Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jun 26, 2017

"A Word By Any Other Name..."

Since we are fast approaching the official season of Obon or Bon as it may be, I thought it would be fun to broach the subject of one of our most famous ghosts in Hawai’i, the Nopperabo, or the name for which it is commonly known, the Mujina.
The literal translation of the name Mujina, is that of a Badger which possesses shape-shifting qualities. In its natural form, the creature is said to live in mountainous areas which are far removed from human society. When taking the form of the Nopperabo, it is only for the purpose of scaring hapless human beings away from their territory, although they have taken the shape of the faceless specter, they are not Nopperabo themselves. The true Nopperabo have a talent for blending into human society but are known to ply their trade in lonely places, traditionally appearing first as a person in distress. Our island version of the Nopperabo first made its advent on a Saturday evening on May 17, 1958. The story of what was about to transpire would make the papers a year later in 1959, the reporter was a young Bob Krauss. There was a double feature playing at the old Wai’alae Drive-Inn that evening, ‘Monolith Monsters’ and ‘Love Slaves of The Amazon’ somewhere within that time frame, a young woman went to use the bathroom and noticed another female dressed in a white kimono, brushing her long black hair. The second the woman got close enough, the female in white pulled her hair back only to reveal that she had no face, only a blank orb of flesh. The scream that followed and the stories that came thereafter would propel this faceless encounter into local legend. Now, she is said to haunt a well-known shopping mall since her home was finally demolished in 1994.
Years later, I would be pleasantly surprised when Bob Krauss himself stopped by my job to bring me a copy of that very same article that he’d written all those years ago, it was quite an honor. Since we’re in the mood now, let’s also talk about a few other terms that have been thrown into our local stew of terminologies where one word has become a supernatural blanket word to represent all things ghostly. No doubt, the word we are about to discuss is more than likely derived from a ‘Chanko Nabe’ of words which originated during the plantation era here in our Archipelago.
The word is, ‘Yokai’ but we’ve come to know the word in its more watered down incarnation as, ‘Obake.’
Within the pantheon of Japanese ghosts, monsters, and demons, the Yokai is known as one that has various functions under one name, and various names which take different forms. If we are only speaking in terms of shape-shifting then this particular Yokai function would come under the category of ‘Bakemono,’ or ‘Obake.’
A Bakemono’s true form can be found within its animal incarnation such as a Kitsune, Mujina or Tanuki. Obake is commonly known to take on the forms of household objects. It was funny to come across that bit of information a few years ago, as I recalled living in a house in Waimalu as a child. The house itself although modern for its time in the 70’s, had an interior that was intrinsically Japanese. It would turn out that in less than a year, many of the household objects began to take on a life of their own. The standing lamp would spin on its bottom pedestal, the screen on the shoji doors would poke holes in themselves, and more often than not, the flute of which I was learning to play in school would play on its own, but the sound that came from it was like a Shakuhachi.

Over the decades, the word Obake has become the encompassing word in our island society to mean ghost or apparition as far Japanese supernatural terms go. However, if we are thinking of Obake in specific reference to ghosts of the Japanese culture, then the term Yurei would be more fitting. Though some of you may not be familiar with the word Yurei as you see it written now, you have certainly seen its incarnation in films and on YouTube. They are often the spectral shadows of women dressed in a white burial robe with their long black hair let down around their shoulders and face. They are bound to haunt one particular location and are resigned to said location because of unfinished business. Only when the matter in life that bound them to this earthly plane is resolved, can they pass on, at least one would hope.
This brings us back to the matter of our faceless friend who still haunts the Wai’alae, Kahala area dressed in a white kimono with long black hair. Was her appearance at the old drive-in way back in 1958 a publicity stunt that was meant to attract more clientele to the outdoor theater in order to boost revenue? Or was her appearance just a story started by a few employees who did not expect the tall tale to spread like wildfire for years to come? Think about it, we’ve just now discovered that the Yurei’s costume consists of a white burial kimono and the person wearing the outfit sports long, black, disheveled hair. The Nopperabo in its element is known to blend in with human society but only makes its presence known on dark lonely roads. Could the two beliefs have been mixed up, or did the Nopperabo simply adapt to its surroundings and suddenly decide to make its home in the women’s bathroom of an outdoor drive-in theater?
No true answer to that questions exists, neither does the old Wai’ale Drive-Inn Theater, but a nearby shopping mall does.

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