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Shinigami: The Grim Reaper and God of Demise in Japanese Folklore

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Shinigami are Japanese demise gods or demise spirits. They’re akin to the Grim Reaper in some ways, nevertheless these supernatural beings could also be considerably much less horrifying they usually arrived afterward the folklore scene. Shinigami have additionally remodeled their distinctive position in Japanese tradition over the centuries.

Shinigami didn’t exist in conventional Japanese folklore and solely got here into being afterward. “Shinigami” is a composite of the Japanese phrases “shi”, which means demise, and “kami”, which stands for god or spirit.

Shinigami as a Grim Reaper for Japan

Though Japanese fantasy has lengthy been full of various kinds of kami as spirits of nature, Shinigami solely entered Japanese folklore across the 18th or 19th century. Shinigami isn’t even a phrase in classical Japanese literature; the primary recognized situations of the time period seem within the Edo Interval , when it was utilized in a kind of Japanese puppet theater and literature with a connection to evil spirits of the useless, spirits possessing the residing , and double suicides.

It was round that point when concepts from the West, particularly Christian concepts, started to work together and blend with the standard Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist beliefs. Shinto and Japanese mythology already had a goddess of demise named Izanami, for instance. And Buddhism had a demon known as Mrtyu-mara who incited folks to demise as properly. However as soon as Japanese tradition met Western tradition and the notion of a Grim Reaper , an entire new demise god appeared – the Shinigami.

Whereas the Shinigami are just like the Grim Reaper, they aren’t fully alike, and some vital variations exist between the 2.

Illustration of the Grim Reaper. ( Picture supply )

To start out, in Western perception, the Grim Reaper is thought to be a terrifying being and is the personification of Demise itself. In Japanese folklore, however, demise is seen much less as a person , and extra as part of the pure cycle of life . Thus, the Shinigami are thought to be brokers who facilitate the sleek working of this cycle.

Not like the Grim Reaper, who could also be described as a ‘harvester of souls’, the Shinigami merely be certain that folks die on the appointed time after which escort their souls into the afterlife. They might even be stated to be much less horrifying than the Grim Reaper as a result of they politely invite folks into demise as an alternative of creeping up on them and dragging them to the afterlife, or utilizing a extra aggressive means to reap them.

Moreover, while the Grim Reaper is depicted as singular and is historically depicted as a skeleton garbed in a black cloak and bearing a scythe, it’s believed that there are a lot of Shinigami of unknown appearances which normally work in pairs.

"Shinigami" from the Ehon Hyaku Monogatari. By Shunsensai Takehara.

“Shinigami” from the Ehon Hyaku Monogatari. By Shunsensai Takehara. ( Public Area )

A Shinigami Story

In a single conventional story, a person who’s fed up together with his life prepares to commit suicide. Earlier than he might accomplish that, nevertheless, he’s visited by a Shinigami, who tells him that his time has not but come. The Shinigami additionally explains that every life is measured on a candle, and as soon as the flame burns out, the particular person dies. This reveals that the Shinigami don’t have any management over who lives and dies. To cease the person from committing suicide, the Shinigami tells him a straightforward solution to make cash.

The person is instructed that he might fake to be a health care provider who might remedy any type of illness. By talking some magic phrases, a Shinigami may be pressured again into the Underworld, thus lengthening an individual’s life. The person can also be knowledgeable that this is able to solely work if the Shinigami is sitting on the foot of the mattress. If the Shinigami is sitting on the head of the mattress, nevertheless, it signifies that the sick particular person should die. Utilizing this new discovered data, the person grew very wealthy.

Someday, the person is known as to a home to remedy somebody. When he enters, he sees that the Shinigami is sitting on the top of affected person’s mattress, indicating that demise was sure. The household pleaded and begged, and supplied him a big sum of money. Consumed by greed, the person decides to take a threat, and when the Shinigami dozes off, he shortly switches the orientation of the affected person’s mattress, thus saving his / her life.

Patient's death-bed.

Affected person’s death-bed. ( CC BY 4.0 )

The Shinigami is clearly sad with what he did, and when the person reaches dwelling, it criticizes him for his disobedience. The Shinigami then adjustments his tone, and counsel that they exit for a drink to have fun his earnings. The person falls for the trick, and the Shinigami brings him to a constructing that’s full of candles. The Shinigami then reveals the person his candle, which is almost burnt out on account of what he had simply achieved. The person is then supplied an opportunity to increase his life by transferring the wick and wax of his candle to a different’s. The person fails on this try, as he drops his candle and dies.

Shinigami in Pop Tradition

Shinigami have saved up with the occasions, and have typically been featured in trendy Japanese anime and manga. These embrace Demise Be aware , Bleach, Naruto, and Soul Eater . In every of those anime or manga, the Shinigami are sometimes given roles which can be fairly totally different from their conventional ones. Aside from their affiliation with demise, these trendy Shinigami do not need a lot in frequent with their extra conventional counterparts.

Prime picture: Image of a Shinigami by Liger-Inuzuka. Supply: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

By Wu Mingren

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