Part Three: Yoshitoshi’s New Forms of 36 Ghosts – A Karuizawa Whisky Feature

We’re back with Part Three of our featured series on Yoshitoshi’s last masterpiece, the “New Forms of 36 Ghosts.” Be sure to read Parts One and Two if you haven’t yet and read the first 24 haunting stories behind these woodblock prints. The last 12 of this collection are listed here:

  1. Ranmaru and the Mysterious Sago Palm

The Sago Palm is a mysterious tree that speaks and complains about the cold at night. Ranmaru, a samurai, finds out that the Sago Palm is the source of the voice. Ranmaru’s master orders him to cut down the tree. Hearing this plan, the Sago Palm decides to move and walks away.

  1. The Death Stone of Nasu Moor

A concubine named Tamano put a spell on the emperor, and she turned into a nine-tailed fox during a ceremony and ran away. However, she was captured and turned into a rock called the Death Stone. Three hundred years later, when a priest performed ceremonies, Tamano was released from the Death Stone.

  1. The Peony Lantern

Another extremely popular ghost story, the Peony Lantern is the tale of two lovers, Otsuyu and Saburo. Saburo was a young man who was born in a wealthy family. Otsuyu was also a young woman who was born in a rich family. They both fell in love with each other and decided to marry, and their love is described to be like the peony flower. but some of their family members opposed the marriage. One day, Saburo contracted a terrible illness and couldn’t see Otsuyu for a while.

After he was cured, though, he went to see Otsuyu, but was told that she had died during the time that he was absent. Devastated, Saburo grieved for his loved one and wanted her soul to visit him so that he could see her again. During the Obon festival, he saw a woman who looked like Otsuyu and a maid carrying a peony lantern. Saburo was so overjoyed and invited the two woman to his home. Every night after that, Saburo and Otsuyu stayed together. Saburo’s servants wanted to know who the visitors were and peeked inside Saburo’s room. But the servants found a disturbing scene: Saburo was embracing a skeleton.

In the other room where the maid stayed in, the servants found a skeleton holding a peony lantern. The servants consulted with a priest, and the priest came to put talismans around the house to keep the spirits out of the house. It was soon discovered that Saburo’s aunt planned Otsuyu’s death by tricking Otsuyu into believing that Saburo died. Otsuyu and her trusted maid, after hearing the news, decided to go on a journey, which was the perfect opportunity for Saburo’s aunt to ‘get rid of’ Otsuyu.

Realizing he would be separated from Otsuyu again, Saburo desperately begged for his family to let him see Otsuyu again. He wouldn’t eat or sleep, and his family and servants grew worried and believed Saburo would die due to heartbreak. Finally, they removed the talismans around the house and let Saburo see Otsuyu again. That night, Saburo died smiling in the arms of Otsuyu’s skeleton.

  1. The Ghost of Taira no Tomomori Appearing at Daimotsu Bay

Taira no Tomomori was a young man who protested against the Minamoto Clan, one of the prominent noble clans during the Heian Period in Japan. Tomomori was defeated by the Minamoto Clan during a battle. He committed suicide by tying himself to an anchor and throwing himself into the sea. Tomomori returned as a ghost to haunt the Minamoto Clan and rides the huge waves of a huge storm in this woodblock print toward the Daimotsu Bay, which is where the Minamoto Clan’s fleet stayed.

  1. Kobayakawa Takakage Debating with the Tengu of Mount Hiko

A tengu is the name for a demon or spirit, and Kobayakawa Takakage, a general in the 16th century, confronts the Tengu of Mount Hiko in this print. Takakage was known for rescuing the Japanese army from the Chinese military during an invasion in Korea, and he was also known to be fearless and courageous.

  1. The Foxfires in Nijushiko

Princess Yaegaki hears that an ambush against her lover will occur, and she prays desperately for aid and safety for her lover. A white fox spirit comes to be her guardian and help her. In order to reach her lover, Princess Yaegaki has to cross a frozen lake. Thanks to the foxfires that help guide her across the frozen lake, she’s able to save her man.

  1. The ever-reflecting water is frozen and covered with ice, it does not mirror the evening moon in the sky -Sogi

This print shows the story of a poet who takes shelter in ruins of an abandoned area and hears two ghosts arguing over a verse of a poem they’re writing. The poet finds a solution for them immediately, and the ghosts leave in annoyance.

  1. Minamoto no Yorimitsu Striking at the Ground Spider

A demon queller named Raiko destroys the Ground Spider, a giant spider demon that wants to capture Raiko and kill him. However, Raiko is quick to act and defeats the Ground Spider.

  1. The Good Woman’s Spirit Praying in the Waterfall

Botaro’s father was a fencing master and was killed by a rival. Botaro, even at a young age, wanted to avenge his father. This print by Yoshitoshi depicts a version of this story that shows Botaro’s nurse praying under a waterfall for the child to be spared from death after hearing an enemy was after the child’s life. The nurse committed suicide and prayed that her life would be taken instead of the child’s life. Botaro was released from his kidnapper’s captivity after the nurse died.

  1. The Lucky Tea Kettle of Morin Temple

A woodcutter saved a badger’s life, and the badger wanted to repay the woodcutter’s kindness by turning into a tea kettle for the woodcutter to use. The woodcutter sold the tea kettle to the Morin Temple, but the badger wasn’t happy living there. One day, when a monk was heating the tea kettle, the kettle turned back into a badger. The badger ran around the temple in panic and wanted to get out of the temple. But it was caught and placed in a box where it turned back into a tea kettle. This story has two different endings, and Yoshitoshi’s print depicts the ending where the badger is disguised as a priest and changes back into its original form during a nap.

  1. The Yotsuya Ghost Story

The Yotsuya Ghost Story is another famous Japanese tale that is world renowned, and many films have been made from this story. Numerous versions of this story have been created, and the version we’ll share here gives you the gist of what happened to Oiwa and how she became a vengeful spirit: Oiwa was a devoted, loving wife to her childhood sweetheart, Tamiya Iemon, and they have a son together. Because of Oiwa’s feelings toward her husband, however, she does not see that he’s not the man she thinks he is. Her father was murdered by her husband because he found out about Iemon’s evil deeds. Iemon was once a samurai, but his master let him go. Depressed and angered by his circumstances, Iemon hated his life and ended up hating his wife as well.

One day, a neighbor approached him and offered him a deal he couldn’t resist: marry his granddaughter and acquire her wealth. This was when Iemon planned to kill Oiwa and gives her poison, telling Oiwa that it was medicine to help strengthen her. The poison disfigures Oiwa’s face and body, and Oiwa dies heartbroken after discovering her husband attempted and succeeded to murder her. Iemon also killed Oiwa’s faithful servant, Kobote Kohei, because the servant found out what Iemon has done to Oiwa. Iemon disposes of the body and carries on with his plan to marry the neighbor’s granddaughter.

During the day of the wedding, after lifting his bride’s veil, he sees Oiwa’s deformed face and instantly beheads Oiwa. Iemon realized he just killed his new bride and escapes in panic to his neighbor to explain what happened. When he goes to meet his neighbor, Iemon sees Kohei instead and slashes the person, which turns out to be the neighbor. From this point on, Iemon sees Oiwa’s vengeful spirit everywhere and tries to escape her by hiding in the mountains. But Oiwa’s and Kohei’s spirits were relentless and continued chasing Iemon everywhere he went. Eventually, Iemon was killed by Oiwa’s brother and all revenge that Oiwa and Kohei seeked was finally achieved.

This particular print by Yoshitoshi displays Oiwa caring for and nursing her young son. The snake from the ceiling could be a symbol of the impending doom that will befall Oiwa soon in the story.

  1. The Heavy Basket

Does the larger, heavier basket hold more treasure? ‘The Heavy Basket’ Japanese folktale helps you find out this riddle! This Yoshitoshi print shows an old woman being attacked by demons and other monsters that came out of the the large basket, which is the ending part of this folklore. An old man lived next door to the old woman, and he went over to her house one day and asked if she had seen a sparrow that he feeds because he didn’t see the bird that day. The old woman said that she did see the sparrow and she cut his tongue off after he ate some of her food. The old man became upset and worried after hearing the story and went into the forest to find the sparrow, calling out its name which was Bidori. The sparrow appeared and introduced the old man to his family and prepared a feast for him.

After the festivities, the sparrow allowed the man to choose from a small box or a big box, and the elder chose the small box since he was humble by nature. When he went home, he opened the box and found jewels inside. The elderly woman next door saw the box and became jealous of the old man. She went into the forest like he did and called for the sparrow. When Bidori appeared, the old lady pretended to be polite, and the sparrow invited her into his home and introduced her to his family like he did with the old man. Bidori allowed the old woman to choose from two boxes: a small one and a big one. Due to her greed, she chose the large box. She opened it in her home and discovered that it was filled with demons that ate her.


The Karuizawa Ghost Whisky Collection

Karuizawa Distillery is a closed distillery that was once thriving in Japan. Legendary whisky collections and bottles have been released from this silent Japanese whisky distillery, and one of them is the Karuizawa Ghost Whisky Collection, which features Yoshitoshi’s exquisite artwork on the bottles. We have an exclusive 7-bottle collection of the Karuizawa Ghost Series. Each of the seven bottles has its own print, which are:

  • The Ghost of Seigen Haunting Sakurahime
  • Kiyohime Changing into a Serpent at Hidaka River
  • Oniwaka Observing the Great Carp in the Pool
  • The Enlightenment of Jigoku-dayu
  • The Ghost of Taira no Tomomori Appearing at Daimotsu Bay
  • The Lucky Tea Kettle of Morin Temple
  • The Yotsuya Ghost Story

Check out the Karuizawa Ghost Series 7 Bottles for more information on these luxury spirit bottles!