Kokkuri-san is a Japanese ouija board that shouldn’t be messed with.

In Japan, 26 July is “Ghost Day”, as it was the day when one of Japan’s most famous ghost stories, Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (“Ghost Story of Yotsuya in Tokaido“) debuted as a kabuki play at Kyoto’s Nakamura-za theatre.

In honour of that day, our reporter Mariko Ohanabatake wanted to share with us a true-life ghost story of her own, involving a mysterious event that occurred when she was in the first grade of elementary school.

The incident occurred back in the ’80s, at a time when psychic phenomena and the occult were dominating TV programs and “kokkuri san” was becoming popular at schools in Japan. The modern-day version of kokkuri-san, which originally started out as table-turning around the turn of the 20th century, is similar to a Ouija board, where three or more people each place a finger on a coin that sits upon a sheet of paper printed with numbers, Japanese hiragana letters, and the words “はい” (“hai”/”yes”) and “いいえ” (“iie”/”no”) on either side of a torii shrine gate up top.

▼ Kokkuri-san, as demonstrated by three members of our Japanese-language team.

Due to a number of eerie incidents that were said to have occurred at schools where the supposed spirit-evoking kokkuri-san had been played, Japanese schools ended up banning the game. But the ban didn’t come soon enough for Mariko and her classmates, who ended up witnessing the aftermath of kokkuri-san firsthand…

Mariko says the story started when a group of girls from her class gathered around a kokkuri san to ask the spirits questions like: “Who do you hate most in the class?” and “Which girl does xxx like?” According to Mariko, her school always had a creepy feel to it, as it had been damaged by fire in the past and legends were connected to it, and she was a timid child who had been told by her mother in no uncertain terms to stay away from kokkuri san at all costs, so she didn’t take part in the seance, but one girl who did take part was Uko-chan [real name changed for privacy].

After the seance, Uko-chan’s mother came to school and stood at the back of the classroom. None of the students knew why she was there, but all day, Uko-chan cried constantly at her seat, not in a sad, weepy sort of way, but in a temper-tantrum sort of way, shouting “Mum! Mum!” throughout the day, which was a strange sight for Mariko and all her classmates.

Uko-chan was usually a cheerful and lively child who was good at sport and liked to play dodgeball with the boys during the lunch break. She was like a female version of a kid general so she was not the type to wail like a baby in the classroom.

▼ Mariko’s memory of Uko-chan is like a child-version of P.K. Sanjun at the elementary school izakaya.

Mariko says her classmates, teachers, and Uko-chan’s mother were confused by the crying, which seemed to be completely out of character for Uko-chan. Her mother was unable to leave the classroom because every time she tried to, Uko-chan’s cries only became louder.

Even when Uko-chan’s friends tried to talk to her during the break, she was unresponsive and clung to her mother, crying. Mariko remembers thinking it was Uko-chan, but not Uko-chan.

Uko-chan continued to cry and come to school with her mother for about a week, taking a few days off school in between. And during this time, nobody dared play kokkuri-san at school.

A few months passed, and Uko-chan suddenly returned to school as if nothing had happened. She was back to her lively, usual self, and slid back into the school routine without anyone making fun of her crying.

Mariko thought the complete change in behaviour was strange, but pushed her thoughts aside until, at the end of the year, the students wrote about their “First Grade Memories”.

What Uko-chan wrote was so shocking Mariko remembers it to this day.

“I heard that I was crying like a baby every day at the beginning of first grade. I don’t remember that time. I heard that I caused trouble for my mum and teacher. I went to see a Buddhist monk at the temple with my mum. When the monk read the sutra, my eyes flashed. Then I became well.”

Mariko’s mother says that during a meeting of the parent-teacher’s association, she found out that Uko-chan’s crying didn’t stop, even when she was taken to the doctor, so her family were so concerned they took her to a famous local temple, where they performed a purification ritual. 

According to what was said at the temple, Uko-chan had been possessed by the spirit of a child who died in the 1982 Nagasaki flood. The elementary school wasn’t far from the place where the flood occurred, and given the visible effects on Uko-chan, it’s easy to believe that her classmate could’ve become possessed by the spirit as a result of the seance.

After her visit to the temple and right up to the last time Mariko saw her on graduation day, Uko-chan never cried again, and remained her happy self. While the exact reason for the unsettling series of events remains an unexplained phenomenon, Mariko believes it was the work of kokkuri-san, as there were other things that occurred during her time at the school…but that’s another story for another Ghost Day.

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