Groovy Osaka: Unintentional Kimodameshi

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Photo by Carlos Donderis

In Japan, summer is the time of year when the land of the living and land of the dead converge. The ghosts and monsters, otherwise known as yurei (幽霊(ゆうれい)) and yokai (妖怪(ようかい)), roam the earth and interact with the living.

During this time of year, there are many haunted houses and other spooky events. Such activities are part of the Japanese tradition of kimodameshi (肝試(かんため)し), literally “liver test.” As with other Japanese expressions that involve bravery such as (きも)(すわ)っている, (being brave) or (きも)()っている (having nerves of steel), kimodameshi means a test of your bravery or “guts.”

While most people experience kimodameshi in prearranged events such as haunted houses or school events involving preset pranks and actors, it can also be as simple as friends daring each other to enter a spooky place at night. Some leave trinkets or take trinkets to prove that they completed their task, but that is not necessarily required. There are no rules to kimodameshi.

Finding haunted spots in Japan is very easy. There are many ghost hunters and thrill seekers who have websites devoted to paranormal spots in Japan. The problem is finding safe spots that won’t get you arrested or injured. Some of the places are abandoned for a reason and are unsafe. If a place is safe and becomes well-trafficked, the police may watch over it, arresting potential thrill seekers for trespassing. That is certainly not the sort of thrill anyone is looking for.

Luckily, there are haunted sites where you can freely roam and still get a supernatural thrill. In fact, if you’ve been shopping in Osaka, you may have already been to one.

Namba’s Bic Camera seems like a typical electronics-centric department store. You can buy souvenirs, toys, and many other items. I’ve spent hours wandering around the different floors. The bathrooms are somewhat frightening at times, but jokes aside, the location has a dark history of which most shoppers are completely unaware.

A Tragedy

About 43 years ago, there was a department store on the same spot as the Bic Camera building. It was called the Sennichi Department Store (千日デパート). It had opened in the late 50s and quickly became a prominent locality in Osaka. The first two floors were the department store, with a Nichii on the third and fourth. Nichii was a predecessor to MyCal, which is now owned by Aeon.

There was a uniform shop on the fifth floor, a game center on the sixth floor, a cabaret called Play Town on the seventh floor, and a haunted house and cafe in the basement. The location was so successful that they were adding a bowling alley to the sixth floor and adding shops to the third floor. The construction had no noticeable effect on the crowds who swarmed around the building every day.

Play Town had become a center of Osaka night life, and on May 13, 1972, the cabaret was packed. The patrons were completely unaware that a small fire had broken out on the third floor, near the site of the construction. Perhaps it was an improperly disposed cigarette, but the exact cause of the fire is still unknown. What is known is that the small fire was fed by all the construction materials and flammable dresses sold on the third floor. It rapidly grew out of control, cutting off the escape routes for the upper floors.

syouboukatudou

There were no sprinklers. The fire shutter did not work. The fire exits were locked. The fire department arrived too late to be able to control the blaze. It was a grim situation. As the fire quickly spread throughout the building, so did mass panic. People became desperate to escape. Some decided to jump from where they were on the 7th floor. Of the 24 who tried, only 2 of those people survived.

It took the fire department until the next day to get the fire under control, with 27 firemen injured in the process. The fire was finally extinguished on the third day. In the aftermath of the blaze, they found 96 people dead in the cabaret. While most of them had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, 3 died from compression injuries, indicating that they had been trampled. In total, 118 people lost their lives. It was the deadliest department store fire in Japan.

burnt-maniquins

The building was demolished and Bic Camera was built in its place, but not without its share of ghost stories. Some people have reported strange sounds, strange acting people, or false fire announcements. Granted, this is Osaka, so “strange” doesn’t automatically imply that anything supernatural is happening. Some employees reportedly carry good luck charms or prayer beads. Of course, that doesn’t mean much, either. I wear prayer beads, too, but I don’t live or work in a haunted building.

It’s up to you to decide what you believe. While the store is only open until 9pm, the area around the store is still quite active all night. Nobody will complain if you want to ghost hunt in the alleys surrounding the massive building. Will you hear thumps or find the ghosts of fallen victims? Will you hear screams coming from the 7th floor? Are those just the screams of playful teenagers roaming around Namba at night?

The only question that truly matters is, do you have the guts to find out?

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Groovy punky reggae nerd from Kansai.
  • Wilder says:

    “There were no sprinklers. The fire shutter did not work. The fire exits were locked. ”

    Yeah, what could go wrong…

  • 餅ちゃん says:

    This makes me look at BIc Camera in a whole different way, especially that the 7th floor (games and toys) is the one I spend a lot of time in, but I have never heard any strange sounds or seen strange people, or have I?

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