In the spirit of Halloween, the office of Visit Hachinohe has translated a few ghost stories from the Hachinohe Area. Predominantly translated from the 八戸ふるさと物語and 南部昔語collections of short stories, the following tales are have been very loosely translated from Japanese to English. Most of these stories have been handed down for generations within the community, and it’s also the first time that many of these stories have ever been told in English. So, please enjoy!
Note: the following stories may contain unsettling and graphic content that may not be suitable for younger readers.
A long time ago in the Kushihiki area of Hachinohe, there was a wealthy farming family whose name was highly regarded throughout the area. The family had a beautiful daughter named ‘Ohono’, who was promised to marry a man from the neighboring town of Hashikami when she came of age.
But on the night of their wedding, for reasons unknown, the young bridegroom was seen pallor-stricken and fleeing in fear back to his hometown. Nothing could convince him to divulge what had taken place between the couple, and soon rumors spread that Ohono was not a normal young woman but a specter.
Around this time, an itinerant Buddhist monk was passing through Hachinohe and caught wind of the stories circling this beautiful woman. “A ghostly bride, how interesting. Let us see if I can reveal this specter in its true form,” the monk thought, and offered to take Ohono as his bride and therefore adopted into her family.
After the wedding ceremony was over, the couple finally retired together to their new bedchamber. Upon entering the room together, Ohono began to loosen and dishevel her long black hair, letting it drape across her wedding kimono. The candles in the bedchamber began to flicker as she spoke in supplication, “From tonight, you are my husband. And as it is my duty as your wife, I will follow your every direction for the rest of my life. But for tonight, for one night only, will you listen to me and follow what I bid?” The monk consented, thinking to himself that soon the specter would reveal her true nature.
Ohono bade the monk to gather a shovel and follow her into the garden. The woman glided along the path quickly as she led the monk through the garden, past the bounds of the house, and eventually to a graveyard.
In the pale moonlight, the monk watched as Ohono swept among the stones, seemingly looking for something until she finally halted, calling out “Here, dig here,” as she pointed with her long white finger. Following her finger, the monk found a grave; a grave so fresh that the ink on the tombstone still had not dried.
Swallowing his fear, but still unable to prevent his hands from trembling, the monk began to dig. Before long the shovel suddenly hit a hard object in the ground with a clang, and soon a coffin was revealed. Ohono quickly brushed the monk aside and descended upon the coffin. Tearing it open, the bride began to plunge her hands into the half-rotted corpse that lay within. Pulling out handfuls of flesh and bone, she began to eat with a keen lust, and the sound of crunching bones soon reached the monk’s ears.
After moments had passed, Ohono resurfaced from the pit. Wiping the dripping, rotten blood from her gleaming lips, she turned, smirking at the monk, and said: “Now, it is your turn to eat.”
In the dead of night, in a cursed graveyard, and under the haunting smile of his new bride, the monks resolve started to fade and he could feel himself losing consciousness. But he steeled his nerves, regained composure and thrust his hand deep into the grave.
What his hand grasped onto surprised him greatly indeed, for the coffin contained not what he had made out to be a decomposing corpse in the dim moonlight, but instead contained only dry mochi. The strong-willed and beautiful Ohono had wanted to ensure the sincerity and faithfulness of any man who would be her husband and had decocted this trial as a way to test them.
The newlyweds returned together to the house. From that day on the couple worked side by side, not only ensuring the good standing of Ohono’s family reputation, but under their combined strength, the family grew to be one of the most prominent and respected in the area.
Eventually, during the Meiji Restoration, the family faded out of existence without a trace. But, still to this day, it is considered good luck to eat dried mochi that has been offered to the dead. Furthermore, the practice of naming young girls after Ohono by adding ‘-hono’ to their names to ensure that they mature into beautiful and strong women can still be found in this area.
On the banks of the Niida River, long before the cement factory that sits there now was built, when the sun was beginning to set and heavy moisture filled the tepid air, two pallid and glowing spheres, one big and one small, would move back and forth across the river. Starting from an area around a large gingko tree on the riverbank in the Iwabuchi Takadai part of the river, the spheres often could be seen crossing and re-crossing the Niida, with the smaller one following the bigger one as if clasping to its heels. Then, they would suddenly disappear. Whenever these two mysterious orbs appeared, schoolchildren would shout “It’s Kanko,” and run clamoring back to their homes and parents.
Back in the age of when the Nanbu clan ruled the Hachinohe area, one of the clan’s retainers lived in a grand house on the banks of the Niida river near a magnificent gingko tree. The retainer who resided there had a wife name ‘Kanko’, with whom he had a newborn baby. Together this budding family passed their life in happiness.
One day, the retainer laid eyes on another woman and instantly became bewitched. Before he realized it, the retainer had begun plotting ways to get rid of his wife. But he did not have long to wait until an opportunity presented itself.
On an evening that happened to be heavy with moisture in the air, Kanko swaddled her newborn and carried the baby on her back down to the riverside to wash laundry. Watching Kanko as she began her work, the retainer crept closer and closer without here noticing, until finally, he was close enough to push her and the baby into the river. Dressed in her heavy garments and shocked by the violence of her treatment, Kanko could not swim to safety but instead could only to grasp her child and stare with her grief and rage into the face of her treacherous husband as she drowned. The retainer, not satisfied with the cruelty he had already inflicted on his now-dead wife and child, dragged the corpse from the water by its hair when it resurfaced and buried Kanko upside down at the base of the nearby gingko tree.
From then on, whenever it is a particularly damp or humid evening, the two balls that are told to be the lingering spirits of Kanko and her child are said to be seen on the banks of the Niida. The spirits are not said to be malevolent but instead have been cherished by the local fishermen who used them as indicators for changes in the weather. But when the cement factory along the Niida river was being built, strange occurrences began. After a series of accidents and deaths surrounded the construction of the factory, a rumor began to spread that the company had incurred Kanko’s wrath with the noise and smoke produced by the construction. The company decided to erect a shrine a slight distance away from the infamous gingko tree and dedicate it to the vengeful spirit. After erecting the ‘Kanko Inari Shrine’, the accidents were said to have stopped and the ghostly wisps that were seen so often drifting above the waves of the Niida river disappeared. The shrine still sits above the cement factory, overlooking the river to this day.
The Ghost Who Bought Candy
Many, many years ago there was a small temple on the outskirts of Hachinohe. Next to this temple, an old man ran a candy shop, selling treats to the children and families that came to visit the temple.
One evening, when the sun had already sunk into the west and the first stars could be seen gleaming in the soft twilight, the old man who ran the candy shop was busy preparing to close the store for the day. All the children had left, and not a soul or shadow was to be seen except for the old man shuffling around chatting with himself, saying “Another day and the sun is already down.”
All of a sudden, the old man heard a voice. It was a soft, thin voice that seemingly called out from the thin air, whispering “One piece of candy, please.”
“Right away,” replied the old man, turning around to greet his late coming customer. He was met with the face of a pale, young, and beautiful woman who was staring intensely at him.
The old man handed the young lady a piece of candy, and she paid him using a single coin. Turning away and passing through the store’s door, she disappeared into the fast-fading evening.
“How strange,” thought the old man to himself, “who would come to buy a single piece of candy at this time of day? I don’t think I’ve seen that young lady ever before; I wonder where she is from.” The old man popped his head out from the store to see if he could discern which way the young lady had left, but the night had set in and swallowed up any traces of the mysterious customer.
The next day, again the old man was closing shop for the evening and the sun had set low enough that the shadows casted on the ground now had blurred together. Suddenly, without the accompaniment of the sound of a single footstep, the same young woman appeared in the shop. She stared at the old man and said: “One piece of candy, please.”
Once again, the exchange of one coin for one candy took place, and the old man watched as the young lady disappeared hurriedly into the night.
This continued for a third, fourth, and fifth night. Finally, on the sixth, the old man exclaimed, “This is too strange, I absolutely must find out what is going on with this young woman.”
The old man, firm in his resolve, then waited for the young woman to appear at her usual time.
Sure enough, like clockwork, the young lady appeared. But on this evening, there was something indeed different. Never before had the man seen the young woman so pitiful, her countenance had changed to a state that expressed nothing but desperation and utter grief.
The young woman approached the man and casting a single coin towards him said in a heart-wrenching voice, “One piece of candy, please. Take this, it is all that I have left.”
The old man handed her a piece of candy and then proceeded to follow her as soon as she had motioned to leave the store. All down the road he chased after the sight of her white kimono which seemed to stand out ethereally in the encroaching darkness of the night.
Finally, the woman stopped, and before the man’s eyes, vanished into thin air. The old man was at first frightened and puzzled, but he soon realized that the woman had led him through a graveyard, and she had disappeared directly in front of a freshly dug grave. The old man drew closer to the grave to inspect it and then froze. Coming from beneath the newly tilled soil, a sound was reaching his ears. All of a sudden, realizing what the sound was, the old man ran as fast as his feet could carry him out of the graveyard.
He soon returned to the grave, bringing a group of confused neighbors and a pile of shovels. After hurriedly explaining to them what had happened to him over the past few days, the old man and the neighbors quickly began digging. Upon hitting a coffin with their shovels, the old man jumped into the grave and tore off its cover.
Inside was the corpse of the young woman who had visited the old man’s candy shop over the past six days. In her hands, she was grasping a baby who was quietly crying as it sucked on a piece of candy.
The young woman had died days earlier, and at the time her relatives had thought her baby had passed away with her as well. They buried them in the same coffin, but the baby was not dead. Every night since the burial, the spirit of the deceased mother would rise from the grave and search for food for her beloved baby. The money she had given the old man had been the coins placed in her coffin to pay her way across the river of the dead in the afterlife.
The old man and his neighbors retrieved the crying baby from his dead mother’s arms and resealed the coffin. Whatever became of the baby and what kind of life it grew up to live, though, remains lost with time.
Just a few years back, there was a large honey locust tree that loomed in the vicinity of what is now the Hachinohe City Hall. The tree was easily recognizable, if not for its large twisted frame then for the hideous gash that ran its length. This gash was so large that it formed a cavern-like recess in the tree that was said to be able to fit three people.
Few people in Hachinohe would pass the tree without having a slight shiver run down their spines. Legend said that it would sprout the hands of babies, dripping with blood, from its branches, or that the bloodied hands or red-covered specters would crawl forth from its eerie chasm in the dead of night.
Although the notoriety of the tree was unquestionably amongst the people of Hachinohe and many could relate to a friend or acquaintance who had an unsettling experience when passing by the tree, much more uncommonly known is the dark history of why the tree was cursed.
Several stories surround the tree, and many details change depending on who you ask, but the following is one of the most commonly repeated versions.
Long ago, when the Nanbu clan still ruled over the Hachinohe domain, the lord of the clan had a beautiful daughter. One day this daughter was walking and met upon a young and handsome samurai. The young woman and handsome samurai fell in love at first sight and started a secret affair.
Months passed, and certain conditions about the young lady no longer allowed the affair to remain hidden. When her father, lord of the Hachinohe, found out, he was incensed. He ordered the quick execution of the young samurai in adherence to the gross level of his impropriety.
When his daughter was dragged before the lord’s court though, the lord’s countenance changed to a stern sereneness. Leaning slightly towards his most trusted retainer, he spoke in calm and nonchalant tone saying, “Do with her what you will, I leave it up to you.”
This seemingly magnanimous verdict shocked those in the room, and his daughter was quickly led out of the room, dazed and leaning on the arms of her attendants, heavy in her condition. Whispers of confusion amongst those in the chamber followed upon the young woman’s exit, but the lord and his most loyal retainer sat emotionless without speaking a word, because a strict but hidden ordered had been sent in the pregnant phrase. Its meaning had been understood clearly by the retainer: “Bury Her.”
And bury her, he did. The retainer left the court at a slow pace, finally reaching his estate. Upon entering the household, he ordered his servants to dig a deep hole in his garden, underneath a tree that stood in the back corner. When the hole was dug, he led the young woman outside, had her bound, and then buried her upside down while still alive.
The tree that the lord’s daughter was buried under alive is said to be none other than the cursed Japanese honey locust that still haunts the memory of Hachinohe people to this day.