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The Japanese need to be scared to cool down in summer? Part 1

Japanese summer is the season for ghosts & monsters

A long queue of haunted house attraction in amusement parks, scary cinemas, celebrities is talking about their horror experiences on TV. 

Strangely enough, the Japanese like to hear scary stories in summer.

Back in the Edo era in the 17-19th century, people in Japan already seemed to enjoy famous Japanese horror stories 'One hundred stories of horror'.

The most decent way of telling these stories is to do it in a room with 100 candles. Everytime a story is told, one candle is off. Then, it was believed that a ghost will appear when the last candle is blown out (normally people stop at the 99th candle as this is to enjoy, not to invite real ghost!)

Japanese scary story with candle light

Ghosts and Japanese monsters (Yokai-妖怪) are pretty busy in this season. It's very strange that horror films are hardly released in winter in Japan. They're always released in summer. Likewise, no one is talking about a scary story (called 'Kaidan' 怪談 in Japanese) in winter on TV.

If ghosts and monsters really exist, I believe they should be around all the year. But somehow they seem to be hibernating except in summer here in Japan.

One reason to explain well why Japanese people eager to feel ghosts and monsters nearby is to have a feeling of getting chilly. A bit silly? No, it's actually true!

The Japanese language has an expression to describe a situation like 'shivering' scary as 'freezing a spine' (sesugi-ga-kooru 背筋が凍る). This expression depicts well how the Japanese feel when we face a scary situation. Yes, literally our spine gets frozen, which means obviously it's freezing cold (and that' all we seek to do in summer)

Japanese horror stories - Yokai

In a monstrous heat of Japanese summer, all that we want is to feel cool. For that purpose, we need a power of ghost and monster a bit!

Where to see ghosts and monsters in Japan?

So, I bet your next question is where can you expect to see ghosts in Japan? 

Anyone who was born and grew up in Japan is familiar with most-likely-haunted places. 

For instance, under the tree of weeping willow is very hauned in Japan. Avoid it especially at night. If it is a nearby temple (normally Japanese temple has its own graveyard), all Japanese must feel it's creepy. 

Japanese ghost stories - Yokai

There's a most famous Japanese ghost named 'Oiwa-san'(お岩さん). This famous female ghost is originally a character from 'Yotsuya-kaidan' (四谷怪談). Oiwa-san was betrayed by her husband and she's gone mad and finally died. Then, she returned to her husband as a ghost. She appears nearby well under the weeping willow tree.

Japanese horror stories - Yokai

Strangely enough, even outside Japan, I feel a bit spooky when I see weeping willow blown by wind under the moonlight. This is a kind of cultural imprinting, maybe you should have a one or two as well and that should be deeply connected with your local culture and youth memory. As far as Japanese people are concerned, we feel uncomfortable a bit when we see weeping willow.

As well as this, school at night, hospital, tunnel, sea, toilet. They're also places where Japanese believe it's often haunted.  They're called as 'Sinrei-spot' (心霊スポット). Most of the famous ones are the places actual cases (murder or accident) taken place. Aokigahara (青木ヶ原) at the foot of Mount Fuji is one of most of its kind in Japan (became internationally famous thanks to a Youtuber). Please be careful. This place is still the most popular spot for people to commit suicide in Japan. So, you see something unusual thing although you do not see ghosts and it may be much worse...

 Japanese aokigahara

In Japan, most of the sets in horror films and stories are one of these places. So, it is very natural that we may well feel spooky about these places.

Would you dare to do 'Heart-testing?' (Kimo-Dameshi 肝試し) 

As mentioned above, the Japanese seek to get cold in summer. For that purpose, in summer, we eat cold noodles (Nagashi-somen. For those who don't know what it is - please read this blog), we like to heat scary stories and so on

Someone who cannot get enough cold needs a serious freezing-spine-experience. What they do is 'Kimo-Dameshi' which stands for 'Heart-Testing'.

This activity is also pretty popular among young people in Japan. Again, only in summer. To be honest, I've never heard of this activity in winter.

Like in this picture, Kimo-Dameshi is pretty popular among couples as a fear often get them even closer!

Japanese horror stories -Kimodameshi

It's easy to play 'Kimo-Dameshi'. You just only have to go wherever you think it's scary enough (and do it at night). Normally, we choose a forest, temple, graveyard. Ruins are perfect to play this one. 

You only have a flashlight. Even a mobile signal is out of service as 'Kimo-Dameshi' typically is taken place in the countryside. Walking through the darkness solely relying on the flashlight in your hands should be scary enough for everyone. 

While you're only focusing on the darkness, you find yourself you completely forgot about how hot it was! If you have a chance to visit the countryside in Japan in summer and know someone there. Do ask them to take you to 'Kimo-Dameshi'. They should know the 'best' spot to make you feel freezing.

In case you're scared of a real thing, try Haunted House in Japan

Haunted House is a possibly most popular attraction in Japanese amusement park, in particular, in summer. One in Fuji-Q Highland has a Guinness-record of the longest walk distance in a haunted house of the world. 

You walk 900 meters and takes 1 hour in this haunted house. Do you want to try?

 Japanese haunted house - Fujikyu Highland

Oh, now it's already too long. Today, we stop here. In Part 2, we finally (smile) talk about Japanese Yokai!

To be continued...

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