My father’s family home was just a little under two hours away by car from where we lived, a small village surrounded by farmland. I often stayed with my grandparents during my summer vacation and winter breaks from school, and they were always happy to play with me… but the last time I visited them was over ten years ago now, when I was still in my third year of high school. It was my Spring break and I had been invited to visit; and since the weather was good, I rode my bike out to their house.
After I got there I was a little cold, so I stretched out for a moment in a warm sunny spot off the road. Then I heard something strange…
“Popo, Popoppo, Po, pop …”
It wasn’t a mechanical noise; it sounded strange… but human. I looked about to see where the noise was coming from, and saw a white hat peeking over the top of the hedge. The hat moved along to a break in the hedge, when I could see that it was being worn by a woman with a white dress. She had to be tall, though; the hedge was over two meters high (six feet). Before I could really think about this much, the woman was gone, seemingly disappeared. The strange sound was gone too. At the time, I just guessed that the person’s apparent height had been due either to wearing very tall platform shoes, or that it had been a man dressed up like a woman. Odd, but that was all.
A little later, while having tea with Grandma and Grandpa, I mentioned the strange person I had seen and that I thought it was a transvestite… but when, as an afterthought, I also mentioned the strange “po, po, po” noise, my grandparents panicked. My Grandpa suddenly showered me with questions: “when did you see this?!,” “how much taller than the fence?!,” “Did they look AT you?!”. I answered as quickly as he asked, then he rushed to the phone in the hallway, shutting the sliding door so I couldn’t hear the call. The room was suddenly very quiet. Grandma smiled a little, but was trembling for some reason. Grandpa came back soon, and told me I would be staying overnight with them. I had to admit that I didn’t understand what the fuss was about, and asked what was so bad about the strange woman. Grandpa said “Grandma can tell you.” He then looked at her and said he was going to pick up someone named “K-san” (Mr. or Mrs. K), and then left.
In a clearly shaky voice, Grandma said: “It seems that Hachishakusama has become interested in you… but we shouldn’t worry. Grandpa is making arrangements.” Grandma then told me, a little at a time, that Hachishakusama was not a person; she was some sort of monster, named Hachishakusama because of her height… 8 shaku [Japanese foot, about 11.9 inches] tall, “hachi”  “shaku” [foot] “sama” [person]. Her appearance could change somewhat — sometimes young, sometimes old — but she would always be abnormally tall, and would always have a creepy laugh… “Po Po Po.”
Once Hachishakusama took an interest in a person, they were hunted to death in just a few days; and the last known victim of Hachishakusama had been fifteen years previous.
I learned later that Hachishakusama was supposed to be trapped in a shrine near the village, having been sealed in by four statues of Jizo, a protective deity of children, each placed to the north, south, east, and west of the structure. The village had some sort of agreement with it’s neighboring villages, wherein they were given some advantages to make up for the fact they had to watch over the monster… for example, they got first priority on water use. Since it had been over a dozen years since Hachishakusama had killed anyone, I have to wonder if the old men in those villages thought it was still a good arrangement.
At the time I couldn’t quite believe what I was being told, of course; but then Grandpa returned with a very old lady. K-san, for that’s who it was, handed me a small paper charm and told me to hold onto it. Then she and Grandpa went upstairs. While they were upstairs, I tried to excuse myself to use the bathroom… but my Grandma wouldn’t let me go alone, and she insisted on keeping the door open and an eye on me as I was using the facilities. This is when I started to really understand just how serious my grandparents felt the situation was.
I was soon led upstairs to a bedroom. The single window in the room had been covered with newspaper, on which a charm like the one I was holding had been affixed. In each corner was a small pile of Morishio — sacred salt — and they had also set up a small wood box with a statue of Buddha on it. I was told I would have to stay in the room until seven the next morning, and that I couldn’t leave no matter what (they provided a bucket for me to potty in!). Grandpa made it clear that neither he nor Grandma would talk to me until seven the next morning. K-san told me to keep the charm on me, and to pray to the Buddha if I got scared.
I had a bed and a TV in the room. Grandma had left me snacks. I tried to watch some TV, but couldn’t pay attention. I wasn’t hungry, either. So, I just lay one the bed, wrapped in the sheets, and eventually fell asleep because the next thing I remember was waking up to a late-night show on the TV. My watch said it was around 1AM. And I heard something tapping on the glass of the window.
I tried to ignore it. It was very persistent. I had some tea and a snack, and turned up the TV to drown out the tapping. Then I heard Grandpa call from the hall, “Are you alright? It’s okay to come out if you’re too scared.” I started for the door automatically, but stopped myself as I remembered how insistent Grandpa had been that he wouldn’t talk to me until seven. Again, I heard him: “It’s okay, come here.” I wanted it to be my Grandpa’s voice… but somehow it wasn’t. I suddenly had goosebumps all over me; then I noticed the salt in the corner. It was becoming darker.
I dropped in front of the Buddha,clasping the charm in both hands, and started praying for help. “Popoppo, Po, Popo …” The tapping on the window started again, louder than before, more insistent. Then a definite hand slapped the window… despite the fact I was on the second floor. I did the only thing I could; I kept praying to Buddha.
It was a long night. I really don’t remember much other than praying until I heard the news on the TV. I looked over, and the morning clock on the news screen showed it was 7:13AM [Garth note: all Japanese TV channels show the time onscreen during morning programs]. The tapping had stopped. The voice was gone. The salt in the corners was almost black. I gingerly opened the door. Grandma and K-san, both looking worried, were there. Grandma, in tears, told me things were going to be okay.
Downstairs I found my father waiting. Grandpa came in from outside, and we needed to drive off… outside, I found there was a number of men standing around near a van. My Grandpa’s car was in front of the van, and my father’s was behind it. I was seated in the middle of the van with eight of the men sitting around me; one to each side, and then three in front and three in back. One more man took the driver’s seat, and K-san took the passenger side of the front. I was told to keep my eyes closed, and my face pointing down. “You are the only one who can see Hachishakusama… don’t look at her!”
Our convoy started off, slowly at first. I don’t think we had even traveled 20 kilometers before K-san warned us things were about to get hard… then she started to chant phrases that sounded Buddhist. And then I heard the laugh again: “Poppopo, Po, pop, Popopo …” I clutched the charm to my chest and kept my head down, but couldn’t resist a quick peek at the window; that was a mistake. I could see a white dress. It appeared stationary to the car’s window, even though we had to be moving very fast at that point. The figure moved as if to lower its head to the window, and I gasped… and the man next to me told me to shut my eyes, which I did, and tightly.
Though no one else could see Hachishakusama, they all heard what happened next: the tapping. I don’t know how, but the tapping started on every window in the van, all at the same time. I don’t know how long it lasted but, over time, it faded. K-san had stopped chanting by that time as well, and eventually said that she felt we were now safe, so the cars all pulled over. My father and Grandpa thanked all the men who had assisted; as it turned out, all of them were related to me. Grandpa and K-san had hoped to confuse Hachishakusama by surrounding me with many people of the same bloodline. I had to stay overnight while Grandpa was gathering my kinsmen, and it was deemed safer to try to escape during the day than the night.
K-san asked me to show her the charm which I had forgotten I was still holding; it had turned almost entirely black. K-san commented “it should be alright now, but just in case…”; and with that she handed me a new charm to hold until I got home. I drove home with my father. During the drive, he told me that one of his friends when he was young had been taken by Hachishakusama. Grandpa and the neighbors delivered my bike back to me later.
In talking to my Grandpa over the phone, I’ve confirmed that it was not his voice I heard outside the room that night (which sent shivers down my spine again). Hachishakusama targets teens and children… so if the monster speaks with a familiar relative’s voice, the victim would normally come to it willingly. I’d almost forgotten this all after ten years. Grandma called to tell me that one of the Jizo statues that had sealed Hachishakusama into the shrine looked as if it had been broken by someone; the statue that was broken lined up with the road leading to our home.
Two years ago, my Grandpa died; sadly, I was not allowed to attend his funeral. I try to tell myself it was all superstition… but sometimes I still hear that voice call: “Popopo…”