Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jun 27, 2017

" The Hair of The Dog...."

“With eyes shining burnin’ red, dreams of you all through my head...”

 The subject of this article first surfaces in the late 1930’s on the island of Kaua’i, and later resurfaces again before World War II. There was a prevalent illness on the garden isle at that time known as the ‘Inu-gami sawarimono’ or the use of a dog spirit to possess and bring harm to others.


In 1994 a fictionalized account of an Inugami possession is written in a book called, “Obake: Ghost Stories In Hawai’i” which is authored by the late historian, Glen Grant. In the story, we meet a young local Japanese girl by the name of Dawn who has fallen off the social grid and has begun to exhibit strange characteristics which mirror that of a dog. As the story takes its course, we slowly realize that the girl in question is possessed by the Inugami, and by the end of the story, with canines bared and fingernails torn out and claws growing in its place, she attacks and mauls the author.
Twelve years later she would return again but would be unrecognizable to the author at first, except in the single instance when she removed her sunglasses during a lunch meeting. The author nearly fell backward out of his chair, by the end of the story she would attempt to kill him again but not through being possessed, but with a sharp pair of scissors. Glen would write that instant when he was overcome by a retaliatory rage, which caused him to strike back, he’d become momentarily possessed by the Inugami.

Or so he believed.

In his early years as a ten-year-old boy growing up near Culver City, Glen Grant had been attacked by a team of dogs who were the stunt doubles for the Rin Tin Tin movie series. In his own words, he shared that as a result of the incident, he had developed a healthy fear of dogs.

In Japan, the Inugami would fall under the category of tsukimono or a possession spirit which is known to possess the kind of people of which I often refer to on my ghost tours; those who are psychologically and emotionally damaged. One could say that Inugami belief, practice, and tradition was and or still is clannish. There were families who were Inugami moichi, they were those who hid the mummified head of a dog in their keep so as to send its demonic madness to possess an innocent victim or family. The practice itself was deemed illegal and in some cases would result in banishment and perhaps death.  It’s interesting to note that the Inugami does not possess its victims independently but only by a curse. The process of how all of this takes place can be found in Glen Grant’s first book and in his Obake Files Casebook.

In the 1978 book called, “Kodomo No Tame Ni” authored by Dennis Ogawa and Glen Grant, we come across an interesting chapter entitled, “Inugami: The Spirit Of The Dog.” It is an account of the recollections of the late Senator Spark Matsunaga as related by his daughter Diane. In it, we learn that Senator Matsunaga’s father is an Ikibotoke or living saint and that in the late 1930’s on the island of Kaua’i there was a sickness which was known as the Inugami sawarimono or an illness caused by the use of a dog spirit. Senator Matsunaga’s father cured many of the local Japanese who were victims of dog spirit possession and knew very well who the family was that sent the dog spirit to do people harm. They were from Hiroshima one of the places in western Japan that were well known for Inugami possession. In later years, Senator Matsunaga remarked to Glen Grant who was on a visit in Washington D.C. that he was going to publish a book based on his eyewitness accounts of his father’s ability to extricate Japanese dog demons from the people who would come to him for help. Unfortunately, Senator Matsunaga would pass away before the book could ever be published.

It is said that one of the ways in which the Inugami can take possession of you is by entering through your ears, but only under the circumstance that you are psychologically and emotionally unstable. Perhaps as personal issues begin to intensify and accumulate their presence in your everyday life, ear plugs may be a good remedy to employ while asleep in the comfort of your own bed?

In our own Hawaiian legends we find that dogs are Kupua or demi-gods are who meant to aid us in a time of need. We also have Cannibal kupua such as Kaupe who never attacked or injured the family of a high chief or the ruler of ‘O’ahu. Yet, he possessed a cannibalistic appetite and in his dog form killed and ate many people. Kaupe would eventually be killed himself per the instructions of the great Mo’o Kahuna Kahilona, but Westervelt writes that Kaupe became a ghost-god after his demise and thus is the long cloud-like shadow which casts itself over the valley in Nu’uanu. Our ‘Ilio Kaulana or most famous dog hero was Puapualenalena. In King David Kalakaua’s oral traditions or what would become The Legends and Myths of Hawai’i per his publisher’s instructions is the more realistic tale of this most marvelous animal who by his nature was as wise as a kahuna. It was this very same dog who by his master's orders, was employed to find and return the stolen conch shell Clarion which belonged to the Chief Kiha.
The dog was successful in his task and rested the sacred conch shell from a band of miscreant ‘e’epa and was able to return the Kiha Pu to its rightful owner. In my limited experience, I have never personally come across any sort of information regarding a Hawaiian or local person being possessed by a Kupua or ‘aumakua of a dog spirit. Although some ‘ohana can claim an ‘Ilio as a personal family ‘aumakua, I have not yet heard of a possession such as that of the Inugami. We are aware of Noho, where a chosen person of a family who is the Haka or the designated medium has a deceased family member or guardian sit (noho) on their shoulders in order to communicate messages to the living.
 It would be safe to say at this juncture until a case of another kind presents itself, that Inugami possession is limited to the realm of its own culture and it’s own people. However, we must not forget that most of us today are the product of a plantation culture born of immigrants who arrived here from different parts of the world who worked the cane fields and sugar mills in order to make a new and better life for themselves. Eventually, that culture would share everything among one another, religion, culture, marriage, superstitions, and possessions. Personal or otherwise.

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