Japan has its fair share of myriad stories of ghosts, phantoms, and boogiemen. Japanese folklore is steeped in such tales, yet not all of these go back centuries, and many are quite new to the Internet age. A very bizarre story began making the rounds in Japan in August of 2008, when an anonymous witness came forward to give an account of something seemingly very unusual and demonic in a rural area of the country. According to the witness, this area was a place of rice fields and farmland, the mountainous terrain only sparsely inhabited with scattered rural villages, where people live simple lives. In 1998, the witness claims that she was a young girl of 10, and that she had been brought to this hamlet in order to visit her grandparents for the spring vacation. And so would begin the tale of a mysterious new specter that would latch on to the public consciousness and become a new urban legend that has taken on a life of its own.
One of the witness’ favorite things to do was to explore around the countryside, and since this is Japan and the area was considered quite safe, she usually did this alone on her own. One day she claimed that she has stopped to lie out in the sun, and it was here where she said she heard an inexplicable sound like “po po po po po.” It was a very odd sound to hear out there, since it was a quiet day surrounded by farmland for miles around, but although it was slightly unsettling, the noise did not immediately instill fear within her. The sound stopped and she went back to relaxing, but then it started again, a bit more urgent now, a rapid “Popo popo popo” sound that now caused the witness to be on the alert, and she would write of the noise and what happened next in her original account:
It wasn’t a mechanical noise; it sounded strange… but human. I looked about to see where the noise was coming from, and saw a white hat peeking over the top of the hedge. The hat moved along to a break in the hedge, when I could see that it was being worn by a woman with a white dress. She had to be tall, though; the hedge was over two meters high (six feet). Before I could really think about this much, the woman was gone, seemingly disappeared. The strange sound was gone too. At the time, I just guessed that the person’s apparent height had been due either to wearing very tall platform shoes, or that it had been a man dressed up like a woman. Odd, but that was all.
The creeped out girl was now ready to leave, and she hurried back to her grandmother’s house. She still wasn’t particularly afraid of what she had seen, just a bit uneasy and curious, but this would all take a turn for the sinister as she was having tea with her grandparents. As they sat there chatting, the witness casually mentioned what she had seen out in that field, as well as that “po po po” sound that had accompanied the stranger. This immediately captured the grandfather’s attention, and he began to ask the girl all manner of questions as the grandmother sat with a look of panic on her face. Although the girl was meant to return home that evening, the grandparents informed her that she had to stay one more night, and the grandfather made a frantic phone call in the other room before heading out to go pick up a person he only mentioned as a “Mrs. K.”
For awhile the girl and her grandmother sat there in silence, the sound of birds singing outside as the old woman noticeably trembled, and then she quietly began to talk. She explained that the figure the witness had seen was not a human, but rather a kind of monster or demon she called the “Hasshaku-sama,” also called the “Hachishaku-sama,” meaning “Mr. or Ms. 8 shaku,” with one shaku being the Japanese measurement for about one foot. The grandmother explained that this entity would sometimes appear to be young, at other times old, and that the “po po po” sound had been the thing’s laugh. This monster had apparently long plagued the village, taking an interest in children, and that once it appeared to someone that meant it aimed to hunt them down and eventually kill them. It was all very menacing stuff, but the grandmother told the girl not to worry, because the grandfather was making arrangements. The witness would further explain:
I learned later that Hasshakusama was supposed to be trapped in a shrine near the village, having been sealed in by four statues of Jizo, a protective deity of children, each placed to the north, south, east, and west of the structure. The village had some sort of agreement with its neighboring villages, wherein they were given some advantages to make up for the fact they had to watch over the monster… for example, they got first priority on water use. Since it had been over a dozen years since Hasshakusama had killed anyone, I have to wonder if the old men in those villages thought it was still a good arrangement.
At the time I couldn’t quite believe what I was being told, of course; but then Grandpa returned with a very old lady. K-san, for that’s who it was, handed me a small paper charm and told me to hold onto it. Then she and Grandpa went upstairs. While they were upstairs, I tried to excuse myself to use the bathroom… but my Grandma wouldn’t let me go alone, and she insisted on keeping the door open and an eye on me as I was using the facilities. This is when I started to really understand just how serious my grandparents felt the situation was.
The grandparents told her to go back to her room for her own safety, where she found that there had been various other charms hung up, and the windows had been completely covered. In each corner of the room had been placed a pile of salt, and in the center was set up a miniature shrine with a statue of Buddha placed upon it. The girl was then told in no uncertain terms that she was not to leave the room, even to go to the bathroom, until 7AM the next morning, and that if she felt threatened, she should grasp the charm and pray to Buddha. She was then left there by herself with some snacks and a television on. She says of what happened next:
I had a bed and a TV in the room. Grandma had left me snacks. I tried to watch some TV, but couldn’t pay attention. I wasn’t hungry, either. So I just lay one the bed, wrapped in the sheets, and eventually fell asleep because the next thing I remember was waking up to a late night show on the TV. My watch said it was around 1AM. And I heard something tapping on the glass of the window.
I tried to ignore it. It was very persistent. I had some tea and a snack, and turned up the TV to drown out the tapping. Then I heard Grandpa call from the hall, “Are you alright? It’s okay to come out if you’re too scared.” I started for the door automatically, but stopped myself as I remembered how insistent Grandpa had been that he wouldn’t talk to me until seven. Again I heard him: “It’s okay, come here.” I wanted it to be my Grandpa’s voice… but somehow it wasn’t. I suddenly had goosebumps all over me; then I noticed the salt in the corner. It was becoming darker. I dropped in front of the Buddha, clasping the charm in both hands, and started praying for help. “Popoppo, Po, Popo …” The tapping on the window started again, louder than before, more insistent. Then a definite hand slapped the window… despite the fact I was on the second floor. I did the only thing I could; I kept praying to Buddha.
The rest of the night passed with no more sleep for her, as she remained absorbed in her prayers, but the morning light finally did arrive to melt away the shadows, and the tapping sound stopped. Weirdly, the piles of salt in the corners of the room were now black. When she emerged from her room and went downstairs, her grandparents told her that she was not totally safe just yet, and that she had to leave the village in a very specific way. She was sat in a van surrounded by eight men she had never seen before and the mysterious Mrs. K, in a convoy of other vehicles, and told that she was to keep her eyes closed and not pay attention to any voices she heard. The Hasshaku-sama was likely to try to lure her away, and the only way to avoid this was to resist the urge to look at it and completely ignore it. She would say of her flight from the village:
Our convoy started off, slowly at first. I don’t think we had even traveled 20 kilometers before K-san warned us things were about to get hard… then she started to chant phrases that sounded Buddhist. And then I heard the laugh again: “Poppopo, Po, pop, Popopo …” I clutched the charm to my chest and kept my head down, but couldn’t resist a quick peek at the window; that was a mistake. I could see a white dress. It appeared stationary to the car’s window, even though we had to be moving very fast at that point. The figure moved as if to lower its head to the window, and I gasped… and the man next to me told me to shut my eyes, which I did, and tightly.
Though no one else could see Hachishakusama, they all heard what happened next: the tapping. I don’t know how, but the tapping started on every window in the van, all at the same time. I don’t know how long it lasted but, over time, it faded. K-san had stopped chanting by that time as well, and eventually said that she felt we were now safe, so the cars all pulled over. My father and Grandpa thanked all the men who had assisted; as it turned out, all of them were related to me. Grandpa and K-san had hoped to confuse Hachishakusama by surrounding me with many people of the same bloodline. I had to stay overnight while Grandpa was gathering my kinsmen, and it was deemed safer to try to escape during the day than the night.
K-san asked me to show her the charm which I had forgotten I was still holding; it had turned almost entirely black. K-san commented “it should be alright now, but just in case…”; and with that she handed me a new charm to hold until I got home. I drove home with my father. During the drive, he told me that one of his friends when he was young had been taken by Hachishakusama. In talking to my Grandpa over the phone, I’ve confirmed that it was not his voice I heard outside the room that night (which sent shivers down my spine again). Hachishakusama targets teens and children… so if the monster speaks with a familiar relative’s voice, the victim would normally come to it willingly. I’d almost forgotten this all after ten years. Grandma called to tell me that one of the Jizo statues that had sealed Hachishakusama into the shrine looked as if it had been broken by someone; the statue that was broken lined up with the road leading to our home. Two years ago, my Grandpa died; sadly, I was not allowed to attend his funeral. I try to tell myself it was all superstition… but sometimes I still hear that voice call: “Popopo …
Interestingly, as soon as this story hit the Internet, it took on sort of a life of its own, very similarly to the Slenderman phenomena. Before long the Hachishaku-sama was appearing in comics and video games, and it has become a sort of minor cultural phenomenon in Japan, regardless of whether it was ever real or not. It is not known who posted this account, or even exactly which area of Japan it supposedly happened in, and one gets the feeling it is perhaps purely urban legend in the making. Yet, it has managed to become a popular story told time and time again on many Japanese sites, and one does wonder whether there is any kernel of truth to any of it. Whatever the case may be, this unique phantom is certainly a deeply creepy tale that is probably well deserving of its new role as a new spooky enigma and fictional horror icon.