One of the most unusual “ghosts” in the world is the Nurikabe, a Japanese spirit that is quite unlike other ghost – it does not appear as a person or animal, and instead looks like an infinite wall that blocks the passage of a traveler in the darkness of the night.
The Nurikabe is a Yōkai, a spirit or ghost of Japanese origin. The Yōkai stories were extremely popular in Japan’s Edo period, which is where the Nurikabe originates. According to the legends, travelers at night would sometimes run into invisible walls that would not allow them to proceed forward. If the traveler went to the left or right, they would find that the wall was always there, no matter how far they went. The only way to remove the wall was by tapping the bottom of it with a stick or foot.
The spirit is sometimes linked to the mischievous tanuki spirits, and the Nurikabe represents the tanuki’s scrotum stretched out into a wall. Folks, the Japanese have some strange folklore…you can’t make this stuff up! The idea of kicking or tapping such a wall to make it recede is pretty self explanatory.
It’s more likely that the Nurikabe sprung from a desire to explain why a traveler might be late, but while the spirit is a nuisance, it’s not particularly dangerous.
However, there is something very interesting about the Nurikabe – it’s the inspiration for both a famous video game monster and a popular logic puzzle game. The Nurikabe was the inspiration for the Thwomps from the Mario series of video games from Nintendo. In the games, Thwomps drop from the ceiling to stop the player from proceeding. They’re usually unkillable and the only way to “defeat” them is to run quickly under them before they slam down on top of the character.
The Nurikabe logic puzzle is a sodoku-like game where a grid is set up and numbers are placed in specific boxes to indicate the number of “wall pieces” around that number. Players then try to determine where the walls are. Here’s an example:
An obscure Edo period ghost wall has become a modern logic puzzle!
The Nurikabe hasn’t had any modern sightings, but interestingly enough, the idea of invisible walls in video games has been around for a very long time, mostly to keep players in the playing field. Perhaps it’s time to identify them as Nurikabe!