This is Thersa Matsuura and you’re listening to Uncanny Japan. Today was going to be the last in our series of Listeners’ True Spooky Stories, but as I started to work it all out — and received a couple new pieces — things became long and unwieldy. So here’s the new plan: Episodes 100 and 101 were about the frightening things lurking inside. Bedrooms, closets, rising up out of the floor. Next, for 102 and 103, we’ll do two shows on the blood curdling danger creeping around the great outdoors. Forests, mountains, temples, shrines, and beaches. In the second episode, the next one, I’ll introduce a couple youkai that you may or may not know about, because they just just happen to make appearances. And then after that, we’ll hop back into the usual shows because I have so many things I want to tell you about.
Are you ready?
Hey hey, how is everyone holding up? I was reminded I used to ask that. I thought I might have sounded dorky and haven’t been asking recently, although I want to because, holy crap the world we’re living in. Right? I hope that everyone is coping the best way they can. Me? If I start drowning in it all, miraculously I hear from one of you and that floats me back to the surface for air. I hope hearing about odd bits of Japanese culture can keep you a little above water, too. I’m rooting for you.
Gerardo’s Spooky Story: The Woman in the Bathroom Stall
Real quick, before I start with today’s tales, I want to tell a story sent in from a super cool listener, Gerardo, who relates a story that happened in a Japanese restaurant in Mexico. It goes something like this:
Our protagonist visited this restaurant at closing time with his girlfriend. They were very hungry and even though the only two people in the place were the manager and a waiter who was busy moving ingredients from a van through the main door to the kitchen, the manager let them in and was whipping them up some fried rice or something.
The restaurant itself was dark, chairs upside down tables. The protagonist decided to visit the restroom while waiting for the food. He pushed open the heavy wooden door with a creak and went inside, noticing there was another door next to that one. He assumed it went to the kitchen. Now the lights inside the bathroom were had also been turned off, so it’s dark. He goes into a stall and is taking care of business when he hears the creak again. Someone had come into the room.
He calls out that he’s in the stall, so no one comes in on him, and hears in reply a soft educated female voice saying, Oh, I’m sorry. And the door creaks closed again.
After finishing, he goes over to the kitchen door and calls that the bathroom is free now and leaves the way he came. His girlfriend at the time and the manager are talking and ask him who was he talking to in the restroom. He explained a waitress had probably come in, so he was letting her know that he had finished and she could use the restroom. The manager opened that second door for him and showed it was a closet. Also, no one had passed by the two of them as they stood outside the only other entrance to the restroom.
Outside the couple talked to the guy from the van and learned that he had also seen this lady, but she was just a floating head. Sometimes other workers there saw her as a reflection in the mirror or a shadow passing by or just standing there. Then he told them about how when they started to build the restaurant on a field they discovered bones, a lot of them. So either it was once a cemetery or a lot of people were killed either there or killed elsewhere and had their bodies dumped there, or buried in the fields.
The next day they heard that after our protagonist’s experience, the next morning, all the drawers and cabinets doors in the kitchen had been pulled open.
Another floating head. I don’t know. I don’t think I would have built my restaurant on the site of a mass grave of bones. Has the movie Poltergeist taught us nothing, people?
Jon’s Quest: Looking for Ashiarai Yashki
Okay, now onto today’s show. First off, while not officially a it really happened experience, this is so interesting and quite the mystery, so I wanted to read it because I love a good folktale as well as the next person, and I don’t want to lose any of them. Let’s see if we can help long time listener and patron, John, find his favorite youkai.
Do you all remember the Ashiarai Yashiki from episode 35: Nana Fushigi, Seven Strange Occurrences? It’s basically a giant foot that comes stomping through a house? Well, keep that in mind as I read John’s message.
I don’t know if this qualifies but do you remember the first time I reached out on Twitter? About the Ashiarai Yashiki and how I had originally heard that story as an Appalachian story? Since then I have tried to find it. I’ve looked through books, Google, other regional fairy tales but no luck. I cannot find this story replicated anywhere. My dad was the person that told me the story. And it’s pretty on point. A lady is in her cabin in the woods and a dirty leg falls through the chimney demanding to be cleaned. She tells it to take a hike and he wrecks the cabin until she cleans him off and he goes back up the chimney. The problem is my dad unfortunately passed away over twenty years ago so I can’t ask him where he heard it. There are a lot of possibilities, of course. Most of pappa’s (my grandfather) peer group fought in the Pacific theater in WWII so maybe they heard it after the war and brought it home? Maybe it was told on the radio? Maybe it was all some wacky coincidence? But because of all that, the Ashiaria Yashiki is one of my favorite yokai. A giant mean dirty foot.
Agreed. What isn’t endearing about a great big, foul-tempered, filthy foot that insists on being cleaned? But that aside, John and I are very curious if anyone has every heard of a similar story. Of course, if you happen to live in the Appalachian region, but also, anywhere at all. I just checked and, wow, Uncanny Japan is listened to it 132 different countries. So wouldn’t it be cool if there were more enormous stinky feet raining down on houses all over the world and we just didn’t know about it? If there are, let me know and I’ll contact John and update here as well.
Dan’s Story: The Black-Nosed Man
Speaking of nanafushigi, let’s segue into a story from another patron and listener, Dan. He lives in Japan and you may remember him from last episode. What I’m going to read now, though, was sent in way before his mysterious disappearing cell phone incident.
Also, let me tell you why Dan is awesome, I mean, before you figure it out yourself, that is. One of my Big Ol Dreams that is near impossible to realize is to travel all up and down Japan and collect and record all the Seven Mysterious Occurrences from different areas. Well, Dan took it upon himself to track down his area’s and he shares one with us. I also like that he added a little embellishment at the end to fit the mood and turn it into a spookier tale, but he was totally honest about where he does that, so what a nice guy.
Here’s what Dan wrote:
I enjoyed all your episodes but episode 35 about nanafushigi really captured my attention and got me thinking about whether my area, Tamba-Sasayama, still had any obscure curiosities preserved in vocal folklore. As it appears, not just in folklore but on the city’s website itself, a whole page dedicated to nanafushigi written as late as 2019! And so began my quest to find them.
From the vague information on the city’s website, citing old buildings and streets that no longer exist, villages that have since been absorbed by urbanisation and streets that have since been widened, I set out to locate the yokai that once existed and maybe, just maybe, still do.
And so, to reduce the amount of gasoline wasted by driving about aimlessly in my kei-truck, I plotted the nanafushigi on a map, using landmarks and Google Street View until I had located, as best I could, the seven curious mysteries of Sasayama.
Quite near what is now called “Kawaramachi”, at twilight, I parked up illegally in the parking lot of some bakery, at the bottom of the village of Ogawamachi, thinking I’d only be a few minutes. What I was looking for a certain bridge. Probably the least known nanafushigi in Sasayama is the story of a black-nosed yokai who was said to once inhabit the riverbank here, in what was in old days, a wild, overgrown but well-trodden footpath. Occasionally this yokai would spring up and surprise passers by, inviting them into the river. By torchlight, I found the narrow, overgrown, almost lost path that winds and overlooks the river and I walked it north, bridge by bridge.
I’m walking along this tow-path and I wander past a lone oji-san sitting on a stool on the riverbank, playing with a dog. His dog barked at me as I approached (after all, it was not an area where strangers often frequent), so I apologised in Japanese to him for making his dog bark and carried on my way.
I walked up the narrowing path until the last of about seven bridges, taking photos of the name-stones, until the river became a stream and then, with thoughts of dinner back at home, I turned back along the same path. Bridge seven, six, five. Then I passed bridge four where the old man was still sitting. His dog, noticing me long before I saw him, ran off.
Sensing the old man had something he wanted to to say, and relishing the thought of making conversation with a stranger, in the fading light, in my new found world, I bid him こんばんは and asked him whether he had heard any stories about the area about the yokai living in this very river.
“Oh, those old stories are lost, even on me”, he said before adding “its you, keeping these stories alive!”.
That much is true.
As I turned to bid him goodbye I noticed the size of his nose. It wasn’t a huge nose but it was bigger than usual. And it had a distinctly strange colour, quite dark. In fact in the fading light the man’s nose almost looked like a hole in his face. Like a silhouette. Almost like it wasn’t even there. It was then I realised. And as I caught his eye he smiled. His smile turned into a laugh.
I bowed, as deep as I dared. And with that, I turned on my heels and ran three more bridges with the sound of his laughter and the dog barking in my ears until I reached the bakery where my car was parked. I shifted into reverse and did a three-point-turn towards the city lights, and home.
That was my first encounter with the Nanashishigi of Sasayama, the black-nosed man of the river.
Delightful! Okay, first, I love the idea of a Black Nosed Man who appears and invites you into the river. I was intrigued and did a tiny search and found something called Kawancho no Hanaguro, The Black Nose of Kawancho. But didn’t find anything about why his nose is black or missing and why he hangs out in the river. Very unsettling. There’s a story there.
Kurt’s Story: An Unsettling Visitor in A Bamboo Forest
Now the next one is not only super weird, it happened in my neck of the woods. It’s from Kurt who used to live in Japan and I actually remember from Twitter ages ago when I first joined. So I was surprised and excited to get his experience. Here’s what he has to say:
In the spring of 2011, I was hiking alone along an abandoned trail west of the small jinja which serves the village of Nagakuma, not far from where you live in Yaizu, up there in the backwaters of the Abe River. I’d heard about the trail from an old man – a local wasabi farmer – whom I’d asked about an old Jizo statue which I’d discovered fading into the green at the end of a mostly abandoned mountain farm-road. The old man told me that years ago, before there were modern roads between the villages, the Jizo marked the entrance to a trail that connected that village with a village on the other side of the mountain. He said that such trails were once common in the pre-modern period, providing access between the villages which dotted the lower reaches of the Japan Southern Alps, and which provided mountain village residents with a means of communication and commerce with neighboring villages. The old man was a bit surprised that I’d found the trailhead, though he warned me to not try to use it, as the trail had been abandoned for decades and was certainly washed out and dangerous. With his cautions in mind, I decided nevertheless to give the pass a try.
A few months later I was back and ready to try the trail. The Jizo was there and as welcoming as any Jizo ever is, and I was soon picking my way into the forest beyond, following the sound of falling water while trying to discern what remained of a once well-used community trail. I found no further statues, though at times I could clearly make out what seemed to be remnants of the old trail crisscrossing the river every fifty meters or so. After more than an hour of careful clambering I came to a quite large waterfall, with no clear way around. Whatever trail had once bypassed this natural hazard was long washed away or perhaps the trail simply reached up and over the falls from a diversion I had somehow missed. I foolishly decided to hazard a climb along the side of the waterfall and despite some reckless footing I succeed in getting around and above the falls, though at great personal risk, which was exceedingly stupid as nobody knew where I was that day, and my car was parked in such an out of the way place that it would not likely be found without a concerted and directed search. If I had fallen then, and broken a leg, or worse, then I would have been trapped in the worst way. Climbing that falls was both reckless and stupid and I was rather disappointed in myself for having tried, as I am a family man and normally avoid such senseless risks.
I continued up the canyon which grew very narrow and difficult, and I wound up climbing the side of the mountain in order to continue at a higher elevation, out of reach of waterfalls and better removed from the chance of another dangerous fall. However, by now the trail was utterly gone and I was moving blind up the mountain with only the vaguest hope of recovering the ancient mountain trail. It was about this time – maybe two hours up the canyon – when I decided to stop to rest in the midst of a very dense grove of bamboo to shoot an impromptu video chastising myself for my earlier foolhardy risk. It was then, sitting precariously on the steep ground, surrounding in dense green, utterly beyond my own species, in a place where we humans no longer ever go, and where I had been warned not to go by someone with more local knowledge and sense than me, With the camera running, and with me loudly monologuing into it, something mysterious from the woods decided to come and give me a closer look.
I’m a skeptic and a non-believer in ghosts, the supernatural, gods or any hope of an afterlife. I once gladly explored the abandoned buildings, temples, shrines and graveyards which I once found in the deep mountains of Japan. I was not afraid of the supernatural then and I remain unafraid now. However, I also remain at a loss to explain whatever it was that came at me that day in the woods in the high mountains of Shizuoka prefecture. Here is what I remember, which is backed up by my own verbal description of what I was then seeing, which interestingly was captured in the video I was recording at the time, and which is titled “Careful Footing” and which can be found and viewed on YouTube beginning at the 2:30 mark.
While talking and looking at the camera, I spotted to my left something moving impossibly fast through the bamboo and coming straight at me. The thing was moving far too fast, and seemed to be almost ricocheting off the thick bamboo stalks, bouncing almost like a basketball-sized pachinko ball moving horizontally through the forest at a height of maybe five feet above the forest floor. The thing stopped at about the same distance that a capable predator might pause when spotting something in its environment which did not belong (me). It hung there, seemingly hovering in the air, for no more than two-seconds before suddenly retreating back the way it came, and via the same impossibly fast zigzag pattern. But what was most unsettling of all was the appearance of the thing, which was simply the blackest spot of darkness you can imagine.
The closest thing I could think to describe it is if you took a child’s black crayon and began turning circles with it on a white sheet of paper. Just keep turning and turning and turning, working to fill every spot and patch of white with black until the paper is nearly burned through with friction and you are left with the blackest hole of ebony empty which any crayon could possibly impress onto white paper. Add to that a rough and ambiguous shadow-like edging and you are closing in on what the thing in the Japanese woods looked like. The thing didn’t scare me – at first – though if you watch the video you can see how I became increasingly unsettled as I tried to continue the story I’d been telling, only to waylay myself to expound and try to explain away what had just happened.
I remain a skeptic, and a doubter of the supernatural. And I do not believe in gods or heaven or hell or any afterlife. Yet, for the life of me I have no idea what that black hole thing I met – or maybe imagined – that day in the woods was. Though I can tell you one thing for sure. I will never again venture past that ancient and worn Jizo gazing out through the green at the end of that farm road in the Japan Southern Alps.
Yes, you heard that right. Video. I’ll post a link to or embed his video on the website in the show notes. It’s at the 2 minutes and 30 seconds mark. While you can’t see whatever it was that visited him, Kurt’s reaction is chilling enough. And no, I’m not going to go looking for that jizo and trek into the wilds, thank you for asking.
You know, I had never heard of such an experience before, except in an interview I listened to once about someone who stayed at Skin Walker Ranch, the freaky UFO hotspot. He described something utterly dark that followed people. But then around the same time I got Kurt’s story, another listener and patron shared his experience, again this one isn’t in Japan, but has something very in common with Kurt’s.
Andrew’s Story: The Phantom Charge
This will be the last piece for today and it’s from Andrew and called: The Phantom Bear’s char
A few months ago, I went for my first long hike. Somewhat ill-conceived, I wanted to reconnect to the wilderness, and see what it was like to hike, and camp, and hike… This was up in New Hampshire, on a 30 mile loop called the Pemi loop.
The first day, I was supposed to cover 15 miles— it was muddy, and I was already tired, and chanting “Namu amida butsu” to get through it. After about 12 miles, it was getting dark, and I decided to call it a day. I set up camp, and shivered the night away. I’d expected 50 degree fahrenheit nights, and got a 39 degree fahrenheit night, with only a thin blanket and tent. I slept very little, and set off again just before sunrise.
After hiking a little, I consulted my map. I realized I would have to cover some 17 miles today, and drive the two hours home. I didn’t want to spend another night. So instead of all that, I found a shortcut. Thankfully, there was one. It wasn’t much shorter, but it would get me to my car before sunset, anyway.
The shortcut was even more remote. I didn’t see anyone at all. A few miles into the shortcut, I was tired, and slipped and fell twice; I wasn’t used to the 30 lb pack strapped onto me, and it threw off my motor skills. Thankfully, the trail was in a valley, and mostly dirt, so I wasn’t hurt at all, save for a few scrapes on my shin.
A couple more miles passed, and I was walking through a beautiful patch of birch forest. It was Autumn, and all was orange, and the leaves were thinning out. Beyond that, this part of the valley was thin with trees. I could see all around me, for more than 50 yards at least.
I was listening to a podcast (Our Strange Skies, sorry Thersa!) as I walked, to help distract me from my tiredness. I’m very aware when walking, though, and I never stop looking around or paying attention.
To my right, maybe 20 yards away, was a short hill. To my left was a small dip down into a large flat area. Suddenly, I felt something behind me. It felt like a large creature stomping toward me, clear as day. My fight or flight kicked in intensely, and I sprinted ten feet forward and lunged behind a tree, hurting my shoulder in the process, before taking a quick peek backward at my pursuer. And… there was nothing there. Nothing at all. I’d fully expected to see a bear I’d somehow frightened into bluff-charging me, or even a moose. But… Nothing. Nothing anywhere to be seen.
Similar right? Japan being mostly mountains there are all sorts of happenings in the forests and hills. I mean, we have tengu and oni and yamamba mountain witches now don’t we? Wait until next episode when I talk about two other distinctly forest or mountain-related beasties.
Thank you so much for listening, stay safe and well, and I’ll talk to you again real soon. Bye bye.
All music by Julyan Ray Matsuura