Previously on Scare Yourself Silly: There’s someone in your house.
If you’re anything like me, you love a good ghost story—the weirder, the better. Have you heard this one yet?
In a forest just beyond the city of Tokyo, Japan, there is a house. It’s an impressive property, with several outbuildings surrounding the main living space and a wide expanse of land; but though it’s vacant, you won’t find it in any real estate listings. It’s known as the Himuro Mansion, and the things the walls of that house have seen are enough to keep any property hunter far, far away.
The Himuro Mansion said to have been the location of one of the most gruesome murders in Japanese history. Seven people were allegedly found murdered as part of an occult ritual gone wrong. Not that occult rituals can really ever said to go “right.” The ritual was allegedly intended as a method of keeping the evil of the world at bay; it involved raising a woman in secret to prevent her from forming any attachments to other people, then tying her limbs to oxen and essentially drawing and quartering her.
Sometime within the last 80 years, though, the young woman chosen for this “honor” managed to meet a young man and fall in love with him. Because she grew attached to someone, she was no longer viable for participation in the ritual; this means, of course, that the family responsible for carrying the whole thing out—the Himuro family—failed, dishonoring themselves in the process. The family’s patriarch then killed each member of the family with a traditional sword—probably a katana, though possibly a tanto or wakizashi—feeling that such a death was better than to suffer the evil they failed to stop.
Since then, numerous have emerged of odd occurrences happening in and around the house. Blood spatters appear on the walls; photographs taken of a particular window reveal the image of a ghostly girl; and perhaps most disturbingly, the dead bodies of would-be explorers have allegedly been found on the property with rope marks around their wrists. I’m not sure how much I believe these reports, but even so. Not a happy place, the Himuro Mansion.
Here’s the thing, though: As far as I can tell, it doesn’t actually exist.
In 2002, Temco released a survival horror video game called Fatal Frame was for the Playstation 2 in the US. Players controlled a young woman named Miku Hinasaki as she searched a haunted mansion for her missing brother, Mafuyu. The mansion, of course, was the Himuro Mansion—and according to the game’s opening screen, it was “based on a true story.” Those five words opened up a proverbial can of worms that we haven’t quite been able to close since.
How do we know the story is fiction? To be honest, we don’t—not totally. But the evidence—or lack thereof—points strongly towards it being a hoax. For one, in spite of all the “eyewitness accounts,” no one really seems to know where the mansion is. A few photos exist, floating around the Internet like so much ghostly flotsam and jetsam; but photos are easy to fake, and it’s likely that they come from either the game developers themselves or simply people hoping to perpetuate the myth further. Additionally, according to the rather excellent (if dubiously named) blog Sluggo’s House O’ Spookiness, the name itself is even a dead giveaway of its fakeness: Himuro is apparently an extremely common Japanese family name—so common as to be almost nondescript. Think of it this way: “Himuro Mansion” would probably be something like “Smith Mansion” in English. Perhaps most damning, though, is this tiny fact: The Japanese release of Fatal Frame in 2001, interestingly, did not include the “based on a true story” claim. It was a new addition specifically for the North American release.
So why were we then—and why are we still now, almost a decade and a half later—still so willing to believe that the Himuro Mansion and its sordid past are real? Or perhaps more accurately, why do we so badly WANT to believe it—believe that if we were intrepid enough, we could travel to Japan, traipse around the countryside, and find and explore this supposedly haunted location?
Let’s start with its context, the year 2002: At this juncture, we’re so used to seeing movies, television shows, and other forms of fictional media preceded by the phrase “based on a true story” that it’s sort of lost its oomph. But twelve years ago when the game was released, the phrase wasn’t as tired as it is now—especially with regards to horror as a genre. The found-footage style was still relatively new, with breakout hit The Blair Witch Project having arrived on the scene only a few years earlier in 1999; and although we had “based on true story” horror classics The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and The Amityville Horror, films like Open Water, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Strangers, and both versions of Silent House wouldn’t come along until later in the decade. True, a lot of films about real-life serial killers had been made by that point, but they’re more thrillers than horror movies—and they’re certainly not ghost stories.
But that was then. What about now? Here’s my theory:
The origin story sounds over the top enough to be false, but when you really stop to think about it, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. The word “cult” is tossed around a little too freely these days, but Jonestown was real; so was Heaven’s Gate. I wasn’t alive yet when the Jonestown Massacre happened, but I was around for Heaven’s Gate—and what I learned then at the tender age of 12 is that sometimes, stuff happens that is so weird and tragic that you can’t make it up.
Furthermore, it’s true that places where bad things have happened continue to unsettle us, as though the memories from those events have somehow seeped into the very ground on which they occurred. It’s why Bran Castle, home of Vlad the Impaler, is considered one of the most haunted locations in the world; it’s why places like the Villisca Axe Murder House end up with names like the Villisca Axe Murder House; it’s why prisons and hospitals from certain eras are constantly featured in those “Scariest Places EVER” specials the Travel Channel runs; and it’s why I suspect that in time, 2207 Seymour Avenue—where Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus were held captive by Ariel Castro for over a decade—will develop its own infamous reputation. “Haunted” houses fascinate us, largely because they’re how we cope with the knowledge that something awful happened in a particular location. To quote someone far more adept with words than I am, the past is never dead; it’s not even past.
I don’t believe the story. Not really. But ultimately, I think it’s the fact that it’s so elusive is what draws our interest—which in turn is what makes it kind of freaky. Even though we’re all pretty darn sure at this point that the legend was just a marketing tool, we’ve never heard straight from the source that this is in fact the case. This leaves the door open to possibility, so although it likely ISN’T true… it might be. Possibly. Maybe. Juuuuuust maybe.
Fatal Frame is pretty awesome if you’re into survival horror, by the way; the graphics look a little dated now, but the ghosts in it are all based off of figures from Japanese folklore—which, as we learned last time, means that they’re fifty kinds of creepy. I’d recommend playing it if you can get your hands on a PS2 or an emulator; or, if video games are a spectator sport for you, there are loads of Let’s Plays of it on the Tube of You .
Just make sure you turn the lights out and the volume up first. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Lucia Peters is endlessly fascinated by creepy things, both real and imagined; she writes about them regularly at The Ghost in My Machine. Her work has also appeared on TheGloss, Crushable, Bustle, and BettyConfidential