We pay a midnight visit to this central Tokyo hill where rumor holds a ghost sobs in the dead of night.
There are plenty of ways to spend a cold night during a Japanese winter. You could head to a ramen restaurant for a fortifying bowl of piping-hot noodles, or hit up a bar with friends and knock back several cups of hot sake. Or you could simply stay home, camped out in your kotatsu where you’re safe from the chill of the outside world.
but if you’re RocketNews24’s Japanese-language correspondent Ryo, the only way to spend your nights is by walking the dark backstreets of Tokyo as you investigate the purportedly haunted places of Japan’s capital.
In his ongoing quest to experience the supernatural, Ryo’s latest stop is Toyama Park in Shinjuku Ward. The park isn’t too terribly far from RocketNews24 headquarters, but in the interest of maximizing the chance of meeting with entities from the world beyond, we insisted that Ryo perform his inspection in he middle of the night, and so he arrived at the Nishi Waseda subway station shortly after midnight.
Toyama Park is divided into two sections, one of which is right next to the station. On this day, though, Ryo was headed to the other part of the park, which is about a 10-minute walk from the subway stop. Along the way, he had time to reflect on why we’d asked him to visit this particular site.
See, back before the end of World War II, in the days of the Imperial Japanese army, there had been several military medical facilities in the area. Rumor has it that not all of them were for treating wounded soldiers, either. One facility is said to have been used by the army’s infamous Unit 731, a biological weapons development division which was also involved in human experimentation.
It’s said that the skeletal remains of more than 100 people have been found in Toyama Park. What’s more, it’s said that in the middle of the night, if you climb to the top of Hakoneyama, a 44.6-meter (146.3-foot) hill in the park’s eastern section, you can hear a disembodied male voice violently sobbing.
Things got even creepier when Ryo happened upon a local resident and asked him if he was headed in the right direction to get to Toyama Park. The man told Ryo that he was. He also told our reporter that he himself, while walking in the park on another night, had seen a hitodama, a will-o’-the-wisp-like phantasm formed when a soul leaves a human body.
Eventually, Ryo spotted a sign marking the entrance to the park. While there were lampposts every few meters, the park remained largely shrouded in shadows, and there wasn’t another person to be seen.
Ryo noticed a paved walking path, and began ambling along it towards the park’s interior. In the light of the afternoon, the inviting walkway probably would be rather pleasant, but isolated in the night as he was, Ryo couldn’t shake the feeling that it was leading him to something sinister.
Eventually, Ryo’s eyes were drawn to a set of stairs heading towards higher ground. He’d arrived at the base of Hakoneyama.
▼ The Hakoneyama base marker
No sooner did Ryo place his foot upon the first step did the wind die down. As he climbed higher and higher, the only sound he could hear was the rustling of the dry fallen leaves as he stepped on them…unless what he was hearing was actually unseen creatures rustling in the bushes that edged the stairs.
Halfway up the hill, a bench was waiting for Ryo. Had the sun been shining, this would have made a lovely spot to stop and catch his breath, but in the situation he found himself in, he was worried that if he sat down, he might be set upon by ravenous monsters, so he pressed on.
As he progressed upward, he thought he could feel eyes on him, and the muscles of his back began to quiver involuntarily.
Finally, Ryo reached the summit, his breath ragged from the combined effects of physical exertion and panic-induced fear.
In the far distance shone the lights of the city. None of their luminescence reached to where stood, however. Cloaked in darkness, Ryo called out.
“Wandering spirit! If you would make yourself known to me, let me hear your voice! I shall bear witness to your lament!”
And yet, Ryo heard nothing in reply.
Maybe there is no ghost that haunts Toyama Park. Or perhaps he was taking the night off, or is simply a shy specter. Still, Hakoneyama remains an extremely creepy place to visit by yourself at night, so if you’re looking for a place to test your courage, or simply to be totally alone (bar the occasional ghost-hunting reporter), Toyama Park will do just fine.
[ Read in Japanese ]