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IMAGEN: Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (drawing by Hokusai, 1760-1849)
Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (百物語 lit., A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales) was a popular didactic Buddhist-inspired parlour game during the Edo period in Japan.
The game was played as night fell upon the region using three separate rooms. In preparation, participants would light 100 andon in the third room and position a single mirror on the surface of a small table. When the sky was at its darkest, guests gathered in the first of the three rooms, taking turns orating tales of ghoulish encounters and reciting folkloric tales passed on by villagers who claimed to have experienced supernatural encounters. These tales soon became known as kaidan. Upon the end of each kaidan, the story-teller would enter the third room and extinguish one andon, look in the mirror and make their way back to the first room. With each passing tale, the room slowly grew darker and darker as the participants reached the one hundredth tale, creating a safe haven for the evocation of spirits.
However, as the game reached the ninety-ninth tale, many participants would stop, fearful of invoking the spirits they had been summoning.
While the exact origins of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai are unknown, it was believed that it was first played amongst the samurai class as a test of courage. In Ogita Ansei's 1660 nursery tale "Otogi Monogatari" a version of the game was described in which the narrative tells of several young samurai telling tales in the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai fashion. In the tale, as one samurai finished the one hundredth tale, he began to extinguish the candle when suddenly he sees a giant gnarled hand descend upon him from above. While some of the samurai cowered in fear, a swipe of his sword revealed the hand to be merely the shadow of a spider.
At first, the game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai was popular amongst the aristocratic warrior class, but it soon garnered favorable reputation amongst the working class peasants and town people. With a heightened interest in telling newer and original kaidan, people began scouring the countryside for tales of the mysterious, many of which combined a mixture of ghostly vengeance and elements of karma in Buddhism.
A true popular phenomenon, the hype of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai combined with new printing technology created a boom in the publication of kaidan-themed books collecting appropriate tales from every corner of Japan and China. But it was in 1677 that the first kaidan-shu was published. Known as Shokoku Hyakumonogatari, or 100 Tales of Many Countries, the book earned popularity for having been a compilation of tales from people residing in several countries, and who further claimed each tale was true.
Books in this genre often used the term Hyakumonogatari in the title, and the published tale’s popularity continued long after the fad for the game had faded.