What is Scary?

Something interesting came up in a recent discussion class about ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. I`ve always been aware that the Japanese and European attitudes to ghosts and so on are quite different – for example, the Japanese believe that even inanimate objects such as trees can have a soul of sorts – but I have never really given much thought to things which are scary in Japan being funny in my own country, the UK.

I am, of course, referring to toilets. Now, in the UK, toilets and related things are a source of comedy. Natural bodily functions are a source of amusement. We even have a name for this type of humour – “Toilet Humour”. It`s very popular amongst young boys and immature men (of which I am one). An entire industry of very silly comedy TV shows have been made around the subject. Looking at popular British comedies such as Monty Python, Men Behaving Badly, Blackadder and so on will reward you with numerus examples of toilet humour. We even have a sitcom simply called Bottom.

But here in Japan, toilets are scary places. I`ve asked around about this and got several different reasons why. One student told me it`s because toilets are dirty, abandoned places that smell bad. Another told me that when we are in the toilet, we are vulnerable. But my favourite is the reason I`ve heard the most – the toilet, being a black hole with running water – is a portal to the world of the dead. All of these reasons make sense to me, but I still can`t help but find toilets funny.

Of course, I can`t avoid mentioning Hanako-san while on this subject. It is very interesting that virtually every school in Japan has some variation on the story of a girl who was either murdered or committed suicide in a school toilet and now haunts the toilet as a ghost. For an urban legend to spread so quickly before the internet, I think, shows the power of folklore and cultural belief. When I was at school, there were legends of a ghost in the school`s clock tower, but never in its toilets. 

So, among all the differences between my culture and here, I think our different attitude fear is now my favourite!

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