Rokugan: Return of the Jade Raven
In the early history of the Empire, the Rokugani had a fairly simple view of the cosmos. They believed it was divided into three realms, the Realm of Mortals (Ningen-do), the Celestial Heavens (Tengoku), and the Realm of the Dead (Jigoku). Oni and other demonic beings were believed to come from the darkest regions of Jigoku, which also included the domains of ghosts and honored ancestors.
Over the centuries, however, the Rokugani have come to a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the other realms of existence, known collectively as the Spirit Realms. Spirit creatures visiting Ningen-do have been studied and questioned by shugenja and scholars, and some shugenja, notably from the Kitsu and Toritaka families, have actually been able to locate spirit portals and pass through them, visiting these other dimensions in person. The long war with the Shadowlands has given the Rokugani a better understanding of Jigoku and its true nature. And in the twelfth century, one shugenja, Naka Tokei, actually visited all of the spirit realms in person; his discoveries further deepened Rokugan’s understanding of these places.
In modern Rokugan, scholars recognize a total of 12 Spirit Realms, counting Ningen-do (the Realm of Mortals, the physical world inhabited by humans). The other known realms are as follows:
Chikushudo (the Realm of Animals): Located in close alignment with Ningen-do, and with many portals connecting the two, Chikushudo is home to a variety of powerful animal spirits, especially the shapeshifters called hengayokai, such as kitsune (foxes) and tanuki (badger-dogs). These beings fi nd humans both appealing and fascinating, and often take human form to dwell among them – indeed, Rokugani legends record many instances of shapeshifters who fell in love with mortals and bore their children, and at least two clans, the Bat and the Fox, have close blood connections to shapeshifters.
Gaki-do (the Realm of the Hungry Dead): A dark and unpleasant realm, closely aligned to Jigoku and with several portals traveling between them. Gaki-do is home to the gaki, malignant ghost-like spirits which feed upon unclean substances and negative emotions. Some Gaki are native to this realm, while others are created from mortal souls condemned to this place for their sinful lives. Gaki of both sorts often travel into the mortal realm to feed.
Jigoku (the Realm of Evil): The most deadly and dangerous of the spirit realms, Jigoku is home to the monstrous oni and countless other malignant beings, and exudes its power into other realms by means of the sinister spiritual corruption known to Rokugani as the Shadowlands Taint. Jigoku constantly seeks to overturn the Celestial Order by invading and corrupting other spirit realms, especially Ningen-do, and these efforts are the cause of many of the greatest crises which Rokugan has faced in its long history.
Maigo no Musha (the Realm of Lost Heroes): Perhaps the most obscure of the spirit realms, this dimension is also known as the Realm of Thwarted Destiny, and is home to those souls whose destiny had been blocked so completely that they cannot be reborn normally into the mortal realm. By taking refuge in Maigo no Musha, these souls may eventually fi nd redemption and reclaim their destinies.
Meido (the Realm of Waiting): When mortals die, their souls travel to Meido, where they await judgment by Emma-O, the Fortune of Death. Aside from Emma-O and his servants, Meido has no native inhabitants, and the souls found there are all mortals awaiting judgment. Sometimes, a soul will get lost on its way to Meido, or leave this realm to return to the mortal world – such souls become yorei, ghosts.
Sakkaku (the Realm of Mischief): A minor spirit realm which is home to trickster spirits such as mujina and kappa. The creatures of Sakkaku are not directly malevolent, but their tricks and pranks can often be dangerous or deadly to mortals. They enjoy entering Ningen-do to tease and torment mortal men, and portals between Ningen-do and Sakkaku are fairly widespread. Many creatures from this realm dwell in the mortal world for extended periods of time.
Tengoku (the Celestial Heavens): The Heavens are home to the Fortunes and the great Celestial Dragons, and keep watch over the mortal realm and all the other spirit realms. Tengoku is a celestial bureaucracy, much like the Empire (which was built in imitation of it), and is ruled by the Sun and Moon, with the Dragons and Greater Fortunes in direct support. The Heavens seek balance in all things, and thus oppose (albeit usually indirectly) the actions of realms like Jigoku which seek to overturn that balance.
Toshigoku (the Realm of Slaughter): Another malignant realm, like Gaki-do and Jigoku (to which it is closely connected), Toshigoku is a realm dedicated to bloodlust and rampant violence. Souls who die in the grip of bloodlust are often condemned to Toshigoku, and those who meet this fate are usually consumed by the violent urges of the place, devolving into nothing more than mindless killing machines. Thankfully, stable portals to Toshigoku are quite rare, but temporary gates to this realm sometimes open spontaneously at sites of extreme violence such as battlefi elds, drawing souls directly into the Realm of Slaughter’s embrace.
Yomi (the Realm of Blessed Ancestors): Those mortals who manage to fulfi ll their destiny and purge their bad kharma are allowed to leave the Celestial Wheel and ascend into Yomi, where they dwell for eternity, watching over their mortal descendents. Yomi is a place of beauty and glory, home to the spirits of the greatest heroes of Rokugan. Metaphysically, it is very close to Tengoku, but even the mightiest of mortal souls are normally not allowed to enter the Celestial realm – only those elevated to the status of Fortunes may do so.
Yume-do (the Realm of Dreams): This realm is visited by mortals every night in their sleep, but it is also possible to enter it physically through spirit portals. Portals to Yume-do are rare, and their presence can sometimes lead to disruptions in the mortal world as dream-beings pass through into the waking world. Yume-do is inhabited primarily by the formless creatures of dream, who take on the shape and aspect of whatever a dream may require. It also home to the baku or “dream eaters,” beings who feed on the dreams of mortals, and their Tainted counterparts, the Baku no Oni. The most obscure and signifi cant inhabitants of Yume-do, however, are the Nezumi Transcendents – those ratlings who have managed to gain an eternal existence, watching over the rest of their species from the Realm of Dreams.