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Halloween: Okinawan Haunts

By: Ann Summar

Date Posted: 1998-10-30

Ghostly tales have long captured people’s imaginations, and in Okinawa this is no different. Perhaps due to its location and the fact that Okinawa is a small island where spirits are destined to roam the centuries. Possibly because of its history, the battles fought here, the sufferings of its residents, or due to imagination, Okinawan ghost stories live on in the minds of its people and visitors. Maybe you’ve even experienced a similar fright, or know of someone who has. Or you might have heard unusual noises at night, felt a strange presence in your home, or even had a run-in with an apparition. Whatever the case may be, Okinawa has its share of ghosts. Did you know Japanese ghosts are said to be the only apparitions capable of causing harm, injury, or death to those who see them? Whether or not you believe, we’ve compiled some of the best hauntings available for your enjoyment. True stories or only rumors? Read through the following stories and decide for yourself. Take care not to read them during the witching hour of 2 a.m.

Got a Light?

One of the most popular ghost stories floating around is that of the wandering GI who appeared every Friday and Saturday night to Marine gate guards. Rumored to be the old Makiminato Gate 2 along Highway 58, a GI dressed in WWII full battle gear would approach the guards working at the gate and talk with them for a spell. Confusing those manning the gate, the man would ask about units no longer on Okinawa, or those that were disbanded after World War II. These strange evenings would always end the same; the man would pull out a cigarette and ask for a light, then disappear as one was offered.

After several reports from reliable personnel, the gate was finally closed, though it is said that if you go to the area during a Friday or Saturday night, you can sometimes see the man looking for a light.

Unwanted passengers

Some years back, a young Okinawan couple purchased a rather expensive sports car. Not long after, they were involved in a horrible accident where the woman was decapitated. The young man repaired and sold the car soon after the accident. According to legend, who ever drove or owned the car complained that he or she was not alone in the vehicle; a woman often appeared to be sitting in the backseat. When the driver turned to see who she was, the back seat was always empty. The car was later sunk off the coast of Okinawa.

Some have also complained of riding motorcycles and, upon coming to certain turn, are surprised to feel an extra weight on the seat. Many have been shocked to see a woman sitting behind them. It’s rumored that she was killed in an accident along the stretch years before.

Vanishing Fare

A young woman often flags down a passing taxi along a road in Ishikawa. What happens after has caused many taxi drivers to avoid the area, or send out new drivers instead. Drivers claim the woman stops the taxi and gets into the back seat. When the driver turns to ask her where she would like to go, the backseat is empty, except for a puddle of seawater. Some believe the ghost is that of a woman who drowned many years before, yet still continues to seek her way home. A similar story has also been told, where a taxi received a call to pick up a fare in the same location, and when he arrived, picked up a man who disappears during their short trip.

The same woman is said to flag down military policemen that drive along the perimeter roads. We’ve heard she’s driven one man crazy after he picked her up and she vanished, disintegrating before his very eyes.

Frantic Female

Another young woman has been seen on the perimeter road of a U.S. military installation here on island. It is said that while traveling this road late at night, drivers have heard a tapping at their rear windows, and when they look back, see a frightened woman beckoning them to follow her. She then turns and runs into the vegetation along the road. Why does no one stop to help? She seems to float along and knock on the window as the car travels at speeds between 50 and 60 kilometers per hour.

No ID Card

A young Okinawan woman has been rumored to attempt to get on base, but is stopped when she is unable to produce proper identification. Crying, she tells the security personnel that she needs to see her American boyfriend. When the guards refuse to let her in, she bolts, and runs through the gate. As the guards chase after her, she vanishes into thin air.

Ghostly Races

A road which branches off of Hwy. 58 was once a popular racing spot for young Okinawans. After an unusual number of fatal accidents, barriers were put in place in hopes of decreasing fatalities. Some say the ghost cars still race along the road late at night.

A Visit to the Candy Store

Near Kadena’s Gate Four area, a middle-aged man owned and operated a small, successful candy store many years ago. Each night after closing, he’d count the days earnings and return to his home and his family.

One evening, as he began to count the money, a young, pretty woman entered the store. He explained to her that he was closed for the evening, and asked her to come back in the morning when he reopened. She refused, insisting that she needed to buy candy for her baby.

After some thought, the man sold the woman her pieces of candy, and as she left, returned to his task. As he was counting, he noticed that some of the coins were not yen at all, but the money left at shrines during celebrations for the deceased. Puzzled, he finished counting and left for the evening.

The next evening, after the shop had closed, the same young woman again entered the shop to buy candy for her child. Remembering the woman from earlier, the man relented and she purchased a few sweets and left. When he counted the money that same night, he was again confused to find shrine money included with the earnings.

The very next night, the woman again appeared at the shop door, bought a few pieces of candy for her baby, and left. This time, the shopkeeper held onto the money, and was not surprised to see that the woman had handed him the coins used for the shrines. He followed the woman down the small street, and had almost reached her when she rounded a corner. The man, a few steps behind, turned the corner as well, but the woman appeared to have vanished. As he looked around, he heard a weak cry from the tomb on his left. He walked toward the tomb, and heard the noise again.

Frightened, he left to find the police, who followed him back to the tomb. The police also heard a noise coming from inside the tomb, and decided to pry open the top. Inside, they found the corpse of a young woman and a baby who was very much alive. Taking the baby from the arms of the corpse, the police located the family of the deceased. It seems their daughter died while pregnant as the result of an unfortunate accident.

Legend has it that, from this time on, Okinawans no longer leave shrine money for the deceased, but instead leave real currency.

400th Area

An area close to Kadena is known as the 400th area, or Ammo. This is a large area of many roads, a few buildings, and lots of jungle, where armaments are kept.

During the Battle of Okinawa, a number of Marines were assigned to ‘clean up’ the Japanese casualties. A small platoon of soldiers had to march down the road back to base camp after completing the task. The men were tired, hungry, and in need of rest, yet they continued marching in a column formation. Suddenly, a scream from one of the men, as he took a bullet. The platoon had marched into an ambush. Not in any condition to fight or run along the narrow road, the men began to fire into the jungle. In the end, the U.S. troops all perished, as had a number of Japanese soldiers.

A number of years later, when Kadena Air Base was expanding, the U.S. government decided to build an ammunition dump in the area of the ambush. Many roads were made, including Highway 12, along the old road, and security personnel began to patrol the area for intruders.

One night, a few years after the area was built, a military policeman noticed something moving ahead of him on the road. As he drove, he began to hear gun shots, and saw his first ghost. Since that night, a number of military members and local national employees have reported hearing gun shots and screams while driving the road at night. One policeman also reported driving through the marching Marines.

To this day, many that work out in the ammo dump will not drive out there alone at night or without a car stereo playing loudly.

Okinawa has its share of haunted buildings as well. Following are some of the more popular tales of the haunted ‘houses.’

Haunted Hanger

One hanger on a U.S. base here on island has earned the reputation of being ‘haunted.’ A number of flight line and security personnel have reported hearing voices, talking or arguing, singing and laughing. Though too faint to be understood, it’s been loud enough to be heard by a number of witnesses. Yet it always stops when an individual gets close to the building. There have also been reports of things moving around inside the hanger, and ‘ghost’ pilots running to the back of the hanger.

Building "404"

A reporter had been working in the darkroom of this building, designated a military photo lab, when her heard an outer door open. Assuming it was another swing shift worker, he noticed a figure pass by the door twice. Thinking the man was awaiting an OK to enter the darkroom, the reporter went to open the door, but the figure slowly walked away. As the reporter called out to him, the figure turned around. The reporter described the man as a half-skeleton/half-man who sneered and disappeared into thin air.

A former Japan Update employee, after hearing this story, got together a group of "ghostbusters" to investigate "404," and set up cameras in the building as an attempt to investigate the claim. The group partied, laughed, and told jokes, and soon fell into a half-sleep. At about 2:30 a.m., a noise jolted them awake. Listening, the group heard the sound of a chair being dragged across the floor. Soon, a ‘cold, unkind wind,’ as it was described, enveloped the group, ‘turning excitement to sheer horror,’ according to the story. Everyone involved soon picked up the equipment and left the building; after the photographs were developed, nothing exact could be seen, although some say there was a man in the corner of one, with a ‘weak smile on his face.’

Kadena’s Infamous Dwelling

Most people on Kadena have heard about the haunted house behind the USO. Rumors abound, including one of a woman washing her hair in the sink, children laughing or screaming, the sounds of a horse’s footsteps, and even one of a man who killed his family inside. A Halloween séance was even held there some years ago, and it is said that while those involved didn’t contact Harry Houdini as planned, they definitely did contact a spirit.

Whatever story you have heard, or perhaps believe, there is something strange about the house. Why board up a perfectly good home when a grateful family would gladly take it? Why does the USO use it for storage, and why do the employees there only enter in the daylight or in groups? Maybe someday the truth will be told about the house behind the USO.

Haunted Hotel

One of the most often told stories, and most often confused stories when told, is that of the haunted mansion which was built in the early 70s. The mansion sits near the Nakagusuku Castle Ruins, off of Route 329. Stories have been spread of tourists being murdered and other hotel guests drowning in the pools. The hotel, in fact, was never opened to the public, never even finished. Inside, stairs lead to nowhere, and what was once meant to be a luxury hotel was a fiasco. The hotel was built on ground said to be sacred, but the developer, a local businessman, failed to listen to the local villagers. Instead, he went ahead with his plans...or lack thereof, as the place was built without the use of blueprints. Soon into the building, several construction accidents claimed the lives of those working on the hotel. Workers began to fear going to the site, and soon everything was abandoned.

The businessman went bankrupt not long after the hotel idea failed, and now resides in an insane asylum. A monk lives in the ruins, where he has built a small alter to help the spirits rest.

Three Day House

An Okinawan couple built their dream home only to find out that vicious spirits inhabited it. One evening, the husband awoke to find knives stuck in the mattress, surrounding the outline of his body. Upset, he and his wife asked a friend to sleep over to see if he would experience anything strange. The man swears he saw the ghost of a man hanging himself in the same room, and a little boy playing with a ball.

Soon after, the owners moved out and the house has been rented out ever since. No Okinawans will live in the house, and it is usually rented to Americans through a local housing agency. The families, however, have often moved out only three or four days after moving in, complaining of ghosts.

Those who live in nearby homes and apartments are said to place salt and a knife in each room to ward of the evil spirits of the ‘Three Day House.’

Haunted Neighbors

North of Kadena Circle, just off of Hwy. 58, sits an apartment building rumored to be haunted. The lower floors of the building was once a department store owned by a popular chain here on Okinawa. It was closed soon after it opened, due to a lack of business. It is said that children who entered the store often saw other youngsters, usually bandaged or in pain. They would talk or play with the children, and after too many reports of this happening, parents began to stop visiting the store either because of the rumors or because of their own children's experiences. Now a days, I've heard that no one lives in the top four floors, because of the ghostly occupants found there.

Next to this apartment building is a hospital built after World War II. A number of children have claimed to see ghosts in this building and through its windows, and rumors abound that if you take a picture of the fourth floor of the building, previously unseen faces will appear when developed. Perhaps the 'ghost' children in the old department store were the souls of those kids who died next door.

A friend and I went to this area to see if the claims were true, and when we questioned a security guard at the hospital about it, and the apartments next door, he answered, "Ghosts? What are ghosts? I don’t know what those are." Perhaps he didn’t want to tarnish the reputations of these buildings...

Unfinished Business

Near Yonabaru on Route 77 sits a restaurant that has never been finished. According to local lore, an elderly woman had three sons, all who became doctors. One of the sons built a number of businesses on land his mother owned scattered around the island. A few years later, the businesses failed and the son was seriously in debt. He borrowed money from loan sharks to pay these off and began to drink heavily, blaming his business failures. When he couldn’t pay back the loan sharks, his mother sold all of her land, including the restaurant that was being built on one parcel. Soon after, the mother died, and neighbors now tell of seeing the woman near a fountain on this particular piece of land. The building itself stayed empty for many years, until one brave woman purchased the property and began to renovate. A carpenter she hired began his first day of work in the building and was surprised to find that his lunch had turned rotten in the first hour. He soon got a terrible headache and left the building. As he was driving away, he saw an old woman sitting in the backseat of his car when he looked in his rearview mirror.

I’ve heard a similar story about the abandoned service station in Chatan, past Kadena’s Gate 5. Certain spots on this island are also said to be haunted, including the waters surrounding Okinawa.

The Memorial

If you drive past the Southeast Botanical Gardens to Hwy. 329, you’ll notice a small park with a tall white memorial on it. The tale is that the original owner of this land died and passed it on to a friend. Within days, the friend died, and the land was passed to someone else. After the cycle repeated itself, the government stepped in and decided no one could own the land, and instead built the memorial to ward off evil spirits which seemed to haunt it.

Haunted Hill

Close to the memorial on Hwy. 329 is a hill which juts out of the ground like a monument, which in a sense, it is. The land was used by the U.S. military as a base; after it was closed, the land was turned back to the Okinawa government, who decided to use the land for a residential and commercial area. The large hill was set to be torn down, and the demolition went smoothly until one section of the hill was reached. Bulldozers and trucks reached this portion of the hill, and things soon went wrong. On four separate occasions, someone died at the hill or there was a fatal accident during the demolition. The final blow was when one of the bulldozers rolled over and killed a worker. A tomb was later found in the hill, and there are now stairs that lead up to a shrine, and a fence was built around the now landscaped area.

Faces in the Waves

Itoman was the scene of some of the fiercest battles and atrocities in Okinawan history. Many Okinawans refuse to visit the cliffs around Itoman. It is said that if you look over the cliffs, you’ll see the faces of those who jumped during the Battle of Okinawa, beckoning the living to join them. Faces have also been glimpsed in the waves surrounding Yomitan’s Cape Zanpa.

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