Answerman
Where Did The Idea Of 100 Ghost Stories Come From?

by Justin Sevakis,

Ian asked:

I wanted to ask if the 100 Ghost Story night idea from xxxHOLiC is a real cultural aspect of Japanese society. Or did CLAMP make it up? If not, are there any reports of events where literally 100 ghost stories are told?

The idea of 100 ghost stories has made an appearance in multiple anime, manga and video games. In addition to xxxHOLiC, there have been references in School Rumble, Ghost Hunt, the Persona games, and the spin-off manga Girls und Panzer: Motto Love Love Sakusen Desu!. There was also a horror anthology anime series that was renamed Requiem from the Darkness for the English speaking world, but was based on an award-winning horror story series called Hundred Stories.

The idea of 100 ghost stories comes from the Obon festival tradition of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (百物語怪談会) -- A Gathering of 100 Weird Stories. Since Obon is a festival celebrating spirits and departed ancestors, the idea is that the sounds of nature would unite with the light of 100 candles and the telling of 100 stories, and together all of that would welcome back visiting spirits.

As a game, it's basically a more structured version of telling ghost stories around a camp fire, only instead of a camp fire, it's 100 candles arranged in a circle, with one being extinguished for every story told. As the night goes on, the light becomes dimmer and dimmer, yielding more of the surroundings to the spirit world. Once all the light is extinguished, all the players should be sufficiently freaked out that some unknown horror is lurking for them in the darkness. As one would expect, many players stop at 99.

The origins of the tradition are not known. Depictions of the stories in classic literature go back to at least 1660, when Ogita Ansei's "Otogi Monogatari" described the game being played by young samurai as a test of courage. It's believed that the game started among the aristocratic warriors and gradually trickled down to the lower classes. Stories came from both Japan and China, and often involved the supernatural, or some idea of Buddhist karma coming back to haunt someone.

The tales can be original, embellished real life stories, or a local piece of folklore. But as the tradition spread and became more and more popular, showmanship and a sense of competition began to take hold. As early as the late 1600s there were already published collections of horror stories calling themselves "Hyaku Monogatari" (100 stories), and over the centuries countless volumes have been written, hoping to entertain and perhaps offer a story or two for players to tell at the next festival.

At any rate, actually playing 100 stories was an Edo period tradition, and while I'm sure some people still play it, it's no longer very common. However, the idea of 100 ghost stories has become a cultural touchstone that's easily referenced, and is still a popular name for horror anthologies.


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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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