so it is not perceived as bad. * 

But this does not mean they don’t take precautions to avoid death. The Japanese even today, perform rites to appease the Shinigami.

In relationship to other Japanese traditions and beliefs, the Shinigami is a modern invention-- first making an appearance in the 18th century. A theory is that the Grim Reaper was actually the inspiration for the Shinigami.

Unlike the solitary Grim Reaper, the Shinigami—Shi—meaning “death and kami—meaning “god’ appear in pairs.

Another depiction of a
There are no consistent descriptions of these spirits because they are invisible—so the legend states they are rarely seen.

They appear at the dying person’s “deathbed.” Where they assist in the passage from one life to the next.

* Darker stories about the Shinigami state that they can possess the living and encourage them to commit suicide.

One story told about the Shinigami involves a desperate man who is about to commit suicide. He has lost all his money.

One of these death spirits appears before him and states—this is not your time to die—your candle has not burnt down yet.

The Shinigami insists that he needs to “live on.” To encourage this man, this spirit tells him a secret that will help him make money.

This secret involves special words that will send a death spirit away. But the spirit tells him he must follow one rule-- he can only use the secret words if the death spirit is sitting at the foot of the deathbed and not at the dying person’s head.

For if the Shinigami is at the head of the deathbed, it means the person's, “candle is burned up, and they must die.”

This man then pretends to be a doctor. For a fee, he tells families he can banish the death spirits, and their loved ones will live.

He quickly becomes wealthy. But eventually, this man’s greed takes over.

He meets a family that offers a huge amount if he can save their beloved dying father. There is one problem—the death spirit is sitting at the head of the father’s deathbed.

The man, wanting this fee, decides to trick the spirits. He turns the bed around. But this does not banish the Shinigami. Instead, this burns up his own candle, and he dies.

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