Japanese Journalist Investigates Icelandic Belief In Elves - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Japanese Journalist Investigates Icelandic Belief In Elves

Published April 5, 2018

Photos by
Art Bicnick

You’ve very likely heard before that Icelanders believe in elves. Or maybe you’ve heard that this a myth and a stereotype. Those mixed messages are confusing, and it’s precisely that confusion that inspired journalist Shusuke Ogawa to investigate further, Vísir reports.

Shusuke has visited Iceland before, travelling all around the country, and has an abiding interest in Icelandic culture, especially the country’s music. But it was an article about the “elf town” of Hafnarfjörður that sparked his investigative spirit.

Dissatisfied with contradictory and oversimplified reporting on the Icelandic belief in elves, he began to conduct research of his own.

“Before I came to Iceland, I doubted that Icelanders believed in elves,” he told Vísir. “And I have heard that Icelanders are annoyed with how simplified and confusing this reporting is. I didn’t think that belief in elves was very strong in Iceland, but I have discovered that this belief is strong amongst older Icelanders.”

Shusuke also sees comparisons between Icelandic and Japanese culture in this regard. While the Japanese do not have elves, they do have yōkai, a general term for many supernatural beings.

Even more similarly, there is Shinto, the Japanese folk religion, which also sees spirits and demigods inhabiting trees and large stones. There have even been rituals held at sacred spots where such spirits live when major construction and development projects are planned. This last detail may remind readers of when a priest was called to Bolungarvík to appease elves in the area who were blamed for failing construction machinery.

Shusuke concludes by expressing his deep gratitude for every Icelander who helped in his investigations. We look forward to his finalised report on this subject, even if we have to machine-translate it ourselves.

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