Updated: Oct 31, 2020
Japan is filled to the brim with all sorts of terrifying urban legends. I’ll probably never get tired of hearing stories like Teke Teke or the Slit Mouthed Woman. But for this video, I wanted to explore a story that I keep seeing all over the internet and was really curious about. Once I actually looked into it, it was a lot darker than I initially thought. This is the legend of Himuro Mansion.
Like any legend, the story of Himuro Mansion has many different versions. But here’s the full story from what I could piece together.
The Himuro Mansion is a beautiful house located in a forest and/or rocky area just outside Tokyo. But things aren’t always as they appear. An evil force lurked beneath the surface of the house, appearing once every fifty years and attempting to make its way into the real world. Most sources refer to it as “bad karma,” but some call it a portal to hell. For centuries, the Himuro family was charged with keeping this evil force at bay with a gruesome practice called “The Strangling Ritual."
In order to keep the bad-karma-slash-portal-to-hell from opening up into the world, a young girl in the family was chosen at birth by the master of the household to be raised in isolation and secret, with no ties to the outside world. Once the fifty year mark came and the ritual had to be carried out, the young maiden would be taken to a courtyard of the house. Some sources said the ritual took place in a room of the house or even in tunnels underneath it. But I don’t think that would leave them enough room for what they had to do.
The maiden would be bound by ropes tied around her ankles, wrists and neck. The ropes were then attached to teams of oxen or horses that were sent in all different directions, ripping her limbs from her body. Yeah…I told you it was gruesome. Once this was complete, the girl’s blood-soaked ropes were untied and placed over the gateway to the portal. As terrible as it is, quartering the girl was necessary because the demon-slash-bad-karma was thought to exit her body through her limbs. So if those were removed, the evil was kept at bay for the next fifty years — until another maiden was chosen and the Himuro family lathered, rinsed and repeated.
But one year, the ritual went wrong. In true Rapunzel-esque fashion, the sacrificial maiden fell in love with a man who watched her from her window and planned on saving her. I’m not sure how he planned to save her by watching her from her window but, I’m just the messenger, what do I know? Anyway, because the girl now had a connection to the outside world, her blood was tainted and the ritual wouldn’t work. When the master of the house found out about this, he was furious. Knowing the fate that awaited the family now would be far worse than anything he could do, he killed every member of his family — including himself.
Ever since, the house has been cursed. It sits abandoned, and most of the people who have visited are either never heard from again, or later found dead — not always in one piece. Those interested in the legend have attempted to find the mansion, but nobody can seem to agree on its exact location. Those who do claim to have found it report fresh blood splashes and bloody handprints on the wall. Ghosts roam the building, dressed in white and rinsing out cloths. It’s thought these are the ghosts of the Himuro family, still preparing for the ritual, even in the afterlife. Legend says that if you take a picture of a certain window, a young girl in a kimono can be seen in the picture. People in the neighboring village are also reportedly cursed.
So, no doubt this legend is creepy. But is it true?
Well, probably not.
For starters, there’s no concrete time period for when the failed ritual took place. Some sources listed it as “sometime within the last 80 years” while others put it in the early 1900’s — though I guess it could take place in the 1930’s or 40’s and both would technically be true. Sort of. Nobody has ever been able to find the mansion, and all the “eyewitness accounts” seem to come from others reporting them — the sort of “friend of a friend” mentality, which is how most urban legends are spread. And then there’s the fact that no murders of this sort have ever happened in Japan.
I know, I looked.
The closest I could find was a doomsday cult called Aum Shinrikyo. The group was founded in the late 1980’s by a man named Shoko Asahara (pictured above), who declared himself Jesus Christ and borrowed elements of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism to create the group’s philosophy. The cult seems to be best known for a 1995 attack where members left five bags of a liquid nerve agent on a Tokyo subway. 13 people were killed and nearly 6,000 were injured. Shoko Asahara and seven other cult members were executed in 2018. The cult still exists today but in nowhere near as wide a capacity. It’s considered a “dangerous religion” in Japan and kept under close watch. The U.S. and several other countries consider it a terrorist organization. But other than religious-themed killings of multiple people, these murders and the Himuro Mansion legend don’t seem to have much in common.
So if the story of Himuro Mansion is obviously fiction, where did it come from?
The Japanese cover for 'Zero,' or Fatal Frame
To answer that, let’s go back to December 2001, when a survival horror game called ‘Zero’ was released in Japan. Influenced by popular titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, the game was released in North America the following year as Fatal Frame.
In Fatal Frame, you play as a teenage girl named Miku who goes to the Himuro Mansion to find her missing brother, who was last seen on the grounds. The most notable aspect of the series is the Camera Obscura, the player’s main weapon that they use to fight ghosts. I know it sounds weird but I’ve watched some Let’s Plays of some of the games, and it makes sense one you actually see it.
But what does Fatal Frame have to do with the Himuro Mansion — other than featuring a house of the same name? The North American release of the game reportedly advertised it as being based on a true story. In fact, reading through the description of the in-game mansion, a lot of details are remarkably similar to the Himuro Mansion legend.
Most people who discuss the Himuro Mansion online seem to believe that the legends began with the Fatal Frame’s North American release. It’s not uncommon at all to see this in movies — an upcoming release will be advertised as ‘based on a true story’ when that may or may not be true. I have an entire video on these movies, which you should totally watch — after you finish this one, of course. So, the logical conclusion is that someone had this same mentality with the game. They thought advertising Fatal Frame’s story as true would create buzz and potentially sell more copies. And some people believed it.
Now, the internet was pretty different back in the early 2000’s. This was just a couple years after The Blair Witch Project was released. I was about 10 when this movie came out, and I remember my classmates discussing whether or not the movie was real. Nowadays, if I heard a story like The Blair Witch Project’s plot or the Himuro Mansion legend, I could just whip out my smartphone and find out if it’s true or not in less than 30 seconds. But back in 2002, this wasn’t as feasible. Not only did you have to go to a computer to use the internet — I know, it was the dark ages — but there wasn’t quite as much information out there for the general public to access. I can see why someone playing Fatal Frame for the first time back then and learning it was ‘based on a true story’ might believe it. So don’t judge them too harshly.
Most of the write ups on the mansion link the story back to Fatal Frame, and assume the legend started circulating upon the game’s North American release. I did find one source that said Fatal Frame made the legend popular in the west, but that it was already pretty well known in Japan. But as much as I love Japanese urban legends, it’s notoriously difficult to find information about them online in the U.S., so I can’t say for sure if this is true. If anyone out there is more knowledgable on the subject than me, feel free to fill me in in the comments.
A couple more things before I wrap this video up. In my research, I also found a Himuro Shrine in the Nara Prefecture of Japan. Apparently it's known for its ice festival and beautiful cherry trees.
I also found a guy named Joe James, a filmmaker and musician who does electronic music under the name Himuro Mansion. Other than a song called “Enter the Mansion” that seems to reference elements of the Himuro Mansion story, I’m not sure that his music has much to do with the actual legend. But if you like electronic music, you should check him out. I’ll leave some links below.
One last thing I want to mention is what the name Himuro apparently means. It comes from the Japanese word ‘hi’ meaning scarlet or red, and ‘mura’ meaning town or village. Red village? Hmmm…sounds like someone was going for some heavy symbolism.
So what do you think of the legend of Himuro Mansion? Have you ever played Fatal Frame? Is it as creepy as it looks? Let me know in the comments.