Kimodameshi brings chill to Japan
Stripes Japan | .
published: August 03, 2018
Much like Halloween in October in the West, mid-summer is a season to intersect with the dead in Japan, as deceased ancestors are believed to visit and spend few days with us during traditional Obon period (August 13-15).
Also similar to the U.S., temporary haunted houses are built in amusement parks or shopping malls as seasonal attractions. Horror movies and reports of haunted locations are televised, while popular kimodameshi (literally, to test your courage through scared route) games are enjoyed in schools and local communities throughout summertime.
Just like horror films and scary stories give you goose bumps, kimodameshi and haunted houses make the Japanese cool with fear and terror - another reason they are considered summer attractions. On a hot summer evening, students will often explore cemeteries or haunted locations and enjoy exchanging horror stories with friends.
Kimodameshi is a must-play for students away at summer camp. It can be seen as a rite of passage for teenagers as they show their courage in public, and is a great chance for them to cling to someone they might have a crush on.
In kimodameshi, challengers, usually paired as boys and girls (sometimes alone or in a small group), walk along a spooky path in dark forests, grave yards, shrines, temples, abandoned buildings or any other haunted and mysterious spaces. In order to maximize fear, the location is scouted and scary objects, such as skulls and horror-props, are planted in advance. Sometimes, audio and visual effects are used to create an unusual atmosphere.
A good story teller, usually a teacher, provides a horror story before sending them out to the spooky path. To prove that they had walked through the designated course, challengers need to bring something back from the haunted location or leave some sort of token (often a card or stones written with challenger’s number or name) at the location, which can be recovered later.
Teachers, volunteering parents or senior colleagues hide along the path in ghost costumes, and jump out at challengers walking along the course.
During the event, students witness a strong-looking boy unable to move in his terror at haunted location while a gentle graceful girl shows her courage to take him out on the course. Some bust into crying and others leave their partner and run away from the course, and that makes some of great memories of school days that cannot easily be forgotten.
The tradition of kimodameshi goes back to the reign of Emperor Hanayama, about 1000 years ago. An official history book in the era “Ookagami” describes that Emperor sent three young aristocrats to an old house known as home of evils around 2 a.m. to test their courage. Only one of them was brave enough to accomplish his order, and he brought back a chip from the haunted house to show the emperor. The brave young aristocrat, Fujiwara Michinaga, later became prime minister and wielded his power over the nation.