It was a rainy day. Mr. K decided to spare us from applying rat poison to the cherry trees by finding some indoor things to do. He unlocked one of many doors in the complex and slid it aside. “Will you organize this too?” he asked. “I used to use it for the cats in the winter, but they were doing poo-poo too much, so now they stay outside.” We peered in to find a formidable array of boxes, tools, straw, and mysteries. We hadn’t needed Mr. K’s explanation to know that there had been cats inside – the smell and turds we found around were enough. I recognized shiny bits on the floor as evaporated cat pee. There were a lot of old things inside like an elaborate, heavy wooden sliding door, a women’s carrying pack made with grass rope and twigs, a dustpan made of bamboo and grass, a glass “Culligan” bottle covered in woven reeds with a handle, and a camera that was probably new in 1900.
I was showing H some of these things when she pointed at a brighter cloth object. “What’s that?” she stared, horrified. “An old doll.” “Oh my God, it’s going to start moving any second.” I reached down to pick it up, distressing H even more. “It’s gonna turn its head!!!!” Bringing it closer, I could see the hole in the fabric where the nose used to be, and the way the eyes had been stitched in with red thread. There was a thin line black for the mouth. She continued in little screams until Mr. K came by. “What’s wrong?” “There’s this creepy old doll!” H’s explanation added a little smile to our host’s face. “That’s a very old doll.” Thinking he had some attachment to it, I suggested that it could at least be washed. H wasn’t placated by this. “Please get it out of here,” she requested, then specified that I was not to put it in the dorm or the kitchen or bathroom or any other place she might find it. I hid it outside under the eaves, covered by a big coat.
That afternoon, Mr. K called us into the big house for tea time. We stepped through the kitchen door and found house slippers waiting for us. After the dreary, dirty shed, it was nice to sit warming with a cup of green tea. Mr. K pulled out apple pie and a red bean dessert. The morning tea snack was dorayaki, meaning we hit the jackpot on yummy treats.
As we sat at the table, I asked my question about the shed. “When you bought the house five years ago, were the previous owners’ possessions still there?” Mr. K assented by telling us a story. “One of my friends is a professor of Japanese studies in Wisconsin. She comes to Japan twice a year to visit the temples. One time she came and stayed in this house. At midnight I got a call. ‘K, K!’ she said. ‘I can’t stay in this house. It’s haunted – I’m seeing things everywhere.’ She is one of those people that has that imagination. You know how some people imagine things like that? I don’t have it at all. Well, it was tough because it was midnight. Where was she going to go? There were some volunteers in the volunteer house, though, and she said that would be ok. She stayed there the remaining few days,” he finished up his story as we poured more tea for each other, then offered another snack. “Then there was this American guy – he didn’t even have that kind of imagination, but -” by now H was getting a bit jumpy. “Oh, should I tell?” “No, you don’t need to,” H said, then added “You can tell me tomorrow when I’m about to leave the farm.” Mr. K told us anyway. “So there was this American volunteer. He got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom outside. When approached the exit, he saw the dark figure of a woman standing just outside the main sliding doors. He stared in shock, fear, and consternation. All he wanted to do was use the bathroom, but the shadow didn’t leave.” By this point I was listening as aptly as H, and he continued. “So after that I went to a temple nearby and hired a monk. I asked him to pray over the house so the thing would go away. He spent about two hours here praying and chanting over all these different areas in the house. As I watched him, tears streamed down his face. There was a woman who also worked at the temple with him, his wife. She stood behind him and later told me that she could see the spirit he was talking to. It was an attractive woman with hair to her shoulders, wearing a red shirt.” Mr. K’s eyes were wide at the memory of the scene. “And based on that description, I knew it was her, the owner of this house.” “How?” I asked. “Had you met her when you bought it and then she died?” “No, I just knew what she looked like because I grew up in this area,” he said. “Well, I think because the monk came, there will be no more problems. Basically what he was praying and chanting was talking to the spirit, saying ‘This is not your home anymore, please go back to the grave.’ Sometimes spirits just get lost or something.” Mr. K shrugged it all off and gathered up our dishes on tray. “I’ll be back at 4:50 today to pick you up for dinner.”
We went back to the shed and surveyed the dusty possessions of our storied ghost. “When Mr. K unlocked the door to this shed, I feel like he opened a door to the underworld today,” H observed.
After dinner, fog and temple gongs added an eerie element to my walk home. I had a lot to think about. I used to totally discount the idea that there were ghosts. “Ghosts aren’t in the Bible” I’d say, and pursue the topic no more. A couple books and secondhand experiences made me reconsider the supernatural forces around us. If there are angels and demons, couldn’t that explain the paranormal activity people witness? I’ve since read stories about ghost sightings with more appreciation. I don’t think most people are making up their experience. Some things can be explained away, such as through vibrations in a house, a gas leak that leads to distorted perceptions, or, of course, wind. But I no longer discount that some might be finding real spirits out in the world. Only, if these are demons, why would they mimic people that once lived on this earth? Why manifest as a sad old woman lingering around her home after death? Is it only to invoke fear? In the Bible, Jesus and His disciples cast out demons under Jesus’ authority. Under whose authority would a Buddhist monk exorcise spirits?
The bible admits to unseen evil in the world, but it also confidently asserts God’s power over it. Jesus and the angels repeatedly remind us, “Do not be afraid.” The remaining days I stayed in the farmhouse proved a good chance to trust God on that.
Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIV)
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.