For the sake of this post, I’m not going to explain the plot of the video game Fatal Frame II/series. If you’re not familiar with it, please visit this website: http://bcl.rpen.us/zerowiki/index.php?title=Main_Page (the website itself, Beyond the Camera’s Lens, http://bcl.rpen.us/, is currently undergoing maintenance)
Kwaidan: Japanese Ghost Stories
(Not to be confused with the ending theme “Chou” performed by Amano Tsukiko. Please also see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EP77hNdhZz4: this one has the original lyrics and literal English translation)
Recently, I picked up a copy of “Kwaidan: Japanese Ghost Stories” at probably one of the last-surviving Barnes and Nobles in Illinois. It’s hard cover and beautifully illustrated. This book was first published in 1904 as “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things”. It takes stories from various books, some of them Chinese in origin and localized to fit the societal norms of Japan.
At the end of the book, there is a section entitled “Insect Study: Butterflies”. It’s an informal “study” of the meaning of Butterflies in Japanese Folklore.
Memories of one of my most beloved video games came back to me: Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly. Although butterflies themselves are not the main part of the story, the allegory behind them truly is.
The Role of Butterflies in Japanese Folklore
As mentioned earlier: many of Japan’s stories about butterflies are actually Chinese based. A great story that has Chinese origins is “The Dream of Akinosuke“. Although a butterfly has an integral part of the story, ants are also symbolic as well.
In Japan, butterflies are often seen as both the soul of a living person as well as dead. They can also be see in a figurative sense as “good” and “bad” omens.
In the case of Fatal Frame, they are seen as the souls of the dead. The butterflies themselves do not interfere with Mio during her journey; in fact, they are seen as helping her in certain parts.
Representation of Butterflies in Fatal Frame
In the game itself, you will often see butterflies “fluttering” around objects and Mayu. As the title of the name suggests, they are crimson (red) butterflies.
The butterflies are “born” from what you would see on a strangled person’s neck (bruises from being strangled). At the end of the strangling ritual, the red mark turns into a butterfly and flies into what is referred to as “Hell”. It is then concluded the butterflies that have been seen throughout the game are actually those of one of the twins who were sacrificed in the ritual.
On a personal note: the “Westerner” in me would think that these butterflies would be angry, but using the game’s “folklore”, they are actually just following their duties as protectors of the village.