Free Homes in Japan

Japan has so many vacant homes it’s giving them away

By Emiko Jozuka, CNN
Okutama, Japan,  Four years ago, Naoko and Takayuki Ida were given a house. For free.
It’s a spacious, two-story home nestled amid trees on a winding country road in the small town of Okutama, in Tokyo prefecture. Before moving, the couple and their children — two teenagers and a five-year-old — were all living with Naoko’s parents.
“We had to do a lot of repair work (on our new home), but we’d always wanted to live in the countryside and have a big garden,” said Naoko, 45.
Naoko Ida converted an old Japanese-style house into a cafe.
It’s a popular stop among bikers.
Ida opened her cafe in September 2017.
A free house may sound like a scam. But Japan faces an unusual property problem: it has more homes than people to live in them.
In 2013, there were 61 million houses and 52 million households, according to the Japan Policy Forum. And the situation is poised to get worse.
Japan’s population is expected to decline from 127 million to about 88 million by 2065, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security, meaning even fewer people will need houses. As young people leave rural areas for city jobs, Japan’s countryside has become haunted by deserted “ghost” houses, known as “akiya.”
It’s predicted that by 2040, nearly 900 towns and villages across Japan will no longer exist — and Okutama is one of them. In that context, giving away property is a bid for survival.
“In 2014, we discovered that Okutama was one of three Tokyo (prefecture) towns expected to vanish by 2040,” says Kazutaka Niijima, an official with the Okutama Youth Revitalization (OYR) department, a government body set up to repopulate the town.
Vacant houses are a common sight across Japan as the country's population shrinks and many young people move to urban areas.

Vacant houses are a common sight across Japan as the country’s population shrinks and many young people move to urban areas.

Akiya bank schemes

Okutama is a two-hour train ride west from Tokyo prefecture’s dense, neon-soaked center.
In the 1960s, it boasted a population of more than 13,000, as well as a profitable timber trade. But after the liberalization of imports and falling demand for timber in the 1990s, most young people left for the city. Today, Okutama has just 5,200 residents.
In 2014, it established an “akiya bank” — or vacant house scheme — which matches prospective buyers with aging homeowners and empty properties.While akiya banks are now common across Japan, each town sets its own conditions.
For example, Okutama subsidizes home repairs for new akiya residents, and encourages akiya owners to relinquish their vacant properties by offering up to $8,820 per 100 square meters (1,076 sq feet).
However, it stipulates that those who receive a free home or renovation assistance must be aged under 40, or be in a couple with at least one child under 18-years-old and one partner aged under 50. Akiya applicants must also commit to settling in the town permanently and invest in upgrading second-hand homes.
But even giving away homes is tough in a country where people prefer new builds.

Constructions for Ogouchi dam in 1945. (Okutama Town)

A view over Okutama, 1955. (Okutama Town)

Second-hand homes

Niijima leads the way into a vacant, box-like house with a blue roof and white walls that was built 33 years ago. Though sturdy on the outside, the musty smell inside hints at the decade it has sat empty. The kitchen is in need of a makeover, and the tatami floor is faded.
“It will suit someone who likes DIY,” Niijima said with a grin.
There are 3,000 homes in Okutama, and about 400 are vacant — only half of which are believed to be salvageable. The rest are either too dilapidated or were built in areas at risk of landslides.
In the 20th century, Japan experienced two major population spikes: the first after World War II and the second during the economic explosion of the 1980s. Both created housing shortages which led to cheap, mass-produced homes that were quickly erected in densely populated towns and cities.
These Okutama locals regularly meet to play gate ball.
Fujiko Masuda runs a popular Japanese-style pub.
They remember when the timber trade boomed.
Many of those properties were poor quality, said Hidetaka Yoneyama, a senior researcher at the Fujitsu Research Institute. As a result, about 85% of people opt to buy new homes.
Japanese laws also don’t help things.
In 2015, the government passed a law designed to penalize those who leave houses empty, in a bid to encourage them to either demolish or refurbish their properties.
However, akiya owners are taxed more for empty plots of land than for having an empty property, according to real estate expert Toshihiko Yamamoto. This is a deterrent to razing a vacant home.
Urban planning regulations are also weak in Japan, said Chie Nozawa, a professor of architecture at Toyo University in Tokyo, meaning developers can keep building houses despite the glaring surplus.

Kazutaka Niijima inside one of the akiya that Okutama will give away for free in 2019.

Kazutaka Niijima inside one of the akiya that Okutama will give away for free in 2019

Making rural areas alluring

In Okutama, revitalization official Niijima has found families for nine vacant houses so far. They’ve come from places including New York and China — the akiya scheme is not limited to Japanese citizens.
Filipino-Japanese couple Rosalie and Toshiuki Imabayashi, who livein central Tokyo with their six children, will move to the town in early 2019.
“It was getting too cramped for us in Tokyo and we liked that Okutama was within the same prefecture but surrounded by nature,” Rosalie said.
Overgrown vegetation surrounds a vacant house in the Yato area of Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Empty homes are an issue across the country.
Overgrown vegetation surrounds a vacant house in the Yato area of Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Empty homes are an issue across the country.
For most newcomers, though, free homes are not enough. Depopulated areas like Okutama also need a sustainable economic development plan — and community-building activities between locals and newcomers — if they are to thrive.
“If people can find a way of engaging in productive economic activities and supporting themselves, they will come and stay in rural areas,” said Jeffrey Hou, an architecture professor at Washington University.
Kamiyama, a town in southern Japan, added more people than it lost in 2011 after IT companies set up satellite offices there, attracting workers keen to escape city life.
Okutama station was previously called Hikawa station.
Okutama station, October 2018.
The ingenuity of new residents is also a boon for fading towns.
Certified as caregivers for the elderly, the Idas knew they would have job opportunities in Okutama. However, in September 2017 they tried a new venture, buying and converting a second-hand “kominka” — a Japanese house more than 100-years-old — into a roadside cafe catering to roving hikers and bikers.
“The beauty of this place lies in retrofitting something that already exists,” said Naoko, inside the cozy cafe, which brims with vintage objects and local craft work. “Some people like this culture and really like old things but they hesitate about committing to rural life.”
On their quiet street, there is another empty house and the home of an elderly woman. Before the Idas came, wild monkeys kept eating the woman’s vegetable patch — now the area is busier, the animals keep their distance.
Yet while Naoko has found a permanent home for herself in Okutama, she shakes her head when asked whether her children see a future there.
“Actually, my eldest daughter says she can’t wait to leave home and rent a place of her own in the city,” she said.

Dear, Canada, Britain, France, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Nigeria, Argentina,Japan, New Zealand and the rest of the world.

Dear, Canada, Britain, France, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Nigeria, Argentina,Japan, New Zealand and the rest of the world,

Despite what you read and see on television. America and Americans haven’t lost our minds or our way.  We realize you are bombarded with negative sounds and images emanating from our great nation, leaving the impression we aren’t the welcoming nation we once were.

These aren’t the best of times for the United States

Our current President, businessman with no experience on the world stage    Who in short time, has become the President his competitors warned us about during our presidential primary.

He is easily played.   Compliment him and you’re in.  In his mind, he is always successful.

Like you, most Americans are in a constant state of shock .  Many Americans are overwhelmed by the amount of negative and often destructive news emanating from the White House.

Just when we think our President has reached bottom, he finds a way to go even lower.  He has insulted our neighbors ,Canada and Mexico.  Damaging long-term relationships with our Allies and forging relationships with enemies of our nations.    He is impulsive, and often acts without council and doesn’t fully understand protocol.

Most Americans (not all) are frankly embarrassed.

Its seems, by the hour he is dismantling, environmental laws in favor of business.  Relaxing and reversing laws that benefit the poor, laws that once protected women, members of the gay communities and people or color.

 Two America’s

This picture taken last Thursday in Montana,  gives the impression that Americans  overwhelmingly support the President and his policies.   The reality is far from the truth.  Look at the participants in this photo.  They are good Americans, however they do not represent the majority of Americans.

Donald TrumpImage result for president obama crowd

Compare this picture to the one above.  The participants represent the real landscape of America.

Donald Trump rarely travels beyond his fan base.  Our great cities  with their diverse populations, New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco,or Honolulu are not on his itinerary.

At these rallies, the Real Estate business man and Reality Television personality  is energized by his fan base.  Where he seems more comedian than politician, here in a friendly enviroment is where he is the happiest, places where he feels loved.

 His words and global intentions, are often designed to keep this narrow base happy.   Our Commander-in-Chief, goes his own way, he doesn’t like to be told what to do.  He oftens ignores the advice of those with decades of experience in global affairs, to spout conclusions that is loosely based on facts.   Which often confuses and angers our allies and friends around the world

He has often said, he and he alone have the answers to the worlds issues.  The Tariffs he is levying on our friends and neighbors and China, does not have the support from most Americans.   Politicians in both parties and the business community and yet he continues.

In Montana, he made fun of the #MeToo movement.  He insulted our war hero’s, Senator John McCain and former President Herbert Walker Bush, who are highly regarded members of his political party.  Both of these men are ill, one is terminally .

In the United States, he has always been a bit of a social media bully, who often acts differently when in the presence of the people he’s attacked.

While he insists upon loyalty, he hasn’t demonstrated any loyalties to anyone including those he appointed and placed in positions of power.

I have lived in the United States  my entire life.  When one group is attack , we react!    Many Americans are currently outraged by the treatment of children, who were stripped from their parents.  Simply to intimidate those who want to immigrate to the United States.  This has never been a policy of America to separate families.  Again, this was done to appeal to some of the  Presidents supporters, many of whom have long wanted to limited the number of  individuals immigrating from south of our Border.

Many of family members and friends who live outside the United States often asked ,how was he elected?   I believe the fault lies with our leaders. 

The day Donald Trump announced he was running for President and then went on to insult Mexican American and citizens of Mexico.  There was no major outrage from either party.

In 1968, George Wallace the former Governor of Alabama ran for President.   Wallace supported segregation and was outraged by the Passing of the Civil Rights Legislation.  The Governor stood at the entrance of the University of Alabama to prevent a black student from enrolling .

Forty eight years later, both parties were relatively silent.  Presidential candidate and former Governor of Florida, (Father George HW, and his brother George W,  were both Presidents of the United States)  Jeb Bush, whose wife is Mexican American, and has three bi-racial children and other bi-racial family members  wasn’t outraged enough to speak against Trump.    Not one candidate from either party, went in from of the Cameras and screamed “The statement made by Donald Trump goes against everything that America is!  They were all playing politics.   There was an assumption, Donald Trump would never be elected president.

Today, most members of the Republican party remains silent.  Unlike most of the world, the United States, has primary elections then ,General Election in November.   In the majority of the states.  Members of a party can only vote for members of their party in the primary election.  Only in the General Election can citizens vote for any candidate.

Because of our electoral system, and Donald Trump’s current popularity in his party. members of his party is choosing him over party and country.   To criticize him could mean losing in the primary.    While his actions go against many tenets of the Republican party and against many conservative views of the party.   Most Republican bite their teeth and support the President even though his views and actions are not only damaging to the Republican Party and the United States, it’s having a negative effect on our friends and allies.

His insistence in meeting in Vladimir Putin is a slap in the face to Prime minister May  after several Russian based poisonings in the United Kingdom.

If the Russians intent was to destabilize the Western Alliance by meddling in the US election then they were successful.  Our friends very concerned.  Nothing would make Putin happier than a dismantled Nato.

The majority of his party are afraid to speak out against him  because they need to survive the primary .  Even though his practices conflicts with the party and is damaging to the country.  The few member of his party who are critical of him and his policies are not running for re-election.

There is a bright high!     After the initial shock and disappointment,followed by proposed ban on Muslim immigrants.   Americans are angry!   People are all walks of live are getting involved , in numbers we haven’t seen since the 1960’s

The challenge, unlike the 60’s, it’s not just the Vietnam war,  it’s not just civil rights.   There are so many issues,created by this president we are overwhelmed.    We are less confident.  Conventional wisdom says ,with all of this outrage by the American public, there will be a change after this fall’s midterm elections.    However, conventional wisdom said, Donald Trump could never get elected.

To our all of our friends in:  Canada, Britain, France, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Nigeria, Argentina,Japan, New Zealand and the rest of the world. .  America is still America, the land of immigrants and the place where dreams can come true.   America is at a crossroads, many American are disappointed with our government.

For nearly 10 years, there has been a civil war within our government.  A war of a zillion words which has been damaging to Americans as our needs have been ignored.   Many frustrated Americans wanted something different, something new, as the old guard had placed their political ambitions and party over the needs of its citizens.

Something you maybe currently experiencing in your country.  In America, we basically have a two-party system, this was deliberate.   The Republicans and the Democrats have made it difficult for other parties to participate in the system.  There are many political parties in the United States.   However, Americans are unlikely.  to hear from them.  They are not allowed to participate in public media debates.

 As a result, we have limited choices in this great nation.   Some, angry americans chose, a business man whose “business” reputation is so poor, he cannot get a loan from an american bank,   A man who had well known credibility problem, a man whose family has a legal history of not renting to people of color,and a man who has little respect for women, over the status quo.  Despite all the money in world, spent to prevent him from being elected,  Donald Trump became President of the United States.

I do not represent all Americans in my views.  But I am sorry.

I hope you learn from our mistake.  I believe in choosing a leader, demand experience, and integrity, empathy and heart.   Avoid, shiny objects, with promise, but doesnt have a history of performance or you may just elect a Donald Trump

Better days to come





They know where your BUTT is (Really!)

A Japanese telecom firm announced the creation of an app to help workers find available bathroom stalls — and to tell employers if they spend too much time in there.

KDDI said the app, which will be available to businesses in March, will tell workers in participating buildings where they can find the nearest available bathroom stall.

“People often waste time by looking around for an available toilet on various floors or by waiting until one becomes available,” KDDI spokesman Daisuke Maruo told The Japan Times. “We believe this service will help people waste less time.”

The app uses sensors installed on the stall doors to determine whether they are occupied or available for use.

The sensors also notify an administrator if a toilet stall is occupied for more than 30 minutes, a service the company says is designed to notify bosses of potential accidents in the bathrooms, but could also be used to bust employees using the bathroom to avoid work — a 2012 survey indicated 30 percent of middle-aged businessmen in Japan use bathroom stalls to take naps at work.

“Even though people sometimes complain that the number of bathrooms in a building are not enough, it is often hard for facility administrators to increase the numbers,” Maruo said. “We believe this solution will help solve the problem by streamlining how bathrooms are used.”

The company said the service will be made available in office buildings next month, but could eventually be used at locations with high bathroom traffic, such as sports stadiums, train stations, and shopping malls.


Families of British prisoner and Japanese guard united by poem 70 years on

Toby Norways travelled to Japan to research his father Bill’s friendship with Kameo Yamanaka, and found an ode in English next to Yamanaka’s grave

Toby Norways with members of the Yamanaka family and a poem Bill Norways sent to his former captor in the 1980s. Photograph: Toby Norways

By:Justin McCurry/UK Guardian

Bill Norways’ poem is inscribed on a slab of dark granite next to a gravestone in eastern Japan, thousands of miles from where he wrote it. It begins: “Our world decreed; that we should meet; as enemies; without a common tongue …”

When Norways, a former British prisoner of war, composed those words in a letter to Kameo Yamanaka, his former Japanese prison guard, he could have had little inkling that they would bring two families together in remembrance 70 years after the end of the second world war.

As Japan marked its wartime surrender at the weekend with a ceremony in Tokyo attended by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and Emperor Akihito, the bond that formed between Norways and Yamanaka stands as a lasting testament to the power of reconciliation.

Norways, an East Ender with a gift for drawing and painting, was a corporal in the Cambridgeshire Regiment when he was captured by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore in February 1942. It was there that he met Yamanaka, whose acts of kindness sustained his faith in humanity amid the wickedness of camp life.

The young Japanese soldier – a devout Buddhist with a unbreakable belief in pacifism – shared his rations with starving prisoners and used his meager army allowance to buy food for certain PoWs, including Norways.

He also took an interest in Norways’ artwork. With paper and pencils in very short supply, he would risk punishment by occasionally smuggling in pencils to ensure that Norways could continue drawing.

“Despite the obstacles and differences between the two men, it is clear that they shared a similarly compassionate view of the world,” Bill’s 48-year-old son, Toby Norways, told the Guardian earlier this month during a trip to Japan to meet Yamanaka’s family.

Bill Norways’ dozens of exquisitely detailed drawings depict the deprivation he and his fellow prisoners endured under the Japanese: an unfinished watercolour of PoWs outside the canteen at Kranji camp in Singapore, and a sketch showing the faint outlines of emaciated prisoners in the dysentery ward.

Bill Norways spent more than a year in Singapore before being sent to help build the Thailand-Burma “death railway”. Most of the hundreds of British PoWs who built the line had been sent back to Singapore by February 1944. British military records show that Norways, who suffered bouts of dysentery, was too sick to leave his camp in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. But by April 1944 he was well enough to return to Singapore, where he remained until Japan’s defeat in August the following year.

Before he left Singapore, Norways secured Yamanaka’s address in Japan, though neither was sure that their friendship would last beyond the war. Nevertheless, after returning to England, Norways sent a speculative letter to the address scribbled in his notebook. A while later he received a reply in beautifully handwritten Japanese accompanied by an English translation.


The two men continued to exchange letters for more than 30 years until Norways’ death in 1986. Yamanaka, who was convinced he would be the first to die, would outlive his friend by a decade.

“Their letters always maintained that friendship is possible, irrespective of political and social ideologies,” said Toby Norways, a scriptwriting lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire who is turning his father’s experiences into a PhD thesis and a novel.

Seven decades after captor and captive struck up their unlikely friendship, Toby decided to delve into the past life of the father he never really knew. Bill rarely mentioned the war to his family, and saw little of his son after divorcing his mother and moving to Cornwall when Toby was eight.

Thanks to Yoshiko Tamura and Taeko Sasamoto of the PoW Research Network Japan – who were awarded MBEs in 2006 for their contribution to UK-Japan relations – Norways discovered that the Yamanaka family still lived at the same address in Ibaraki prefecture north of Tokyo that Bill had written in his notebook.

Earlier this month, Toby came face to face with the daughter, granddaughter and other relatives of his father’s former guard. “It was quite emotional, and a bit surreal,” said Norways, as he clicked through photographs of him and the Yamanaka family.

“It was a shame that I never really talked deeply with my father. I would have loved to talk with him about his wartime experiences, though I never really had the opportunity. Besides, PoWs rarely discussed their war stories with spouses or relatives.”

Before returning to England, Toby faced a potentially more difficult meeting, with an old friend of Yamanaka’s. As an office assistant in the Kranji camp, Taku Kawarai never really got to know Bill Norways, and said he had never witnessed the brutality towards PoWs for which Japanese camps were notorious. Most of what he knew of the British prisoner had come from Yamanaka, whom Kawarai had met in Vietnam in 1941, while they were completing basic training.

The Japanese soldiers, who hailed from the same prefecture, travelled from Vietnam to Bangkok by road, before continuing on foot to Singapore, where they stayed until the end of the war. They remained close friends until Yamanaka’s death in the mid-90s.

“He burst into tears and held my hand when he saw me,” Toby Norways said of Kawarai, who will turn 102 next month. As they prepared to say goodbye, Kawarai again clasped his hand and said: “I have no words. Thank you. I have never felt so happy. Please take care of yourself.” As Norways left the room, Kawarai remained seated on the tatami-mat floor, weeping.

“Meeting Mr Kawarai, and seeing his tears, brought home how powerful feelings of regret can be – even after so many years,” Norways said. “It’s hard to believe that this apparently charming old man could have been part of such a brutal opposing army. But I don’t blame him for the crimes committed by so many of his comrades.”

Of all the correspondence that changed hands between Bill Norways and Yamanaka, it is the poem that he dedicated to his former guard that resonates most with these two families on opposite sides of the world. In his reply, Yamanaka wrote: “Thank you for your poem. I would like to engrave it upon granite, which we can place near my family tomb. This monument will be my family’s treasure, and we will always remember you.”

As Yamanaka sensed he was nearing the end of his life, he moved the tablet from his garden to the place where his ashes would be placed, alongside his ancestors. There he rests, yards from Bill Norways’ tribute to a friendship formed in war. It ends: “But, prompted by; an even greater power; our hearts conversed; and softly spoke of peace; Dear God; who brothers made of us; touch all men’s souls; so mankind may be thus!”

Tales from the crypt: ghost stories from Japan

Scary story: Chinatsu Ushidaki, who performs under her stage name, ‘Senka Ushidaki,’ wishes to preserve the art of telling ghost stories. | COURTESY OF CHINATSU USHIDAKI

BY /Japan Times

In a damp afternoon in early July, almost two dozen people sat in silence in a dark room on the sixth floor of a building located right next to Sensoji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. The audience has come to Amuse Museum to hear two presenters — storyteller Chinatsu Ushidaki, who performs under her stage name, “Senka Ushidaki,” and rakugocomic storyteller Sanyutei Kakitsu — deliver their personal adaptations of a folk ghost story titled “Bancho Sarayashiki” (“The Story of Okiku”).

The story has several versions, but it’s usually told like this:

A young girl named Okiku worked as a maidservant in the house of Shogun Aoyama Harima in the mid-17th century. The Aoyama clan possessed 10 precious plates as an heirloom and the maidservant was instructed to ensure these remained scratch-free. On Jan. 2, 1653, Okiku accidentally broke one of the plates. Furious, Aoyama ordered his guards to cut off the middle finger of her right hand and confined Okiku to her room until the punishment could be carried out. The maidservant managed to escape, however, fleeing the house before throwing herself into a disused well. The next night (and every night thereafter), a woman’s voice could be heard counting the plates from the bottom of the well …

“One …

“Two …

“Three …

“Four …

“Five …

“Six …

“Seven …

“Eight …

“Nine …

A short time later, Aoyama’s wife gave birth to a child that was missing a middle finger on its right hand. News of this reached the Imperial Court, which ordered Aoyama to forfeit his territory. And yet, the woman could still be heard counting. The Imperial Court sent a priest to intervene. Upon his arrival, the priest waited inside the house for the woman to finish her count before adding a “10” at the end. Released from her sorrow, Okiku’s ghost disappears.

Back in Asakusa, the two guests told their version of this folktale in very different ways.

Kakitsu had the crowd in fits of laughter, as he made Okiku a member of fictional idol group OBK48 (OBK, he argues, was short for obake, or ghost).

Ushidaki, by comparison, completely spooked the audience. Wearing a kimono and speaking with only a solitary light illuminating her face, she used her entire body to recount Okiku’s sorrowful tale. Her voice was soft and well-paced until the end, punctuated by the occasional ghastly scream.

“I believe my experience as an actress actually helps,” Ushidaki, 36, says in an interview the following day. “I still work as an actress, but I receive more job offers as a storyteller.”

Debuting in director Hideyuki Katsuki’s “Decotora no Shu” (“Shu’s Art Truck”) 2004 flick alongside actor Sho Aikawa, Ushidaki has gone on to make numerous appearances in films, often as a ghostly character.

Despite her public image, she says she used to hate scary things when she was younger.

“I used to visit my grandma once a year,” she recalls. “She lived in a very old house that only had a few lights and thin walls. The only thing I could hear were insects scuttling around in the dark. I’d turn on my TV so that my grandma wouldn’t try to tell me any scary stories but, unfortunately, there would always be a scary show playing.”

Myriad monsters

There are a wide variety of yōkai (a broad term that encompasses virtually all supernatural beings) in Japanese folklore. Hiroko Yoda, president of AltJapan and co-author of “Yurei Attack! The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide” and “Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide,” says the sheer number of beings can be a little overwhelming.

“Many Japanese think of animal spirits as yōkai and human spirits asyūrei (ghostly figures),” Yoda says. “At least, that’s the basic concept behind (the categorization in) the two books.”

Yōkai, therefore, include such things as tengu (literally, “heavenly dog”), which have avian features and long noses, and kappa (literally, “river boy”), which are believed to resemble a turtle.

However, Yoda says, the distinction isn’t always clear-cut and the meanings have often changed over time.

“Sei Shonagon (author of “The Pillow Book”) used mononoke to describe these spirits,” Yoda says. “However, people generally used bakemono(monsters) to describe yōkai until the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and other spirits. However, from the Heian Era (794-1185) to the Muromachi Era (1336-1573), people called such horrific creaturesoni.”

These days, coming up with the definition for yūrei appears to be a little more straight-forward. Many Japanese believe that humans have a soul called a reikon. When a person dies, the soul leaves the body and remains in a state of purgatory until proper funeral rites can be administered. If a soul is successfully able to join its ancestors, it is believed to watch over the living members of the family and return each year in August during o-Bon to receive thanks.

However, if a person dies in a violent manner and/or if proper funeral rites are not performed, the soul is believed to transform into a yūrei that haunts the physical world until the conflict is resolved.

Some believe yūrei are bitter and resentful about what they couldn’t accomplish while they were alive. According to experts, they typically appear before people saying, “urameshiya,” which can be directly translated as “I’ll get my revenge.”

Ghost stories, meanwhile, can generally be categorized into two types. Traditional kaidan (ghost stories) typically retell Edo Period folktales such as “The Story of Okiku,” “Yotsuya Kaidan” (“Ghost Story of Tokaido Yotsuya”) and “Botan Doro” (“The Peony Lantern”). However, other types of ghost stories are based on a storyteller’s own personal experiences. Called jitsuwa kaidan (real-life ghost stories), this modern style has been popularized in recent times by renowned actor Junji Inagawa.

Ushidaki tells both kinds of stories.

At the beginning of her July show, Ushidaki initially sets the scene for the traditional story she is about to recount by showing the audience video footage of a visit to Okiku’s grave. Since the story has several versions, she is careful to introduce the audience to the sources she uses to form a story of her own.

Not surprisingly, however, Ushidaki puts just as much effort into her jitsuwa kaidan performances. In May, she released a book titled “Chiba no Kowai Hanashi: Borei-tachi no Tsudoi” (“Chiba’s Scary Stories: Gathering of the Spirits”), which explores the ghostly experiences of Chiba prefecture residents. The tales included in the book are all based on stories she heard from friends and relatives living in the area.

Ushidaki says the organization behind ghost storytellers is unlike that of rakugo, which require comedians to undergo an apprenticeship under a master before becoming a professional. Therefore, she says, almost anyone can claim to be a storyteller without professional training.

“A TV celebrity or voice actress is called a ghost storyteller just for recounting scary stories,” Ushidaki says. “That’s why I avoid describing myself as a ghost storyteller as much as I can.”

Looking ahead, Ushidaki dreams of performing the “Ghost Story of Tokaido Yotsuya” and “Shinkei Kasanegafuchi” (“New Edition of Kasanegafuchi”) by the time she turns 40. “These stories — ‘Yotsuya Kaidan,’ in particular — are very difficult to perform,” Ushidaki says.

Ushidaki claims to experience psychic phenomena during and after her performances, and has suffered from a number of health problems in the past.

“I don’t mind putting my life at risk,” Ushidaki says. “Storytelling is losing its popularity, and so I’d like to ensure the country’s traditional stories are preserved forever.”

Japan Prepares for Extraterrestrials Maybe?

Japan’s defense minister reassured the public on Wednesday that aliens have never entered the country’s airspace.

Taking questions in parliament about the threat posed by space aliens, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani calmed nerves by saying the country’s warplanes could be dispatched at the report of unidentified flying objects, The Japan Times reports.

So far, Japanese warplanes have not had any encounters with extraterrestrial life. The question came from professional wrestler-turned-politician Antonio Inoki, who asked if any studies were being conducted into extraterrestrial life.

“When the Air Self-Defense Force detects indications of an unidentified flying object that could violate our country’s airspace, it scrambles fighter jets if necessary and makes visual observation,” Nakatani said on Wednesday.

“They sometimes find birds or flying objects other than aircraft but I don’t know a case of finding an unidentified flying object believed to have come over from anywhere other than Earth,” he said.

Wednesday’s parliamentary debate on aliens and warplanes is not the first of its kind in Japan. In 2007, the government said they had not confirmed “the existence of unidentified flying objects believed to have come from anywhere other than Earth.”