I had a bit of trouble writing this one. I finished researching Kashima-san and was sitting down to post the final today. But when I opened the file titled “Kashima Reiko” the title looked cheekily at me but all the other contents had mysteriously disappeared. So I spent the day rewriting and re-researching it, aaargh….curse you Kashima-san. But I found some good sites and new information, so maybe it was worth it.
Kashima-sama or Kashima Daimyoujin is another name for the Shinto god Takemikazuchi (the thunder god). As you’ll see in the history of the urban legend, especially the early history, this likely had some influence on the story. Although, the modern version seems to have lost its original connection other than the protective properties of chanting Kashima-sama.
The most popular line of thought is that this story originated in Hokkaido due to the related content — Meishin Expressway is in Hokkaido, and there is a place called Kashima City, although it’s going to be flooded by a dam in 2014 (you can read about it here http://www.dodoshiryo-hokkaido.info/tedium/2011/03/21/ohyuubari.htm, apparently it’s a ghost town these days while it waits for the completion of the dam). There’s also a place called Kashima City in Fukushima along with numerous Kashima Shrines all over Japan, the most famous of which is in Ibaraki Prefecture. For enthusiasts, the usual kanji for Kashima is 鹿島 (lit. deer island).
In the Kashima-san story, the ghost is sometimes a man and sometimes a woman. If it’s a woman, the name of the story is usually Reiko Kashima(where Reiko is the first name). The following are the most popular modern versions of the story.
Reader beware, when people learn this story, the ghost believes it is being summoned and will appear in front of you within three days from when you first hear about it. The ghost will appear between the hours of 11pm and 3am, maybe in your dreams, maybe when you get up to use the toilet, or maybe she will sit by your pillow and gently wake you.
When you go to use the toilet a legless woman may appear to you. If you can not answer her questions, she will twist your legs off your body.
She will ask you, “Where are my legs?”
You should answer, “They are on the Meishin Expressway.”
Next, she will ask, “Who did you hear this from?”
You should answer, “I heard it from Reiko Kashima.”
When you go to use the toilet in the dead of night, you will hear a voice ask, “Do you need your right leg?”
You should answer, “I need it.”
Next, the voice will ask, “Do you need your left leg?”
You should answer, “I need it.”
Finally, the voice will ask, “Who did you hear about me from?”
You should answer, “From Reiko Kashima.”
People who hear this story, must tell five other people within 3 days. If they don’t, then they’ll lose their legs even if they answer the questions correctly.
A woman named Kashima may appear in your dream.
She will ask, “Do you need your legs?”
You should answer, “I need them.”
And she will ask, “Who did you hear about me from?”
And you have to repeat the protective phrase, “Kashima-san. The Ka in Kashima is the Ka of “kamen” (仮面 mask), the shi is the shi of “shinin” (死人 dead person), the ma is the ma of “akuma” (悪魔 demon).
Other versions say if you repeat “Kashima-sama” three times the ghost will disappear.
Kashima-san’s background story is difficult to track. And likely originated from WWII stories.
According to a timeline I found on a rather dedicated blog (the timeline entry itself felt long enough to be a novel) a book published in 1995 by the sociologist Kenji Sato entitled 流言蜚語──うわさ話を読みとく作法, says the earliest urban legend about Kashima-sama circulated in 1943. Here is an excerpt from page 3, in which Kashima-sama is almost certainly still connected to the Shinto thunder god:
“An officer went to the motor pool and asked to be taken to Kashima shrine, no matter the cost, so he was taken there.
When the priest opened the door for prayers, three or four clumps of blood fell from the officer and he died. (To the priest) it seemed Kashima-sama had gone to the war and sacrificed himself and come home wounded. He thought it must be a bitter fight indeed if even Kashima-sama came home so wounded.”
I’m hesitant to connect this story to the urban legend as its major themes of missing legs and ghosts are not present. But there is a sort of morbidness surrounding the name Kashima during WWII. Take this excerpt from Matsuyama Hiroshi’s book “Chasing Kashima-san” (カシマさんを追う) p. 201:
“During the war, young men prayed at Kashima Shrine for the safety of the soldiers before going off to war themselves. A unit called ‘Kashima-sama’ was sent as reinforcements to the front lines in the Philippines for suicide attacks. The wounded soldiers who returned were largely ignored in the following period of rapid economic growth. Shoichi Yokoi (a man who was isolated from his unit in Guam and believed Japan was still fighting until he was found in 1972) returned to Japan and despaired finding his homeland completely changed and himself reduced to a kind of freak show fascination by the public. Just before his death, he gave an interview to a magazine, during which he mumbled, ‘I wish I had never returned.'”
What actually happened to the figures in the urban legend varies between tellings. If Kashima-san is a woman in the story, she generally killed herself after being sexually assaulted. If Kashima-san is a man in the telling, he was usually killed during the war by a soldier.
Here’s an example of each:
Kashima-san was a male postal worker who died in great pain after being shot in both arms and legs during the war by an American soldier.
In the chaos after the war, a woman was raped by an American soldier and killed herself by jumping in front of a train (thus being dismembered).
In some versions of Kashima-san, the ghost has been hit by a car, or more often a train, so given the age of the following story, it may be part of the roots of Kashima-san. It’s related by a person who heard it as a child:
“On summer nights in 1966, a story about the ghost of a man who had been hit and killed by a truck was floating around in Kashima City in Fukushima Prefecture.
At a specific time, a man with a bamboo broom in his hand would stand in the headlights of an oncoming truck. When the story was at the height of its popularity, people began looking everywhere for the actual place of the accident. Some people even said pieces of his body were found.
I heard this story from a classmate who had gone to school in Kashima. The story circulating among adults was that instead of a bamboo broom, the man was holding a yellow flag. There were even stories from drivers who saw the man and slammed on their breaks. They inevitably still hit him and pulled over in a panic. But when they looked for the man, they never found anything. As the place name is Kashima, this story may have something to do with Kashima-san.”
1972 is the year Kashima-san becomes a real hit in Japan. A chain letter even circulates about the ghost, and stories are printed in magazines and newspapers about it.
Here is an excerpt from a magazine introduction to the Kashima story:
“Within three days from when you hear this story, a Yokai named Kashima-sama missing the lower-half of its body will appear before you between the hours of 11pm and 3am and ask you three questions. If you don’t answer correctly, you’ll be killed.
Recently, an addition circulating around middle schools is if you don’t want to be killed by the curse, you have to tell 5 people within 3 days.”
And another version from 1972-ish:
“A long time ago, a woman was killed on the train tracks. In one moment her body was ripped into pieces and scattered about. But the woman did not know she was dead. Because it had only taken a moment.
When people tell her story, she feels she’s being summoned and comes to see them. The following is very important. She comes late at night within three days.
After staring at you for a while she will ask, “Who did you hear about me from?” and you should answer, “I heard about you from Kashima-san.”
Did you remember? If you make a mistake or say another person’s name as a joke, she’ll haunt you.”
And this is the first version I found that mentions Hokkaido, although oddly enough, it’s supposedly from Osaka (1972):
“My friend asked, “Do you know the Hiroshima ghost?”
I said, “No, what is it?”
When you are sleeping at night a person will wake you up. It will be a person whose lower half of their body was melted by the atomic bomb. This person will ask you a number of questions.
‘Where is this place?’
You should answer, ‘This is Kashima.’
‘Where are you from?’
You should answer, ‘Hokkaido.’ (but say it in the correct dialect, Hokkyaaro).
‘Do you have legs?’
You should answer, ‘No.’
‘Are you free at the moment?’
You should answer, ‘No, I’m busy.’
If you answer any question differently, you will be taken away somewhere. And you will never come back.”
The following story was pubished in a book called 子供が喜ぶ現代の怖い話 (Modern ghost stories to delight children)（by 石田泰照）and was first told in 1975:
“In June of 1945, in the Tohoku area, a small town was attacked in an air raid. A young girl named Natsuko died. Her left leg was blown far from her body. The local people looked for it but could not find it. Ever since that night, a ghost appears at the entrance to the air raid shelter missing one leg. Every night the ghost cries and begs, ‘Someone, please, someone look for my leg, I can’t go to heaven or hell without my leg.’
After a few days, the local people searched again and found her leg on top of a 15.6 meter tall cliff. They placed it in her grave and the ghost never returned.”
The stories go on and on, if you have free time and at least upper-intermediate Japanese reading skills, you could check out the timeline in its entirety (it is a treasure trove of personal anecdotes and book sources when available — but kind of over the top, believe it or not, this post is a filtered version).
Kashima-san has an endless number of variations.
Some final words of wisdom come from Hiroshi Matsuyama, he believes the persistence of the Kashima-san story in popular culture and all the sadness in history related to the word Kashima are meant to remind people of the mistakes of the past and not to repeat them.
Other reference: Teke Teke (not up yet, but it’s on my list)