Witches, Ghosts, Goblins, and more (Keitai)Zombies than you can shake a stick at are currently shuffling up and down the streets in Shibuya, which can only mean that yes, Halloween is upon us once more. Seeing all the “sexy” scary costumes on display here, you start to wonder just how many people truly know the origins of Samhain Night.
All-Hallow’s Eve traditions go all the way back to the aforementioned Celtic celebration of Samhain, which was the Celtic’s New Year’s, noting the end of summer and the harvest season, and the beginning of the cold, dark winter. At this event, people would light bonfires and wear scary costumes to ward off ghosts and evil spirits, believing that on this night, the boundary between the world of the living and that of the dead became rather blurred, and some spirits could slip through.
Throughout history, some of these traditions were slowly integrated into Christian celebrations, most notably All-Hallow’s Eve in the 8th Century. Over time, this festival slowly morphed into what is the modern take on Halloween. In recent years, it has become insanely popular in Japan as well, though the Japanese have a slightly different take on it, as what you might be used to in your country.
We’ve covered the Japanese Halloween in detail in previous years, so this year we wanted to look into some truly scary Japanese places, folk-tales, and myths. Japan is not just about Kawaii cats, historical places, funny costumes, and great food. There are some truly Kowaii sides to Japan as well. Get your popcorn ready, snuggle up to your partners, and don’t turn off the lights; these places are truly frightening.
(In-)Famous Haunted Spots in Japan
Japan is enamored with spooky ghost films and stories. Anyone who’s had the courage to watch “Ring(u)”, or “Ju-on” knows these movies are not only gory, but also quite psychologically unsettling, which is what makes them truly great. The atmosphere in these movies is pure dread with an overlying sense of paranormal danger in just about every scene. Because of this dreadful atmosphere with gore at just the right moments, Japan has produced some of the most spine-chilling movies in the genre. Just movies, you think? The inspiration for these stories is at least in part based on reality, as there are many places in Japan that have the same dreadful, spine-tingling atmosphere and should not be entered carelessly.
Aokigahara Forest (青木ヶ原)
When it comes to haunted places in Japan, nothing is more terrifying and mysterious than the Aokigahara Forest. Aptly nicknamed “The Suicide Forest”, Aokigahara has the unfortunate distinction of being the second most popular place for suicides in the world. For decades, thousands of people have found their self-inflicted demise in this mystical forest, giving rise to the belief that it is one of the most haunted places in the world. There are many stories of ghostly sightings, and an ever-present undercurrent of feeling dread when you enter this forrest. Some unfortunate souls, so the stories go, have entered the forrest, gotten lost due to malfunctioning electronic devices / compasses, and were never seen again. This has happened so many times, apparently, that even the government has started keeping documents of the suicides in the forest.
Wandering the forest at night is prohibited due to the belief of beings emerging from the formations of lava holes, in search of victims to drag to the underworld. Sightings of faces, limbs, shadows, and fog are believed to be of the night-dwelling beings.
Travellers who have returned from exploring the forrest, mention reports of hearing voices and screams deep within the forest, as if spirits are trying to lure people from the path.
Enter at your own risk!!
Oiran Buchi (花魁淵) – Prostitute Gorge
Looking eerily like a scene out of Silent Hill, the suspension bridge leading into this place should serve as a warning to all who dare to enter here. Over 50 Oiran (prostitutes) were killed there a long time ago, and the word is that their spirits have found no rest. There are many tales of ghostly sightings, phantom screams, and especially men being pulled down when standing too close to the edge.
During the Sengoku Era, the Takeda Clan was known to run gold mines in an area of Yamanashi Prefecture. To keep the miners and guards entertained, there were also many brothels and prostitutes. After the Battle of Nagashino in 1575 CE, the Takeda clan was forced to give up the area to their enemies. Before they retreated from the area, however, it was decided they will kill the prostitutes and workers in order to prevent their enemies from ever knowing about the gold mines. The Takeda leaders constructed a wide, wooden platform, suspended above the steep gorge and under the pretense of a party, invited the prostitutes to dance on said platform. Unsuspecting, the women complied gladly. Once they got onto the platform, the Takeda soldiers slashed the ropes holding the platform and all the women (55 in total) plunged screaming to their deaths.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The sights of the atomic bombings at the end of WWII saw some true atrocities with thousands of lives extinguished in the blink of an eye, and many more suffering for hours, days, weeks, and even years after. It is no wonder then, that their restless souls still inherit these places. Many people have reported that if you go there at dawn, you can hear these souls crying and screaming for help, unable to find peace.
Himuro Mansion, Tokyo
While you may not have recognized the name right away, but you have surely heard or even played the game “Fatal Frame”, which was insanely popular in the early 2000’s. What you may not have known, is that the game was based on an actual (ritualistic) murder which took place at this mansion. Even to this day, it is considered one of the most brutal and gruesome killings in Japan’s history. The actual Mansion is somewhat shrouded in mystery, but thought to be located in a rocky area on the outskirts of Tokyo. If you do find this place, don’t forget your camera!!
Round Schoolhouse, Hokkaido
Hokkaido is usually associated with beautiful scenery and great food. It is a surprise, then, that in the rural town of Bibai, nestled among the beautiful vistas and right up against the Lake Miyajima wetland lies the creepy and enigmatic ruins of a former schoolhouse that has garnered a sinister reputation as one of the most well-known haunted sites in Japan. The Round Schoolhouse is a ghostly abandoned edifice that would scare even the bravest urban explorers. Stories are circling on the internet suggesting that anyone who goes inside will either disappear forever or become insane. Should you do find yourself in the area… enter at your own risk, and never do it in the dark!
Kiyotaki Tunnel (清滝トンネル)
Said to be one of the most haunted tunnels in Japan. It’s said to be 444 meters long, which is deeply unsettling; the number 4 is considered an extremely unlucky number in Japanese, since it resembles the word for death, so people usually avoid anything having to do with that number by itself, let alone a tripple combination.
The tunnel is said to vary in length, depending on the time of day… sometimes longer, sometimes shorter…
With a history of violence, ill-omens, and suicide, Kiyotaki Tunnel is a hub of apparition sightings, bad luck, and cautionary tales.
As if that wasn’t spooky enough,seeing spirits reflected in the road mirrors outside the tunnel entrances or in any car mirrors is said to bring about a violent, painful fate. There are also claims the traffic signals outside the tunnel can change suddenly from red to green at night, causing accidents with oncoming traffic. It is said that all of the ghost activity occurs at night, so a detour is highly recommended after dark.
Oshima Island (雄島)
Known as the island of the Ojima God, it remains almost untouched by civilization apart from a small lighthouse, shrine, and storage shed. Oshima Island has a morbid history of death, curses, kidnappings and paranormal activity.
It is said that the hands of those who jumped from the cliffs of Tojinbo (famous cliffs in Fukui Prefecture) reach from the water to grab and drag those who try and cross the bridge leading to the island, at midnight. There have been rumors about strange lights, ghostly apparitions, and decapitated heads appearing on the bridge.
There are many warnings about the island, including not to walk the perimeter in a counter-clockwise direction for fear of being cursed, and not to venture across the bridge at night, as it is believed drowned spirits make the island their home after dark.
In one tale, an urban explorer ignored the warnings of walking the island in a counter-closewise direction and not to enter at night. While travelling home by car, he discovered his GPS was malfunctioning. A short time later, a bowling-ball sized lump of black, human hair fell onto his windshield. He said that
within the clump of tangled hair, there seemed to be two eyes staring at him.
Researching possible causes, he discovered similar stories from other drivers saying that after visiting Tojinbo and Oshima Island, something seemed to leap from a height onto the oncoming car.
These kinds of scary stories are probably not the first things that come to your mind about Japan – especially during this season when young people take to the streets, decked out in their best “Scary / Cute / Sexy / Ero Kawaii” outfits and just having fun celebrating unbridled debauchery for one night.
Although there are some reports about misbehaving youths, on the surface, it is a well-functioning, civil country, rich in history and culture. But behind the mask of painted smiles and Kawaii characters lies a whole Kowai world filled with paranormal dread, folktales, and things that go bump in the night. With such tales, and scary places, is it any wonder Japanese horror movies, stories, and games are so utterly terrifying?
If we haven’t scared you off already, have a good, and hopefully safe Halloween! Stay curious!