Originally posted on 29 May 2012
Source: Zero / Zero 2 Fanbook, page 67-68

Fatal Frame Fanbook: Dark Legends of Japan

The hidden truth behind folk stories and legends
In the stories of Japanese folklore and legend, there are dark (scary) themes.

In Japan, legends such as those of Momotarou and Tarou Urashima are popular during childhood and are told all over the country. During childhood they aren't questioned too much, but when people grow into adults and hear the stories they begin to be uncertain about them. Then, to resolve their questions, they begin to ponder, wondering if there is a hidden truth in there somewhere. Perhaps it is human nature, a kind of curiosity that can't be summed up in one word.

Today, especially, the spread of the internet has allowed people to collect information all over the world just by using their PC. Though mixed with unconfirmed rumours, you can find a variety expert knowledge and theories.

It's impossible to know what is truth and what is rumour, but there is a large amount of information that will stimulate human curiosity. Of course, curiosity, which could not be called a vice, is unlimited these days. Strange descriptions left by people in the past have turned into folklore and legends that are told today.

Here are described Japanese folk stories and legends, such as the ever-popular "Kagome Song" and "Akai Kutsu", and the story that acts as a representative of modern-day urban legends, "Sugisawa Village, the village that vanished from the map". We will introduce their origins and tragedy, from the depths of Japan.

The Hidden Secrets of "Kagome, Kagome"

Japanese Romaji English
かごめ かごめ kagome kagome Kagome, Kagome
かごのなかのとりは kago no naka no tori wa When will the bird inside the cage
いついつでやる itsu itsu deyaru Come out?
よあけのばんに yoake no ban ni In the evening of the dawn
つるとかめがすべった tsuru to kame ga subetta The crane and the tortoise slipped
うしろのしょうめんだあれ? ushiro no shoumen daare? Who is right behind you?

There are probably lots of people who played "Kagome, Kagome" as children. Of course, even people who haven't played the game will have heard the actual song. The song is popular as a children's game. However, if you listen closely, it is full of strange phrases. "Kagome", "In the evening of the dawn", "When the crane and the tortoise slipped", and "Who is right behind you?". It is difficult to interpret these mysterious words. What on earth is hidden inside them?

If you look at things like books about the "Kagome Song", you will find various different theories.

① Stillborn Theory (a song dedicated as a memorial to a miscarried child)
② Ancient God Theory (a song advocating the principles of a god)
③ Red Light District Theory (a song expressing the the sorrow of a prostitute)
Tokugawa Gold Reserves Theory (a song denoting Nikkou Toushou-guu as the location of the gold reserves)
⑤ Infanticide Theory (a song about a certain village which was hit by famine, and killed its children in order to survive)

Of course, there is a flood of theories other than the ones listed above. These are to show that the song's meaning changes based upon how you interpret the phrases.

"Kagome", the subject of the song, also has various interpretations - the mesh of a net (籠目), a state of the body stooping or bending (屈め), or carrying a child (囲め). Next are the words that are most difficult to understand - "in the evening of the dawn". "Dawn" has the image of light like the morning or the future, and "evening" has the image of darkness, like night or something ending. Having these two contrasting words together gives rise to confusion. Furthermore, the phrase that shows the crane and tortoise, two animals known for their longevity, slipping, and the strangely-worded "Who is right behind you?" seem to hint at something ominous. Strange lyrics such as these can provoke curiosity and darkness in anyone, no matter the time period. Unpleasant rumours and scary stories never cease to attract people, no matter the age.

The Hidden Tragedy of "Akai Kutsu"

Amongst children's douyou songs, many sing about sad events that reflect a dark era. "Akai Kutsu" ("Red Shoes") is one of these sorrowful songs.
This song, like "Kagome", contains the phrase "Was taken by a foreigner", from which was born theories such as that the girl was abducted by or involved in human trafficking due to a foreigner. However, the truth hidden away inside the song is nothing like this. When Ujou Noguchi wrote the song, he modelled it on the sad story of a parent and child that occurred in 1902 (Meiji 35).

The girl featured in the lyrics wasn't kidnapped or taken by a foreigner. At the time, the girl's mother had remarried and relocated to Hokkaido to work in farming. Since life in the area where they settled down was too severe to raise a child in, she was adopted by an American couple. This is why the line "She was taken away by a foreigner" is in the lyrics. However, the story doesn't end there.

In actuality, the girl never went to America. When the American couple were preparing to return home, the girl contracted tuberculosis. At the time, tuberculosis was incurable, so she wasn't allowed to get on the boat. In the end, at the age of just nine, the girl passed away at the orphanage. It is said that her mother, now living in Hokkaido, never learned the truth and believed that she was living a happy life in America.

(You can hear the song here.)

Japanese Romaji English
赤い靴をはいてた女の子 akai kutsu wo haiteta onna no ko A little girl wearing red shoes
異人さんにつれられて行っちゃった ijin-san ni tsurerarete icchatta Was taken away by a foreigner
横浜の埠場から船に乗って Yokohama no hatoba kara fune ni notte She took the boat from Yokohama pier
異人さんにつれられて行っちゃった ijin-san ni tsurerarete icchatta Going with a foreigner
今では青い目になっちゃって ima de wa aoi me ni nacchatte I wonder if now that she's in the foreigner's country
異人さんのお国にいるんだろう ijin-san no o-kuni ni irun darou Her eyes have turned blue?
赤い靴見るたび考える akai kutsu miru tabi kangaeru Each time I see red shoes I think of her
異人さんに逢うたび考える ijin-san ni au tabi kangaeru Each time I meet a foreigner I think of her

The Legend of Sugisawa Village

The spooky legend of Sugisawa Village was the subject of a special edition of a certain TV show, and they collected information in various areas.

Sugisawa Village is said to have stood at the foot of the Hakkouda Mountains in Aomori Prefecture. According to the rumours, about fifty years ago in Sugisawa Village a man went mad and killed all of the villagers. At the time, the municipality, trying to cover up the bizarre incident that left all of the villagers missing, apparently erased the village from the map. These days, rumours float around the internet that people have become trapped in Sugisawa Village.

A group of three men and women travelling together in a car suddenly became trapped inside Sugisawa Village, and experienced unimaginable horrors. They went to a "paranormal spot" with an old torii gate and a stone shaped like a skull. It is said that these two things are landmarks of Sugisawa Village. Strolling around the area, they felt what they guessed to be a strange presence and, disconcerted, fled black to the car. However, the only one who returned was one of the women. She noticed many bloody hands appear outside the car, which kept rocking the car. The next morning, the woman was found on the mountain path, the extraordinary fear turning her hair white and inducing mental abnormality. Apparently, the other two are still missing.

Using the mass-murder, old torii and skull-shaped stone as clues, the TV programme investigated villages in Aomori Prefecture, but ended without finding any evidence to back up the story of Sugisawa Village or point to its location.