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Emma-o

by Micha F. Lindemans
The Japanese Buddhist god of the underworld (from the Sanskrit Yama). He lives in the Yellow Springs under the earth in a huge castle all covered in silver and gold, rosy pearls and other jewels. He is the judge of the dead and notes the sins of those who are sentenced to purgatory, and decides the degree of their punishments according to Buddha's Law. Anyone who has killed an innocent will be thrown into a boiling cauldron full of molten metal. However, if they have made a pilgrimage to each of the 33 shrines of the goddess of mercy Kannon, then all the evil they have done will disappear. Sometimes he is portrayed less pitiless and returns life to those who appear before him.

On the last day of the Festival of the Dead, the sea is full of shoryobuni ('soul ships'), for on that day the high tide brings a flood of returning ghost who go back to their spirit world. The sea is luminescent with the light these souls emit, and their whispering can be heard. While the ghosts are embarking, no human ship should come near. Should one stray into the soul-covered sea, the ghosts will ask for pails. The sailors should only offer them pails without bottoms, for if they do not, the ghosts will sink their ship. Currently, Emma-o is used as a bogeyman to scare little children.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Emma-ten

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