The Disappearance of Yuki Onishi

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5-year-old Yuki Onishi disappeared in Japan’s Goshikidai Forest on April 29, 2005.

Greenery Day, a national holiday in Japan meant to appreciate nature, is observed every May 4th. From its establishment in 1989 until 2007, however, it was celebrated every April 29th. In 2005, as part of a Greenery Day celebration, a bamboo shoot digging event was held in Kagawa Prefecture’s Goshikidai Forest. (Yes, this is a thing. Many people in Asia like boiling and eating the shoots.)

Some 60 people showed up to participate, including five-year-old Yuki Onishi and her mother and eight-year-old sister. The event started at 1 PM, and Yuki jumped with joy when she found her first shoot about a half-hour later. She told her mother that she was going to find another one, and then walked away to continue her search.

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A picture taken of Yuki the day she disappeared.

20 minutes after Yuki ran off, her mother looked at where all the other diggers were and suddenly realized that her daughter was missing. After a search by themselves turned up nothing, Yuki’s family called the police at 3 PM. When the police still couldn’t find a single trace of the girl, firefighters were brought in to assist the search at 5 PM. Although the authorities combed the area for the next six hours, they still weren’t able to find anything, not even a shoe or the hat Yuki was wearing.

Eventually, over 3,000 people assisted in the case, but not a single one of them was able to find any clues. The forest where Yuki disappeared and a near-by pond seemed to turn up nothing. When a police dog was brought in to follow Yuki’s scent, it suddenly stopped in its tracks in the middle of the forest.  Four other dogs were made to follow the scent the next day, but they led police to the same exact spot.

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A picture of the forest where Yuki disappeared.

This is probably the most troubling part of the case. How could somebody seemingly just vanish into thin air? A few internet sleuths have suggested that Yuki was carried off by an eagle or some other large bird. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories about eagles swooping down on a baby or toddler and grabbing them, but those are really just tall tales. According to biologist Ron Clarke, the most an eagle can carry without any difficulty is four or five pounds. At 34 pounds, Yuki would have been way too heavy for an eagle’s carrying capacity.

The other, and I’d say more plausible, theory is that Yuki was lured away and snatched up by somebody who was just passing through the forest. While nobody particularly suspicious was noticed by the diggers, some of them did see a man walking through the area with a backpack large enough to hold a child of Yuki’s size. This man has never been identified, although he might have been a camper or hiker. 

At the time of her disappearance, Yuki Onishi weighed 34 pounds (15.5 kg) and stood at 3 feet, 5 inches (106 cm). She was wearing a pink hat, a long-sleeved shirt with a red and orange pattern, white gloves, long blue pants, and pink shoes. She was 5-years-old, and as of the time of this writing, would now be 15-16. A website set up for Yuki, which Japanese-speakers can access here, offers a printable flyer and contact information for anybody who might be able to help.

Be sure to check out more offbeat stories of Japanese crime, folklore, and history in my e-book, 20 Unsolved Mysteries of Japan, available on Amazon for Kindle. 

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The Kofu UFO Incident

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A drawing of the UFO and alien seen in the Kofu Incident. 

On February 23, 1975, second-graders Masato Kawano and Katsuhiro Yamahata were rollerskating in Kofu, Japan when they spotted two UFOs glowing orange in the sky. One of the UFOs took off northward, but the other one landed in a near-by vineyard. When the boys went to investigate, they found a large circular craft resting on three legs in the middle of the vineyard.

After the boys observed the craft for about five minutes, a door on the left side of the UFO slid open and a ladder descended out of the opening.  A brown human-like creature emerged and walked down the steps, while a similar-looking creature stayed inside. The creature, which stood at about 4 feet in a silver suit, had rabbit-like ears and three fangs. Its face was heavily wrinkled, and it appeared to have no eyes, nose, or hair.

The alien approached the boys and patted Katsuhiro two times on the shoulder. It was said to have made sounds that sounded like a tape-recorder being played backwards, although some sources report that the alien asked “Are you Katsuhiro?” in Japanese. Katsuhiro was so shocked that he couldn’t speak. He lost his balance and fell down out of fright, and the alien then walked away. Masato, who had watched from a distance, carried Katsuhiro on his back and ran home.

 

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Once they got home, the boys told their mothers about what happened and brought them back to the vineyard. The UFO was now hovering in the sky, glowing a bright orange light again. As it glowed brighter and brighter, it hovered in the air for about 2-3 minutes, until finally taking off in great speed.

Both Masato and Katsuhiro seemed very disturbed after the encounter. They refused to be outside alone, and Masato was so upset that he cried that night. The next day, the boys told their classmates and teacher about what happened.  During a lunch break, their teacher checked out the spot where the UFO landed, but found nothing out of the ordinary.

A later search of the landing site carried out with the help of a local newspaper found two broken concrete posts and several holes in the soil. Another teacher discovered that the soil was slightly contaminated with radiation.

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Masato and Katsuhiro show the spot where they saw the UFO and alien. 

 

The Japanese authorities, of course, were skeptical. Other than Masato and Katsuhiro, their mothers, and Katsuhiro’s younger brother, a classmate of the boys reported that he saw the UFO about a half-hour before his friends did. Later witnesses, including a janitor and a woman driving in the area, also said they saw the UFO.

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A toy of a villain in Ultraman that resembles the Kofu alien.

 

Critics believed that the sightings were a misidentified plane. They pointed out that only Masato and Katsuhiro had seen the alien itself. They thought it suspicious that the creature resembled an alien from the popular sci-fi show Ultraman. Finally, as the boys’ teacher had noted, there was nothing much out of the ordinary about the landing site. While there might have been some broken posts and a few holes in the ground, the vines in the field were completely fine. The radiation discovered, contrary to some reports, was low and probably natural.

 

6 Infamous Cases of People Committing Seppuku

Typically, a good seppuku performance would consist of the samurai driving a tanto sword into his abdomen and disemboweling himself by slashing the part from left to right. A second man attending him, called the kaishakunin, would then swing a sword down the samurai’s neck and decapitate him. By Edo times (1600-1867), seppuku had become an elaborate ritual performed in front of spectators. Although certainly a painful and violent way to die, many people saw it as an honorable and even romantic act. Incidents of seppuku decreased as Japan modernized in the late 19th century, but as we shall soon see, there are even records of people committing it in the post-WWII era.

6. The Byakkotai

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Poster for a recent drama series about the Byakkotai. (Image source/credit here.)

For decades, anime and action movies have been casually throwing their teenage protagonists into such dangerous occupations as assassins, ninjas, samurai, vampire hunters, and angst-ridden robot pilots. This idea is awesome on screen, but actually tends to be far more terrifying and confusing in real-life. Case in point: the Byakkotai, a military unit of 305 samurai entirely composed of teenagers.

The Byakkotai, whose name meant “White Tiger Force”, participated in a year-long (1868-1869) civil war in Japan known as the Boshin War. On February 7, 1869, during the Battle of Tonoguchihara, the Byakkotai hid themselves in bushes and shot at approaching government troops. The young samurai underestimated the number of enemy soldiers, and as they tried to withdraw, a squad of them led by 16-year-old Shinoda Gisaburo became separated from the main group. With little time to think, Shinoda and the 19 other separated Byakkotai members retreated from the battlefield and fled to Iimori Hill.

What little safety they might have felt quickly evaporated when they looked down and saw that smoke was coming from their town of Aizuwakamatsu. Panic-stricken, they believed that the town had been destroyed and set on fire, meaning that the castle that held their families and lords must have burned down too. Seeing no reason to live anymore, the 20 young samurai committed seppuku on the spot. Only one of them, Iinuma Sadakichi, would survive.

In a cruel Shyamalian twist of fate, the castle hadn’t actually burned down after all. Only the surrounding town, in fact, had been set on fire. The 19 young samurai perished for nothing.

5. Takijiro Onishi

Takijiro Onishi, (Undated)

Picture of Takijiro Onishi (Image source/credit here.)

How does one make amends for helping advocate a military strategy that led to the loss of thousands of young men who took on suicide missions to crash their planes into enemy soldiers? (Pay attention, Al Qaeda.) According to Takijiro Onishi, one of the Japanese military leaders who helped get the kamikaze program off the ground, you disembowel yourself.

Although Onishi originally opposed the kamikaze attacks, he eventually relented and gave the strategy his blessing. Japan sent out its first batch of kamikaze pilots on October 25, 1944 during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. A few days before, Onishi addressed the pilots himself and gave a speech praising their bravery and sacrifice. “Regrettably,” admitted Onishi to what must have been a great shock for the volunteers, “we will not be able to tell you the results.”

Before Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, almost 4,000 kamikaze pilots would lose their lives. After hearing the news, Onishi wrote a suicide note and decided to commit seppuku the next day. In his note, he apologized to the dead kamikaze pilots and their families, offering his own death as atonement. Lastly, to further consolidate his posthumous reputation as a good guy, Onishi urged the young people of Japan not to avenge his death with a nuclear Third World War, but to instead promote peace and rebuild itself.

4. Chujiro Hayashi

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Picture of Chujiro Hayashi (Image source/credit here.)

Chujiro Hayashi was a disciple of Mikao Usui, the founder of the spiritual therapy known as Reiki. Unlike Usui and most of the world of alternative medicine, Hayashi was a real doctor, and would sometimes perform Reiki on his patients. One of the biggest practitioners in his day, Hayashi is credited with developing modern Reiki and spreading it outside of Japan.

Hayashi started studying Reiki in 1925, a year before Usui’s death. With the hope that Hayashi could develop his quackery with real medical knowledge, Usui requested that his student establish a Reiki clinic. Hayashi obliged and went one step beyond, going on a tour in Hawaii with his daughter for a few months in 1937. Hayashi gave a series of Reiki lectures and demonstrations there, and he returned to Japan in February 1938.

In May 1940, the Japanese government demanded that Hayashi give them information about military targets in Honolulu, presumably because they weren’t planning anything evil. Although Hayashi was once a naval captain, he was now a pacifist, and so refused to talk. The authorities suspected that Hayashi was a spy. They accused him of treason, and afraid that the honor of his family was being threatened, Hayashi committed seppuku in the presence of his wife and students on the 11th.

3. Yukio Mishima

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Picture of Yukio Mishima. (Image source/credit here.)

The genius behind such classics as The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima was arguably post-war Japan’s foremost midget novelist. He was a wildly talented and prolific man, writing 34 novels in two decades, in addition to outshining his contemporaries as an actor, bodybuilder, model, playwright, poet, and radical far-right fanatic.

Due to a misdiagnosis of tuberculosis, Mishima couldn’t serve in World War II. Although upset that Emperor Showa renounced his claim of divinity, Mishima saw the unholy meat-bag as the physical essence of the Japanese nation. In October 1968, Mishima founded the Tatenokai, a private militia of attractively muscular young men who swore to protect the emperor.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four of his Tatenokai boy-toys seized a military building and attempted to launch a coup to restore Emperor Showa to his former power. After tying the head of the building up to a chair in his office, Mishima went out to the balcony and gave a speech of the Tatenokai’s demands to a crowd of 1,000 soldiers. Being 25 years too late, however, the soldiers only laughed and ridiculed Mishima. He then returned inside, and in the spirit of his half-assed coup, sloppily commited seppuku. With several slapstick slashes of mild tragicomedy, Mishima’s first kaishakunin repeatedly failed to lop his head off. After a few moments of painful agony, the task was given to another henchman, and Mishima was at last decapitated.

2. Nogi Maresuke

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Picture of Nogi Maresuke. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Nogi Maresuke was an army general who served in the Satsuma Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War. The son of a samurai, Maresuke was seen by many as a model of traditional Japanese values like loyalty and self-sacrifice. Even 100 years after his suicide, people pay their respects to what they see as a great patriot.

In one notable incident, after suffering staggering losses in a battle during the Russo-Japanese War, Maresuke asked Emperor Meiji for permission to commit suicide. The emperor refused, telling Maresuke that he wasn’t allowed to die until the emperor himself did. While internet Freudians might easily interpret Maresuke’s devotion to Meiji as some repressed form of intense homo-eroticism, this sort of obedience was only to be expected by any good old-fashioned samurai.

Following the end of the war, Maresuke was granted the title of count and made the head of the prestigious Gakushuin, a school for the children of the Japanese nobility. He also embarked on several philanthropic projects, giving money to hospitals and memorials set up for both the Japanese and the Russians. When Emperor Meiji died in July 1912, Maresuke naturally thought the e̶r̶o̶t̶i̶c̶ honorable thing to do was to kill himself and his wife by seppuku. After the emperor’s funeral, Maresuke slashed his stomach three times and then tossed himself onto his sword for a grand finale. His wife followed him after, although not exactly into the same national veneration.

  1. Oda Nobunaga
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Painting of Oda Nobunaga. (Image source/credit here.)

Oda Nobunaga was indispensable in putting an end to Japan’s Sengoku period, a chaotic time from 1467 to 1603 in which Japan was plagued with social upheaval and military conflict. Although he wasn’t the one who ultimately united the country, he’s one of the most admired historical figures in Japan, and has even had the distinction of appearing in a critically-acclaimed strategy RPG with global superstar Pikachu.

Sadly, Nobunaga didn’t live to see Japan’s unification in 1603. Before his suicide, he succeeded only in capturing the eastern side of the country. It would be Tokugawa Ieyasu, his old ally, who would be the one to unite Japan and establish a government that would last more than 200 years.

Some two decades before that would happen, Nobunaga was staying at a temple in Kyoto when he was betrayed and ambushed by Akechi Mitsuhide, a general and vassal of his. Realizing that he was surrounded, and practically powerless without his partner Pikachu, Nobunaga committed seppuku. His last words, reported to his page Mori Ranmaru, were said to have been “Don’t let them in.” The page then loyally set the temple on fire. Interestingly, only Ranmaru’s body was recovered. Nobunaga’s body was never found, which suggests that he was either consumed by the flames or faked his death. (Most historians, chiefly the duller sort, say it was the former.)

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6 Creepy Unsolved Japanese Murders

I’ve noticed that my posts about Japan receive a lot more traffic than I usually get, so I’ve decided I’m going to embark on a series of lists about unsolved Japanese murders. Most of the cases that will be featured here have never appeared in English media before. Some of them are quite obscure, but I’ve tried to find as much relevant information that I could. 

6. The Haga Futon Bag Murder

Police sketch of a man found inside a futon bag in

Police sketch of a man found inside a futon bag in Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture. (Image source/credit here.)

On April 21, 1996, while coming home from school, a group of junior high school students were looking through a bamboo grove in the Haga district of Tochigi Prefecture when they noticed a barely-closed futon bag. The kids had seen the bag laying there for almost a month, and curious about what might be inside, one of them poked it with a stick. A human hand then drooped out. The bag, it turned out, contained the body of a middle-aged man.

According to the autopsy, the man had been dead about a month when his body was discovered. He was bruised on his waist, and some of his front teeth were missing. He appeared to be between the ages of 40 and 50. The man was about 5 foot 11, and weighed 150 pounds. He had an O blood type. His clothes consisted of a dark blue jacket, a gray shirt with a green tie, and a gray pair of paints.

Investigators found the surname “Yamamoto” written on the bottom side of the tag of his pants, and the Japanese word for “next” on the other side. Despite these mysterious messages, the man has never been identified. In 2010, a sign was put up on the spot where the unidentified man’s body was found. Police hope that it might someday lead to his identification.

5. The Murder of Yoko Yoshida

Picture of Yoko Yoshida from when she was a high school student.

Picture of Yoko Yoshida from when she was a high school student. (Image source/credit here.)

On September 29, 2000, around 1 PM, a census taker collecting information in a Tokyo apartment complained to management about a room that had a terrible smell coming from it. When management sent a janitor to check the room out, he found that the door was unlocked. Inside, he found the body of the woman who was living there, a 28-year-old manga artist named Yoko Yoshida.

Yoshida, who lived alone, was laying on her back on her bed, wearing only a t-shirt. As the autopsy determined, Yoshida had been strangled to death. She had been dead for at least 10 days by the time her body was discovered. Her room showed no signs of disarray and nothing appeared to have been taken. 3 million yen and a receipt from a convenience store dated September 18th were found in her purse and wallet.

Pictures of Yoko Yoshida and the apartment she was staying at.

Pictures of Yoko Yoshida and the apartment she was staying at. (Image source/credit here.)

Police suspect that Yoshida had known her killer, and since she was a manga artist, some suggest that she was killed by a crazed fan. Yoshida had been active in the dojinshi (self-publishing) community since she graduated high school. Her killer might very well have been somebody she knew, but police have never been able to find any shady acquaintances or witnesses.

4. The Murder of Kaori Hirohata

The site where Kaori Hirohata's body was discovered.

The site where Kaori Hirohata’s body was discovered. (Image source/ credit here.)

On June 24, 2013, a member of a parking cleaning staff found the body of a middle-aged woman lying in a bush outside an apartment complex in Narashino city in Chiba Prefecture. Her belongings were found scattered around her body. Her ID identified her as Kaori Hirohata, a resident of the complex who hadn’t been seen since the day before. Although Hirohata participated in a local community event that day, she never showed up to work that evening.  

According to the autopsy results, Hirohata had been choked to death. Her upper body also showed marks of being beaten. Since Hirohata’s purse was found to be empty, the motive appeared to have been robbery. Her body was very lazily hidden, with her feet visibly sticking out of a bush. It’s likely she was dragged to the location from somewhere else.

A model of what Kaori Hirohata was dressed like the day she died.

A model of what Kaori Hirohata was dressed like the day she died.

If Hirohata really was the victim of a robbery, one has to wonder why the killer used his bare hands? Interestingly, the spot where she was found was part of her commune to work. Hirohata’s killer might have known her schedule. For information that could lead to the killer’s arrest, police are currently offering a reward of 3 million yen.

3. The Murder of the Sunamis

A policeman handing out flyers about the Sunami murders.

A policeman handing out flyers about the murder of Haruhiko and Midori Sunami. (Image source/credit here.)

On the morning of April 28, 1995, around 2:30 AM, a house in Kurashiki Kojima had been set on fire. Authorities discovered two bodies on the first floor, the remains of 70-year-old Haruhiko Sunami and his 67-year-old wife Midori. Both had been decapitated. Haruhiko also had a knife lodged into his stomach, and later evaluation of Midori found that she had been stabbed in the chest and several other spots. They are believed to have died the previous night, sometime between 5 PM and 9 PM.

Because the fire destroyed much of the house and subsequently any evidence that might have been found there, authorities have had little clues to lead them to the Sunamis’ killer. Police thought their killing might have been the result of a dispute, but this was never established. The killer might have been familiar with the house, or at least had been in it before.

For whatever reason, the killer was in the Sunamis’ house for at least 5 hours after he killed them. Could he have been looking for something? And why did he think it necessary to cut off the Sunamis’ heads, neither of which have turned up in the 20 years since the murder occurred?

2. The Murder of Makiko Tsuchiyama

Picture of the city of Higashi-osaka. (Image source/credit here.)

Picture of the city of Higashi-osaka. (Image source/credit here.)

On November 21, 1984, around 2:10 PM, a 2-year-old girl named Makiko Tsuchiyama was found fallen on her face in a drainage ditch in an alley behind her home in Higashi-osaka city.  Makiko was unconscious, and her neck seemed as though it had been strangled with a cord. Although she was rushed to the hospital, Makiko died 9 hours after being taken there.

The fact that Makiko had been playing outside by herself wasn’t unusual in the neighborhood, since other children and mothers were often outside too. Nobody, however, had seen Makiko’s murderer. Eerily, Makiko had been found unconscious on the same spot a month earlier. She had been strangled that time too, with the marks of a string around her neck. Unlike the second time, she had regained consciousness shortly after being taken to the hospital.

Immediately after this first incident, Makiko’s grandfather received a strange phone call from an unidentified woman. The woman was crying hard and speaking incomprehensibly. He tried talking to her for 2 minutes before she suddenly said “I’m sorry” and hung up. Makiko’s grandfather had not yet heard about Makiko’s incident, and thought the woman had gotten the wrong number. For the next few days, he received several more unexplained phone calls. Every time he answered, he heard only silence on the other end.

Police originally thought the first incident was an accident. They concluded that Makiko had gotten her neck hooked around a vinyl strap that had been attached to the door of her house. After Makiko died, however, they decided to launch a criminal investigation. It was strange that Makiko had been found in the alley, since she had refused to go anywhere near it since the first incident. Since there were no scratches on her face, it was suspected that somebody lured Makiko away and then strangled her in a different location. In the 30 years since Makiko’s death, neither her killer or the mysterious woman who called her grandfather have been identified.

1. The Murder of the Miyazawas

A picture of the Miyazawa family.

A picture of the Miyazawa family. (Image source/credit here.)

On the morning of December 31, 2000, a relative of the Miyazawa family in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward found father Mikio, his wife Yasuko, their daughter Niina, and their son Rei dead in their home. While Rei had been strangled in his bedroom, the other three members of the family had been stabbed to death in two different parts of the house.

The Setagaya police offering prayers at the Miyazawa home. (Image source/credit here.)

The Setagaya police offering prayers at the Miyazawa home. (Image source/credit here.)

Authorities speculate that the killer had gotten into the home from a bathroom window on the second floor of the house around 11:30 PM. He went into Rei’s room and strangled him as he slept. Mikio was found on the first floor near the staircase, possibly coming up the stairs after he heard the intruder making noise. The female Miyazawas were killed next.

A publicity campaign by the police to bring awareness about the Miyazawa murders. (Image source credit here.)

A publicity campaign by the Setagaya police to bring awareness about the Miyazawa murders. (Image source/credit here.)

The killer then ransacked the family’s house and stayed there for about 10 hours. He went into the kitchen and took some food from the fridge, and then used the family’s computer for a while. None of the money in the house was taken, but some New Year’s cards were missing. A knife the killer left behind was found, along with a shirt and bag. Additionally, blood was found at the scene that didn’t belong to any of the Miyazawas. After more than 15 years, police have had few clues to catch the Miyazawas’ killer. There is currently a reward of 20 million yen being offered to anybody who could give information that would lead to the killer’s identification.

Be sure to check out more creepy Japanese mysteries in my e-book, 20 Unsolved Mysteries of Japan, available on Amazon for Kindle.

Hoichi the Earless: A Classic Japanese Ghost Story

This story comes from “Kwaidan”, a classic collection of Japanese ghost stories written by Lafcadio Hearn in 1904. Hearn’s book in its entirety can be read here for free. 

A statue of Hoichi the Earless. Source: madeinmatsue.com

A statue of Hoichi the Earless. Source: madeinmatsue.com

More than seven hundred years ago, at Dan-no-ura, in the Straits of Shimonoseki, was fought the last battle of the long contest between the Heike, or Taira clan, and the Genji, or Minamoto clan. There the Heike perished utterly, with their women and children, and their infant emperor likewise–now remembered as Antoku Tenno. And that sea and shore have been haunted for seven hundred years… Elsewhere I told you about the strange crabs found there, called Heike crabs, which have human faces on their backs, and are said to be the spirits of the Heike warriors. But there are many strange things to be seen and heard along that coast. On dark nights thousands of ghostly fires hover about the beach, or flit above the waves,–pale lights which the fishermen call Oni-bi, or demon-fires; and, whenever the winds are up, a sound of great shouting comes from that sea, like a clamor of battle.

Picture of onibi. Source: yokai.com.

Picture of onibi. Source: yokai.com.

In former years the Heike were much more restless than they now are. They would rise about ships passing in the night, and try to sink them; and at all times they would watch for swimmers, to pull them down. It was in order to appease those dead that the Buddhist temple, Amidaji, was built at Akamagaseki. A cemetery also was made close by, near the beach; and within it were set up monuments inscribed with the names of the drowned emperor and of his great vassals; and Buddhist services were regularly performed there, on behalf of the spirits of them. After the temple had been built, and the tombs erected, the Heike gave less trouble than before; but they continued to do queer things at intervals,–proving that they had not found the perfect peace.

Some centuries ago there lived at Akamagaseki a blind man named Hoichi, who was famed for his skill in recitation and in playing upon the biwa [A Japanese lute] From childhood he had been trained to recite and to play; and while yet a lad he had surpassed his teachers. As a professional biwa-hoshi he became famous chiefly by his recitations of the history of the Heike and the Genji; and it is said that when he sang the song of the battle of Dan-no-ura “even the goblins [kijin] could not refrain from tears.”

A biwa. Source:japanesestrings.com.

A biwa. Source:japanesestrings.com.

At the outset of his career, Hoichi was very poor; but he found a good friend to help him. The priest of the Amidaji was fond of poetry and music; and he often invited Hoichi to the temple, to play and recite. Afterwards, being much impressed by the wonderful skill of the lad, the priest proposed that Hoichi should make the temple his home; and this offer was gratefully accepted. Hoichi was given a room in the temple-building; and, in return for food and lodging, he was required only to gratify the priest with a musical performance on certain evenings, when otherwise disengaged.

One summer night the priest was called away, to perform a Buddhist service at the house of a dead parishioner; and he went there with his acolyte, leaving Hoichi alone in the temple. It was a hot night; and the blind man sought to cool himself on the verandah before his sleeping-room. The verandah overlooked a small garden in the rear of the Amidaji. There Hoichi waited for the priest’s return, and tried to relieve his solitude by practicing upon his biwa. Midnight passed; and the priest did not appear. But the atmosphere was still too warm for comfort within doors; and Hoichi remained outside. At last he heard steps approaching from the back gate. Somebody crossed the garden, advanced to the verandah, and halted directly in front of him–but it was not the priest. A deep voice called the blind man’s name–abruptly and unceremoniously, in the manner of a samurai summoning an inferior:–

“Hoichi!”

“Hai!” [Japanese word for “yes”] answered the blind man, frightened by the menace in the voice,–“I am blind!–I cannot know who calls!”

“There is nothing to fear,” the stranger exclaimed, speaking more gently. “I am stopping near this temple, and have been sent to you with a message. My present lord, a person of exceedingly high rank, is now staying in Akamagaseki, with many noble attendants. He wished to view the scene of the battle of Dan-no-ura; and to-day he visited that place. Having heard of your skill in reciting the story of the battle, he now desires to hear your performance: so you will take your biwa and come with me at once to the house where the august assembly is waiting.”

Woodcut of the Battle of Dan-no-Ura. Source: www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com

Woodcut of the Battle of Dan-no-Ura. Source: http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com

In those times, the order of a samurai was not to be lightly disobeyed. Hoichi donned his sandals, took his biwa, and went away with the stranger, who guided him deftly, but obliged him to walk very fast. The hand that guided was iron; and the clank of the warrior’s stride proved him fully armed,–probably some palace-guard on duty. Hoichi’s first alarm was over: he began to imagine himself in good luck;–for, remembering the retainer’s assurance about a “person of exceedingly high rank,” he thought that the lord who wished to hear the recitation could not be less than a daimyo of the first class. Presently the samurai halted; and Hoichi became aware that they had arrived at a large gateway;–and he wondered, for he could not remember any large gate in that part of the town, except the main gate of the Amidaji. “Kaimon!” the samurai called,–and there was a sound of unbarring; and the twain passed on. They traversed a space of garden, and halted again before some entrance; and the retainer cried in a loud voice, “Within there! I have brought Hoichi.” Then came sounds of feet hurrying, and screens sliding, and rain-doors opening, and voices of womeni n converse. By the language of the women Hoichi knew them to be domestics in some noble household; but he could not imagine to what place he had been conducted. Little time was allowed him for conjecture. After he had been helped to mount several stone steps, upon the last of which he was told to leave his sandals, a woman’s hand guided him along interminable reaches of polished planking, and round pillared angles too many to remember, and over widths amazing of matted floor,–into the middle of some vast apartment. There he thought that many great people were assembled: the sound of the rustling of silk was like the sound of leaves in a forest. He heard also a great humming of voices,–talking in undertones; and the speech was the speech of courts.

Hoichi was told to put himself at ease, and he found a kneeling-cushion ready for him. After having taken his place upon it, and tuned his instrument, the voice of a woman–whom he divined to be the Rojo, or matron in charge of the female service–addressed him, saying,–

“It is now required that the history of the Heike be recited, to the accompaniment of the biwa.”

Now the entire recital would have required a time of many nights: therefore Hoichi ventured a question:–

“As the whole of the story is not soon told, what portion is it augustly desired that I now recite?”

The woman’s voice made answer:–

“Recite the story of the battle at Dan-no-ura,–for the pity of it is the most deep.”

Then Hoichi lifted up his voice, and chanted the chant of the fight on the bitter sea,–wonderfully making his biwa to sound like the straining of oars and the rushing of ships, the whirr and the hissing of arrows, the shouting and trampling of men, the crashing of steel upon helmets, the plunging of slain in the flood. And to left and right of him, in the pauses of his playing, he could hear voices murmuring praise: “How marvelous an artist!”–“Never in our own province was playing heard like this!”–“Not in all the empire is there another singer like Hoichi!” Then fresh courage came to him, and he played and sang yet better than before; and a hush of wonder deepened about him. But when at last he came to tell the fate of the fair and helpless,–the piteous perishing of the women and children,–and the death-leap of Nii-no-Ama, with the imperial infant in her arms,–then all the listeners uttered together one long, long shuddering cry of anguish; and thereafter they wept and wailed so loudly and so wildly that the blind man was frightened by the violence and grief that he had made. For much time the sobbing and the wailing continued. But gradually the sounds of lamentation died away; and again, in the great stillness that followed, Hoichi heard the voice of the woman whom he supposed to be the Rojo.

Hoichi playing for his mysterious audience in a scene from the 1964 movie Kwaidan. Image source: uponobservingthis.wordpress.com

Hoichi playing for his mysterious audience in a scene from the 1964 movie Kwaidan. Image source: uponobservingthis.wordpress.com

She said:–

“Although we had been assured that you were a very skillful player upon the biwa, and without an equal in recitative, we did not know that any one could be so skillful as you have proved yourself to-night. Our lord has been pleased to say that he intends to bestow upon you a fitting reward. But he desires that you shall perform before him once every night for the next six nights–after which time he will probably make his august return-journey. To-morrow night, therefore, you are to come here at the same hour. The retainer who to-night conducted you will be sent for you… There is another matter about which I have been ordered to inform you. It is required that you shall speak to no one of your visits here, during the time of our lord’s august sojourn at Akamagaseki. As he is traveling incognito, [6] he commands that no mention of these things be made… You are now free to go back to your temple.”

After Hoichi had duly expressed his thanks, a woman’s hand conducted him to the entrance of the house, where the same retainer, who had before guided him, was waiting to take him home. The retainer led him to the verandah at the rear of the temple, and there bade him farewell.

It was almost dawn when Hoichi returned; but his absence from the temple had not been observed,–as the priest, coming back at a very late hour, had supposed him asleep. During the day Hoichi was able to take some rest; and he said nothing about his strange adventure. In the middle of the following night the samurai again came for him, and led him to the august assembly, where he gave another recitation with the same success that had attended his previous performance.

Image source: asiancinefest.blogspot.com

Image source:
asiancinefest.blogspot.com

But during this second visit his absence from the temple was accidentally discovered; and after his return in the morning he was summoned to the presence of the priest, who said to him, in a tone of kindly reproach:–

“We have been very anxious about you, friend Hoichi. To go out, blind and alone, at so late an hour, is dangerous. Why did you go without telling us? I could have ordered a servant to accompany you. And where have you been?”

Hoichi answered, evasively,–

“Pardon me kind friend! I had to attend to some private business; and I could not arrange the matter at any other hour.”

The priest was surprised, rather than pained, by Hoichi’s reticence: he felt it to be unnatural, and suspected something wrong. He feared that the blind lad had been bewitched or deluded by some evil spirits. He did not ask any more questions; but he privately instructed the men-servants of the temple to keep watch upon Hoichi’s movements, and to follow him in case that he should again leave the temple after dark. On the very next night, Hoichi was seen to leave the temple; and the servants immediately lighted their lanterns, and followed after him. But it was a rainy night, and very dark; and before the temple-folks could get to the roadway, Hoichi had disappeared. Evidently he had walked very fast,–a strange thing, considering his blindness; for the road was in a bad condition. The men hurried through the streets, making inquiries at every house which Hoichi was accustomed to visit; but nobody could give them any news of him. At last, as they were returning to the temple by way of the shore, they were startled by the sound of a biwa, furiously played, in the cemetery of the Amidaji. Except for some ghostly fires–such as usually flitted there on dark nights–all was blackness in that direction. But the men at once hastened to the cemetery; and there, by the help of their lanterns, they discovered Hoichi,–sitting alone in the rain before the memorial tomb of Antoku Tenno, making his biwa resound, and loudly chanting the chant of the battle of Dan-no-ura. And behind him, and about him, and everywhere above the tombs, the fires of the dead were burning, like candles. Never before had so great a host of Oni-bi appeared in the sight of mortal man…

“Hoichi San!–Hoichi San!” the servants cried,–“you are bewitched!… Hoichi San!”

But the blind man did not seem to hear. Strenuously he made his biwa to rattle and ring and clang;–more and more wildly he chanted the chant of the battle of Dan-no-ura. They caught hold of him;–they shouted into his ear,–

“Hoichi San!–Hoichi San!–come home with us at once!”

Reprovingly he spoke to them:–

“To interrupt me in such a manner, before this august assembly, will not be tolerated.”

Whereat, in spite of the weirdness of the thing, the servants could not help laughing. Sure that he had been bewitched, they now seized him, and pulled him up on his feet, and by main force hurried him back to the temple,–where he was immediately relieved of his wet clothes, by order of the priest. Then the priest insisted upon a full explanation of his friend’s astonishing behavior.

Hoichi long hesitated to speak. But at last, finding that his conduct had really alarmed and angered the good priest, he decided to abandon his reserve; and he related everything that had happened from the time of first visit of the samurai.

The priest said:–

“Hoichi, my poor friend, you are now in great danger! How unfortunate that you did not tell me all this before! Your wonderful skill in music has indeed brought you into strange trouble. By this time you must be aware that you have not been visiting any house whatever, but have been passing your nights in the cemetery, among the tombs of the Heike;–and it was before the memorial-tomb of Antoku Tenno that our people to-night found you, sitting in the rain. All that you have been imagining was illusion–except the calling of the dead. By once obeying them, you have put yourself in their power. If you obey them again, after what has already occurred, they will tear you in pieces. But they would have destroyed you, sooner or later, in any event… Now I shall not be able to remain with you to-night: I am called away to perform another service. But, before I go, it will be necessary to protect your body by writing holy texts upon it.”

Image source: www.flickr.com

Image source: http://www.flickr.com

Before sundown the priest and his acolyte stripped Hoichi: then, with their writing-brushes, they traced upon his breast and back, head and face and neck, limbs and hands and feet,–even upon the soles of his feet, and upon all parts of his body,–the text of the holy sutra called Hannya-Shin-Kyo. When this had been done, the priest instructed Hoichi, saying:–

“To-night, as soon as I go away, you must seat yourself on the verandah, and wait. You will be called. But, whatever may happen, do not answer, and do not move. Say nothing and sit still–as if meditating. If you stir, or make any noise, you will be torn asunder. Do not get frightened; and do not think of calling for help–because no help could save you. If you do exactly as I tell you, the danger will pass, and you will have nothing more to fear.”

After dark the priest and the acolyte went away; and Hoichi seated himself on the verandah, according to the instructions given him. He laid his biwa on the planking beside him, and, assuming the attitude of meditation, remained quite still,–taking care not to cough, or to breathe audibly. For hours he stayed thus.

Then, from the roadway, he heard the steps coming. They passed the gate, crossed the garden, approached the verandah, stopped–directly in front of him.

“Hoichi!” the deep voice called. But the blind man held his breath, and sat motionless.

“Hoichi!” grimly called the voice a second time. Then a third time–savagely:–

“Hoichi!”

Hoichi remained as still as a stone,–and the voice grumbled:–

“No answer!–that won’t do!… Must see where the fellow is.”…

There was a noise of heavy feet mounting upon the verandah. The feet approached deliberately,–halted beside him. Then, for long minutes,–during which Hoichi felt his whole body shake to the beating of his heart,–there was dead silence.

At last the gruff voice muttered close to him:–

“Here is the biwa; but of the biwa-player I see–only two ears!… So that explains why he did not answer: he had no mouth to answer with–there is nothing left of him but his ears… Now to my lord those ears I will take–in proof that the august commands have been obeyed, so far as was possible”…

At that instant Hoichi felt his ears gripped by fingers of iron, and torn off! Great as the pain was, he gave no cry. The heavy footfalls receded along the verandah,–descended into the garden,–passed out to the roadway,–ceased. From either side of his head, the blind man felt a thick warm trickling; but he dared not lift his hands…

Before sunrise the priest came back. He hastened at once to the verandah in the rear, stepped and slipped upon something clammy, and uttered a cry of horror;–for he say, by the light of his lantern, that the clamminess was blood. But he perceived Hoichi sitting there, in the attitude of meditation–with the blood still oozing from his wounds.

“My poor Hoichi!” cried the startled priest,–“what is this?… You have been hurt?

At the sound of his friend’s voice, the blind man felt safe. He burst out sobbing, and tearfully told his adventure of the night.

“Poor, poor Hoichi!” the priest exclaimed,–“all my fault!–my very grievous fault!… Everywhere upon your body the holy texts had been written–except upon your ears! I trusted my acolyte to do that part of the work; and it was very, very wrong of me not to have made sure that he had done it!… Well, the matter cannot now be helped;–we can only try to heal your hurts as soon as possible… Cheer up, friend!–the danger is now well over. You will never again be troubled by those visitors.”

With the aid of a good doctor, Hoichi soon recovered from his injuries. The story of his strange adventure spread far and wide, and soon made him famous. Many noble persons went to Akamagaseki to hear him recite; and large presents of money were given to him,–so that he became a wealthy man… But from the time of his adventure, he was known only by the appellation of Mimi-nashi-Hoichi: “Hoichi-the-Earless.”

20 Classic Woodblock Prints of Japanese Ghosts and Monsters

This is a gallery of 20 Japanese woodblock prints depicting yūrei (ghosts) and yōkai (monsters). Most of these were made in the 19th century. The name of each artist is listed below the respective print.

20. “The Sailor Tokuso and the Sea Monster.” A sailor encountering an umibozu, a sea spirit that destroys and drowns any boat that it comes across. They are said to be the souls of drowned monks.

yokai

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

19. “The Ghost Oiwa.” A character from the kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan. Oiwa committed suicide and then returned from the grave to haunt her husband.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

18. “The Ghosts of Togo and His Wife” shows the ghosts of two peasants harassing their samurai lord.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

17. “Various Yokai Flying out of Wicker Clothes Hamper.”

Omoi Tsuzura.

Omoi Tsuzura.

16. The Yuki-onna (Snow Woman) kills people who are stuck in snowstorms by freezing them to death with her icy breath.

Sawaki Suushi.

Sawaki Suushi.

15. “Ashinaga and Tenaga Fishing.” The yokai with the long arms is an Ashinaga-jin, and the one with the long legs is a Tenaga-jin.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

14. “Okiku the Well Ghost.” Okiku was a servant girl who was thrown into a well by her master.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

13. The ghost of Kohada Koeiji, a man who was killed by his wife and her lover. In this scene, he is hiding in a mosquito netting while watching his killers get into bed.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

12. “A Ghost Appears to Kingo Chunagon.” Encounter of a ghost by late 16th century samurai Kingo Chunagon.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

11. “Child’s Nightmare of Ghosts.”

Kitagawa Utamaro.

Kitagawa Utamaro.

10. “Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre.” Takiyasha was a 10th century princess whose rebellious father was killed by the emperor. In this scene, Takiyasha has summoned a giant skeleton to fight imperial officials.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

9. I’m not sure about the title of this one, but the man is the immortal sage Gama-Sennin. The giant toad is Gama’s companion, and they’re watching some other toads fight.

Utagawa Yoshitora.

Utagawa Yoshitora.

8. “Oiwa the Lantern Ghost.” Another depiction of the ghost featured in entry 19#.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

7. Print from Kuniyoshi’s “Bakemono Chunshingura” series, a monster adaptation of a popular play about the 47 Ronin.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

6. Depiction of a scene from the kabuki play “Ume no hara gojusan tsugi”.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

5. “The Priest Raigo of Mii Temple Transformed By Wicked Thoughts into a Rat.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

4. “The Woman Shizunome Oyaku.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

3. “The Ghost of Kamata Matahachi.” This is a scene from the 1855 kabuki play “True Record of the Famous Song for Hand-balls”. The male ghost is Kamata Matahachi, and the female ghost behind him is Kikuno. They had both heard about a love affair the main character Mari Yashiro had, so Yashiro killed them.

Utagawa Kunisada.

Utagawa Kunisada.

2. A print of tengu and other demon masks.

Utagawa Kunisada.

Utagawa Kunisada.

1. “The Laughing Demon.”

Katsushike Hokusai.

Katsushike Hokusai.

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15 Creepy Pictures from the Japanese Side of the Internet

15. A festival in Tochigi Prefecture.

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14. Decapitated heads work just as well as traditional scarecrows.

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13. Kids making poses.

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12. GHOST CAT, DEAR GOD.

cat

11. No idea where this thing is.

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10. These little kids are holding up tengu masks, a kind of Japanese demon.

9. I never thought watermelon could be so terrifying.

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8. Three people died in a car accident here. That’s supposedly the face of a ghost.

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7. Your guess is as good as mine.

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6. H’m, there’s just something about putting creepy faces on inanimate objects.

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5. Now here’s a gritty reboot I’d like to see.

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4. Some sort of ball of light hovering over a graveyard

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3. A life-sized doll dressed in a kimono.

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2. She seems happy.weird2

1. Some photoshops should just never be done. (EDIT: A reader has pointed out to me that this is actually face paint. My bad!)

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