Today I’m going to share some more listeners’ true Japanese ghost stories as well as one of my most terrifying experiences. This is part two of a three part “Listeners’ True Japanese Ghost Stories” series.
Hello there, I’m Thersa Matsuura and you’re listening to Uncanny Japan. And we’re celebrating our 100th episode by doing three shows of true spooky tales sent in from patrons, listeners, and a couple by me.
On the last Uncanny Japan, I shared some stories about ghost-ridden houses. Specifically, Cate’s experience in her new home built on some very old and very haunted land. I also talked a little about some creepy things that happened to my son, Julyan, and me in our house when he was little. Spirits, but not necessarily the ill intentioned kind.
Today’s theme, however, is: “When the Ghostie Gets you”, or tries to get you. I’ll read a personal account sent in from Heather which gave me actual goosebumps, then tell you probably one of the most unsettling experiences I’ve ever had, top three definitely. And because I don’t want to wrap up the show on a dark, depressing vibe, I’ll end with a couple more light-hearted stories from listeners. They’re on the sweeter side, but strange nonetheless. And then the next episode – the third in the trilogy – will be “The Strange Outdoors” and a few others that fit nicely in that category.
Hey hey, okay, are you ready for some spooky tales?
Heather’s Japanese Ghost Story: The Taking Room
First, I want to share with you a story from Heather. A tiny bit of background: She’s taught in Japan three times, in Nara, Tokyo and Shizuoka (where I am!) But her eerie experience didn’t happen here; it happened in Nara, and it goes something like this:
My story takes place in Nara in 2010.
I was in an a typical teaching situation in that I was hired by a Canadian married couple who had just acquired a conversation school, so many of the perks and amenities of being hired by a large eikaiwa were missing. I needed to find my own housing in a fairly rural location, so when I came across a large house owned by a Canadian who rented to foreigners, I just had to take it.
Among the many charms and quirks of the house were also a few unusual things, none
of which were evident upon my initial visit to the house.
There were a lot of items left behind by previous inhabitants at different points in the course of the house being offered as a rental. This gave the house a sense of confused time. There were clothes, magazines, and other artifacts from as long ago as the 80s and as recently as the tenant before me, by my estimate.
The house carried noises from the neighbors on either side of it, as each house was connected. I once thought someone was coming tearing down the stairs toward me in the middle of the night, only to discover that my neighbor never removed the work boots he stomped around his own house in. On the other side of me, a cat meowed itself to hoarseness before seeming to have become mute.
In this setting, I also began to feel a sense of unease about the house. The creepiest-feeling room was the one I chose to sleep in, as it was the only room with internet access. I figured if anything weird happened, I could at least make a call to someone about it.
Although there were a few noises that came from upstairs at night that seemed pretty unexplainable, by far the strangest thing wasn’t what the house did while I was there, but how I began to behave during my time there.
To start, I began to forget to eat. I don’t know how else to explain it. I had to travel a few train stops away to get groceries, which was sometimes inconvenient, but my lack of interest went beyond the occasional neglect to pick up eggs or rice on my days off. Eating became something I did out of panic after long hours of skipping meals or forgetting dinner. I lost 35 pounds in a very short amount of time, causing my bosses to express concern. I didn’t know how to explain it, and I did my best to remember, but it wasn’t consistent.
I was constantly anxious in the house. In part, this must have been due to my extreme isolation, as I ran the school without coworkers and rarely spoke to anyone in person beyond my students and the school manager. However, it made me feel crazy. I was constantly feeling out of control and nervous in general.
Then there were my sleep disturbances. I suffered from insomnia for the first month or so, cramming myself into a loveseat in the living room and cycling through Ghibli movies all night. Many times I saw the sun rise before I could sleep at all. Once I finally settled enough to sleep in a room, I couldn’t bring myself to sleep upstairs at all, and chose the bedroom adjacent to the living room. At first, I slept on a futon on a platform bed frame. Once summer came, I often kept the sliding glass door in the room open, and slept on the futon on the floor. Then I stopped using the futon and slept on just the floor on top of a blanket. I wasn’t uncomfortable or experiencing any sort of back pain, so I can’t explain why I stopped sleeping on any sort of bed. By the time I left Nara, I was very thin, sleeping on a blanket on the floor without a pillow by CHOICE.
When the caretaker of the house came to do an inspection walkthrough with me before I moved out, he said about the room I had been staying in, “Boy, this room is really creepy, isn’t it?” I asked him to tell me what had happened there, both excited and terrified that I wasn’t alone in feeling something was absolutely wrong about the room. But he wouldn’t tell me what he knew, and wouldn’t look me in the eye as he refused.
If this situation could be plausibly explained as a mental health crisis, I believe I would have taken some time to recover or bounce back to a sense of normalcy. Nevertheless, my appetite was restored almost immediately upon vacating the house. I was able to sleep again. In a bed! With pillows! I gained weight. I felt like myself again within weeks.
I’ve learned a lot about Japanese folklore since that experience in Nara, but I’m never one to assume I have enough knowledge to set a definitive label on what happened in the house. All I know is that I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since.
This has all the makings of a horror movie, don’t you think? I’m so glad Heather was able to move out and feel better, shed whatever it was that was draining her. But don’t you have dozens of questions about the house or the land? Like what happened there? When? This is total speculation, but if something DID awful happen, did the people who rented it out genuinely not know? I mean they are foreigners, too, and maybe they got a good deal on the place without having heard the gory details. In my horror story imagination, I can see a Japanese landlord, knowing they’d never be able to rent or sell it to a Japanese family because of whatever history it has and thinking perhaps foreigners don’t believe in such things, or aren’t susceptible to them. Also, I would love to talk to people who have lived there before and since. Because I bet they have had some weird stuff happen as well. If you’re listening, let’s all get together for tea with Heather and talk.
My Most Terrible Story: The Cold, Dark Man
Okay, next I’ll just tell you about one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. Something I don’t like to revisit, but it is freaky AF and fits today’s theme. It happened back in 2001.
While at Clarion West in 2015, I wrote a short essay about what happened and was later encouraged by my wonderful instructor that week, Andy Duncan, to submit it to Fortean Times. Which I did. And it was accepted and soon published. So instead of me wading through this whole experience, I’m going to read that essay and then I’ll also talk about the parts that I never said out loud before. Let’s see if I can do this.
I called the piece, The Visitor, and it happened before Julyan’s head-on-the-desk experience that I talked about is episode 100. So he was kindergarten age at the time. Here we go.
A month after we moved into our new house, my husband’s company transferred him halfway across the country. I’m an American expat living in Japan. That’s how things are done here. His boss insisted he relocate for the length of the current project, returning home one weekend a month. The idea being, that because it was such a short time, there was no reason to spend money to move the entire family. Plus, I was told, since our five-year old was in kindergarten, it would be too traumatic for him to change schools mid year. It was decided Julyan and I stay put in our newly built home while my husband moved way up north for this new assignment.
The situation before he left was that we all slept in the same room. In Japan families of three often sleep on futons in what is called kawa no ji/the character for river. The Japanese kanji for river from left to right is a long stroke top to bottom, a small one in the middle, and another long one. A family sleeping all lined would look like the character for river, kawa. Our layout was a little different though. It went husband, me in the middle, then Julyan. This was a couple years before Julyan started sleeping in his own room.
So we’re in the new house, daddy’s away, and Julyan and I have our own little before bed routine. Something like, brush teeth, pro wrestle on the futons, read a storybook, sleep. Every thing’s fine.
It must have been around the second month of us being alone, that I developed this overwhelming feeling of dread. Something really bad was going to happen. I’ve never had this feeling, this intense and ongoing before and it was terrifying. What started as vague anxiety, grew into full blown panic. Pretty much all the time. Days went by, weeks, and I couldn’t shake this constant ‘something horrible is about to happen’ gut feeling. Somehow along the way, I became convinced the bad thing was going to happen to Julyan. I remember on more than one occasion, after he was picked up by the kindergarten bus, I grabbed my keys and followed the my car (convinced the bus was going to get into an accident), then I watched through the fence for a while until I was sure he was safe inside. Creepy, I know, but I felt that if I was nearby, I could stop whatever it was that was going to happen, mitigate it maybe.
The escalating bad feeling continued until around five months of my husband being gone, when we learned the contract was going to take a lot longer than expected, so no idea when he’d be living with us again. I started having nightmares. But through it all, Julyan was the one big light in my life. When we were hanging out, running around in various parks, dinner for two, or watching the then brand new Pokemon anime, whatever it was, when he was nearby everything usually felt okay.
Then one night we went to bed after our usual routine, except this time I had a lucid dream. Which wasn’t new to me, but it had been awhile and this one was different in its violence. I thought it was really happening at first, someone had broken in and was roughly shaking me awake. There was a shadowy, cold man, leaning over me. I tried to get up, but he kept using the heels of his hands on my shoulders to knock me back down. I’d try to get up and he’d knock me down again.
The final time he sat back and allowed me — my dream self — to sit up. He smiled, one of those you-know-you’re-in-trouble smiles. I was very aware of Julyan sleeping beside me, probably because for months now I was hyper alerted to something bad happening to him. I wanted to check to see if he was okay, but at the moment this dark man was focused on me. Somehow I knew if I looked over then that’s where this man-creature-thing’s attention would also go and that wouldn’t be good. So I froze.
That’s when he reached his arm out and pointed at me. Still smiling, he leaned in close until his finger pressed into my chest. I couldn’t move. He kept pushing and I could feel his finger burning, sinking into my skin, bone. I remember how shocked I was at the pain. I wanted to scream but couldn’t.
My next memory is waking up the next morning. Julyan was sleeping beside me. He looked okay. I could still feel lingering pain in my chest and even my shoulders, but it was morning, the dream monster was gone, so, okay, it was just a lucid nightmare then. I woke up Julyan and we went downstairs and I made breakfast before the kindergarten bus showed up. There was no need for me to mention anything about what happened the night before, especially to him. So it was just a regular breakfast, us sitting across from each other eating rice and miso soup, grilled salmon or something.
That’s when Julyan looked around and asked where daddy was. Could they play when he got back from school? I said, no, sorry. Daddy was still out of town and wouldn’t be back until the end of the month. Julyan looked at me funny, like he knew I was teasing him. He said, no, he saw daddy in the bedroom. That’s when he told me he had woken up in the middle of the night and saw daddy sitting on the futon beside beside me, staring down at me.
Now that’s creepy enough, but it gets worse, not long after that I went to the hospital because that burning sensation where he touched me wouldn’t go away. I felt and found a lump in my breast. I was scared, but part of me didn’t think it could actually be cancer because it was golf ball sized and just appeared so suddenly and I was only 33-years old.
I had already planned a trip back to the States so Julyan could have his first Halloween, so I decided to go to the doctor there, one I was familiar with. It was only a few weeks away. We flew back a week or so after 9-11, in a plane full of white knuckling passengers who all cheered when we landed. I saw the family doctor the day after I got back, and he referred me to bigger hospital. Very long story – that involved a negative biopsy that was doubted by an incredible surgeon who called for a more intrusive biopsy – short, and it was breast cancer, stage three, agressive, and very weird on several counts I learned from my amazing oncologist later. He said it didn’t look like normal breast cancer or to have started in the breast. They were sure it had metastasized from somewhere else. There were so many tests. But nothing else was found.
As I’m sure everyone of you understands, my reaction to the diagnosis was overwhelming relief. At least it’s me. I can handle me being sick. If it had been my kid I would have lost my shit. Anyway, I decided to stay in the States for treatment, almost a year for surgery and two rounds of chemo. The good news is Julyan got to go to an American kindergarten, make friends, experience American life (doing things not done in Japan, like making a lemonade stand or having a blowout birthday party where you invite your friends over). He also become fluent in English in weeks and spent a lot of time with his American grandma and grandpa. I’m and only child, he’s an only child, so their only grandson. The other good news is that feeling of dread completely disappeared.
And the thing I don’t like to talk about even more than that story, but is important in just showing how tumultuous everything was, is that I had a miscarriage during that time span as well, early on before we made the trip to the States. It took years to have Julyan, so this was kind of a miracle baby, as I wasn’t getting fertility treatments at the time.
But the story of the miscarriage is another dramatic event altogether, being rushed to the ONE hospital you never want to go to because it’s so old and gross and every time you’ve ever gone, something horrible has happened. But it’s more of a medical body horror story, not a ghostly one, so I’ll save it for another day. When I have the strength.
Nemuri Mori’s Story: The Missing Engagement Ring
Okay, let’s change up the mood. Let me share with you Nemuri Mori’s story. I think it’s sweet. And it goes like this:
My story isn’t scary but I think “uncanny” is a good fit. I was fortunate enough to visit Japan once so far with my husband. I found a great little guesthouse in Kyoto in an area that felt more like a “real” and not just touristy neighborhood and the room was much bigger than a standard hotel room with a kitchenette and a washing machine in the room.
One night I took my engagement ring off and placed it on a table in our room before washing my hair. My husband had gone to bed while I was showering and I didn’t want to wake him by turning on the light, so I left the ring where it was, to be put on the next morning. In the morning, however, I couldn’t find my engagement ring. I told my husband and we carefully went through everything on the table, cleared off the table, checked the floor, I checked my suitcase in case I had packed it away and forgotten, we went through my clothes, but no luck. We were upset but there was nothing to be done about it.
A few days later we were in the room and my husband asked where I found my engagement ring. I asked him what he meant and he just pointed at the table and there it was, right where I had remembered leaving it. The guesthouse didn’t offer housekeeping during the stay so it’s not as if a maid had found the ring and put it on the table. The place didn’t have a creepy feel at all but we have absolutely no idea how my ring both vanished and then later reappeared while we were in the room. We actually had a trip to Japan booked for March 2020 and had reservations to stay in the guesthouse again so whenever we are able to rebook that trip we’ll stay there again and maybe I’ll bring a little offering in case there are some spirits in the place.
I love the sweet, curious spirit or youkai or whatever, that borrows a thing and then gives it back. I’m sure it will be delighted to meet Nemuri Mori and her husband again when they return, and enjoy any little offering it gets presented with.
Dan’s Story: The Stolen Phone
Speaking of a mischievous creature, just as I was about to record this a patron wrote in on Discord who live in Japan named Dan wrote this. It reminded me of Nemuri Mori’s experience so I asked if I could read it here. While this is an ‘outside’ creepy experience, because it parallels with the previous one, I’m including it here.
This is what happened to him and his wife very recently:
The strangest thing happened to my wife and I just now, in our little hamlet on the outskirts of Tamba-Sasayama, Hyogo. My wife realises she’s lost her phone. The usual minor panic ensued. We called the restaurant, police station, etc to no avail. Google’s “find my phone” showed that it was turned on and we could ring it at the highest volume, even if set to “manner mode”.
However, the phone location could only be ascertained to a wide area. There was an unknown “walking” journey of about 4 minutes covering about 700 meters leading down an unlit road around the rice fields about an hour before. Then the phone’s location suddenly updated to an accuracy of about 100 meters.
So we got the torches out and set off to the area while ringing it. Once we got to the spot, we heard a distant ring tone coming from the pitch black mountain forest. There are no footpaths leading that way up the mountain. So we entered about 50 meters and as the ringtone got louder, we could see the light coming from the screen.
And there it was. Half buried in a small hole.
Our working theory is that a monkey picked it up outside our house and ran off with it before ditching it, perhaps after getting spooked by a notification of something.
Dan sent a screen shot of the Find my Phone app and it really is in the middle of nowhere. The photo of the phone at night, half buried under grass and leaves with just the screen glowing is also creepy horror movie fodder. I guess it could be a monkey.
Chris’s Story: The Cold Caring
Okay, for the last sent in, uncanny tale I’ll read one that didn’t happen in Japan, but it’s heartwarming and once you hear it, you’ll agree it very well could have happened here. It’s just a reminder that these things happen everywhere. This one if from Chris Perry and he calls it The Cold Caring.
Years ago, when my now adult daughter was 18 months to 3 yrs old, we lived in a large ramshackle Victorian house which had seen better years and maintenance. The house was pretty cold in the winter being heated by a monstrously large and inefficient gravity furnace in the basement.
At the end of the hall and across from our room. was my daughters room, with large sun filled windows.
Every day we would scoop her out of her crib to start her day and I would spend some time with her till I left for work. During the winters we went to scoop her up and found that on every cold day she was under the covers, pretty much tucked in, warm and snug.
Eventually, my wife and I realized that neither one of us were checking in on her and tucking her up as we thought, so we asked her about it.
She looked at us matter-of-factly and stated, “The grandma covers me up”.
“An old woman?” we asked.
“She lives here. She sits in the rocky chair at night” she explained.
“Monster (I called her monster) only you, the cats, and Mommy & Daddy live here.”
She shrugged and said we were wrong and described her to us.
Afterwards, we did a bit of research and found that a prior owner in her later years had died in the house of natural causes.
We started leaving tea and treats for her and our daughter was cared for till we moved out several years later.
The house was eventually demolished for new construction. We hope grand mother moved along to another family who would welcome the care.
See, so sweet!
Okay, that ended nicely. I want to thank everyone who sent in their experiences to share. Last show, this one, and also for the next one which will be all listener tales, nothing from me next time. Thank you!
I also want to thank patrons and supporters again. Remember when I was so very enthusiastic at the end of last year and said I hoped to get three hundred patrons by January? But I can’t do math and I thought, gee we only have five more patrons before we hit 300. But after I said that I looked and it seems I can’t do complicated math like subtraction, and discovered it was more like thirty more patrons needed, not five.
Well, I’m here today to tell you I learned how to subtract and for real we only need five more patrons to hit the big 300! I double checked and used a calculator even. Yep! Only five more to hit the 300.
Anyway, I’ll let you all go for now. Thank you so much for listening and I’ll talk to you soon, bye bye.
All music by Julyan Ray Matsuura