The Japanese Room

The Japanese Room

All of this is true. I recently began listening to horror stories on YouTube so I figured I might as well submit one. Maybe someone will read it on YouTube? Who knows.

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A bit of background: I used to live in a four-story building in my childhood. The place used to be a jewelry store owned by my grandfather. Our family had two such stores with similar construction and we also lived in the upper floors. This particular building is the larger one. This wasn't in the US, so the construction is wonky.

The first floor was the storefront with a set of stairs behind a door leading down to a dark basement where we stored stuff. The front door has a huge and heavy steel shutter with a lock on it that rolls down from above and seals off the front of the building. The machine to open it was constantly broken so we attached a chain to the rolling mechanism on the side of the shutter so that it could be manually opened once unlocked. There is a chain inside and outside attached to the shutter.

The second floor contains the kitchen and a Japanese-style bedroom built with aromatic hinoki wood, complete with a set of sliding doors and all. It had antique noh masks hanging on one wall and has a bathroom inside. Everyone called this the Japanese room. This is the floor I lived on. Geckos often came into the bathroom inside the Japanese room from the window there but I liked them and didn't mind having them around. Sometimes I could hear the geckos chirping at night. Coming out from the Japanese room, there is a wooden step with sliding wooden panels underneath, where we stored slippers and shoes. The Japanese room is directly across the kitchen. At the back of the kitchen was a door leading to a balcony from which we could view out enclosed yard. Next to the balcony door is a flight of stairs leading up to the third floor.

The third floor has three bedrooms and a large bathroom. The fourth floor housed our ancestral shrine and a storage area with another balcony and door, which we sometimes opened to air out the shrine room. The shrine room was lined with photos of our deceased ancestors and had a big censer for incense atop a huge wooden table set designed for this purpose. The table space not taken up by the censer was topped with candles, ceremonial offerings, incense trays, accordion-folded sutras, wooden drums, scrolls, and other shrine stuff. Incense sticks were often burning there before our ancestors' stoic faces, the long wisps of smoke wafting from the ashen tips of the red incense sticks, waving like white ribbons in the still air. I had never seen anyone empty the censer; the huge vessel contained a vast quantity of ash from countless incense sticks burned over an untold number of years.

Anyway, when I was around 5 years old, I was in the Japanese room with my grandma and my dogs since we all slept together in that room. I woke up in the middle of the night to get some water from the kitchen. I simply slid open the door and walked out to the kitchen like usual but noticed it was unusually dark. The screen over the balcony door was pulled down, explaining the darkness. I thought I saw a lingering smoke crawling about the ceiling but I didn't think much of it since we often burned incense in the shrine room and my uncles and grandfather all smoked. I figured maybe someone used the balcony for a smoke break or the shrine room smoke came down or something. Not a very healthy environment for me, since I was prematurely born and was constantly having nosebleeds and coughs from all this smoke but I didn't know that it was so bad until years later. I was also young and stupid, there was no way smoke could travel down two floors from the shrine room since the shrine room's doors were always closed when the room was not in use and that's not how smoke works. If the room even produced remotely close to the amount of smoke that would be needed for it to travel two stories down, there surely would have been a fire and a smell, but there wasn't.

The smoke on the ceiling swirled about and I spent a second or two looking at it, confirming there was indeed smoke, before I flicked on the ceiling light. When the light came on, I could no longer see the smoke. I attributed this to the glare of the ceiling lights. I drank some water, set the glass on the counter, and turned off the light, preparing to go back to the Japanese room, back to sleep. I immediately noticed that now there was no smoke along the ceiling anymore, which I immediately found super strange. It had been there less than a minute ago. Could a draft or something have blown it away that quickly?

I turned to see if the balcony door was partially open. It wasn't. I then turned left to see if the smoke was coming down from upstairs. From the ceiling where the stairs came down, I began to see smoke drifting down slowly from the staircase to the second floor. I immediately froze in terror since, this time, the smoke was behaving strangely. Instead of drifting freely through the air like normal smoke, it clung to the back wall as it descended, as though climbing down to my floor along the wall. Even as it came around the corner, I saw that it turned sharply and none of it went down to the floor or off the wall and into the air. It was as though the smoke was alive, adhering to the wall, and coming toward me.

I bolted through the kitchen, back into the Japanese room, and slid the paper screen doors closed. I don't know how I managed to fall back asleep. The dogs didn't seem to detect anything amiss and behaved the same as always. No barks, strange stares, perked ears, nothing.

I moved to the US not long afterward. During my time away from the old jewelry store, my grandfather died and everything got split up. A portrait of my grandfather is now on the wall of the shrine room. My father now lives in the old jewelry store and the wares all got moved over to the smaller one, now owned and operated by an uncle. The first floor is now a tea room where my father's friends would gather and chat, sparsely furnished with a few bookshelves. He is messy and who knows what got shoved down into basement storage. When I visited, I tried to go down but it was too dark and dirty so I didn't move anything around or stay in there long. He would often let his buddies crash in the Japanese room if they needed to but the room was basically relegated to a guest room. My father used to be a gang member and he has a huge circle of mysterious friends. He is very social and constantly has people over for various odd reasons.

One of my cousins (let's call her Jenny) moved into the third floor in my absence several years after I relocated to the US. My father lived in the room across the hall from hers. One night, she called her friend to come over to pick her up to go to a bar (let's call Jenny's friend Kate). I think this was in the 2000s when people had those primitive black and white cell phones. Jenny thought it would take Kate about 15 minutes to arrive so she continued doing her makeup and reading her magazines and listening to her girly pop music. At the time, my father wasn't home and all the other rooms in the house aside from his and Jenny's were unoccupied. It was around 8:00pm.

About 10 minutes later, Jenny heard the steel shutter over the front door being rolled up. She assumed it was my father returning home so she didn't think much of it and continued doing her makeup and messing with her clothes. A few minutes passed and nobody came upstairs. She thought maybe my father just had to grab something real quick and left. But the shutter never closed. Jenny heard the sound of Kate's car arriving outside a few minutes later. Maybe Kate bumped into my father or something on the way in and they chatted as my father was leaving or something. Either way, Kate could let herself in even with the shutter down since Kate had a spare key and could open the side door. Jenny trusted her like family and they had been good friends since elementary school.

Jenny continued to do her makeup and listen to her music, preoccupied with what she was doing. By the time she was done, easily 10 minutes had elapsed since she first heard Kate's car. She didn't hear Kate coming up and turned down her music a little, trying to hear outside. Another 10 minutes went by before Kate's footsteps were heard coming up to the third floor and she came upstairs to Jenny's room.

"Sorry," said Kate. "Did you wait long?"

"Yeah," Jenny replied. "I heard your car. How come it took you so long to get upstairs? Fight with your boyfriend again or something?"

"No, I wasn't on my phone, I left it in the car. I was planning on just coming up to get you and then we can just get to the bar since I really want a drink. I'm glad I had one before I got here, though." Kate laughed.

"What do you mean?" Jenny asked. "Did you drive drunk or something?" Jenny didn't like Kate driving after drinking a lot and cabs were very inexpensive to hail in our area.

"No," Kate responded, smiling. "I had a drink with the nice lady in the Japanese room."

Jenny was confused. "Lady?"

"Yeah, the one living in the Japanese room downstairs. When I walked up to get you, she was in the room and called me over to introduce herself and talk to me. I mentioned we were going to go to a bar. The lady had a bottle of sake on the bedside table with some fancy cups and we drank some together." Kate knew of my father's tendency to always have all sorts of people over so she didn't think much of seeing the new face. "She takes good care of that room, too, it looks so beautiful now, like new."

Jenny instantly turned pale. "Nobody is living in the Japanese room, Kate. The house is empty except for this room and the one across the hall."

Upon hearing this, Kate became frightened and the two girls began to shiver. Hesitantly, the two went downstairs and approached the Japanese room. The paper screens were closed. When they slid open one door, the room was dark and there was nobody inside. There was no sign of any lady in the room and no bottle of sake anywhere. There was no bedside table, there never was one in that room. Even the cups were gone. The room was the same aged room it had always been, not the beautiful scene Kate had recalled in her description to Jenny.

They went down to the first floor and it was just as dark as the Japanese room. The steel shutter was down. Nobody had opened it. The girls would have easily heard the loud noises of the rolling steel shutter and the impossible-to-hide clanging noise of it hitting the floor, even from upstairs, if it got closed. And only my father has the key for the steel shutter. Kate only has the side door key.

"Kate, wasn't the shutter up when you came in?" Jenny asked.

"I used the side door…" Kate said, trailing off. "The shutter was closed."

"…before you got here, I heard the shutter open. I never heard it close." Jenny felt patches of goosebumps surfacing on her skin.

White with fear, the two girls went outside and jumped into Kate's car. They called my father on his cellphone and he told them he had been out of town and wouldn't be back for another day. Even drinking at the bar couldn't ease their minds and get them to stop thinking about what had just happened. Jenny refused to return to the house that night and moved out shortly afterward. Kate died in a car accident a few months later so Jenny is the only person who can recall this story. It is very memorable because Kate died on her own birthday. It's quite ill-fated, dying on the day of your birth, leaving this world in a split second when you were also brought into it through hours of hard work that very day on part of your mother, who labored through sweat and tears to birth you and who mourns through sweat and tears when you exit the world.

Jenny told me the story when she came to visit me in the US and I believed her. Although I have visited the Japanese room a couple of times over the years, and even slept there as I once did years ago, I have always found it to be a comforting place with a nostalgic feeling to it. I haven't seen anything odd since my smoke encounter, but the place does give off an otherworldly vibe, especially at night when I am the only person there.

I told Jenny about something this reminded me of, about the story of Hades and Persephone and how the ancient Greeks thought that eating or drinking anything from one's captor would doom a person to return to that captor. She said nothing and jt looked scared. I wonder if the lady in the Japanese room was a spirit that tricked Kate into drinking the sake. As you know if you know this old myth, Hades convinced Persephone to eat pomegranate seeds and she was forced to go to the underworld.

Could entering the Japanese room, beguiled by the prospect of a chat and drink, and actually drinking the sake, have bound Kate to something supernatural? Was that room, for a brief moment, another realm when Kate ventured in to enjoy a drink with our mysterious guest? Was my family hiding some of that room's history from me? Was there something dark that nobody has told me about? Did the building have some sort of history or secret?

Kate's deadly accident shortly after this event seems like too much of a coincidence to be natural, certainly. During many a sleepless night, I have thought about this eerie tale and my own experiences in that building, contemplated the nature of the Japanese room without coming up with any rational explanation that could satisfy me.

Submitted October 13, 2018 at 01:48PM by Morbidhanson

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