In the Nord-est of Japan can still be found the last rapresentative of a peculiar shamanism; the shamanism of the itako イタコ, the blind female shamans. The activity of these women does not exhaust the landscape of Japanese shamanism, but they undoubtely represent a peculiarity of the place; blind since birth, or from a very young age, they “choose” the shamanic as a consequence of this phisical disability.
The itako can be considered as the last heiresses of a shamanism which has his own roots in the myth; they have often been the target of differents controversies and debates among anthropologist and religious specialists, who questioned the authenticity of their shamanic experience, and even the possibility to include it in the field of Shamanism. Nevertheless, taking a wider look at the phenomenon, not only the itako reflects the traditional image, but, more precisely, her role, her path, her whole experience allow us to put her in the shamanistic area.
The itakos face a long period of physical and spiritual training that culminates in the initiation ceremony, where the apprentice simbolically dies in order to gain a new life as a religious specialist.
Their activities have a particular functional focus: their specialty resides in the preferential communication with the dead, and in particular with the ones we could call “angry ghosts”; these latters are the exiled souls who can’t find peace, barred from the ancestors’ society, and who represent a threat for the living. The main important duty for the itako is to allow the angry ghosts to communicate with their living relatives in order to have their needs satisfied, and their anguish eased.