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Spooky tales from the dead abound over Bon season

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

“Actually I was wavering over whether or not to publish this story,” writes Kyoto-based compiler Nobuo Yuki in “Wailing of a Restless Ghost.” It’s one of a series of five books from publisher Bunko Ginga-Do under the title “Exceptionally Scary True Ghost Stories” — which many in Japan like to read to chill out during the dog days of summer.

This particular tale is about a mountain said to be crawling with rhinoceros beetles. There was a time when dedicated collectors were willing to pay as much as ¥300,000 for large specimens, measuring about 8 centimeters in length — enough in those days to buy a good used car.

The narrator had obtained directions to a remote mountain area supposedly teeming with beetles. They are best hunted after dark, so he jumped into a car one night and headed to the area with a couple of friends.

As he was driving along an unpaved mountain road, a pale orange sphere the size of a ping-pong ball suddenly appeared and started to emulate the movements of his vehicle.

“Without warning, it swelled to the size of a volleyball,” the narrator said, “and inside the sphere was the face of a woman, opening her mouth.”

“Quick! Shut the window!” shouted one of his companions.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” exclaimed the other.

His back-seat passenger began chanting a Buddhist sutra and muttered, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” — as if to show repentance for some previous sin.

Spinning its wheels, the car tore down the mountain road until its terrified driver and two passengers pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store, still quivering with fear.

The next day, while washing off the accumulated mud and grime from the journey, the narrator noticed a sharply defined outline of a woman’s handprint on the car’s door.

Not long thereafter, his friends both suffered serious injuries almost simultaneously — one from a forklift accident at his workplace, the other rear-ended by a car while he was stopped at a traffic light.

The worst, though, was yet to come. Several months later, the narrator’s girlfriend was involved in a traffic accident while driving his car to work. The airbag failed to inflate and the steering wheel column was driven into her chest, killing her.

“Since then, I’m afraid to talk about what happened,” he writes. “I’m all right putting it down on paper but, if I talk about it, bad things happen.”

Want more? In Shukan Post (Aug. 2), Masami Kinoshita, a scholar of spooky folklore, visits the Yumoto Goichi Memorial Nihon Yokai Museum (Miyoshi Mononoke Museum), located in the city of Miyoshi, about two hours by car or public transport from Hiroshima.

Yumoto, 69, has written extensively on native spooks and goblins, and the museum houses an impressive collection of antique scrolls, tapestries, woodblock prints, ceramic figurines and wood carvings of such legendary creatures as tengu (long-nosed goblins) and kappa (water sprites).

Shukan Post also introduces a pantheon of eight goblins with “extreme characteristics,” including Hyosube, who is named after his “hyo-hyo” cry. Anyone who catches sight of him is destined to fall ill. Gotaimen, a perennial grouch who loses his temper for no apparent reason, is to be avoided. And then there’s the grossly overweight Nebutori, a beauty by day who, once nestled snugly in her futon, becomes hugely obese and issues thunderous snores.

Another way to enjoy your fright is to wander through an obake yashiki (house of horrors) at a Japanese amusement park. Fuji-Q Highland in the city of Fujiyoshida, about an hour by car or bus from central Tokyo, claims to be home to the world’s largest. Its “Hospital of Horrors,” housed in a two-story building that measures 900 meters from beginning to end, has welcomed more than 4 million visitors.

The course takes about 50 minutes to transit. It offers audio, visual and tactile experiences, with moans that seem to emanate from nowhere and the lingering smell of disinfectant. Visitors transit a “detention ward” that housed criminally dangerous patients.

In other departments, patients are said to have been subjected to bizarre medical experiments.

On Monday, Aug. 12, a national holiday, the AXN mystery cable channel will feature all-day broadcasts of seven films based on works by Japan’s master of the macabre, Seishi Yokomizo (1904-77). Produced as a series in 1977 and ’78, the films star Ikko Furuya as detective Kosuke Kindaichi and include such masterpieces of horror as “The Inugami Clan,” “Village of the Eight Graves” and “A Devilish Temari Song.”

Finally, the summer 2019 edition of the mook “Mystery in Showa” introduces seven pages of monochrome photographs of so-called kinsokuchi (hard-to-access places) around Japan. Go to one and, if it’s the right time of day and with the right conditions, well, you might wish you hadn’t. Here are three:

Starting in 1975 with a primary school student, a number of people reported seeing spectral images on a stone cenotaph in the city of Moriya, Ibaraki, including a young girl, an elderly man and a cat. It is presently surrounded by fencing.

The Sunshine City complex in Ikebukuro occupies the former site of Sugamo Prison. In a small park immediately adjacent to the high-rise building stands a stone monument marking the location of the gallows where seven Class A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, were executed in December 1948. Four years earlier, Soviet master spy Richard Sorge was also executed there.

The Aka Suimon, a sluice gate completed in 1924 in Tokyo’s Kita Ward near Akabane-Iwabuchi Station on the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line, is close to the point where the Arakawa and Sumida rivers bifurcate. The gate has earned a bad reputation as a place where corpses in the river wash up. The area tends to become deserted after 8 p.m. and nearby residents say the spirits of those who died from drowning and other causes return to the area. A jizō (guardian deity) has been erected there to console the spirits of the victims (or perhaps ward off their anger).

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.