I will be honest, the Men in Black phenomenon is not typically my area of expertise. I am usually more than happy to let my esteemed colleague Nick Redfern handle those bizarre and unsettling accounts, as he has had far more experience and a more formidable record of weird tales concerning these mysterious specters than I. However, Redfern’s recent series of articles on his book and the Men in Black in general, "My New Book: Men in Black" part 1 and part 2 have really got me to thinking about the fact that this is by no means a isolated phenomenon, and indeed it does spread its tendrils to all corners of the globe. Reading the accounts mentioned in Redfern’s excellent set of articles made me want to share some of the other cases that I have personally acquired over here in Japan that perhaps concern these enigmatic black clad figures. "Want" is perhaps not the best word, rather I felt compelled to share these. It turns out that whoever they are, the Men in Black are not confined to the West, and they have a profile in Asia, just as strange and at times absurd, as they do anywhere else. So without any further ado, here are a few of the more interesting and weird accounts I have accrued over the years concerning possible Men in Black in Japan.
Back before I first started writing about Forteana, when I first came over to Japan way back in 1996, I happened across some curious tales that at the time seemed to make no real sense to me. I of course had heard of the Men in Black before, as it was then as it is now a singularly odd phenomenon that has managed to bury itself very deeply within our psyche. The idea of the strange outsiders, the “other,” coming in uninvited from out of the murky ether to impose themselves rather abruptly and bizarrely upon us, leaving us in confusion and a state of I suppose violation, is an inexplicably persistent and at the same time somewhat alluring one, and I have to admit that I too was not above being drawn to such tales. However, I must say that I had been a slave to the in retrospect rather ignorant notion that this was a merely piece of spooky folklore confined largely to the United States. At the time I was almost exclusively interested in cryptozoology, and the Men in Black were to me the urban legend that they are to many of the general populace today, regardless of how much the moniker “urban legend” may be false. It had never occurred to me at the time that this phenomenon was even given so much serious consideration as more than myth, let alone that it reached past the boundaries of the United States and into the world at large. This was my narrow mindset and set of preconceived notions with which I arrived at the shores of the Far East.
Some of my friends who I made at the time were eager to introduce me to the truly odd world of Japanese UFOs and alien encounters (a whole other article I'd say), and of course the conversations would often turn to the Men in Black, who I still had in my head as a purely Western construct. I had never really considered that it could be present in wholly different cultures in lands so far from my own, least of all the one which I had chosen to make my own personal journey to. It was then that I would learn that I couldn’t have been farther from the truth, and I was about to be initiated into the truly surreal world of the Men in Black in Japan.
One young man I knew, let’s call him Kazu, let me in on a personal account that had happened to a close friend of his. It happens that this friend of his had made many sightings of UFOs above Meiji Shrine, an extremely popular shrine in the center of Tokyo that just so happens to be somewhat of a hotspot for UFO sightings despite its urban setting. Kazu’s friend had recorded several incidents of UFOs flitting about over the shrine, and that was interesting enough to me, but it was also apparently interesting to other, more menacing parties. It so turns out that this friend of his, let’s call him Nobu, found himself on one of the last buses of the night, coming home from a late night at the office. He reported that the bus had been practically empty, but that at one stop an elderly gentleman dressed all in black climbed aboard. Nobu thought nothing of it at first, although he did think it odd that the stranger chose to sit in the seats directly across the aisle from him despite the fact that the bus was practically empty. As the bus made its way along, it became apparent that the black dressed man was extremely fidgety, and could not seem to keep his hands still. Nobu also noticed through the reflection in the window that whoever it was kept taking continual peeks in his direction. After several stops of this, Nobu started to become more and more uneasy in the presence of this stranger, and conjured up the courage to take a good, direct look at the man.
On careful inspection, it could be seen that the stranger was wearing a black, loose fitting suit and had an oversized black leather briefcase on his lap which was the object of his fidgeting, with his unusually long, thin fingers incessantly working at the lock as if he was trying to open it but didn’t quite know how. The man had on a hat, and although it was not an extravagant fedora or anything, it was still somewhat like a bowler hat, which is very unusual to see in Japan. This was all odd enough, but even odder still was that the man was profusely sweating even though it was not particularly hot out, and that this sweat seemed to be causing some sort of streaking on his skin. It was not described as being so much a disguise coming off or anything, so much as what one might expect to see with a heavily made up woman whose make-up is running. The rivulets of sweat working their way down the stranger’s face leaving streaks in their wake, and seemed to uncover slightly lighter, pale skin underneath, which while not alarming enough to make anyone panic in its own right, was along with everthing else surely just disturbing enough to get Nobu to thinking that it was in his best interest to get off the bus. When the vehicle came to its next stop, Nobu hastily got up to exit, and the black suited man in the seats across the aisle beside him for a moment looked up with a distinct look of surprise on his face, as if he had not been expecting it. The man’s features were what were described as being those of an “old man and a baby, all at the same time.” As Nobu brushed past to exit, he could hear the briefcase tumble to the floor, which for some reason spurred him to hasten his departure from the bus, all the while refusing to look back to see what had happened. As the bus drove off, Nobu couldn't resist a look to the window where the man should have been seated, but found there was no one. He admitted that the man may have been bending over to retrieve his dropped briefcase and was thus out of sight, but nevertheless counted it as a creepy addition to an already creepy encounter.
It is uncertain if this account has anything to do with the Men in Black, but it certainly does have that rather surreal, unsettling, almost unbalancing dreamlike quality that seems to be common in reports of them. Nobu would later say that it was almost as if he were in some sort of waking dream, and that this profound feeling of disorienting dread he had would not pass until the bus was well out of sight. I was quite curious about this particular account, and the skeptic in me felt the desire to pick it apart, but I would learn of even more such encounters that didn’t even necessarily have any connection to UFOs at all.
It came to my attention that one middle aged business man had found himself taking a taxi one night after a hard night of drinking, as is common in Japan. Once the taxi had started its journey to the designated destination, the passenger noticed that the driver was not wearing the typical uniform of a taxi driver here, but was rather dressed in some sort of dark colored suit. The passenger noticed through the rear view mirror that although the driver’s face was in shadows, he seemed to have somewhat Middle Eastern features, and was by no means the man whose picture was perched atop the taxi’s dashboard, what one would typically notice as the picture of the driver on duty. It was also noticed that the cab had a not exactly unpleasant, but nevertheless rather strange and offputting musky odor hanging in the air, which was described as somewhat reminiscent of freshly cut grass. It was around that point that the driver started to cycle through radio channels one after another until he stopped on one which featured heavy static with only the faintest vestige of a voice coming through the noise that sounded like it could almost be English but not quite. When the passenger asked how much further the destination was, the driver remained completely silent, and seemed to be really concentrating on whatever radio program was going on lost in all of that hissing static and white noise. When the steadily creeped out passenger requested in a forceful voice that he be let out of the taxi, the driver rolled the car to a stop and dutifully let him out, yet did not request any payment. Instead he hunched back over the weird, crackling, static filled radio as if he could make something out if he just listened a moment longer. The passenger went on his way and never looked back.
Are these cases of the Men in Black or merely just isolated cases of strange people? It’s hard to say for me, but there are yet more such reports that I came across. A particularly weird story was relayed to me which for awhile I had not connected to the Men in Black at all until much later when I came to the realization that it could perhaps be related. A guy I knew from Ghana who was living in Japan was staying in what we call over here a “Gaijin House,” basically a cheap accommodation for foreigners which is usually a house with the individual rooms rented out and a communal kitchen and living space. This Ghanaian gentleman, who I shall call Tom, related to me a really weird night he had there. One evening the doorbell rang and he opened it to find three men standing there wearing fancy looking black suits with garishly colored ties. When Tom asked what they wanted, they insisted to see a Mr. Yamada, and although they appeared to be Japanese in appearance, and spoke Japanese, they spoke it with an odd, unidentifiable accent. Tom said that the men had seemed to be out of breath, almost as if they had been running, and that one was looking around restlessly. The men were described as very pale and with extremely dark, almost black eyes. Tom informed the men that there was no Mr. Yamada living there, but once again they demanded to see Mr. Yamada, seemingly ignoring him. He once again repeated that no Mr.Yamada lived there and at that point he noticed that the cat that lived near the premises, who was lethargic and never got upset with anyone, had suddenly become noticeably agitated and panicked, darting off in a hurry.
After several more requests for the mysterious Mr. Yamada, the enigmatic strangers finally relented, but one of them then asked to come inside for a drink of water, which Tom refused. At no point was he able to pinpoint exactly what kind of accent they had. During the exchange, one of the men apparently tried to light a cigarette but lit it the wrong way around and simply discarded it, leaving it where it lie and not reaching for another. It was around that point that another guest came to see what was going on and the three men bowed and headed off down the street, with one of them picking up a can lying on the street and setting it gently, almost reverently upon a low lying wall. Throughout the whole encounter, Tom said that although there had never been any explicit threat of violence, he still somehow managed to sense that it had been a very real possibility, as if there were a whisper of potential violence pervading the air. Tom told me that he thought they were probably Yakuza, or Japanese mafia, looking for someone and that they had gotten the wrong address or for someone who had moved out, and I agreed at the time, but over the years I have not been so sure. Again, it is an eccentric little tale that seems to have the kind of ring of absurdity to it that Men in Black reports have.
Now perhaps I am wrong, and these weird little tales have nothing to do with the Men in Black. Maybe these are just instances of the sort of little brief, idiosyncratic, and unsettling encounters with weird people many of us have at some point in our lives, but I would also argue that that is what some other Men in Black reports seem like at first glance as well. I am not going to say that I definitely think these Japanese cases were Men in Black without a doubt, but over the years I have pondered cases like this and wondered. They have certainly led me to entertain the thought that no matter what the Men in Black are, then they are to be found in far flung places indeed, and that their oddness and unsettling qualities follow them wherever they go. Over the years I of course have become more aware of the intricacies of the Men in Black phenomenon and of coure realize now that it is not a mere spooky campfire story confined to the West. Reading Nick’s articles this week really made me want to get these off my chest and hopefully gain any insights or opinions on these cases from readers. I have never shared these stories before and make of them what you will, but these accounts certainly strike me as somewhat relevant to this phenomenon.