Kokeshi Palace

This is a story about Kokeshi dolls. Or rather, a story about Aoyama (alias). He was a friend from my hometown (right in the middle of nowhere) who became an obstetrician at his parents’ clinic. But anyway, let’s just call him Aoyama.

Aoyama was my classmate in elementary and junior high school. He was good at school and not a bad guy, but he was a little strange. He was kinda, well he was a bit of an airhead who liked all things supernatural. He had trouble fitting in with the other boys; myself included.

One day after school in the second grade of junior high, I was talking to some of my friends in the classroom when occult-lover Aoyama approached us.

Aoyama: “Hey guys, do you know why kokeshi dolls are called kokeshi? So apparently in the old days when there was famine, and they needed to get rid of mouths to feed, they killed off newly born babies. They made kokeshi dolls in order to appease their spirits. They got rid of children (ko keshi), and so they were called kokeshi.”

Basically, what he was trying to tell us was that kokeshi dolls were named after child killings. If you look on the internet now it’s been proven as a lie, but we didn’t know that at the time, and the dolls were a famous specialty product where we lived, so we all nodded our heads and went, “Oh yeah?”

Aoyama: “And so, like, you know how my family runs an obstetrician office, right? Well for every baby aborted we make a kokeshi doll and put it in a dedicated shrine room, hey. Well there are so many now that they’re starting to overflow.”

Listening to his story, I thought about what such a room might look like and shuddered. The other guys were carrying on like they wanted to see it though, and we ended up going over to Aoyama’s house to see this room of kokeshi dolls.

His house was split into the obstetrician office and the family residence. One of the rooms in the residence was dedicated to the dolls, and it really was filled to the brim with them. According to what I remember, it was about eight tatami mats wide, so I think there were around 200 kokeshi dolls in there.

My friends, even though they were amused at first, couldn’t help but draw back at the sight before them. But Aoyama just glanced sideways at them and grabbed a doll, explaining happily, “Oh, this is the one we made for XXX-san when she aborted her baby last summer.”

We listened to him talk in silence and then went home.

After that I graduated from junior high and then went to both high school and university. I moved and started working at a prefectural office in another city. Several years after becoming a working adult, however, I was messing around and got a minor pregnant. Of course, I didn’t want the baby either, so we decided to have an abortion before her parents found out. But if we went to a local obstetrician, it was possible that someone we knew might see us.

Then I remembered Aoyama. Thankfully, my family had also moved away and nobody I used to hang out with lived there anymore. Moreover, Aoyama should have taken over running the practice from his father by now. I got his address from an old phone book and gave him a call. I took the girl over there on my next day off.

But I still didn’t want to be seen going into an obstetrician’s office with an underage girl, so when we got close I called Aoyama and asked him if we could come in through the family residence side.

Then we arrived.

It wasn’t like what I remembered that time I visited during junior high school. It gave off this incredibly gloomy vibe. It was like it was trying to make me feel like “now you’re about to kill your own child!”

Aoyama invited us inside, and I could see numerous kokeshi dolls in the hallway.

“These dolls…” I muttered.

“Ah!” Aoyama began. “Business has been flourishing so they’ve increased quite a bit! They won’t fit in the rooms anymore so they’ve ended up out here. I’m gonna need to add some new rooms to the house soon.”

The girl I brought with me became frightened of both Aoyama and the number of dolls, but I managed to calm her down and she went in for the operation.

By the way, I never saw that girl again after she had her abortion at the Aoyama clinic.

Several years later our junior high held a reunion. I didn’t especially feel like going, but I was worried that Aoyama might talk about the abortion, so I decided to go in order to keep him quiet.

But Aoyama didn’t even end up going.

According to those who were still living there, Aoyama was involved in an accident the year before and hurt pretty badly. No-one had seen him since. Apparently the clinic ended up closing after that.

I had the next day off, so I stayed the night in a business hotel and I went to visit Aoyama’s house the next day.

Although he supposedly had an accident, when he greeted me he seemed no different to the last time I saw him. And his house was still overflowing with kokeshi dolls. The one thing that was different, however, was that he was missing both his arms. Of course, he lost both of them in the accident. He was living with the assistance of his mother and a helper.

Without his arms he looked just like one of the kokeshi dolls. When I said so, he laughed and told me a story.

Aoyama: “I told you about how the name kokeshi came around because they were made to appease the spirits of dead children, right? That wasn’t really the truth. It seems the real model was the midwife who killed all the children. She cut off her own arms in penance for her sins. So it’s just like you said, I really am just like a kokeshi human now. I can’t abort babies like this anymore, can I?”

Me: “Yeah, but the saying that the name ‘kokeshi’ came from the killing of children is just an urban legend that started in the Showa era. Both of the stories you told are just lies. They’re fake.”

Aoyama looked at me, uninterested, and went, “Is that so…?”

I took home the kokeshi doll he made when my child was aborted. Ever since then, at regular intervals, I started having this dream about a lump of flesh on my back calling me “daddy.” It’s not that strange for me to see hallucinations of that lump of flesh out the corner of my eye during periods where I’m particularly tired.

Aoyama died the following year. Apparently it was some additional complication that arose from his accident. His mother is still living in that house with close to 1000 kokeshi dolls now.


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