Kimodameshi, or as it’s often translated in English, a test of courage, is a popular pastime in Japan that involves visiting a scary or otherwise known haunted location to test one’s mettle. The term comes from the words kimo, meaning liver or guts, and dameshi, meaning a trial or test. It’s a favoured device of kowai hanashi authors because they don’t need to explain why someone would willingly go into a scary place or situation they would otherwise avoid. It’s for kimodameshi! Nobody wants to be seen as the chicken, after all.
Kimodameshi traditionally takes place during the hot and humid summer months. Summer is the season of haunting in Japan, and that’s when people crack out their most terrifying ghost stories to help cool each other down. Nothing like a spine-tingling tale to send chills throughout your body! But a more interactive way of doing this is through kimodameshi. Popular destinations include dark forests, graveyards, abandoned buildings, temples and shrines, and infamous local creepy hotspots (such as a popular suicide spot).
Kimodameshi is thought to have originated in the Heian Period (794-1185). In the tale Okagami, the emperor of the time sent the three sons of Fujiwara no Kaneie, his minister, to a mansion that was said to be haunted by an oni. It was 3 am and the young men were scared. Only Fujiwara no Michinaga, was able to go through with it, and he sliced off one of the pillars inside with his katana to prove so. With that, Michinaga became the first person in Japanese history to successfully carry out kimodameshi, a test of courage.
These days it’s often held by school and sports clubs for youngsters. Particularly on training camps during the summer, the head teacher or coach will arrange for kimodameshi to take place in a safe, controlled environment (such as a local shrine who gives their permission for the test to take place). Traps such as teachers in costume may be set up along the way, but often it requires nothing more than darkness and a creepy location. The objective is for kids to make it from one end to the other, overcoming their fears and proving they have what it takes to fight through even the hairiest circumstances.
But this isn’t just popular amongst children. Teenagers and university students also enjoy taking part in kimodameshi, upping the stakes to visit abandoned buildings and other more ‘forbidden’ areas. It can be great for getting a date in the mood and proving how tough you are, or showing off to your friends that you’re the bravest of them all.
The ‘rules’ for kimodameshi are quite simple. It’s traditional to tell a scary tale about the place you’re about to visit first. If it’s an abandoned building, tell the horrifying tale behind why it was abandoned. If a graveyard, tell a story about the woman who was wronged in life and now spends her afterlife haunting those foolish enough to enter her domain. Whatever it is, the mood needs to be set first, and there’s no better way to do that than through a quick back-story. In the case of children, they will usually be sent around a ‘course’ in groups of two to four children. People may dress up to scare them or play instruments to elicit the appropriate level of creepiness. It’s not uncommon for people to hang konnyaku (a type of clear jelly) from a pole and dangle it on children’s faces to scare them as they walk by.
And thanks to kimodameshi being a convenient plot device to get someone into a scary situation, it’s now an extremely common element of modern-day creepypastas as well. But one thing to keep in mind if you are going to attempt kimodameshi yourself; while you may not stumble across any real ghosts during your trip, if you enter a no trespassing or forbidden area in order to do so, you may still get a very real fine instead.