As someone who has made my home far away from my birthplace over in Japan, I deeply understand the sense of wonder and beauty this place can hold. With its long history and elegant culture, Japan is a fascinating place to visit, and every year droves of foreign tourists come here to take it all in much as I did before I decided to move here. Yet I also understand the deep mysteries this place can hold in addition to all of the odd new sights and interesting traditions, and sometimes these outsiders come face to face with not only culture shock, but also frightening and ominous mysterious forces. Here are some tales of strangers in a strange land coming across forces beyond their comprehension.
Some of the paranormal experiences by visitors to Japan seem to take on an almost demonic demeanor. Take an account published on the site The Tentative Apologist, from a witness who says this experience happened as he was in Japan for a short stint to teach English as mission work in Hokkaido in the summer of 1993. However, the witness would have a very frightening experience during his stay at a small apartment provided by the church. It started at 3 AM, when he awoke to a deep and profound sense of fear that seemed to spring up from nowhere, as well as a disturbing sound that sounded like “an old man clearing his throat” right outside the door, even though there should have been no one up at that time. The witness says of what happened next:
I lay in bed deathly still, listening. The church was an old building. Every step you’d take would result in a creak from a floor board. So as I lay there with a great sense of fear I listened with the utmost attentiveness for any sound of creaking floor boards which would signal the person moving away. But no sound ever came.
Perhaps twenty minutes later I suddenly felt a presence in the room, as if the presence behind the voice I had heard had now entered in. Then I felt something descending upon me and covering me somewhat like a blanket. As a result I was completely immobilized and, I soon discovered, unable to speak. I tried to scream but I could hear only the faintest whisper. And then I heard it, although this voice was not audible. It was in my head. The first thing I heard was a growling sound, as if I had stuck my head in the mouth of one of Siegfried and Roy’s tigers. Then along with the growling came the voice. This was no old man’s voice. Imagine that you have a sound effects CD which includes “demonic voice” among its many effects. That was what this voice was like.
With the growling sound in the background it spoke, saying my name and then saying “Easy does it” twice. Strange. I would have expected perhaps “Get the hell out of here”. Nonetheless I think I understood the message. I took “Easy does it” to mean “Don’t get too comfortable here. I’m in control.” The way the voice spoke added to this interpretation as if it were mocking me. After that all I heard was the growling. It continued for perhaps another thirty seconds and then the presence lifted and I could move again. At that point I had a sense that the presence had left and I did the only thing I could: pray. And I continued to pray until the grey dawn light coming through my window had reached a “safe” degree of illumination.
Shortly after this I called the head missionary in Sapporo — the pastor didn’t speak enough English to understand my experiences — and I told her what had happened. For a moment there was silence on the other end of the phone. And then she told me that the same events had happened the previous summer to the young western man who had stayed in this church. So did a demon actually oppress me at 3 AM those eighteen years ago? Relative to my background set of beliefs in which are are non-physical agencies some of which are malevolent, this makes good sense. But as with so many events in our lives, it remains open to interpretation.
Was there anything paranormal to this all, or was it just a case of what is called “sleep paralysis,” wherein the victim is stuck in a half-dreaming state where they fully believe there is an entity in the room with them, and which is usually written off as purely psychological? A very similar report comes from Your Ghost Stories, with a witness who says she visited Tokyo, Japan in the summer of 1978 to stay at a Japanese friend’s house, where she stayed in a traditional tatami mat room with sliding rice paper doors. It was a bit creepy that on the first night a cold draft seemed to incessantly come from nowhere from a closet, but she wrote it off as nerves at first. On the second night of her stay she says she woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of faint laughter, which she at first took to be coming from the neighboring house but which seemed to ever draw closer, bringing with it an inexplicable dread that seemed to sit atop her like a weight. The witness explains:
Now the laughter was...menacing. It was a decidedly evil, man's laughter which now closed in around my ears, growing louder, and louder. Hey! Just get up and go upstairs and get your friend! I was wide awake. I tried to do just that only to find that... I could not move, not a muscle. My instinct and unusual spiritual training for a young person kicked in. I had practiced yoga since I was a young child and just before leaving, my yoga instructor had mentioned something about an East Indian holy man named Ramana. The mere mention of his name dispelled negative energies. I tried to say his name aloud - I was ready to try anything. To my horror I discovered that I could also not speak. Fear freezes, my instinct told me. What I have to do in the midst of this terror is to relax. I began to imaging myself floating through a starry night sky. A calm in the midst of this storm around me came over me.
I tried to speak the name of the holy man again and this time I was able to mouth the word (though still no sound came out)..."Ramana". As I did so, it was as if a switch had been turned off. The evil laughter which had become deafening about my ears stopped. I was able to move and considered running upstairs to my friend, yet, somehow, I knew that I was safe now so I thought I would not wake her. The entity was likely a demonic one judging from my description, my friend later said, and I imagine that anyone who heard that laughter would concur. The direction from whence the laughter had originated, I realized, had been the bedding closet which had exhibited the chilly draft the night before.
Maybe even more terrifying is an account given by a poster on Reddit, who says that his brother had been stationed with the Marines over in Japan, where he lived on the base and apparently liked to go out drinking and partying whenever he had the chance with Japanese locals he had befriended around the base. One night the brother went to one of his friends’ houses to just chat, play video games, and unwind after a night out, and that was where his friend would spin a tale of malevolent supernatural forces, which the brother would soon find out were all too real. The poster says:
He tells my brother the main reason he wanted to get home early was because his little sister had been suffering from night terrors, causing her to wake up screaming, crying, and sometimes vomiting. He was worried about her and wanted to be home in case she had an episode. At this point in the story, I should explain how this guy's house was shaped. The house was built in the shape of a horseshoe, with a garden in the middle. His bedroom was at the very edge of one side of the "U" shape and his sisters all the way at the other end. So they are essentially across the garden from each other. If he looks out of his window, he can see into hers and vice versa.
So anyways, they decide to call it a night, and the Japanese guy walks over to the window to look across the garden into his sisters window, to check on her. He lifts the blind and peers out for a fraction of a second before jumping back screaming and looking at my brother like he just saw something horrible. My brother then goes to look and he stops him. He tells him that he saw a dark cloud with red eyes hovering over his sister's sleeping body. My brother, naturally, does not believe him and decides to look for himself. He creeps quietly over to the window and lifts the blind but this time, he finds himself eye to eye with what he describes as a "dark black puff of smoke with a face".
My brother and this other guy admit that they got under the guys covers and stayed there until it was light outside, too afraid to lift the blankets and see that the smoky figure had come a little closer, and was in the room with them, just on the other side of the thin sheets. I don't know what to believe, or if maybe they drank more than what they said they did that night and imagined it all, but I know my brother believes what he saw. He sticks to his story, and when he tells it, he looks like someone who saw something truly sinister.
It is hard to say if this could have been demonic or not, but whatever it was definitely seems to have been at least somewhat malevolent to say the least. In our next account we have a man from Sweden, who says that he came here to Japan for a few months to study the Japanese language and during this time he had managed to find a modest little apartment to rent in Tokyo. Although it seemed to be too good to be true at the time, as it is notoriously difficult for foreigners to find apartments in Japan, he would soon notice various oddities that were not particularly paranormal at first, but very unsettling nonetheless, and which managed to build an intangible sense of dread that would quickly evolve into pure supernatural horror.
One of the first things he noticed as he explored his new place was a lone cabinet built into the wall, not uncommon for Japanese style apartments and houses, which would not open no matter what he did. In another cabinet he found an abandoned pack of cigarettes and a lighter, just sitting there in the murky shadows as if they had been placed there by someone who would come back at any moment, with only the film of dust upon them saying otherwise. And then there were the strange scratching, scrabbling noises he began to hear, the first of which came when he was preparing a meal in his kitchen, which he heard in the other room and which sounded like something scraping on wood, even though no one else was there at the time. He would say:
I scanned the room to find the source of the noise and immediately realised it came from the wardrobe. I got goosebumps all over my arms. It sounded like a rat was in there, scraping it's tiny but sharp paws against the closed door. Then it suddenly stopped. I’d been holding my breath without realising it and let out a long sigh. I went back into the kitchen. It must’ve been some plumbing in the wall behind the closet making that sort of noise. I refused to let my imagination make up “The Grudge” or “The Ring” inspired fantasies. I liked this apartment, and I were gonna stay in it. I went to bed and plugged in my earphones to make sure I wouldn't hear that scraping sound again.
That very evening, at 3:30 AM, the witness purportedly woke to the same sort of mysterious sound, and as he was very hot and sweaty he reached for the AC remote control to realize it was nowhere to be found, forcing him to get up to adjust it manually. All the while that incessant scraping, scratching sound seemed to emanate from the room’s closet. He chalked it up to his imagination, put on some headphones, and ignored it. The next evening he woke again at around 3 AM to the same noise, and he found that the closet was wide open even though he was sure it had not been when he had gone to sleep, and he was startled to see that the cabinet that he had had no luck in opening was flung open as well. When he looked into the previously inaccessible space he says of what he saw next:
There was a very small space down there and it was extremely filthy. An odd smell came from it, like the smell of moist mold mixed with burnt wood. With my heart pounding in my chest I bent over the cabinet and looked straight down in the cramped, dark space. At the bottom of the cabinet, surrounded by dust, long black strings of hair and other kinds of dirt was an object that didn't seem to fit in. It had a light grey color and a smooth surface. The remote control for the AC.
Insight struck like lighting. Whatever it was that was living in the filthy cabinet, apparently it liked to play games. I took a step back and while a million thoughts went through my head I did what was the nearest to surviving instinct I had and slammed the closet door shut. Or rather, I tried to. For some reason it wouldn't close. I put both my hands on it and pushed with all my strength, but something kept it from closing. After a few seconds of pushing I started to look along the edge of the door and when my glance reached the right corner of the door I screamed out loud and flew away backwards. There was a small hand there. A small hand coming out from the closet.
The four fingers were grabbing the edge of the door hard. If I hadn't turned on the lights earlier I probably wouldn't have noticed it, but there it was. The skin was pale, there were black dirt around each fingernail and thin blue veins were visible through the white skin on the knuckles. It looked like it could have belonged to a small child. Knowing that with I must’ve pinched those tiny fingers in the door opening pretty hard made me feel nauseous. Right in front of my eyes the small hand let go of the door pulled back into the wardrobe. My mind went blank. I felt tears silently falling from my eyes. I sat frozen, staring at the closet for almost a minute and then got up and got into the bathroom.
The witness says that the next day the cabinet was still open, and that within there were found to be long, thin cuts in the wood ringed by brownish stains, which looked as if they were the result of small hands trying to scratch their way out. It is all a rather dramatic account, and one wonders if it is even real at all, or a bit of fiction posing as a real account, but whatever it is, it is extremely spooky and disturbing. Equally harrowing and spectacularly dramatic is a report from Reddit of a witness who says the whole frightening experience started with a hike with her fiancé, Charles, out to Japan’s notorious and very haunted Aokigahara Forest, also called “The Suicide Forest,” which I’ve written of here at MU before. The witness says that around 3 hours into their hike the sky was suddenly overcast as clouds ominously rolled in. They took out the tent they had with them and set it up, with heavy rain hitting them not long after that, pattering atop the vinyl as they huddled amongst the lonely trees. During the night they were kept awake by crashing noises in the forest and what sounded like people outside of their tent, but no source of the sounds could be identified. Charles apparently went out to check the area, but didn’t come back, and that is where things get very odd indeed, of which the witness says:
I started to panic. It had been twenty minutes now, of my yelling his name and wandering through the trees. I could barely even see the light from our tent any more. At this point I had tears streaming down my face. That’s when I heard the sobbing. I swung my flashlight in the direction of the sound. There was Charles, huddled at the base of a large tree. His shirt was torn and he was sobbing. I ran to him but when I got close he started screaming at me. But he wasn’t speaking English…..I think he was speaking Japanese… which was impossible, neither of us knew Japanese…
His face looked strange, it was all distorted. His eyes were squinted and even though he was sobbing he was smiling this eerie smile, and his eyes followed my every move. “Charles what happened?” no response. “Charles! What is wrong with you…what happened. We need to get back to the tent.” I tried to take his arm but he pulled away. After a few attempts he followed me back to the tent, never saying a word. Honestly, he didn’t say much of anything, til we were all the was back in California, where I’m writing this.
He seems normal during the days; he doesn’t remember what happened. He never wants to talk about it either. But that isn’t even what I’m worried about. It’s the nights. He isn’t him at night. At first, it wasn’t that bad I would wake up some nights and he was standing at the foot of our bed, motionless just watching me sleep. He will eventually go back to bed on his own; I tried waking him once and he was hysterical. He wouldn’t stop screaming. I would also wake up to him mumbling Japanese, which I still could not explain. Maybe he picked some up when we were there. He would usually stop and go back to sleep.
Upon their return home, things just kept getting weirder still. Roving cold spots, Charles waking at all hours in a trance, sometimes babbling in Japanese, and often sleepwalking to wake with no memory of anything, claw marks found in the walls and the ceiling, doors found flung open, the works. The most terrifying experience happened one evening when the paranormal phenomena took a turn for the sinister, of which the witness claims:
I woke up because there was something scratching my neck. I tried to brush it off but I realized it was caught. I quickly realized it was a poorly handmade noose. I screamed and took it off my neck. I reached for Charles but he wasn’t in bed. I walked the house looking for him. There were nooses hung haphazardly all over my house. All were made from the same thick red rope. Charles was standing in front of one in the middle of my kitchen. Sobbing and mumbling in Japanese. The next night Charles was sobbing in bed; he had scratched his neck completely raw; it was bleeding in some places and bruised. He wouldn’t stop scratching until I physically secured his hands. He woke up, told me he must have had some type of allergic reaction. I don’t know what to do. Charles writes them off as me just having vivid nightmares, and says he probably just sleep walks but I know something is wrong. I think something came back with us.
Is this someone trying to pass off fiction as a real story, or is there something more to this? If so, what is it? Did something malicious follow them back from that forsaken place known as Aokigahara Forest? Who knows? Finally we come to an American visitor on Reddit who was with a Japanese friend named Hideki touring the historic town of Hiroshima, which many of you will recognize as the town that was wiped off the face of the map when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on it on August 6, 1945. Apparently the ghosts that remain are none too happy about any of it, as the witness explains:
I looked down a side street – and froze. At the end of the street there were a pair of figures, dancing. They were waltzing together, as if there were old-fashioned music playing in the background. Dimly, I could almost hear it: an American tune that would have had to have been smuggled in, maybe from the 1940s. But what would this music be doing here, now? I was only dimly aware of this, however, as the figures seemed to be waltzing – zig-zagging – in my direction. As they came closer, I felt a hypnotic sense of horror as I realized these two figures were not just black – they were charcoal.
Moving, seething masses of charcoal, their blackened bodies jerked awkwardly as the danced together, all discernible features other than outline scorched to ash. I opened my mouth to scream for Hideki and the figures vapourized, turning to a harsh, fast-moving cloud of ash as if blown away by a terrifying wind beyond and comprehension that exploded towards me, blowing me back flat on my butt. This time I screamed as the dark ash cloud passed right by me, filling my senses with ash and a foul smell of burning flesh. When Hideki came running to the sound of my screams, he found me curled in a fetal position, sobbing – laying right next to a pair of Hiroshima shadows, the permanent burn marks of people vapourized in the burning bright blast of the Hiroshima Bomb. To this day, I have no logical explanation for anything I saw that night – other than what Hideki told me after: “Now, you have been visited too – haven’t you?
What did Hideki’s words mean? What is going on here? Are there vengeful ghosts of the atomic bomb roaming the streets of Hiroshima? Considering the dark history of the place it would not be hard to imagine at all, and an American face seems about right for their wrath. These are all interesting peeks into paranormal phenomena in Japan as witnessed through the lense of outsiders in Japan, who have in many cases come for the history and culture but have dring their journey been confronted with something very spooky beyond their understanding. Why did these sinister forces choose to appear to them and what were they? Are any of these reports real at all? Whatever the case may be, it goes to show that such experiences can occur when you least expect it, no matter what corner of the earth you find yourself in.