Japanese tale #51 – Hold your tongue

hold tongue

Once upon a time, eight good friends traveled together. They had prepared their trip well, thoroughly studying travel guides and marking things they should not miss. And, stations after stations, they enjoyed the many teashops and refined inns which stood along the road.

One evening, after bathing in their inn’s hot spring, they got together in the suite they all shared.

The maids were finishing setting rooms up for the night, running silently up and down the long corridors. The travellers merrily hailed one and asked:

– Tonight, we celebrate our friendship ! Please get us something to drink!

The maid eyed the eight men, visibly nervous. One asked, puzzled:

– Is something wrong?

The young lady paled, and bowing deeply, she hastily stuttered:

– Eight people in an eight tatami room. If you drink there, you will lured ghosts in!

The men bursted out laughing:

– Oh sweetie, this is not possible!

– Countryside superstitions are so endearing!

One throw a bright smile at the apprehensive maid, and added with a winsome wink:

– Guess we’ll find out then. Bring us drinks doll.

And the eight friends carried on their evening, joking and pleasantly chatting while heavily gulping flasks after flasks.

After such a party, by the hour of the ox, seven had fallen in a deep drunken sleep, one snoring loudly, another drooling in his sleep. Yet one traveller laid wide awake, stiff on his futon, anxiously aware of all the little noises echoing in the dead of the night.

– Is this a ghost? Nah, breath man. Must be a mouse, just a tiny weeny cute mouse. This! What’s this? That’s the ghost for sure!

And his imagination kept unravelling madly, minutes and long minutes.

As the trembling man mumbled and kicked and turned, cold sweat drenching his futon, the sliding door of the room opened, as silent as a breath. The man froze.

Floating like smoke, a pale woman entered, her face hidden by a white veil. She quietly sat beside the drooling sleepers and graciously leant toward him, seemingly kissing him tightly on the lips.

She sighed like a content cat, and turned to the next sleeping man. Fluttering from lips to lips, silently laughing, she finally came to the panicked insomniac.

The man sprang off his futon and ran for his life, screaming at the tops of his lungs. Nearly tripped over his own feet, he fled in dark corridors full of thick siderwebs. And escaped in the night.

The next day, villagers discovered seven dead people in a big old vacant house. All corpses laid like peaceful sleepers – if you could forget their tongues had been all but pulled out, and laid blue and swollen upon their chapped lips.

The survivor, who had waited sunrise hidden in the forest, could not believe his ears:

– Nobody even remember that inn! Nobody remember us! That’s a ghost’s work for sure! It must not find me here!

Mourning his comrades, the grieving man quickly fled the little town. Walking briskly, he quickly made it to the next station, and asked the locals for a place to stay.

They quickly sent him to a widow’s house. With a warm welcome, the old woman kindly accepted to have him as a guest for the night.

Later on that evening, as the man was hungrily emptying a bowl of rice, he narrated his strange story.

– Grandma, can you believe it: my dear, dear friends all dead because of a stupid drinking party. Eight people in an eight tatami room, what kind of a curse is that?

He broke down into tears as the sympathetic old woman patted his arm.

– And that ghost woman. Brrrr, just reminding her give me goosebumps!

Suddenly, between his cries, the man realised the old woman was not patting his arm to comfort him. No : she was trying to get his attention.

He turned his head toward her. His bowl of rice fell to the ground.

The old woman was no more. In her place, hands and feet disappearing under soft tendrils of smoke, stood the pale woman. Beneath her white veil, the man swore she was smiling.

Wind breathed:

– I will not let you ran away tonight.

Eyes wide, screaming desperately, the man frantically tried to escape. Kicking and clawing, he grasped her veil.

And, the last thing the poor traveler saw before meeting his end, was nothing but white, white smooth skin were a face should have been.


The monster of today’s story is never named but share behaviours with Noppera-bô’s. Those youkai -also called mujinalook like normal people – except they’ve got no faces : their figure is nothing but blank skin. Noppera-bô like to scare people, sometimes following and spooking them several times in a same evening (like in the “Mujina of the Akasaka Road” tale).

I had never encountered stories were a noppera-bô actually killed people. I do believe this version mixes several traditions, which could explain today’s ghost story turn (stealing life force by kiss-like move is a very traditional horror motif).

Same goes with the superstition about the eight people drinking in an eight tatami room : 8 is usually a good number, unlike say 4 (sounds like “death”) or 9 (sounds like “pain”). If you know more, please tell, I am curious !

On a side note : Japan still assesses rooms using tatami measures (the and tsubo).

Zodiac animals were once used to give hours (I love this humorous take). The hour of the ox (Ushimitsu-ji, going from 1 to 3 AM) is what westerners would call “dead of the night” or “witching hour”, a dark hour made of shady businesses – and creepy monsters lurking.

[pictures sources: 1 / 2 / 3 ]


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