My hair is long like Sadako's.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Incubation

Hina dolls on a boat
(Translated from Japanese by Saya)
It was around the end of March that my friend Kume*1 and I went on a trip.
We wanted to go before the new semester started*2 so we squeezed some free time in our super busy schedule.
Since he kept going on that he doesn't want to go to touristy places and so forth, we decided to stay at a secluded inn among the mountains.
A river ran by the side of the inn, and if you followed the river to the bottom of the mountain, you arrived at the town.

But having said that, it wasn't as if the town offered anything of interest, so we killed our time during the day by doing various things such as exploring the surrounding area and searching for hot springs.

The sun seemed to sink much earlier than usual when you were on the mountain; already both the sky and roads were ablaze in brilliant red.
We walked along the riverbank, and then from a bridge looked down at the river, the colour of which had turned rusty-red.

An inn by a river



"Whoa! That is......ugh!"
Kume suddenly exclaimed in a funny tone of voice, his finger pointing ahead, which prompted me to look towards the upstream.
"What's that? A box.....a boat....?"

What we saw were two dolls, placed inside something square-shaped like a box.
I ran back to the riverbank and stretched my hands towards it as soon as the object got near, but:
"You fool! Don't touch it!"
I was pulled back with a loud cry.
"Wha - what did you do that for? Shit! I'm all soaked now."
"It's no joke, damn it!! .....What the hell were you thinking...."
Kume heaved a sigh of relief. His face had turned pale.

"Hey, what is wrong with you?"
"What's the date today?"
"Huh? Today? Isn't it 27th?"
Kume, after seemingly counting backward on his fingers, looked up with a start.
"Aaah....as I expected...it's Choyo....."

Shrugging off his strange agitation, I cast my eyes to the river again. The doll boat was slowly floating down the river.
"Is that thing bothering you?"
"What? Bothering me? My ass!"
He held his breath for a second before releasing it slowly.
"Ah....he he he.......I'm telling you that thing is dangerous,"
he said, and turning around, started walking away.
As I followed him I continued throwing questions at him, but he never gave me any satisfactory answers.

"Awww so cute!"
I heard a woman's excited voice. Kume spun around as if he'd been stung, and froze.
There was a couple who stood smiling as they cuddled the boat gingerly in their hands.
Quite unconscious of our inner turmoil, the couple saw us and nodded their heads in greeting.

"This is, like, so Japanese, you know? So charming. Don't you think so?" 
Those two self-proclaimed lovers of Japanese culture prattled on and on to the still petrified us. Because Kume didn't try to hide his horrified expression, I had to deal with them all by myself.
"Wow you two are staying at the same inn as us?" The man said. Kume's countenance showed that he had grown even more uncomfortable.

Kume kept the same expression of discomfort even after we had come back to the inn.
"Really, what the hell is wrong with you?"
 "Huh...? Alright, I'll tell you the whole story, on the way home, OK? I don't want to say anything right now.... Anyway, the food comes first! Let's go and eat."
Having slapped the table he stood up, and briskly walked towards the dining room.  

An example of food at inns

The dinner wasn't that great, but unexpectedly some inago(edible grasshopper)*3 was included on the menu.
"I really can't stomach this," I said.
"Everything is the same, once it's inside your stomach," Kume replied.

While we were talking, someone suddenly exclaimed.
"Ohhh."
 What the hell? I turned around and saw that stupid couple from before.

Flashing beaming smiles, they sat down at the next table, and started chattering away and gobbling down the food non-stop.
They even had no problems eating inago... But somehow, as they talked and ate, their movement appeared to me as strangely slow.

The inago's abdomen was white; those creatures had some white sesame seeds as topping....
"Ugh," Kume retched, and sprung up from the chair.
I left the table too and helped him walk back to the room.

"Hey... did you see that?"
"That? You mean those white things?"
"Those were eggs...."
Little white things on top of the inago's abdomen.... there were hundreds of them....
"No, that's not it. So you didn't see it.... Their food.... all the surface was pure white.... Every single plate was covered in eggs. You really didn't see it?"

Girls dressed in kimono releasing origami Hina dolls into a river

As soon as we were inside the room, he collapsed, pale-faced.
"Well? Can you tell me what's going on now?"
"Yeah, OK.... Today is Girls' Day."*4
"Huh?"
"It's Choyo. It was Joshi....*5 Shit, I was forgetting about this....."
"What are you talking about? The third day of March is already past, you know?"
"It's the third day of the month according to the lunar calendar. Choyo is a name that is given to a day where the number of the day and month is identical, especially when it's an odd number."
"But they never put dolls inside a boat and let it float down a river. It's not Shuji Terayama, you know." *6
"Oh, but they do."*7
"Why?"
"Listen up. The Girl's Day (Hina-matsuri) isn't a day when girls worship dolls. The word matsuri (festival) originally comes from 'kami-matsuri' (worship of god). The dolls are medium, the so-called yorimashi."*8  To top it all, it's the spring sekku.*9 It's the time when you perform purification and welcome the new spring. So they transfer kegare (uncleanness) onto dolls, to wash off ara-tama (violent spirit) and welcome nigi-tama (peaceful spirit)*10. Those dolls were used for that purpose."
"And so?"
"It's the same as the game of tag. You touch the dolls to shake any evils off you, and send them to the other world. Once outside the village, they will not return. So, if you touch those dolls on the way ...basically you become the next 'It.' All evils would be transferred to you..... I heard that they don't usually do such a ritual around these areas, but probably they happened to have some special evil which particularly needed to be cleansed."
"Then, that couple...."
"Who knows? If they go past the peak....only gods know what will happen to them..."

Next morning.
When we bumped into the couple at the bus stop to leave for home, Kume stopped short in his track the moment he laid his eyes on them. He whispered into my ears, saying,
"That stupid couple...Do they have faces?"

I glanced at their faces; they did have faces but they appeared hazy and whitish.

"All white."
"Eh?"
"I can't see them. This must be a joke!"

Apparently, their faces were invisible to him.
I didn't really understand.

The couple noticed us and made a quick bow before getting on the bus.

We got on behind them.

"One, two, thee, four, five, six, seven...."
Kume counted as he drew the numbers from one to ten in the form of a pyramid and put the paper in his pocket.

The bus swayed slightly as it went up the mountain road.
Before we knew we were in the town, and were soon moving towards the edge of the town.

Suddenly, Kume grabbed my arm and stood up, and pressed the stop button.

He made a sign urging me to follow him and I quickly got off the bus.

"Give me a break, man! What happened now?"
"They have hatched!"

Kume thrust his hands into his pockets and eyed the bus that was about to leave.

"Hatched? What do you mean?"
"They have gone past the peak. Those eggs have spawned the long ones."
"What are you talking about?"
"The eggs! I told you I can't see their faces. White eggs were planted on all over their faces! And they hatched all at the same time. Like hair growing out of the faces, long ones were spawned, all at the same time."
"You are kidding, right?"

Just as I glanced at the bus again, the bus started moving, and I caught a fleeting glimpse of the woman's face as she turned to our direction.

Her face looked totally red like it had become inflamed.
It kept spewing up tiny acne-like spots which covered the entire surface without any gaps.

We said no more words, and just stood gazing after the bus until it was out of our sight.

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*1 Kume (久米) is a Japanese surname, where the u is pronounced like the u in "put," and the e is pronounced like the e in "met."

*2 The academic year at Japanese academic institutions begins in April and ends the following March. (Study in Japan Comprehensive Guide)

*3 Inago is the name of an edible rice grasshopper. (3 edible Japanese insects, Wikipedia). Personally, I would not eat it even if someone gave me one million yens.


*4 Girls' Day - Hinamatsuri in the original text.  Hinamatsuri (雛祭り), is celebrated each year on 3 March, and usually platforms covered with a red carpet-material are used to display a set of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningyō) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period (Wikipedia). See the picture on the right.

*5 Josi or Jomi (上巳) - the double third festival which is celebrated on the third day of the third month on the Chinese calendar. It is one of the Gosekku (五節句, five annual ceremonies)in Japan. This is the day when Girls' day is celebrated.

*6 Shuji Terayama - (寺山 修司 Terayama Shūji, December 10, 1935 – May 4, 1983) was an avant-garde Japanese poet, dramatist, writer, film director, and photographer. Many critics view him as one of the most productive and provocative creative artists to come out of Japan. He has been cited as an influence on various Japanese filmmakers from the 1970s onward (Wikipedia). Here, the narrator is referring to Terayama's extremely bizarre avant-garde film  Pastoral: To die in the country (田園に死す Denen-ni-shisu、1974), in which a scene of dolls on platforms floating down a river appears. You can watch the whole movie with English subs here (the scene of the dolls start from around 1:07:50).

*7 In some parts of Japan, people really do practice the ritual of transferring uncleanness onto dolls and releasing them into rivers. The practice is known as Nagashi-bina (流し雛), meaning "floating hina dolls."

*8 Yorimashi (憑坐) denotes a doll or a child into whose body a spirit is made to enter by a shaman (kitoshi 祈禱師) for the purpose of communicating with the spirit. 

*9 sekku (節句) is the same as Gosekku in the note*5.  They are five annual ceremonies that are celebrated in Japan, originally based on the Chinese Theory of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements.

*10 Ara-tama (荒魂, also called  ara-mitama)and Nigi-tama (和魂 also called Niki-tama, Niki-mitama or Nigi-mitama) are concepts in Shinto (Wikipedia, BBC), and denote two sides of the spirit of a god. For further information see Wikipedia's article on Mitama.

8 comments:

CreanJinSung said...

Ooooh! I missed these. Not only do I get an interesting story but I also learn more about Japanese culture. I'm kind of proud that I pronounced 'Kume' correctly before reading the note underneath.

Diogo Valverde said...

Thank you for letting us know about this aspect of Japanese culture by translating this spooky story. I will be sure never to touch any dolls in any rivers in Japan, ever. If I ever see a doll floating in a Japanese river, my reaction will be to instantly turn around and try to beat my 100 meter dash personal best.

Ten Neji said...

Oh God I miss you so much !! Welcome back !!

Kimberly-Anne said...

Oh, how I missed your stories!!! After 3 yrs, you're FINALLY back 😄😄

Saya Yomino said...

Hi Everyone! Thank you for your comments!!!

@CreanJinSung Great! I'm glad you enjoy it. I also love this kind of story and I also get to learn some aspects of my own country's culture that I previously didn't know.
Well done for pronouncing the name correctly. Maybe you have a knack for learning Japanese! :D

@Diogo Haha XD I have never personally seen any dolls floating in a river around my area, but apparently people in the western part of Japan perform such rites. When I googled 流し雛(floating hina dolls) I found a lot of pictures from such places as Kyoto, Nara, and Hyogo prefectures.

@Ten Neji Thank you very much for your loving words, dear. :D

@Kimberly-Anne Thank you dear. I can't believe I didn't post anything for three years too. But I'm finally back! :D

El Abdeltam said...

When kume described the things sprouting out of the lady's face it reminded me of the scene from princess mononoke where the pig god became a demon and had those red worm-like things sprout out of him

Nunu. said...

Okay. That is really scary.I wonder what will finally happen to them and whether they're feeling what the narrator's friend is seeing.
My first thought was they're going to become doll-like. But it seems what's happening to them is way scarier.

In my culture, we are always reminded not to take and even touch anything that looks out of the ordinary. Be it a lone beautiful flower in the middle of forest or a scary doll hanging from a branch. Especially when we are in a foreign place.

This is a great story, Saya-san. Thank you :)

-nunu-

Petzie said...

This one is really entertaining. Rwminds me back in the day when I visit Jp for the first time, I got yelled at because I picked a sakura and put it on my ear (i really didnt know that its a huge no-no back then). I cant even begin to imagine what if i were the stupid couple, just randomly pick things and got white eggs all over my face... That'd be total horror.

But then again, traditional things are really sensitive, we should always be more cautious in every country we visit 😁