3 Scary Stories From Akita
I love a good scary story. When I’m studying for a test, or want some good background noise or just plain want to get creeped out I’ll put on some scary Youtube video. In English I like the Bedtime Stories or Lazy Masquerade channel and in Japanese I like the Naokiman show and 成瀬棗 (natsumekarashima); they’re both good at creating a spooky atmosphere. By far my favorite Japanese novel is the horror-mystery novel "Akumanotemariuta (悪魔の手毬唄)". Fall is here and Halloween is just around the corner, so I’m in the mood to tell some scary stories.
Reason being, about a week ago I was looking up random words in the dictionary, and I found Hyakumonogatari (百物語), which sounds innocent enough, it's just 100 stories... right? Well, a Hyakumonogatari is a storytelling session where each person takes turns and each round the storyteller holds a lit candle or lantern. They tell a scary story to their fellow listeners/storytellers, and when the story ends, they blow out the candle.
In the spirit of the Hyakumonogatari, I decided to look up and translate some scary and eerie stories, one short, one medium length, and one long, from where I live in Akita Prefecture to share.
In Yokote City, known for its heavy snow falls, there’s an unsettling tale told matter-of-factly by the locals.
During that particular winter long ago, the children in the town made ten Kamakura. A Kamakura is like an igloo. A man named Kawai Shousuke happened upon the Kamakura, and casually poked his head in for a peak.
To his horror, Inside he found the children chopping up the corpse of a man with a hatchet, playing with his body parts. The inside of the Kamakura was smeared dark red with fresh blood.
Shocked and stunned, Kawai-san popped his head into the next Kamakura for a peak.
Inside, just as before, children fiddled with the corpse of a woman like a doll, laughing all the while.
Dumbfounded at what he’d just seen, Kawai-san stiffened in shock as droves of children creeped and crawled out from each and every Kamakura, all ten built, every child carried a freshly severed head and a mad grin.
Neither the truth of the event, nor the details of this sickening incident, nor the identity of the children involved has ever been ever been confirmed and they likely never will since it's just another story from the end of the Tenpo era (circa 1844).
Among the traditional winter hunters in Akita, called Matagi, they tell tales of the "Sakabu".
Of course, in the local dialect “Sakabu” means "Sakebu (叫ぶ)", to scream, but among the Matagi, "Sakabu" is what they also call the "cry" of the Mountain Gods.
From time to time, the Mountain Gods display their great power by letting out this "Scream" for select hunters to hear.
According to Iwagura Yamada, a weathered old hunter living in North Akita City, the Mountain God’s voice is like "a wispy, harsh tone emanating from far, far away, resonating like a deep ancient gong…"
Iwagura-san says he’s heard this "voice", this Mountain God, only twice in his whole life, coming down from the mountains like a deafening blow, like he was about to faint, like a stinging ringing in his ears, almost like he was being shaken, or no, like there was some telepathic link triggered in his mind.
As thrilling as that might sound, hearing the "sakabu" is generally seen as a good omen for the hunt, yet not every member of the hunting party can hear the Sakabu. Only the group leader, "the Sukari," or in certain cases the most or second most skilled hunter, can hear that deafening moan.
They also say that a "Sakabu" coming from the east is a particularly good sign, and moving in that direction will almost assuredly mean finding good game.
Once there was a particular Matagi hunting near the Igusu Woods who had this to say about the "Sakabu":
"I headed in the direction of the ‘Sakabu,’ not 10 furlongs out, and I saw what I ain’t never seen with these eyes afore, a gargantuan bear, and from 2 yards away I could tell it was the largest moon bear I’d ever saw!"
This phenomenon doesn't seem to just affect the Matagi as it's said that on rare instances people waiting for the hunters in the village can hear the "Sakabu" too.
Whenever this happens, it seems the villagers know to expect the Matagi will come back with fresh game, and the villagers hastily prepare for their return.
These are the stories told by the peoples in the ravines and gorges about that ominous and mysterious God’s voice, the "Sakabu".
Before this story, I’d like to start with a brief note about the meaning of Kunekune. The word is an onomatopoeia, and it means something like swaying, waving, and twisting. With that in mind, let's begin:
This is a story from when I was very young and went with my older brother to our grandparents house for vacation.
Our grandparents lived out in the rural countryside of Akita Prefecture surrounded by rice fields without a city in sight.
We would only ever go once a year during Obon, but what happened that day I’ll never forget.
Well then, I guess I’ll start.
My brother and I were running around playing giddily in the fields while taking in an invigorating wind gently stroking the ears of rice.
The wind blowing over the fields was refreshing and felt so good against my skin.
We kept playing without a care in the world and before long the sun had already risen to its apex.
At that very second, the kind and calming breeze suddenly shifted into a muggy gross wind.
I figured it was about time to head home, but when I turned to call my brother I found him staring downwind, fixated on something out in the field.
I looked out in the direction he was facing, out in the middle of the rice paddy and noticed the scarecrow propped up on its post.
I asked “Why you lookin’ at that scarecrow?”
My brother replied "No, not that, further out…" and he squinted his eyes straining to make out what he was seeing.
My brother and I both strained our eyes trying to focus on the white thing way way out behind the scarecrow, but all we could see was its twisting, swaying, swerving.
It was really far away and we couldn’t make it out no matter how hard we tried, but we could feel there was something strange about it.
"Hey, you sure it's not just moving cause of the wind? Maybe they made it loose to scare off birds better."
When I told my brother that, he got real serious and nervous. The moment I said it, the wind let up, and for some reason, at that exact moment, petered out.
“Huh, that's weird, it's still moving…”
The wind had stopped blowing, but that white thing kept twisting, swaying, swerving.
My brother’s expression hardened.
He was totally fixated on that white thing, so he ran back to the house and came back with a pair of binoculars.
"Alright! I’ll take the first look. Wait a sec." He told me.
My brother looked out with the binoculars at the twisting, swaying, swerving white thing out in the field. And then, he started trembling with fear, turned paler than I’d ever seen him, and because of the cold sweat dripping off his hands he dropped the binoculars.
Seeing his deranged state, I was spooked but my curiosity got the better of me and I asked:
"What did you see?"
Trembling, he managed to gasp, "It...Its. Its...Better. NOT. to know..."
I think that's how he answered.
His voice … wasn’t my brothers anymore, and I got even more afraid.
He hobbled off alone back home quivering and shaking as he walked.
What on earth did he see? Even with the fear I felt, something came over me, like that white thing was calling to me, so I picked up the binoculars.
But not matter what, I couldn’t dare to look.
I tried looking once more with my own eyes, but I just couldn’t understand what my brother was so afraid of.
From afar it just looked like a white blur, simply twisting, swaying, and swerving around.
With that in mind my fear subsided and I once again gripped the binoculars, bringing then up to my face for a look...
And right then from behind me I heard the plodding of racing footsteps dashing towards me.
Shocked, I swerved around and saw my grandpa, hunched over out of breath with a frantic look I’d never seen.
“You mustn’t EVER look at that thing! You looked didn’t you? You looked with the binoculars didn’t you?!”
Stunned by my grandpa’s vitriol all I could manage was “No-, not yet…”
My grandpa took a deep breath and seeming almost relieved collapsed on the ground and started crying.
I didn’t understand what was happening, and when my grandpa brought me back to the house what graced my eyes was a sight so disturbing, to this day it still festers in my mind.
My whole family laid sprawled out in twisted poses like in some demented prayer, weeping profusely, while in the middle of them all, possessed by what I do not know, my brother writhed with mad laughter, twisting, swaying, swerving.
Just like that thing in the field.
My brother saw, and regrettably KNEW the true form of whatever that white shape was. To this day, I’m not afraid of what I saw in the field, but I am horrified at what my brother had become.
The next day my family had a discussion about what to do, and I overheard my grandma say:
"It would be best to leave the child here. It's harsh out there, and the way this world is, it won’t last a week."
"No, leave it here, and in a few years, when its completely gone, we’ll set it loose in the field."
I didn’t know what she meant.
“When its completely gone…”
“Set it loose in the field…”
I realized he’d never go back to the way he was and broke down crying.
Throughout the house, all I could hear were weeping relatives, my own sobs, and my brother’s eerie, shrill, maddening laughter.
I got in the car with my parents and we drove away from my grandparents house.
When I turned back around, I saw my brother waving at me.
I wanted to see my brother’s face for as long as I could, so I pulled out the binoculars and saw that he was smiling but he also seemed to be crying.
Gazing out the car window, the thought of how I’d only just been playing with my brother in the fields and how now we’d never play again brought tears to my eyes.
Even with binoculars I would never see my brother again.
I’d lost him forever...
If you ever find yourself by a rice field and see a twisting, swaying, swerving mass just out of sight, whatever you do, DON’T LOOK!!!
The stories I translated were pulled from the site I’ve linked below. If you're interested in more scary stories in Japanese, you can use some of the keywords I provided to search for them online. Japan is rich with scary stories in every prefecture, both old and new, so if that's something you’re interested in try and have a go with them. There are tons of sites, videos, and books out there, but just be careful of what you go searching for ‘cause it may just find you (blows out candle).