They’re no longer in business, but my mother’s parents used to run a chicken farm in Shimane Prefecture. Every year during the summer holidays the four of us—my mother, my older sister, my younger brother and myself—would go to stay with them for a while. My father was never able to get time off work, so he stayed at home.
My mother’s family home was in Shimane Prefecture, in a village called Oochi. To put it nicely, it was an area of Japan surrounded by the beauty of nature, but to be more blunt, it was the middle of nowhere.
We always stayed there for about a week, and I had fun while my grandparents doted on me. It was the countryside, so they always got up super early, and went to bed super early as well.
They rose at 4 am, before the first rooster’s call of the day, and began their work on the chicken farm. They would clean the droppings, collect the eggs, check the incubator and do repairs.
At around 5 in the evening they would stop for dinner, and then at around 7 my grandfather would have a drink and doze off.
We’d also end up going to bed around 8 pm, but it was difficult to fall asleep at that time. We’d end up talking about the river we went to that day, or what we wanted to do the next day, and it would keep us awake all night.
At around midnight, I was staring up at the beams in the roof when I heard the sliding door to my grandfather’s room open. The hallway floor creaked and then someone opened the front door and disappeared outside. I was lying there, half asleep and half awake, when the clock on the wall began to chime twelve times. ‘Ah, it’s this late already?’ I thought.
Five minutes later the front door opened, and I heard the sound of someone removing their sandals at the door, and then the hallway floor creaked and the door to my grandfather’s room closed.
‘Maybe my grandfather or grandmother was going to check on the chickens out in the field,’ I thought, and shortly thereafter I finally fell asleep. Next thing I knew it was morning, and everyone had already eaten breakfast.
Everything happened while I was half-asleep, so I thought that maybe it was just a dream. But that night I was again unable to sleep, and at the same time someone went outside, and then returned a short while later.
The next day, and then the next day, always around 11.30 pm someone went outside, and around 12.05 am they would return. When I asked my brother and sister about it, neither of them had noticed anything.
This was during the time that I was beginning to take an interest in what adults did with their lives. I wanted to see whatever it was that this person was doing so late at night.
On the fifth day, I did my best to conserve energy so I could stay awake and follow whoever it was when they went outside. Until that point it had been a bother that I couldn’t sleep so easily, but this time I did my best to stay awake. I nearly fell asleep, but my eyes opened as I realised someone was nearby.
I waited until they went outside and then I grabbed my shoes and followed. I saw my grandfather entering the incubator room located about 50m from the main house.
The incubator room was a special building where the eggs were placed in incubators and warmed until they hatched, and the chicks were raised there until a certain period of time.
I snuck in after my grandfather. None of the lights were on, I could only rely on the red light coming out of the incubators. Everything was dim, like the kind of darkness you might see if you got in under a kotatsu blanket. My grandfather was looking at the incubators with a serious look on his face.
He took out three eggs from amongst the incubators and turning his head away, he smashed them into a nearby metal bin.
I was so shocked I suddenly said, “What are you doing?”
My grandfather looked even more surprised than me. I was worried he was going to fall over in shock, but when he realised it was me, relief washed over his face.
“Oh, it’s just you. Don’t scare me like that.” He grimaced.
“What are you doing?” I asked again.
“Taking out the bad eggs,” he replied, and started looking at the incubators again. I’d never heard about such a thing, so I asked him, “There are bad chicks?”
“Oh yeah, if I don’t remove them then something terrible will happen,” he said, and took out another egg from the incubator. I tried to take a closer look, but my grandfather panicked.
“Don’t look at it! You’ll go blind!” he yelled and quickly broke the egg in the metal bin.
I definitely saw a chick inside the egg. Cracks were forming along the outside, like it was just about to hatch. I could imagine what the mess looked like inside the bin, so I didn’t want to see it, but my grandfather quickly covered it with a lid anyway.
I saw a white piece of paper on the lid. ‘What’s that?’ I wondered, but my grandfather looked at his watch and said, “It’s past midnight, we’re done here for the day. Come on, let’s get back to bed.”
I didn’t want to remain in such a scary place by myself at night, so I quickly exited the room. I thought I saw something that looked like a toy next to the incubator room door, but I was tired and a little scared, so I told myself I’d check it out in the morning and followed my grandfather back to the main house. I spent the rest of the night in my grandfather’s room.
The next morning I went to catch bugs with my younger brother, and when we got back, we had an early lunch. But then I realised something was off.
‘Ah, our grandfather’s here today,’ I thought. Come to think of it, I’d never once seen our grandfather eat lunch with us. He always disappeared around 11.30 am.
On this particular day he apparently went to see a friend in town early in the morning. He returned around 11 am kinda drunk and joined us at the table. He ate some white rice with tea and pickled vegetables, and at some point fell asleep face down on the table.
We thought it would be bad manners to wake him up, so we left him there and went outside to play. I remembered the thing I saw outside the incubator room the night before, so I went with my brother to go check it out.
It wasn’t a toy. It was a hand mirror, but the mirrored side had been painted with some type of vermilion-coloured paint. There was also a small clay statue of a cow, and a cheap plastic bunch of flowers. They had appeared colourful during the night, which is why they looked like a toy. But what were they used for? I couldn’t imagine.
I remembered how my grandfather threw the eggs away in the bin the night before. In the darkness I couldn’t see very well, but in the light I saw old-fashioned lines of kanji I couldn’t read on pieces of old-looking paper stuck all over the bin lid.
“Hey! One’s hatching! What… hmm…”
My brother was watching an egg hatch in the incubator. I wanted to see it too, so I opened the door. A chick was inside, but something about it was different to the others. Looking closer, unlike the other chicks, this one wasn’t shaking at all, nor was it chirping.
And its eyes… they were the eyes of a human!
It jumped off the shelf in the incubator and hit the ground with a thud. It didn’t even shake its head, it just briskly walked away. I could do nothing but watch in horror.
It ran out of the incubator room and turned west, disappearing into the distance. Free of the paralysis that had gripped me, I could finally move again. It looked at my brother; drool was running down his chin and his eyes were blank. I called his name over and over again but he didn’t respond.
I continued screaming his name, and my grandparents came running breathlessly into the room.
“Hey! Did you look at it!?”
I was so scared. “I didn’t,” I replied.
My grandfather looked into my eyes. “You did, didn’t you? Where did it go?” The look in his eyes was terrifying.
“That way,” I said, pointing west. My grandfather grabbed the cow statue and bunch of flowers and took off in the direction I was pointing.
My grandmother called my brother’s name over and over, but he gave no response as drool continued to trickle down his chin.
“He locked eyes with the Higyou-sama, didn’t he?” she said, sadness in her voice.
“Will he get better?” I asked, my grandmother still looking at the strange state of my brother.
“I don’t… grab that red mirror for me, would you?”
I handed her the mirror, and she said, “You can’t be here. Go see your mother now.”
I went outside to see my mother and sister, but I didn’t know what to say so I just hugged her. My grandmother returned shortly with my brother in tow.
‘Ah, nothing happened, thank god,’ I thought as I saw my brother walking towards me, but something still felt off.
I spoke to him, and it was definitely my brother. He remembered going to the incubator room with me, and what we did the day before, and the day before that. But there was something different about him.
My mother noticed as well and turned to my grandmother.
“Mother, he didn’t…?”
My grandmother sadly nodded her head. My mother pulled my younger brother into her arms and began crying. He just stared blankly. My sister looked at him with confusion and fear in her eyes, but when she saw our mother crying, she began too.
My grandfather returned shortly thereafter.
“It’s no good, I wasn’t in time.” He sadly shook his head.
“Grandma, I don’t know who it’ll be, but it’ll happen within the next two or three days. Can you get out the mourning clothes and air them out for a bit?”
Having said that, he grabbed my brother and hugged him.
“I’m sorry. This happened because I fell asleep… I’m so sorry.” Tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Huh? Grandpa, that hurts,” my brother said.
That voice and those actions were definitely my brother, but at the same time it wasn’t my brother at all.
My grandfather spoke to me after. “Chicks born when the sun is in the highest point of the sky, and when it’s the deepest part of the night have a certain role. So that’s why we have to kill them.”
“So chicks that hatch at night will become ‘Higyou-sama’?” I asked.
“Who did you hear that… Ah. So your grandmother told you, huh? No, that’s not it. No, those that hatch at night become something even more terrifying.” He turned towards the incubator room with a grim look on his face.
This part of the story ends here.
Later, when I was a high school student, one of my classmates also had family that ran a chicken farm. I asked him if he’d ever heard of ‘Higyou-sama’ but at first he just looked at me confused. Then he said, “Ah, you mean the ‘Iwashi Chicken’?”
At any rate, these days technology has advanced and there are sensors and timers on the incubation machines that automatically dispose of eggs that are about to hatch at 12 pm and 12 am.
I still return to Shimane every year. My brother is now working as an elementary school teacher. I don’t even remember what he used to be like before all this happened anymore.
It’s been over 20 years since we all lived together as a family, but we’re still absolutely a family.