Imagine being a girl fresh out of college and moving to a new country. You got your dream job as an English teacher! You get an apartment in Japan! It’s already furnished, so half the hassle of moving is already done. You arrive at your new school and start meeting the teachers. They seem really nice. One of them has even been inside the apartment that will be yours in a few hours. She starts telling you about it. “It’s a good apartment – really big and close to school. You already have everything you need.” Here she breaks eye contact and looks off into the distance. “There is this doll in the apartment…” She realizes your confusion and tries to smooth things over. “It’s nothing to worry about. I’m sure it’s fine.” When you go to the apartment later that afternoon, the teacher shows you around. She opens the linen closet very slowly. Inside is the doll. It’s 2 feet tall with black hair, porcelain face, and decked out in colorful Heian period princess clothing. It’s facing away from you into the darkness of the closet. As you look closer, you notice that its black hair is peeling away in patches, and the remaining bits are disheveled. The teacher behind you tries to explain. “We found her in the room from the last English teacher and put her in the closet. I don’t know her backstory.” This sounds like the beginning of a Japanese horror movie. You take out the blankets you need, slide the door closed, and proceed to enter that room as seldom as possible.
This is the story I heard from the English teacher living in my old apartment. Another girl lived there in between us, but I’m the one who brought the doll to the apartment. The trouble is, I don’t remember where I got her. I have this vague sense that I got her from another English teacher who was returning home and couldn’t move everything back. But if not that, then I would have picked her up at the dumpster of the International Student Dorm where I would occasionally find furniture, hangers, and random household goods leftover from people moving out. Her origin is unknown.
The new English teacher invited me back to her apartment and brought me into the room with the Doll. I couldn’t believe she avoided that room because of its presence. “Why don’t you just throw it away if it’s causing you such anxiety?” I suggested, and she was taken aback. “I can’t! I would probably receive a curse or something.” I didn’t believe it, but I could certainly understand her fear. There seemed but one thing to do. “I’ll take it. I’m the one who brought her in, and I will take her out. If there is any curse on this doll, it will fall on me.” She seemed so relieved. After the visit I carried the doll down five flights of stairs to my waiting bicycle. It took some maneuvering to fit it into the basket, but I was on my way.
On my way, in fact, to the house of the teacher who introduced our poor new English teacher to the apartment. I thought she wouldn’t appreciate the doll being inside her house, so I left it outside in the basket. While we ate, she received a text from her dad (the okonomiyaki master!). It was a picture of the doll crammed into a bicycle basket growing damp from the drizzle. Even he admitted to being taken aback by her. We all agreed that she was beautiful and well made. She may have been worth something monetarily, but not worth the worry she had caused.
That night I brought her back to where I was staying at Hachiman Church. I had visions of a grand sendoff for her, perhaps leaving her at the temple on top of Mt. Bizan to be found by an orange-robed monk. In the end, I didn’t have time. The Loves were kind enough to take her.
Since the doll came to me in 2014, it has passed through 5 different hands, only one of whom knew her backstory. Where will she turn up next?