My father’s parents’ house was a little less than two hours away by car. It was a farming house but I liked that sort of thing, so when I started high school and got a bike I often went on trips there by myself during the summer and winter holidays. Both my grandfather and my grandmother happily welcomed me, “We’re so happy that you’re here.” However the last time I went there was just before I started the third grade of high school, so I haven’t been there in over ten years now. It’s not that ‘I won’t go’ but rather ‘I can’t go.’
It was the start of the spring vacation and the weather was perfect so I got on my bike and went to my grandfather’s house. It was still a little cold but the veranda was pleasantly warm so I relaxed there for a while. Then,
“Popo, popoppo, po, po…”
I heard this strange sound. It didn’t sound like a machine, it sounded like it was coming from a person. In addition to that, it was kind of like it was both a voiced consonant and half voiced at the same time. ‘What was that?’ I wondered, and then I saw a hat over the top of the garden hedge. There’s no reason it would have been put up there. Then it started to move sideways, and once it reached a gap in the hedge I saw a woman. Ah, that woman was wearing the hat. She was also wearing a white one piece dress.
However the hedge was about two metres high. If her head could pop out over the top of that just how tall was she…? I was shocked, but she started moving again and disappeared from view. The hat also disappeared. Then at some point the “popopo” sound also stopped. At the time I didn’t think much more of it than perhaps an already tall woman wearing some high soled boots, or perhaps a tall man dressed up as a woman in high heels.
Afterwards I was in the living room drinking tea when I told my grandfather and grandmother about what just happened. “I just saw this really big woman. I wonder if it was a man crossdressing?” I said. They just replied, “Oh yeah?” “She was bigger than the hedge. She was wearing a hat and was making this strange sound, like ‘popopo.’” The moment I said it the two of them froze. Like, they stopped moving at the exact same time.
After that my grandfather’s face contorted and he threw a barrage of angry questions at me. “When did you see her?” “Where did you see her?” “How much taller than the hedge was she?” I answered his barrage of questions and then he suddenly fell silent and went to the phone in the hallway and called somewhere. The sliding door was closed so I couldn’t hear what he was saying very well. My grandmother was visibly shaken.
Having finished his phone call my grandfather returned. “You’ll stay here tonight. No, there’s no way we can let you return tonight,” he said. ‘Have I perhaps done something awful?’ I worried, but I couldn’t think of anything. It’s not like I went to see that woman by myself, she was the one who appeared to me.
Then my grandfather said, “Grandma, I’m leaving him to you now. I’m gonna pick up K-san,” and took off in his truck. Timidly, I asked my grandmother about it and she said in a trembling voice, “It seems you’ve been possessed by Hasshaku-sama. Your grandfather’s gonna do something about it. There’s no need to worry.” After that she told me bit by bit until my grandfather returned.
In this area there was something called ‘Hasshaku-sama.’ Hasshaku-sama took on the appearance of a tall woman. Just like her name suggested she was about eight shaku (feet) tall, and had a strange, manly laugh that went “popopopo.” Depending on the person she might appear as a young woman in a mourning dress, an old lady in a formal kimono or even a middle aged woman in farm clothes. While her appearance was always different the things she always had in common were her incredible height, the fact she always wore something on her head, and her strange laugh. In the past there were rumours of her being a possessed traveler, but nobody knew for sure. She was sealed in this area (now it’s a part of O City but in the past it was part of a larger section of X village) by Jizo statues, so she’s unable to leave. When you are possessed by Hasshaku-sama you are killed within a few days. The last time Hasshaku-sama hurt someone was fifteen years ago.
I heard this after the fact, but the reason she was sealed in by the Jizo statues was because Hasshaku-sama could only leave the village by certain paths (nobody knows why), and so they enshrined the Jizo statues on those particular paths. They were to prevent her leaving, but apparently they were placed in four locations, on the boundaries of the east and west, and the north and south. As to why they would even try to keep Hasshaku-sama trapped there, apparently there was an arrangement with the nearby villages where they got, for example, priority to water rights and such. Hasshaku-sama only appeared to bother people once every ten or so years so the people who lived there in the past found it to be an advantageous deal. Even hearing all that, there was no way it could be real, I thought. Of course not. Before long my grandfather returned with an old woman in tow.
“Well haven’t you gotten yourself into a fine mess. Here, take this,” the old lady said and handed me a talisman. Then she went upstairs with my grandfather to do something. My grandmother stayed behind with me, even when I went to the toilet she went with me and wouldn’t let me close the door the whole way. For the first time since being there I started to think “maybe this really is dangerous…”
A short while later they called me up to the second floor and put me in a room. The windows were entirely covered over with newspaper and talismans and there were piles of salt in all four corners. There was a small wooden box (not something you’d really call an altar or anything) and on top of it was a small statue of Buddha. Then, I don’t know where they came from but there were two bedpans prepared as well. I was supposed to go in those…?
“The sun’s about to set. Listen, you can’t leave this room until tomorrow morning. Neither myself nor your grandmother will call you or try to speak to you. Okay? You must under no circumstances leave this room until 7am tomorrow. At 7am you can come out by yourself. I’ll call and let your parents know,” my grandfather said with a serious look on his face. I could do nothing but nod silently in agreement.
“Make sure you do exactly as was just said. Keep that talisman close as well. If anything happens go and pray before the Buddha,” K-san said. They said it was okay to watch TV so I turned it on, but even as I watched it my mind wandered and I couldn’t focus. Being locked in the room I didn’t feel like eating the onigiri or snacks my grandmother made for me so I just got into the futon and lay there, trembling.
At some point I fell asleep but when I woke up, I don’t remember what it was but some late night TV program was on, and when I looked at my watch it was past 1am (at this time I didn’t have a cell phone).
‘Ugh, what an awful time to wake up,’ I thought, when I heard something tapping at the window glass. It wasn’t like a small rock hitting it, it was more like a finger rapping across the surface. I couldn’t decide whether the wind could make a sound like that or if it really was a person tapping at the window, so I tried to believe with all my might that it really was just the wind.
Then I heard my grandfather’s voice. “Hey, are you okay? Don’t push yourself too hard if you’re scared, okay?” Without thinking I walked towards the door but then I remembered what my grandfather said to me. “What’s wrong? You can come out if you want.”
The voice sounded exactly like my grandfather, but it wasn’t him. I don’t know why but I just knew, and as I realised that I got goosebumps. I looked over at the pile of salt in the corner and the top had turned black. I ran at full speed to the Buddha and sat down in front of it. Grasping the talisman I started to pray as hard as I could. “Please help me!”
“Popoppo, po, popo…”
I heard the voice, and the window started rapping, ‘tonton, tonton.’ I knew she wasn’t that tall, but I couldn’t stop picturing her in my mind reaching up from below and tapping on the window. There was nothing I could do but keep praying in front of the Buddha.
The night felt unbelievably long but eventually morning came, and at some point the TV that had been left on started playing the morning news. The time in the corner of the screen said 7.13am. I hadn’t even noticed but both the tapping on the glass and the voice had stopped. It seemed I’d either fallen asleep or lost consciousness. The pile of salt had turned even more black.
Just in case I looked at my own watch and it said roughly the same time so I nervously opened the door and my grandmother and K-san were standing there looking worried. My grandmother was crying, “I’m so glad, I’m so glad.”
When I went downstairs my father was also there. My grandfather appeared from outside and told me to “hurry up and get in the car.” I don’t know where it came from but when I went out into the garden there was a mini van there. There were also several men standing in the garden. The van fit nine people, I was put in the middle seat, K-san sat in the passenger seat, and the rest of the men in the garden got in and surrounded me. There were nine of us in total, I was surrounded in all directions.
“It’s terrible, isn’t it? You’ll probably be curious but I want you to close your eyes and keep your head down. We won’t be able to see anything, but perhaps you will. Until we say it’s okay just keep your eyes shut,” an old man in his fifties sitting to my right said to me.
Then my grandfather got in his minitruck to take the lead, followed by the van I was in, and my father followed in his car as we set off. The line of cars drove rather slowly. They probably weren’t even going over 20km/h.
Before long K-san muttered, “This is the hard part,” and the men started chanting some sort of Buddhist prayer.
“Poppopo, po, po, popopo…”
I heard that voice again. I gripped the talisman K-san gave me and closed my eyes and put my head down like I was told, but for some reason I opened my eyes just a little a looked outside.
I saw a white dress. It was moving alongside the car. She was following with such long strides, hey? Her head was outside the window so I couldn’t see it. But she started bobbing her head down, like she was trying to see inside the car.
Unconsciously I let out a “hee!” sound. “Don’t look!” the man next to me raised his voice.
In a panic I squeezed my eyes shut and gripped the talisman even tighter. Kotsu, kotsu, kotsu. A tapping sound on the window began.
The people in the car around me also gasped in fear. Even though they couldn’t see her or hear her voice they could hear the sound on the window. K-san started praying even harder.
Finally when I thought the voice and sounds had stopped K-san said, “We got away.” The men around me, who had been quiet until that point, were relieved and said, “Thank goodness.”
Soon after the van stopped on a wide part of the road and I got into my father’s car. As my father and grandfather bowed to the other men K-san came over and said, “Show me the talisman.” I was still unconsciously gripping it, but when I looked at it it had turned entirely black. K-san said, “I think it’s all okay now, but just in case you should keep this for a little while longer,” and gave me a new talisman.
After that I returned home with my father. A few days later my grandfather and one of his neighbours brought my bike back. Apparently my father also knew about Hasshaku-sama and he told me about one of his childhood friends who was possessed by her and then killed. He even knew of people that had to move away and live in other places because of her.
The men who rode in the car were all related to my grandfather in some way, which meant that they were all very loosely my blood relatives as well. Of course my grandfather riding in the front and my father riding in the back were connected by blood as well, so they were all meant to confuse Hasshaku-sama somewhat from me. My father’s brothers (my uncles) were unable to come over in a single night so they gathered whatever blood relatives they could, no matter how loosely related we were. But of course it was still impossible to get so many men together so quickly, and thinking it much safer to leave during the day than at night I was imprisoned in that room for the night. In a worst case scenario apparently both my grandfather and father were prepared to sacrifice themselves for me as we escaped as well.
Now, as I explained above, I make sure not to go back there anymore.
After I returned home I spoke to my grandfather on the phone and asked him if he spoke to me on that night, but he said that he didn’t. So it really was… I got chills down my spine thinking about it again.
Hasshaku-sama targeted youths yet to come of age, and children often saw her as well. When youths and children are feeling extremely anxious and they hear the voice of someone from their family I think they quickly let their guard down.
Ten years passed, and just as I was about to forget those events something terrible happened.
“The Jizo statues keeping Hasshaku-sama in the village broke. It’s the one on the road leading towards your house,” my grandmother told me over the phone.
(My grandfather died two years earlier, and of course I wasn’t able to go to his funeral. Even when my grandfather was no longer able to get out of bed he said for me not to come.)
Even now as I’m telling myself that it’s just a superstition I find myself getting more and more worried. When I think about hearing that “popopo…” voice again…