I sat at a table at the famed Myōjōien Coffee shop in downtown Hatawaka, awaiting the arrival of my host. Tonight was to be the night I would visit a Japanese spirit room, a subject of much fascination and speculation in the Western world. Many Japanese citizens deny its existence, yet there exists evidence that suggests that it does exist and in numbers far greater than anyone cares to admit.
9pm came, and in walked No, the pseudonym of my Japanese host who agreed to take me to a house with a hidden spirit room. He looked around the coffee shop and silently recognized me by my wearing a sneaker on my left foot and a dress shoe on my right. He nodded at me and then, to avoid arousing suspicion, walked up to the counter and ordered himself a coffee to go. After he left, I waited 30 seconds before I got up and went outside to meet him in his car parked just outside the coffee shop. After the initial greetings, No covered my head with a paper bag so I couldn’t see where we were going. I agreed not to remove the bag until he said I could take it off. And then we were on our way.
After what felt like 20 minutes of feeling the car moving, we arrived at our destination. No parked the car and then helped me out before we walked up the driveway. After helping me up the few steps to the front door, he rang the doorbell before I heard the front door open. After a few whispered words, I was guided inside the house, down a hallway and into a small room. At last I could take the paper bag off.
The room appeared to be a traditional Japanese tatami room with a lone chair facing a plain wall. There were small candles in each of the four corners of the room that provided just enough light. Akiba, the house’s owner, closed the door to the room before sitting down in the chair before closing her eyes as if in meditation. No and I stood behind her to watch what was about to happen.
Akiba silently muttered what sounded like an incantation in Japanese whose symphony of consonants sounded pleasing to the ear. I turned to No for a translation but he stood silently.
Suddenly, a breeze from nowhere blew out two of the candles to render the room a little darker. The only two candles still lit were at opposite sides of the wall Akiba was facing. Oddly enough, she didn’t seem concerned or even startled.
No tapped my shoulder and pointed at the wall. Something was happening. A small bulge began to form before it grew larger, taking on the shape of a head that was pressing from behind the wall. I could see details begin to emerge, such as eyes, a nose and a mouth. Again, Akiba was silent as if to expect all this.
Then the face began to speak and Akiba responded, her voice heavy with emotion. I was startled but soon realized that I had just seen for myself the existence of a Japanese spirit room. I calmed down and watched the exchange continue for a half hour before the face disappeared back into the wall. I would later learn that the face was that of Kon, Akiba’s late husband who still visits her from time to time.
After leaving the house with the paper bag back on my head, I could hear No explain that spirit rooms are indeed commonplace in Japan, not only in homes but also in office buildings where spirits are consulted for help with business decisions. Art studios also use spirit rooms to inspire artists with their work, a chance for spirits of departed artists to seal their legacy by passing along ideas of art they never had a chance to begin.
By the time No was finished with his narrative, we were back at the coffee shop. He removed the paper bag from my head before leaving me with one last piece of advice.
“Don’t write about what you saw in your blog,” No said firmly but with a smile, “Not unless you want to see what happens to those who betray a secret that’s been around for centuries. Trust me, you don’t want to know.”