In Japan, summer is seen as the time when the line between the living and the dead becomes blurry and paranormal activity is said to be at its highest. This is the season when studios like to put out horror movies, restaurants like to put out drinks based on horror movies, and youngsters like to share ghost stories online.
Recently, one place in particular has been the setting for eerie rumors based on a tragic past. It’s also a place where you can get a good deal on a massage chair and a digital picture frame. Everyone’s talking about none other than Bic Camera, a massive electronics superstore which towers over downtown Osaka. Sit back, turn out the lights and take in some these quick Japanese summer ghost tales.
■ Sennichi Department Store Fire
On 13 May, 1972 the deadliest department store fire in Japanese history broke out at approximately 10:30 p.m. where Bic Camera now stands. It was believed to have been sparked by someone’s partially lit cigarette or match and spread easily due to the abundance of clothing around.
At the time this lot of land was occupied by Sennichi Department Store along with a variety of other businesses including the Playtown Cabaret Club, one of Osaka’s most happening clubs of the time.
As usual this club was packed when the fire began in a section of the complex under construction. Due to extremely poor fire safety precautions, the entire club became a death trap. All of the emergency doors were locked, the emergency shutters failed to function and the main exit was filling with more and more poisonous gas from burning materials.
Trapped inside the people began to panic. Three people are said to have died from trampling, while 24 people chose to jump out of windows. Only two of the people who jumped survived. A further 93 people died from carbon dioxide poisoning.
By the time the fire was completely extinguished three days later 118 people had died and 78 more were injured. The original building was demolished and Bic Camera was built.
■ Ghost Stories
Although a major electronics retailer which sees thousands of shoppers pass through everyday seems counter-intuitive for the setting of spooky ghost stories. Bic Camera has quite a few floating around on the web. Here are just some of them.
“I heard that all of the staff wear prayer beads, and overnight sutra tape [tape with Buddhist prayers written on it] is spread around the store.”
“During a special sale, there was an extra part-timer who had creepy eyes working like her life depended on it attaching price tags. Then by the gift wrapping counter a woman’s voice could be heard saying ‘Fire. Fire.’ Everyone looked around frantically and the creepy worker said ‘everything’s okay’ in a calm voice ‘it’s just the tape screwing up.’ After getting home I checked and that incident happened at the same time as the fire…”
“Before the department store that caught fire was built, this land was used as an execution ground. Coincidentally, 118 people were executed then as well.”
“Perhaps because the fire occurred due to a smoking accident, when you are smoking in the underground employee lounge you’ll feel a constant heavy sensation on your shoulders. That means the ghosts aren’t happy with you.”
“Most employees keep some kind of lucky charm with them.”
“Neighbors have reported hearing loud thumping sounds at night. The sound of people falling?”
“At a nearby movie theater, even though hardly any people came to see a movie the manager said to me “Boy, it’s packed today!”
This story doesn’t mention Bic Camera directly but was shared among the others.
“I heard this from a person I know who works at a sound recording studio. One day he received a complaint from a department store for some elevator music he sent to them. ‘There’s a strange sound that’s mixed in with the music and it’s scaring our elevator girls,’ they said.
It was impossible, even to be safe he had double checked it, but there was a complaint. Apparently voices of crying women could be distinctly heard mixed into the music. After consulting with the boss of the company it was deemed a fluke and we sent a fresh recording.
However, again the elevator girl said she heard a crying voice. It seemed to be the case that the crying could only be heard in the elevator though. In the end the deliveries stopped. The store stopped using elevator girls.”
Granted, many of these tales sound like your typical urban legends, but why have they all converged on this particular store?
Aside from being the scene of a high profile tragedy, perhaps the recent trend of telling spooky Bic Camera stories is due to the fact that so many people go there and have a connection to the place. Although most probably never experienced anything supernatural, their next trip might feel just a bit more thrilling.
Having gone there countless times myself, I can safely say it is indeed haunted… by reasonable priiiiIIIIiiiices!