Previously: Te Kaiwa, Or The Love Me Game.
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The version of the Japanese divination game Kokkuri-san that’s played today isn’t actually the original one. In its earliest form, Kokkuri-san was actually a derivative of the Western practice of table-turning that gained popularity during the height of the Spiritualist movement: Played with three bamboo sticks tied together into a tripod and the lid of a rice container placed on top, the game involved several people resting their hands on the rice container lid, asking questions of an entity, and watching how the lid tilted or whether the legs of the tripod moved to determine the answers. It came to Japan — possibly from America — sometime around the 1880s, with its Japanese name directly referencing the movement of the device used to play it: “Kokkuri” is an onomatopoetic word that describes tilting or nodding motions.
These days, the game is more like a homemade Ouija; players draw up a makeshift talking board on a piece of paper and use a coin as a planchette. For this reason, the modern incarnation of Kokkuri-san — as well as other similar games from across the world — may sometimes be called the Spirit of the Coin.
It’s not totally clear when the switch between bamboo sticks and table-turning to coins and talking boards happened. It’s worth noting, though, that in 1903, an article in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri shimbun discussed the planchette with regards to its use in England — an article which was in fact, titled “Seiyo no Kokkuri-san,” or, in English, “A Western Kokkuri.” In his excellent article “Strange Games and Enchanted Science: The Mystery of Kokkuri,” which was published in the May 2006 issue of the Journal of Asian Studies, Michael Dylan Foster makes particular note of the progression of the game: First, the practice was Western; then it was adapted for East Asian cultures; then it was flipped around again, or inverted (e.g. a Western practice was likened to a Japanese one, which was itself Western origin). I think, though, that the Yomiuri shimbun article might also be significant for placing the original method of Kokkuri-san in close proximity to the tool that would become essential for its later iteration.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
What’s also kind of fascinating is how the accepted explanation of exactly what the spirit summoned by the game is has changed with each passing decade and century. Over time, the word “kokkuri” came to be written using the characters 狐, 狗,and 狸 (ko, ku, and ri), meaning “fox,” “tengu,” and “tanuki” and thus giving rise to the belief that Kokkuri-san is a type of fox-dog-racoon spirit. Foxes have long had a place in Japanese folklore as tricksters and shapeshifters; tengu are mythological dog-like creatures consider to be kami, or Shinto gods, or yokai; and tanuki, real animals also known as Japanese racoon dogs, are said in folklore to be both mischievous and masters of disguise.
Still, though — when you open a door or window to the unknown, there’s no telling what might find its way through.
As always, play at your own risk.
- At least two principals.
- A piece of A4 size paper.
- A red pen.
- A black pen.
- A coin.
- A quiet room in which to play. The room must have at least one door or window.
- A doorstop, prop rod, or other similar object. Optional, but highly recommended.
- Questions — anything to which you wish to know the answer.
Preparing The Board:
- Begin at any time.
- Lay the piece of paper down on a flat surface in your quiet room, oriented to landscape. At the top of the paper, precisely in the center, draw a torii — the style of gate found at the entrances of Shinto shrines — with the red pen.
- With the black pen, write the words “YES” and “NO” on either side of the torii.
- Continuing to use the black pen, write the letters of the alphabet, arranged in a grid, beneath the line with the words “YES” and “NO” and the torii. Spread the grid evenly across the paper, leaving a small strip of blank space at the bottom.
- Finally, in a line at the bottom of the paper — in the blank space you left in the previous step — write the numbers zero through nine, again with the black pen. Then set aside both pens; your board is now complete.
- Select any door or window in the room and open it. You may wish to prop the egress open with a doorstop, prop rod, or other object. NOTE: Although the use of a doorstop, prop rod, etc. is optional, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Do NOT proceed without an open door or window. If you are unable to keep an egress open, find a different location in which to play and try again later.
- Gather all principals around the board. Place the coin on the torii.
- Have each player place one index finger on the coin.
- Together and in unison, speak the following words aloud: “Kokkuri-san, Kokkuri-san, please come out. If you’re here, please move this coin.”
- If the coin does not move: Kokkuri-san is not here. Do not proceed. Remove your fingers from the coin, and close the door or window. You may try again another time.
- If the coin moves to “NO”: Kokkuri-san is here, but does not wish to play — or, you have reached something… else. DO NOT PROCEED. Apologize for being a nuisance, say “Goodbye,” remove your fingers from the coin, and close the door or window. Destroy the piece of paper as soon as possible and dispose of the remains.
- If the coin moves to “YES”: You may proceed.
- Take turns asking questions. You may ask any question you like. Begin each query by addressing Kokkuri-san twice by name. Watch the coin after each question. It may spell out the response, or else indicate the answer in some other way — by moving to “YES” or “NO,” by passing over numbers, etc. If the coin does NOT move, that, too may be interpreted as a response — Kokkuri-san may not know, or may not wish to answer.
- When you are finished asking questions—or when the coin indicates that Kokkuri-san no longer wishes to play — speak the following words aloud, together and in unison: “Kokkuri-san, Kokkuri-san, please return home.”
- If you are successful: The coin will move to “YES,” then come to rest on the torii.
- If you are unsuccessful: The coin will behave in any number of ways, including but not limited to remaining stationary, moving to “NO,” moving to “YES” but not coming to rest on the torii, etc. This means that Kokkuri-san is refusing to return home. In the event that this outcome occurs, DO NOT attempt to force an end to the game or leave the room before finishing it. Continue to ask Kokkuri-san to return home until the coin moves to “YES,” then the torii.
- Once Kokkuri-san has returned home, say “Thank you” and “Goodbye.” Then remove your fingers from the coin, close the window or door, and leave the room.
- Within the next 24 hours, destroy the piece of paper and dispose of the remains. Also, spend the coin. You may spend the coin on whatever you wish, but DO NOT maintain possession of it. It must change hands, and it must do so through a financial transaction.
- You may play again later, if you like, with a new board and a new coin — but don’t play too often. The more times you open a door or window to the unknown… the harder it gets to close it again afterwards.
Ideally, this game should be played using a 10 yen coin and a board featuring the 46 letters of the hiragana alphabet. You may attempt to play using a coin belonging to a different form of currency and a board featuring a different alphabet — a penny and the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, for example — although be aware that your results may be slightly unpredictable. According to some reports, Kokkuri-san is fluent in all languages; however, this claim has not yet been satisfactorily verified.
Once your fingers have been placed on the coin in Making Contact: Step 3, do NOT remove them until you have successfully closed or terminated the game.
Be wary of the answers Kokkuri-san gives you. They might not always be the truth.
Concerning The Number Of Players:
Once the minimum number of principals has been achieved, any number of players may participate; however, you may be limited by the size of the coin. It is generally suggested that no more than four principals participate per game. Do not attempt to play if all participants are not able to rest their fingers comfortably on the coin at the same time.
Do NOT play this game alone.
It is believed that playing Kokkuri-san is a form of mediumship — that is, that Kokkuri-san may temporarily possess the players, thereby making the coin move.
If you play alone, and Kokkuri-san possesses you, you’ll have no one to help you return to yourself afterwards.
Your friends and loved ones might not even know you’ve been replaced.
This game might be reportedly “safer” than other similar games… but not one of them is truly safe.
Consider yourselves warned.
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[Photo via Olishot/Pixabay]