Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Moody's Believe It or Not pt. III

I know quite a few people who have experienced kanashibari, or "sleep paralysis". I'm referring to the phenomenon of waking up and finding oneself totally unable to move, except for perhaps the eyes. I once did a survey in one of my classes here at Ye Olde AcademyTM, and it turned out that about 18 out of 40 students had not only experienced kanashibari but had all experienced it during the same week...within a week of a school camping trip they'd all participated in. That in itself is pretty strange, but it's nowhere near as bizarre as some of the things people I know have seen while trapped in such a state. That includes myself.

This time I will talk about two of my kanashibari experiences. One is actually more beautiful than scary. The other is not.

Chapter Five: Family Ties
My first-born child entered the world in April of 1996. At the time my wife and I were still living in our flat in the city of Itako, but as there was no hospital suitable for childbirth there, my wife gave birth at an obstetric hospital across the river in the historically-famous city of Sawara (recently renamed Katori for some dumb political reason). Standard procedure in Japan is for a newborn and its mother to remain in the hospital for at least five days for supervision and training. During that time, it is normal for one other member of the family to stay and help out. In our case, my mother-in-law and I took turns carrying out this duty so I could go to work (since the anally-retentive morons that ran the English school where I was employed at the time refused to give me any time off). Anyway, the five-day period went smoothly, and soon it was time for us to bring our new baby daughter home.

Naturally, the in-laws invited us to come and stay with them first, and that definitely sounded like a good idea. They had an extra house (where we now live), so there was plenty of room. It was a lot more peaceful and quiet in the farmlands of Aso than in rapidly-suburbanizing Itako. Besides, it was helpful to have not only the in-laws, but all those relatives right nearby. We decided to go there and stay for a few days before finally settling back in our flat in Itako.

There was only one bed in the extra house, the one my wife had used as a child. It was rather small, and it was located in the small bedroom on the ground floor. Therefore, we decided to use traditional Japanese futons in the main bedroom upstairs. We laid out three mats, two full-sized ones for my wife and I with a tiny one for our daughter stuck in between them right at our pillow level. It was an interesting arrangement, but it was kind of nice.

Anyone who has ever had a baby knows that, with a newborn, sleep is a rare luxury. Our daughter didn't cry so much during the day, but while she was still in the hospital she'd let out a loud squawk about every hour or two during the night. Oddly enough, on that first night there at the in-laws' house she actually slept rather soundly, crying only very quietly every three to four hours. That whole night had a strange sort of warmth and serenity to it, and it was clearly affecting all of us.

Not long after I'd gone back to sleep following the second feeding that night I had a strange dream. I dreamt that I was standing in the middle of the room looking down on our sleeping forms. A strange light filled the room. There was also one more person than there should have been.

He was clearly an old man, tired and withered. He was kneeling down on the floor at the head of my daughter's futon, his shaven head bent over her. He was dressed in a traditional Japanese yukata (cotton kimono) and hanten (a short robe worn over the yukata in cooler weather). The yukata had an indigo-on-white print pattern. The man didn't move at all; he just sat there quietly looking down at the baby.

I tried to say something to the old man and took a step or two toward him, taking care not to step on my own sleeping form. That's when I woke up to find myself lying on my back unable to move...and looking up at the old man. His eyes were closed, and he looked like he was praying, but something about him made me feel very uncomfortable. I also didn't like the fact that he was a total stranger. Afraid for my daughter, I struggled to move, fought hard to say something, and finally I let out an incoherent scream that woke up my wife.

"What's wrong?" she asked drowsily, adjusting the baby's covers.

"Did you see the old man?" I cried. "Did you see the old man?"

My wife looked around in puzzlement. "What old man?"

Indeed, there was no trace of him...and there would have been no way for him to leave without going past us.

My wife asked what the man had looked like, and when I described him she turned very pale. The description, right down to the pattern on the yukata, fit her grandfather the day he'd died. I actually have his yukata in my possession now, and it is definitely the one the man I saw was wearing. I didn't get a very clear look at his face, but the photos I've seen of the grandfather definitely have a similar look about them.

Both my wife and my mother-in-law are firmly convinced that it was indeed the grandfather come back to see his first great-grandchild. He didn't reappear when our son was born, so I guess he must be content.

Chapter Six: One Too Many
It was late summer in 2005, almost autumn, and the orchestra at Ye Olde AcademyTM was rehearsing. I don't usually direct the orchestra, since that's Mr. Ogawa's baby, but I often sit in the back of the auditorium when it rehearses partly so I can become familiar with the tunes (in case I'm asked to substitute) but mainly so I can just enjoy the music. I don't remember what pieces they were rehearsing that day, but, unfortunately, classical music often has a habit of making me feel very relaxed and comfortable. In other words, if I'm feeling a bit on the drowsy side, it quickly puts me to sleep.

I was most definitely a bit on the drowsy side that day. In fact, I was very drowsy. My mind was mush, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. I struggled to listen to the piece, watch how Mr. Ogawa was conducting it, and get a good idea of which parts were doing what when, but it was a lost cause. Halfway through the first run-through I finally lost the battle and nodded off.

I was awakened rather abruptly by what sounded like a teenage boy laughing nearby. It stopped as soon as I opened my eyes. I looked around with puzzlement, but I couldn't identify the source of the laughter. There were three boys in front of me in the back row of the orchestra, but none of them had a laugh that sounded anything like what I'd heard. The only other boys to be found were either up front in the violin section or over in the percussion section. There was also the fact that the laugh had sounded like it had been right next to me. I finally decided that it had probably been a dream, and I soon dozed off again.

The same laugh woke me up again. Then the same thing happened a third and a fourth time. Frankly, I was starting to get annoyed. I was beginning to wonder if someone was trying to play a trick on me.

When the laugh woke me up a fifth time, I realized that I was unable to move. I sat frozen in the chair as the orchestra played on, my eyes fixed on the percussion section. That's when I noticed there was one more boy than there should have been. It didn't take long to realize that he didn't belong there at all.

Needless to say, I didn't recognize the newcomer. He was dressed in a typical summer school uniform as were the other boys, i.e. a white dress shirt and uniform trousers. However, whereas our boys wear navy blue slacks, his were black. I also couldn't help noticing that both his shirt and his face appeared bloodied. He didn't do anything at all; he just stood there in the middle of the percussion section staring at one of the music stands with his hands folded as if deep in thought. He was right in front of one of the girls, but neither she nor anyone else appeared to notice him.

He vanished at precisely the same moment that I became able to move again.

Less than a month before that incident a boy student from one of the local public senior high schools was killed in a traffic accident not far from the Academy. I don't know whether was in his school's band or not, but perhaps he was curious about ours...

(BTW: During a period of two weeks or so leading up to the incident I just described several students talked about hearing strange sounds from the percussion storage alcove like someone messing around in there. I heard it on several occasions myself, usually when going up to the auditorium late after school. This continued for a few days afterward, too, but now everthing seems quiet. I guess the newcomer has moved on.)

Incidentally, after that encounter mentioned in Chapter Five I discussed the issue with a friend of mine and former coworker here at the Academy who is apparently very interested in and well versed in the paranormal. She told me that some cultures believe spirits need the energy of the living in order to break through into "this" world. Perhaps kanashibari means one is unwittingly providing such energy. I guess I really don't mind..but I'd still prefer them to ask me first!

Ain't you a bit old to believe in ghosts? I am...but sometimes the benefit of the doubt can be a very good thing.


  • Interesting. I have not experienced the dream experience before nor know anyone who has gone through this but the Chinese of the Buddhist/Toaist faith believe about the soul returning to his home about seven to ten days after death sort of like a last look kinda thing. Food offerings would be placed at the altar for the returning as he would be escorted by jailors from Hades and would expect a good meal. The family members would not be around and would normally be out of the house. Sometimes, there are signs of the returning, sometimes not.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:59 PM  

  • i've never had any type of experience like you and don't know how i'd react if i did. i have had dreams though where i see myself and know that i'm dreaming, sort of like out of body experiences or something.

    i've never seen a ghost but i believe in them and have had some experiences w/ some type of entities.

    didn't you say your daughter has had some type of experience before?

    By Blogger tooners, at 5:50 PM  

  • I experienced kanashibari before and at that time it really scared me. I was so panicked that I could not concentrate in my studies and my friends were so worried about me.

    I had it during my first year of undergraduate. I stayed in school hostel. I experienced it a few times within the same week, I think at that time I was quite tired and stressed up with studies, and probably my "luck" was low.

    At first I thought I was just dreaming or my muscles haven't woke up while my mind has. But I realized it is really happening when there was one time I experienced it when I just got into the bed, even before I fell asleep.

    Anyway, speaking about this gives me spooks... i think i will stop talking.

    By Blogger YD, at 12:49 AM  

  • Geez, now I'm begining to understand why Japanese film makers are obsessed with ghost stories. The ring, The grudge, just to name a few. And how they get it so real and downright scarry compared to their western counterpart. I don't particularly watch them coz I don't want to be affected. My photographic memory would always churn out nasty dreams. But your experience gives me the shivers. I haven't had any real unworldly experiences and I don't ever want to have such visions. I have no doubt of the spirit world though, but I hope their paths don't cross mine.

    By Blogger agus, at 1:15 PM  

  • Andnow you're having out of the body experiences!

    By the way, the english word for the condition you experience is called sleep paralysis. I get that too. Haven't yet had anout of the body experience though.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 4:33 AM  

  • You do write interesting stories and you are not afraid to tell of experiences that some of us are sceptical about.

    That condition is called sleep paralysis and is a normal physical thing when we sleep deeply. I have been unable to move quite often when I wake suddenly.

    But the other experiences of seeing 'dead' people - well, okay, thanks for the stories because, honestly I don't know. There are many things we know little about. And I'm not going to question another person's experiences.

    Certainly some dreams of people =- long left us - are so intense that there could be something extraordinary happening.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 2:48 PM  

  • hmm... i got "paralyzed" even before I fell asleep. Has asked my friends studying medicine, but they are not really sure what causes this... Anyone who has come upon an explanation? I would very much like to see it as a medical condition rather than having wild imaginations... =(

    By Blogger YD, at 7:34 PM  

  • I have heard one explanation of sleep paralysis from the medical community. When we are in the state known as REM sleep we are incapable of physical movement except for the eyes. The reticular activating system totally cuts off all signals to the voluntary muscles from the neck down. The theory goes that this is actually a sort of defense mechanism to prevent the body from thrashing about and damaging itself as a result of the crazy pulses going through the brain during a REM state. Therefore, it's possible that we can wake up suddenly while this switch is still in the "off" position and find ourselves unable to move till it goes back "on" again.

    YD, I can't imagine why that would happen before you went to sleep! Maybe your "switch" is coming on prematurely...or someone is stealing your energy...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:35 AM  

  • I can't believe I missed this post last week!

    One time, when we lived near Dallas, my mother was driving around 3am from her mother's apartment to ours. She was alone on the road, so she drove in the centre because she was afraid of the giant cemetary she would have to pass on one long stretch. On that same stretch, she saw a boy on a bicycle, pedalling across the road towards the cemetary. Suddenly, a big Land Rover came whizzing past her and she thought, "Oh my God, it's going to hit him." As soon as it got to the criticalm moment, the Land Rover was gone and the boy nowhere in sight.

    You don't want to know what she was like when she got home that night!

    We have had some incidents in our home with my paternal grandfatherwho passed away the year before I was born. My mother actually had to protect me, but she couldn't protect my father. After one visitation, my father suddenly started going to his father's grave.

    And finally, have you ever woken up with the feeling that someone has just called your name?

    By Blogger Olivia, at 6:40 AM  

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