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August 2001

Stay Cool in Summer in a Haunted House!

Summer in Japan, which is surrounded on all sides by the sea, isn't just hot. It is very humid, too. Down the years, a variety of ways have been thought up to help people cool down and get through the sticky heat. One unique method devised many years ago remains popular even among children today. How did people from a time when there were no electric fans or air conditioners cope with the summer heat? Haunted houses! Haunted houses are attractions where people disguised as ghosts or scary mechanized figures frighten the visitors who pass through the dark, twisting corridors.

Let's take a little tour. The inside of the house is pitch dark. The air is dank but kind of chilly. "Who-o-o-oh!" Standard, ghoulish sounds and rumblings resonate. One after another, a host of ghostly figures appear and then vanish. The "stars" of the ghost world--with such names as the Karakasa (bamboo-and-paper-umbrella) ghost, the Chochin (paper-lantern) ghost, the Rokurokkubi (long-necked ghost), and the Nopperabo (faceless ghost)--have been around since the Edo period (1603-1868) and are often found inside haunted houses.

As we make our way deeper inside, you feel something touching the back of your neck. You whip around to discover, directly behind you, a female ghost wearing a white kimono and with a swelling over one eye. Terrified, you try to escape, only to find hands groping at you from the walls. Next, an old gravestone suddenly cracks in half, revealing a skeleton lying down, which begins to get up and make its way toward you. "Aaah!" you scream as you back away. Just then, a bloody, freshly severed head drops down in front of you. You rush to the exit in panic.

Unlike the haunted houses seen in some other countries around Halloween, an occasion originally created to pray for the fall harvest, Japan's haunted houses were devised to send a chill up the spine and help forget the summer heat. These houses are mainly temporary structures built during the summer in parks or on the grounds of Shinto shrines. Among these haunted houses are some in which visitors swear to have seen real ghosts! Recently though, there are houses built in theme parks that are open all year round and are haunted by a new breed of ghosts generated using high-tech, 3-D graphics. One of these, recognized as the world's longest haunted house by the Guinness Book of Records, is a four-floor building with 500 meters of twisting passages.

The 500-meter-long haunted house was designed to make visitors feel like they are in an abandoned hospital in the middle of the night. Bloody surgical instruments left lying around add to the scary feeling. The inside of the house is huge; it takes more than 30 minutes to make it all the way through. There are 11 doors that you have to open by yourself at various points. There are also three places where you have to choose which direction you want to go. As you move through the house, you slowly begin to lose your sense of what is real and what is just a game. There is also the fear that if you get lost you won't be able to find your way out of such a big place.

If you have a chance to come to Japan in the summer, why not make it a cool, spine-chilling experience by stopping off at a haunted house?

Photo: This haunted house looks like an abandoned hospital. (Fujikyu Highland)