Gaijin Horror Stories
Towards the end of the summer we put out a call to our readers asking for tales of shock and awe that they’d experienced during their time in Japan. As always, the results came back thick and fast, and so we’re happy to offer you 4 of the best, selected partly for their wit, and partly for their peculiarity. Albino stalkers, phallically challenged gangsters, spiders that go thud in the night… they’re all here, for better or for worse. Interestingly enough, only one of these dark yarns is fictional. No prizes for guessing which…
By Doron Klemer
I have nothing against albinos. They make excellent villains in movies, and even pasty Brits like me appear tanned in comparison. But the pale, white haired Japanese guy who knocked on my door minutes after I had walked in from my day’s teaching turned out to be the scariest person I met in my entire 3 years here.
“You English teacher”, he informed me with a bow, as if I hadn’t known it. True, it had only been a few weeks since I had arrived in rural Oita, and I didn’t understand most of the things going on, but after standing in front of various classes of students every day as an Assistant Language Teacher, I was pretty sure of that much. “Yes”, I replied slowly and clearly. Still very much in my naïve, early throes of being overly friendly to everyone in the small town I lived in, I introduced myself. “My name is Doron. I’m from England. Nice to meet you.”
“I know you English teacher”, he continued, after another little bow. “I see you go home from school yesterday when I walk dog, and I follow home.” He indicated a rat-sized creature of some kind which was cowering behind his legs, so scrawny and un-cute that for a moment I didn’t register the last part of his comment.
“You… followed me home?”
“Yes. You teach me English”, he announced, in such a toneless way that the phrase was left hanging halfway between statement and question. On seeing my confused look, he attempted to confirm his apparent request. “You teach English, yes? I am hairdresser, go New York study, but not speak English. You teach English, yes?”
I had heard from several of the older ALTs that private lessons were a lucrative way to pass your spare time, and also a good way to make local friends, so this seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. I should have paid more attention to the fact that, as he hadn’t been shy to admit, he had followed me home from work.
“Umm, yeah. Yes. I teach private lessons. But they are quite expensive. Will your parents be paying?” I didn’t want to rip off any poor uni students, but was quite happy to charge ¥5,000 an hour to their parents.
A curious look passed across his pale features, and he shook my hand, saying, “My name Takeshi. Come back soon.” And then he disappeared into the afternoon, the sunlight seeming to shine straight through him as he marched away up my driveway.
Just before midnight that night, there was an insistent tapping at my front door, which I rose to answer, deeply tired and in my underwear. There, naturally, was Takeshi, in his pyjamas, with a 2 litre bottle of coke and a family sized packet of Calbee crisps under his arm. He pushed his way in, and sat down in the middle of my hall floor, proffering me the snacks accompanied by a sheet of paper. I took the soda and crisps with confusion, and turned my attention to the message. It turned out to be a computer print-out which I, alongside teachers throughout Japan, if not the world, would soon come to instantly recognise and hate – a translation from Babelfish.
“Being that we are now the friends, friendship is the for best ways. Friends is the helping. I am for the go travel New York, but the money I is nothing. Friends is then the helping. Teach I with the humble thanks. Money is not the friends. Takeshi.”
“You… want me to teach you for free?” I ventured. He stared back at me without saying anything, but looking deeply menacing in his Hello Kitty pyjamas. “Because we’re… friends?” This hadn’t been part of the plan. Is that how things worked in Japan? You were friends with someone because they gave you some coke and told you that you were? “I’m sorry, I don’t think I have time to give free lessons. Actually, I think I’m quite busy from now on, and won’t be able to see you again. Goodbye.”
Slowly, and scarily, he rose to his feet, reached out… and took the coke and Calbee back. He left without saying a word, and I went to bed after locking the front door for the first time since I’d arrived.
He called my mobile phone every few days for 3 weeks after that. No, I have no idea how he got my phone number. He would breathe heavily for a few minutes, then spew out some Japanese mingled with broken English, generally involving the words ‘English’, ‘friends’ and ‘duty’. Each time I apologized and hung up, my apologies gradually becoming briefer, and my hang-up swifter, until one day, a month or so later, a Japanese-speaking friend, who knew the story and was far more firm than I, took the phone from me when he called and in no uncertain terms told him not to call anymore. He didn’t, and I didn’t see him again, but every Halloween I remember my own, personal, phantom stalker.
By Jonathan Mauger
Over the years I’ve spent in inaka Japan, I’ve seen my fair share of nasty bugs, but nothing compares to the beast that appeared in my room last summer. This horror story begins at 4am on a hot summer night when I open my eyes to catch a glimpse across the floor of two large legs disappearing behind a discarded t-shirt. My fears were confirmed when I turned on the light and realized an enormous spider had found its way into my house and had correctly decided my tatami room was a good place to search for food.
As my arachnophobia kicked in, I leapt out of bed and, with super-human adrenaline-charged strength, I threw the largest book I could find at the half-concealed beast before making a beeline out of the door and into the next room, where my housemate was surprised to find me sleeping naked without a cover the next morning.
A quick Wikipedia check revealed the abomination to be a Japanese huntsman spider; not deadly poisonous, but fast; about eight to ten inches in diameter and hideously ugly. I decided to have a showdown with the bugger after work, but a search of my room revealed nothing. Safe at last, or so I thought.
Just before heading back to the UK for the holidays, I was getting my clothes together when I opened the little-used door at the bottom of my cupboard and started rummaging around for CDs. Suddenly, there was a flash of black and a spider easily bigger than my hand-span, and heavy enough to make a thudding sound on the tatami as it ran, shot out across the room, prompting me start dancing around, screaming like a girl. What ensued was a 30-minute battle of wits, during which I seriously considered setting fire to my room.
In the end, I decided to lay an elaborate trap. After watching the huntsman perched on top of the sofa, I predicted its next move and turned our über vacuum cleaner on, laying the end of the tube where I was sure the spider would go, whilst
bombarding it which objects from the other direction. Sure enough, the spider tried to escape by abseiling down the arm of the sofa and got sucked in half way down, sounding like a stone as it bounced through the tube. Fearing that the spider would climb out, I sucked up as much pointy metal stuff as I could find and fled to Europe, leaving a note for my housemate instructing him not to open the bag for at least a month, or – preferably – to have the vacuum cleaner incinerated.
By Jon Wilks
Years ago, back in the days when children were something other people got bogged down with, I accepted an offer from a colleague to go drinking in his ancestral town. I was still relatively new to Japan, so Iizuka meant very little to me other than being a distant, mountainous destination, some 2 hours up the line from my station. Obviously, I had a lot to learn. As anyone who has done time in North Kyushu will tell you, the area is a caldera-like mining region that suffered heavily when industry moved on, leaving the workers to relocate elsewhere or seek employment in less desirable trades. Iizuka quickly became known as a breeding ground for yakuza toughs.
The evening started well enough. We found a local bar that had been done up to resemble a cowboy saloon, and the amiable bartender got out his photo album and showed us pictures of what the area had once been. As the three of us began hitting the hard stuff, the bartender shut up shop so that we might embark on a quality lock-in. He was a great orator, and the evening splashed by in a pool of well-wrought memories and coursely brewed shochu.
At around 1am, he decided he’d had enough of his own place and ushered us out of the door into the late autumn night. He knew of a drinking den, he explained, where we might meet some of the locals who starred in his storytelling. At the mention of the place, my colleague looked uneasy and decided he might make his way back to the hotel. Still absurdly oblivious to what this adventure might entail, I agreed to meet him for breakfast in the morning, and set off in pursuit of the bartender, whose thirst for more shochu and continued conversation had set his eyes burning with a bloodshot hue.
It wasn’t until I found myself threading through a courtyard of expensive, black cars, that I realized what kind of den this might be. Any apprehensions I might have had walking up that driveway were confirmed by the amount of gold teeth and hair lacquer paraded inside. Talk about people living up to their stereotypes! Every man wore black shades, sported an outmoded quiff, and grimaced as though they were enduring an unending urethroscopy. Girls in glitzy chinese dresses flitted amongst them, lighting cigarettes, pouring drinks and making light conversation. No one responded. The grimacing continued.
"Ojamashimasu!" shouted my guide, slipping off his shoes and stepping into the large building – ostensibly a drinking den, but obviously some kind of headquarters. The interior of the 2-storey building was done up like an 80s winebar, and through the cylindrical windows I could see pool lights flashing up from a bubbling jacuzzi. Nobody was using it. Nobody was involved in any kind of action that didn’t involve wordless smoking and drinking. My friend’s exuberant entrance was met with a black silence.
Strangely enough, this was the first situation I’d been in where my foreigness counted for nothing. Either they were used to this guy turning up with foreigners, or the dim lighting and dark shades prevented it from registering. Whatever the reason, I was largely ignored. A lithe young woman came over, sat down, lit my cigarette and poured my drink. There was no small talk. I didn’t even have the nerve to tell her I didn’t smoke.
I decided I’d finish up my drink and then try and get out of there as politely as I could. In truth, the nature of their employment gave me no cause for concern; I had no reason to fear them, after all. But I didn’t like the chilly atmosphere, and I got the distinct impression that my bartender friend was out of his depth. These weren’t his friends. They had no interest in him, and our being here was starting to look like an act of drunken bravado on his part.
Just as I was looking around for my jacket, one of the black suits sitting across the table spoke up. "You live round here?" he said, his English as good as yours or mine. "I’m Koji. I’ve never seen you round here before. You an English teacher?" The shock was enough to knock the grimace off the most bitter of faces. Everyone stared at him. "You don’t need to be so surprised," he continued. "I studied in LA when I was a teenager. My dad used to go there on business."
And that’s all it took. Within minutes the room had settled into a familiar routine of backslapping and praising Koji’s English. Only the older guys at the bar kept up the act, upper-lips curled as though they’d been supping battery acid. Koji, meanwhile, was prevailed upon to act as interpreter, and together we worked the room like a seasoned manzai act. All was going swimmingly until one of the surly bruisers at the bar took offense, and so ensued the strangest incident of my life.
Perhaps his nose had been put out of joint by the international antics that had disturbed his gangster fug, or perhaps he himself was just mildly disturbed. I remember vividly that when he brought his open palm down hard on the bar, the room fell into silence. "Koji," he intoned, almost inaudibly. "Tell this foreigner that I’m smaller than he is."
"I… I’m not sure what you mean, boss," stammered Koji, cooler than fuck only seconds earlier, now a turdy mess, wriggling in the spotlight.
"You heard me, you insolent prick!" he snarled. "Tell… him… I’m… smaller… than… he… is… PHALLICALLY!!"
How do you respond to that, I ask you? He obviously wasn’t in the mood for wise-cracking. I had to approach this scientifically.
"No, no! That can’t be true," I fumbled. "It’s just a stereotype. I’m sure we’re both about average length."
"You fucking foreigners think you know everything!" he hissed. "I’m a real Japanese! A Kyushu man! I have nothing!!"
Things had taken a turn for the utterly surreal. I stared at my shochu, wondering which of these bastards had spiked it. Nobody made eye contact. Everyone nodded sagely and stared at the bottom of their shochu glasses. Even my bartender friend seemed at a loss for words.
The odds weighed strongly against me whichever course of action I chose. Any right-thinking neanderthal would take serious offense at being phallically slighted. Then again, ‘right-thinking’ was obviously not an applicable phrase in this situation. Taking a deep breath, I decided to go along with him.
"OK, fair enough," I said, as cooly as I could muster. "You’re smaller than I am. I have a bigger penis than you do."
The air was so thick it was edible. All eyes were on Freud’s field-day, sitting at the bar. He grunted, and then a satisfied smile spread across his mad face.
"I’m a powerful snake-like being, while you… you’re a tadpole," I continued, emboldened.
"OK! That’s enough!" he snapped. "I think it’s time you went home."
Needless to say, I haven’t ever been back.
By Emily Millar
70 yen Oden, All This Week!
The sign screamed at him as he watched the fumbling cashier scan the boxes of cigarettes behind the counter, desperately trying to locate the Mild 7s. What is oden, anyway? All those gelatinous lumps of reconstituted fish bits, radish and egg, simmering away in the silver box next to the register. The pale, fleshy, shuddering pieces unnerved him. They kind of look like shriveled body parts, he thought.
"Er, this, ok?” The cashier thrust a packet of Lucky Strikes in front of him. Fine, whatever. Tobacco is tobacco. He just wanted to get away from that bubbling cauldron of oden as soon as possible. No, I don’t need a receipt, thanks.
He’d been sent (he preferred to call it ‘banished’) to the wilds of rural Japan by his company a few months ago to train a dozen or so employers at a small accounting firm. There was one of everything: one set of traffic lights at the one intersection, one school, one police box, one train station, one junior high school and one convenience store. There were two izakayas, though; maybe half a dozen vending machines. And since July, one English speaker.
He’d had four Lucky Strikes and a beer for dinner, when he turned on the TV. Body of Missing Woman Found Without Fingers! Vile. This country’s got its fair share of crackpots.
He felt hungry. Damn, he’d have to make another trip to the convenience store. It was the only place he could grab something to eat at this time of the night, even though it wasn’t midnight yet. He wondered if the nervous cashier was still on his shift.
He joined the line-up of usual suspects at the magazine stand and lazily flicked through one of the weeklies. Hmm, not much happening in the spreads this week, and she looks far too young, even for this particular publication. Another headline splashed across the news section. Gutted and Fingerless! Body Number Three Found in Convenience Store Carpark! Killer On the Loose! The kanji was jagged and dripping red ink for added gore effect.
He flicked back to the underage bikini girl. After several morally-questionable minutes spent trawling the bikini-less back pages, he stuffed the magazine back in the rack and slunk over to the cup noodles instead. He chose the no-frills, no-flavour type, and headed back to the counter, avoiding the ominous oden register. He noticed the amount of oden had significantly depleted from before. Can’t argue with 70 yen oden. The stuff still gave him the willies, though. Oh, fuck, forgot the cigarettes again.
When he got to the office the next day, unshaven and a little hung over, some of the men were absent. Staying away for a few days waiting for this murder spree to settle down, according to the guy in charge of the program. Seemed a bit of an overreaction to him, but he didn’t mind having a few less students to field ridiculous questions from about how to talk to women.
During lunch, it was all anyone could talk about.
“Did you hear they found him with only half his intestines?”
“All his fingers were sawn off, but his thumbs were intact!”
“Well, I heard the policeman who found her spewed in his hat when he saw the giant hole cut in her stomach”
“Hey! Do you mind, I’m trying to eat, and you’re upsetting the others,” he half-heartedly growled at the group of suits discussing the details of the latest kill. Truthfully, their conversation was upsetting him, while they held an audience of eager office ladies that shrieked in mock horror whenever one of them punctuated a particularly gruesome detail with a stabbing action. Every single person had at least one piece of oden in their bento.
He’d been smoking close to a packet a day recently. He’d even begun to enjoy Lucky Strikes more than his usual Milds, and the visually-challenged cashier boy could always spot them more easily. The oden still sat there, and it was now joined by a second gleaming tub, full of the same rubbery floating pieces. Why all the sudden fuss over oden? It had now gone back up to its usual retail price of 110 yen, and yet there was still demand. His town was renowned for its stinginess, but a 40 yen price increase had done nothing to dent the relentless pursuit of oden. He’d only just noticed, but every single person who walked into that convenience store walked out with a serving of oden, along with whatever else they’d initially intended to purchase.
And where was cashier boy? He always worked the late afternoon to midnight shift, without fail. He’d actually started to enjoy their now nightly encounters, a connection that had moved beyond the usual point, grunt, and cash exchange. Sometimes he asked him if was busy at work. Always the same reply: “Ah…so-so?” The female cashier served him instead, finding the packet of Lucky Strikes in less than 3 seconds and sliding it across the counter without a word. Lousy customer service.
He sat, mouth agape, in front of the television. Another body found in a carpark. A young man in a slashed and bloody convenience store clerk uniform, innards removed and hands relieved of their phalanges. The cigarette that had fallen out of his mouth singed a hole in his tatami, but he didn’t notice as he fixated on the image onscreen of a plump and gawky cashier who used to fumble the change as he handed it back. The police had officially released a statement confirming that, yes, they could most definitely assume that victim number four was killed by the same person as the previous three, making this a serial killer case. Poor guy, he thought. Never in his short life could he have possibly imagined that he would never work anywhere but a convenience store, let alone be murdered in one.
It had been several weeks since he had been to the convenience store. After the murder, he wasn’t too keen on venturing anywhere near the place, let alone purchase a pack of shitty cigarettes. But he suddenly had an overwhelming craving. Not for cigarettes, but for a piece of oden. Why oden? He hadn’t a clue why, after an entire year in Japan without touching it. The stuff was creepy, the texture, the shape, the fleshy colour…
The oden was on sale again. This time it was just 50 yen. A good day to pick as his first to eat oden, he figured. The female cashier was working. He asked for three pieces of oden – one of the roundish ones, that lumpy looking one with the hole in the middle, and, hmm, an egg, please. She gave him a strange look, but continued stabbing at the spongy flotsam with the tongs, trying to pick them up. He ventured conversation.
"So, you like oden?"
Again, a slightly strange look.
"Actually, I used to eat it all the time until I saw what happened on the news," she began.
The news? He didn’t recall any news about oden.
"You remember those people that were murdered, with their fingers cut off and their guts cut out?"
"Well, around the same time, we started receiving far larger shipments of oden than we usually stocked, and some customers remarked that their oden tasted different from usual. Some thought it was a lot nicer than before. Then an investigator put two and two together… of course, we cancelled any further sales of oden and alerted the customers who may have eaten any during that time…" He had already sat his box of oden on the counter and thrown up in the silver one next to the register before she could elaborate.
The round, fleshy mounds of what may have been reconstituted fish bits continued bobbing around in the dark pool of liquid, and the sign continued screaming: 50 yen Oden, All This Week!