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The Funayurie of Japan

Funayurie, or “boat spirits” are common in ancient Japanese folklore and continue to be reported to this day.

Believed to be the vengeful spirits of those who have died at sea, the funayurie, sometimes called “ayakaski”, “mojabune”, or “boko”, take many different forms. They have been described as a figure with a large, round head; the ghosts of shipwreck victims; and as ghost ships. But they all want one thing: to take humans with them to their watery graves.

Funayurie may appear in any numbers of ways, though most commonly seen on nights with a full moon, thick fog or heavy rain. Some hover above the surface of the water, yet others appear shipboard amongst human passengers. Those which appear among the passengers and crew will ask for a water ladle to use in a Japanese tea ceremony. If this request is granted, the fuanyurie will turn the ladle upside down and water will pour ceaselessly from it, swamping the ship. When witnessed as a phantom ship or ghost ship, they are phosphorescent and bright enough each detail of the ship can be identified. They are not limited to appearances at sea and have been reported as having been seen near lakes, marshes, rivers and other inland wetlands.

Funayurie are devious and use many different methods to lure their victims. On a foggy evening, a ghost ship would lead sailors into the side of a cliff or strand them on a reef. A shipboard funayurie may cause the ship’s compass to fail, leading the ship wildly off course; in correcting the course to the failed compass, the ship would run aground or sink in stormy waters. During bad weather, bonfires would be lit so sailors could see the shoreline. Funayurie can light fires on the water, confusing sailors and leading them to sail toward open sea, never to be seen again.
Great pains were taken in avoiding funayurie. For protection from this vengeful spirit, sailors would throw offerings of rice balls wrapped in seaweed, sticks of incense, flowers, ashes, rice cakes, charred firewood, reed mats and summer beans. Some would light a match and throw it into the water as a ward against the spirits. There are also references to ships keeping a bottomless bamboo water ladle for a tea ceremony on board – just in case they encountered a funayurie.

As there are many forms of funayurie, there are many different methods for ridding your ship of one. For a ghost ship at sea, a truly brave captain could push on, ploughing through the ghost ship, which would disappear on contact with the mortal ship. For the slightly more passive-aggressive captain, the ship could be stopped. Once stopped, the crew would then stare at the funayurie, moving forward again only after it had disappeared. Those with small boats would stir the water with a stick to try to make the funayurie disappear.

After the tragic sinking the Toya Maru in 1954, in which 1,153 people drowned after the ferry sank during a typhoon, many of the boats sent to the sight returned to port with long, jagged scars along their propellers. It was been said these scars were caused by the many victims of the Toya Maru becoming funayurie who were following the ferries, trying to claw their way aboard. At Aomori Station, crew members sleeping overnight in the duty room were awaked by someone hammering on the glass window to the room. Through the window, they could see what appeared to be a soaked through woman standing on the other side of the glass. She was no woman though, but a determined funayurie who found her way ashore from the wreck of the Toya Maru.

No one opened the window.