The scariest leg of our Tokyo walks is not for the faint-hearted
By Annemarie Luck|
For maximum spookiness, we decided to call on Lilly Fields, founder of Haunted Tokyo Tours and guru of the ghostly spirits that roam the streets of our city. She took us on her ‘Demons of the Red Light District’ tour, which begins at Yotsuya-Sanchome Station and winds through hidden alleys, while Lilly builds a fascinating story of the area’s tragic history and how it has shaped the supernatural tales of today.
Take exit 3 at Yotsuya-Sanchome Station onto Yasukuni-dori and turn left around a corner into the Samoncho neighbourhood. A gust of cold air? Could be the angry ghost of Oiwa, who floats around the area, frightening locals to the point that many won’t even set foot on these streets. Four blocks down, on a parallel street to your left, you’ll find Oiwa Inari Tamiya Jinja, a shrine dedicated to keeping her spirit placated. Why’s she so furious? As legend has it, Oiwa’s husband poisoned her (it wasn’t pretty), and she took revenge by committing suicide but vowing to haunt him forever.
Oiwa Inari Tamiya Jinja
After paying your respects to Oiwa, find your way back to Yasukuni-dori and cross the road. Look for the entrance to Sharikimon-dori – it’s easy to spot thanks to two tall poles bearing symbols of rickshaw drivers. This is a nod to the fact that, once upon a time, rickshaw drivers would drop off red-light district customers at this very spot. Walk down the hill and imagine a time when the little pubs that line the street were filled with geishas and, well, cheating husbands. As you walk towards the nearby ‘secret goblin pond’, Lilly will tell you a saucy tale or two of lovers scorned. And, when you arrive at the pond, she’ll explain how the water came to be infested with ‘kappa’, the Japanese water monsters who like to extract their victims’ ‘shirikodama’, a mythical ball found in your – wait for it – anus.
The 'secret goblin pond'
Sorry, allow us to offer you a drink. Pop into Vowz Bar, which is run by monks who will calm your nerves with cocktails and perhaps a bit of Buddhist wisdom. Then head back up to Yasukuni-dori, cross the road and keep walking so that Yotsuya-Sanchome Station is now behind you.
When you arrive at the next big intersection, you’ll see Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden up ahead, which is a good spot for some R&R. If you’re with Lilly, however, she’ll keep you on your toes with the shocking story of how, in the ’80s, Japanese pop star Yukiko Okada, 18, jumped to her death from the 7th storey of the Sun Music building. If you cross over Yasukuni-dori to where the road intersects with Gaien Nishi-dori, you’ll be standing at the scene.
Lightening the mood a little, your next stop is an antiques shop on Gaien Nishi-dori called Space Village (Uchumura). It’s owned by Hachiro Kageyama (twitter.com/uchumura), who calls himself an alien and a meteorite dealer. (There’s a reason we called this a ghost and mystery walk.)
Hachiro Kageyama and Lilly Fields
Now take a left and pass by Sanyutei-Encho Kyukyoato, a site that was once the home of Sanyutei Encho – a rakugo storyteller from the Meiji era who was famed for his ghost tales. Carry on walking until you find Taisoji Temple, which Lilly calls ‘Hell Compound’. When you peek through the wire window into the temple, you’ll see why: you’ll be staring straight into the demonic eyes of the ‘great judge of the underworld’. Look to his right and you’ll start at the sight of the ‘flesh-stripping hag’.
Datsueba the 'flesh-stripping hag'
The final stretch of the walk takes you through Shinjuku’s gay district, Ni-chome, past a haunted pub from the ’40s, to Jokakuji, a temple where around 2,200 prostitutes were ‘thrown away’. It also houses a monument to the 18 ‘love suicides’ that happened in Japan between 1800 and 1814. Love will tear us apart, indeed.