When he got the call to investigate a possession, Glen tried to explain that he didn’t believe in ghosts or spirits, that he just wrote stories about the supernatural for fun on his blog. He told the mysterious caller that he’d been fascinated by the ghost stories islanders had brought with them from Japan and was considering putting out a collection at some point. He told them that he’d never seen a ghost or spirit personally and that he’d probably run screaming if he did. Still, the concerned parent on the other line insisted that their once healthy daughter’s state was due to her being possessed by a dog spirit and that he needed to come see her right away.
“Why me?” Glen asked.
“Because,” the anxious father replied, “she asked for you by name.”
Glen drove to the exclusive gated hilltop community of Waialae Iki in Honolulu that overlooks Kahala, Diamondhead and Oahu’s southeastern shore from Waialae Iki Ridge. At the house he was greeted by a normal looking family and ushered into their parlor. The afflicted girl’s parents explained that the strange behavior began shortly after their daughter had shunned the advances of another student at the University of Hawaii who dabbled in witchcraft and the occult. Within days their healthy daughter took ill and had to drop out for the semester. They warned him that what he was about to see was shocking but urged him to do what he could to restore their daughter or point them towards someone who could.
“Please,” her mother begged, “please help us bring back our baby girl.”
Glen glanced at the pictures of her on the wall of the girl in question. She was young, vibrant, and exceptionally beautiful. He was not surprised she had a stalker. He supposed many men were interested in getting to know her and more than a few had been disappointed to be turned down.
An elderly Japanese woman with a pompom wand, an odaisan or exorcist, guarded the door to the girl’s room. She looked up at Glen as he passed and nodded, chanting all the while “Ka-e-re” or “Go home!”
The walls were smeared with blood, fecal matter, phlegm, and the remains of rotting food. On top of this there was a foul odor that hung in the air, an almost feral scent as if a pack of wild beasts had been rutting in the cramped space. The young woman retreated back into the corner of the room as they entered, naked and snarling. The once pretty undergrad now resembled a mangy animal, her matted hair hanging in her face as she crawled on all fours like a dog. A cold chilled passed through the air as she began to berate them with a stream of obscenities punctuated by occasional barking fits that sounded like otherworldly screams issuing forth from the depths of hell itself. Glen saw a trail of blood on the floor. The girl had torn off her fingernails in her agitated state. The bloody tips of her fingers seemed almost transformed in the process into paws. Her sallow face glistened with sweat as she menacingly bared her unnatural canine fangs.
“You called me here,” Glen said, summoning all the courage he could muster. “What is it that you want?”
“Her soul,” the girl growled. Glen took a step forward but froze as the girl lifted her head, revealing the bright yellow eyes of an animal. “Tell them she’s mine! I’ll kill her if they try to force me out. I’ll kill anyone who tries to touch me. No one can take her from me!”
Glen backed slowly out of the room, terrified that at any moment she might lunge for him and tear out his throat. He practically ran for the front door, pausing only briefly to deliver his prognosis before scurrying to his car as fast as his legs would carry him.
“Your daughter is possessed by an Inugami,” Glen spat. “The odaisan can contain her, but you will need a sorcerer to drive it out. Good luck.” He turned and fled back to his car.
The fictional account on the previous page is an example of the types of supernatural folklore Japanese settlers brought with them to the culture of Hawaii, as well as a tribute of sorts to Glen Grant, who writes about various Obake or ghost stories in the islands of Hawaii. According to Glen when he published his own fictional account of an Inugami possession he was flooded with calls and emails from locals in Hawaii who reported having witnessed this phenomenon first hand or knew someone who claimed they had. It’s safe to say that this little known belief in dog spirit possession is still alive and thriving in the islands today.
An Inugami is a mythical Japanese dog spirit generally used by a witch or sorcerer as a weapon against their enemies. Like the idea of a familiar in Western witchcraft, Inugami are loyal to their owners, who are commonly referred to as inugami-mochi, and serve them and protect them. Still legend makes it clear that they are wild spirits that act on their own instincts and occasionally turn them against their masters, in some cases possessing them as well or savagely biting them to death. Inugami are a form of youkai, a term that covers a wide variety of supernatural creatures that populate the world according to Shinto, the official religion of Japan which predates the modern era going back to the sixth century BCE. They are also considered their own class of Obake, since they are spirts that cause the sufferer to change shape. The word Obake literally derives from the Japanese word meaning “to change” – and generally covers the subset of youkai that includes shapeshifting animals and animate inanimate objects.
Originally found in Kyushu, Shikoku, and elsewhere in West Japan, reports of possession began cropping up in Hawaiian Islands shortly after Japanese settlers arrived. These Issei brought with them the superstitions of their homeland, which fit perfectly alongside Hawaii’s rich traditions of spirits, ghosts, demons, and other supernatural myths. Evidence of Inugami worship exists stretching from Western Japan all the way down to Okinawa. Powerful sorcerers and witches were believed to have created the demonic spirits through ancient barbaric rituals then use them to commit heinous acts. Inugami are also known as In’game and Irigami in various local dialects.
The creation of an Inugami spirit is one of the cruelest and darkest practices known to man. The living dog is tied up and driven mad through starvation. The dog is then buried up to its neck, leaving the head fully exposed. The witch or sorcerer then places a fresh cut of raw meat just out of reach of the animal and beheads the dog as it struggles to free itself and satisfy its hunger. The head is then put in a special shrine. The creator then prays to the spirit and offers the severed head food to do their bidding. If the spirit accepts the offering they are bound to the summoner for all time. Enraged from hunger, the evil animal spirit will then possess the body of the witch’s intended victim or torment the unfortunate souls who cross them. Inu no tatari, or the dog curse, is the most common form of possession, with the victim first falling ill, then becoming mentally imbalanced and exhibiting criminal behavior.
Folklore tells us that inugami-mochi, or owners of an Inugami, believe they will be blessed with good fortune, but that in many regions of Japan, it is also believed that the blessings bring with them the curse of being shunned by society and unlucky in love. That may have more to do with common sense though then superstition, since there aren’t many people who would willing snuggle up to a professed sorcerer who tortures animals to gain power over their enemies. It’s also believed that the Inugami will turn on their master if they upset it and may try to possess their body for stealing the dog’s in the first place or savagely bite them to death. Long story short, it’s a dicey proposition that not even your average black hearted dark arts practitioner would enter into lightly, if at all.
The technique for creating these dark spirits was originally passed down along bloodlines, which is why such families came to be known as Inugami-mochi. They usually kept their Inugami hidden in their homes under their beds or in the back of their closets to avoid arousing suspicion. It’s unknown how the practice originally began, although rumors of a witch burying her prize hound still linger. The practice was outlawed over 1000 years ago during the Heian period, at the height of classical Japanese civilization, along with the use of all animal spirits as instruments of sorcery. If an inugami-mochi family was even suspected of bringing evil upon another family, the accused family member was forced to live on the outskirts of town, secluded from family, friends, and most importantly their aristocratic life. Even if the victim was eventually cured, the accused and all of their offspring for all future generations were forced to maintain their hermetic existence, separated from the rest of society as pariahs with their family name tainted forever for their misdeed. It is believed that families generally owned as many Inugami as there were members of the household, and when a new person became part of the family through marriage they were given their own. Inugami were treated like family members by their owners. They were believed to possess the power to bring great wealth and prosperity to their families, even though they occasionally brought ruin instead.
People who believe in Inugami today insist that they are beings of powerful emotion that can overwhelm and hijack weak or unstable people by entering their ears and settling into their internal organs. Some commonly believed signs of initial possession are chest pains and sharp pains in the extremities accompanied by a sudden and intense jealousy. Victims also are reported to exhibit dog like behavior including barking and a pronounced hunger that cannot be satisfied. Those who die while under the angry spirits’ terrible spell reportedly show signs of an animal attack on their corpses within hours of passing, including bite marks and claw scratches. But it’s not only humans that are susceptible to these accursed demons according to folklore. In some parts of Japan it is believed that cows, chickens, horses, pigs, and in some cases even inanimate objects can play host to Inugami.
The only known way to be cured of Inugami-tsuki is to hire another sorcerer or a Shinto priest or a Yamabushi to force the spirit out of the body (although some sources say eating a charred beast helps for some reason). This process takes weeks or months or more and is very unpleasant for all involved. Once cured of the dog spirit sufferers generally return to perfect health with little or no memory of the traumatic supernatural occurrence.
The bottom line? Next time you visit Waikiki, if you see someone crawling on all fours and barking like a dog, it’s probably best to back away slowly from them. Sure they might be on crystal meth, but they also might be suffering the dreaded dog curse. And if you suddenly come down with the symptoms of Inugami possession or feel the irresistible urge to howl at the moon, eat raw meat, or bite a postman, I’d recommend you skip the time wasting trip to the vet and just head directly on over to Kotohira Jinsha-Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine established in 1920 in the heart of Honolulu.