Previously: Congelier Mansion, The Haunted House That Never Was.
You’ll find it often on lists of allegedly haunted places to visit in Japan. You’ll also find it frequently cited in pieces claiming to get at “the real story/inspiration behind Fatal Frame.” It looms large in many imaginations, filled with ghosts and yurei and the flash of an ancient camera. I’m talking, of course, about Himuro Mansion, the haunted Japanese manor home allegedly located somewhere near Tokyo that’s said to have a bloody, tragic history that will truly make your hair stand on end.
But when it comes to Himuro Mansion — which you might sometimes see referred to as Himikyru Mansion, although less frequently so — nothing is quite as it seems, and the real story is much more complicated than you might think.
I first learned of the legend of Himuro Mansion some years ago — and after a lot of digging, I arrived at the conclusion that the place likely didn’t exist. I wrote about it for The Toast way back in 2014, approaching it from the angle of what made the story believable in the first place and why I think haunted house stories matter in the grand scheme of things.
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
Many years later, after much more research, I still don’t think Himuro Mansion is a real place. But I think the story is worth examining again, this time to take a deeper look into where all of the elements of the legend came from — because although I did touch on some of this in my last investigation, it turns out that there are further depths to plumb.
Let’s begin, shall we?
We’ll start — where else? — with the legend itself.
The Legend Of Himuro Mansion
The story goes a little something like this:
Outside of Tokyo, somewhere in the mountains, there’s a crumbling mansion — an old one, built, of course, in the Japanese style, rather than the Western one. It’s unclear precisely how old the place actually is, though; we know it dates back further than the late Edo period, making it at least 200 years old, although it’s likely much older.
But it’s not just a residence. There’s more there than just the mansion, you see. There are also a variety of outbuildings and other structures, all significant — because Himuro Mansion is also a religious and spiritual site. It’s home to a Shinto shrine and temple… and also a gate to the demon realm.
It’s said that there was once a ritual carried out at Himuro Mansion once every 10 years. A girl would be chosen and raised on the grounds, hidden away from the world to prevent her from forming any earthly attachments — particularly attachments to other people. When the ritual was finally performed, she would be sacrificed, her body and spirit given up to keep the demon gate closed up tight. Her death would be a gruesome one, and painful, involving the tying of ropes to her limbs and neck and the cranking of a wheel, until something… until everything… gave.
But one year, sometime in the previous century, the ritual failed. Despite being sequestered away for 10 long years, the girl met someone, and she fell in love — and because of this love, this attachment, the ritual could not be carried out. In shame, the family charged with performing the ritual, the Himuro family, all perished as a result — some at the hands of the family patriarch, others by suicide.
But, wait — maybe that’s not it. Maybe the story is simpler — maybe it’s just that the mansion was the site of one of the most horrific murders in Japanese history, with seven people dying in a truly ghastly fashion. For all its infamy, the murders remain unexplained to this very day.
Or maybe it’s both. Maybe the seven murders occurred at the mansion sometime after the failed ritual, the victims falling prey to whatever might be walking the grounds as a result of the ritual’s failure. Maybe the seven murders occurred during the failed ritual — maybe these are the dead Himuros, murdered by their patriarch as the price for their failure.
Or maybe not.
Regardless, the mansion is said to have been vacant for years, falling gradually into ruin.
But if you were to go it, you might witness some… activity. You might see phantom splatters of blood appearing on the walls. You might see the figure of a girl hovering in a particular window, should you snap a photograph of it — a girl who you’d swear wasn’t present at the time the photo was taken. And, if you are particularly unlucky, you might end up other, equally unlucky visitors to the mansion have ended their time there: Broken, with marks around their wrists — as if they had been tied with ropes and… pulled.
That’s if you were able to find the place, of course.
The exact location of Himuro Mansion is always left out of these stories — an omission which has ensured that the most talked-about element of the legend is where it actually is. “Outside Tokyo” isn’t terribly specific, after all; people want to know where they need to go if they actually want to see it — even if they know that such a visit would be… unwise.
The trouble is, there may not actually be a way to visit.
In all probability, Himuro Mansion doesn’t exist — not in reality, and likely not even in the realm of folklore.
So where does it actually come from?
That’s a complicated question to answer — but it all comes back to one thing.
It comes back to a video game.
The Fatal Frame Connection: Part One
There are two main pieces to the legend of Himuro Mansion — two pieces which, over time, have sort of merged into one. Both of them, though, are ultimately two sides of the same coin, and the key to getting to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the alleged mansion’s existence.
The first piece of the legend — the bit about Himuro Mansion having once been the site of a ritual performed to keep the demon gate closed, and about what happened when it failed — is easy to debunk: It’s literally the backstory of the first Fatal Frame game.
Released in Japan in 2001 under the title Project Zero with localizations arriving under its better-known English name in North America and Europe in 2002, Fatal Frame is now a classic of the survival horror genre; originally developed for the PS2, it’s now merely the first entry in a franchise spanning five main titles and several spinoffs, along with a handful of other pieces of related media.
Fatal Frame/Project Zero sees players taking on the role of Miku Hinasaki, who, in 1986, visits Himuro Mansion in search of her missing brother. While she’s there, she encounters the many ghosts and spirits haunting the place — ghosts and spirits which can only be kept at bay with the aid of a modified camera, called the Camera Obscura — and unravels the history of the location as she goes. That history includes the ritual, called the Strangling Ritual, and the moment in 1837 that it failed, an event termed the Calamity. The deaths caused by the Calamity, however, are much greater than those in the oft-repeated version of the Himuro Mansion legend; within the game’s mythology, the incident claimed the lives of 1,347 people — those both living at the mansion, and those living in the nearest village. The final boss of the game is the spirit of the girl who was meant to be the sacrifice — the Rope Shrine Maiden — the year the Strangling Ritual failed.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that in the lore of Fatal Frame, Himuro Mansion is meant to be located not outside Toyko, but in what was once the Mutsu province — an area in the northeast of Japan around where Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, and Aomori Prefectures are now. It was disestablished in 1869, a little more than 30 years after the Calamity is said to have taken place, according to the in-game mythology.
Significantly, one Japanese superstition positions northeast as an inauspicious direction; it’s where demons and evil spirits are said to come from. Put another way, it’s where the demon’s gate — what Westerners might think of as the Hellmouth — is believed to lie.
But this whole story is fiction. There’s no such ritual as the Strangling Ritual; there is no Rope Shrine Maiden; and there was no Calamity in 1837. Within the in-game universe of Fatal Frame, it’s canon — but none of it ever actually happened in reality. And because none of it happened in reality, there is no actual location in Japan that played host to any of these events, either.
But what about the legend’s second piece? The one about the seven murders, which may or may not be connected to the Strangling Ritual? That’s a bit more difficult to untangle, although it still ultimately leads back to Fatal Frame — and in more ways than one.
The Fatal Frame Connection: Part Two
Some retellings of the Himuro Mansion legend acknowledge that Fatal Frame’s setting and the ritual that allegedly took place at it are, indeed, fictional; however, they also go on to posit that, although the ritual and mansion themselves aren’t real, they’re both based on something real — either an actual location, or an extant piece of folklore.
The main piece of evidence supporting this take is an oft-quoted sound byte from Fatal Frame director Makoto Shibata that reads as follows:
“In an area outside Tokyo, there lies a mansion in which it’s said seven people were murdered in a grisly manner. On the same property, there lie three detached residences that surround the mansion, all of which are rumored to have ties to the mansion’s troubled past. It’s said there is an underground network of tunnels that lay beneath the premises, but nobody knows who made these tunnels or what purpose they served. Many inexplicable phenomenon [sic] have been reported occurring on the property. Bloody handprints have been found splattered all over the walls. Spirits have been spotted on the premises… even in broad daylight. A narrow stairway leads to an attic where a spirit-sealed talisman is rumored to be locked away. Men have sought this talisman, only to be found later with their bodies broken and rope marks around their wrists. There’s a crumbling old statue of a woman in a kimono, but its head is missing. If you take a photo of a certain window, a young girl can be seen in the developed picture. These incidents have provoked fear in the people of Tokyo, and many believe that those who live near this area will become cursed. The deaths of those seven people are unexplained to this day.”
Here, you’ll find all of the elements of the Himuro Mansion legend mixed up into one — the seven murders, the suggestion of a ritual, and what eyewitness reports have allegedly said now occur on the property.
You’ll find this exact paragraph reproduced word for word pretty much everywhere that buys the claim that Himuro Mansion was based on something that pre-dates Fatal Frame — either an actual place, or an existing legend — but it’s never properly sourced. It’s always identified as something Shibata said “in an interview,” and sometimes noted as a description of the “actual inspiration” for the game’s setting; however, precisely what “interview” the quote was found in is never named or credited, and it’s certainly never linked.
It took me some time, but I was eventually able to track down the original source of this quote — and exactly what that source turned out to be is telling.
It isn’t really an interview, you see — not in the journalistic sense, at least. It’s not a reported piece on the game, or a profile of its creator, or anything of the sort. It’s a press release — that is, it’s a piece of marketing produced and released by TECMO as part of the ad campaign for the game.
And here is where we have to start considering what might be the most significant piece of the puzzle: In North America, Fatal Frame was marketed as being “based on a true story.” The phrase is even included right there on the title screen when you first boot up the game:
But this angle was not present in the Japanese release of Project Zero.
What’s more, the press release containing the quotation that discusses the alleged “real” basis for Himuro Mansion was produced specifically for the North American release of Fatal Frame; I’ve found no equivalents in Japanese — nothing at all similar — from its original release in 2001.
Additionally, I’ve found nothing — not a single thing — written in either English or Japanese about a haunted house legend fitting the description of the one in the press release, outside the context of Fatal Frame. And I’m not the only one, either; others, researching and writing in a variety of languages, have also come up empty, finding evidence of neither house, nor murders, nor legend at all.
At this point, after so much digging, and from so many angles, I can only assume that I’m finding nothing because there is truly nothing to find.
I’ve brought this point up before; the presence vs. absence of the “based on a true story” claim is one of the main factors around which my piece on Himuro Mansion for The Toast hinged. I can only theorize about why this angle was brought in for the North American release — I suspect it has everything to do with the then-recent success of The Blair Witch Project and a desire to hop on that gravy train as quickly as possible — but no matter what the reasoning behind the choice might have been, the fact remains that it was brought in for the North American release when it had never previously been a part of the game’s mythology.
I also think it’s worth pointing out that previously, I hadn’t tracked down the source of Shibata’s quote on the subject, or linked it to the “based on a true story” angle in quite the way I’ve been able to do this time ‘round. But that connection and the nature of its source are both important; they confirm much more concretely an idea I’d hitherto only found the suggestion of: That the legend of Himuro Mansion is entirely manufactured, from top to bottom — and that it was done so in service of Fatal Frame’s North American release.
The Weeping Tree And Other Stories
This isn’t to say, by the way, that Fatal Frame has no basis in extant folklore. In fact, the entire franchise is heavily informed by Japanese folklore and urban legends, especially when it comes to the designs of the ghosts and various supernatural phenomena experienced throughout the games. Some specific legends are even directly incorporated into the series: For instance, Miku’s doll in Fatal Frame III is unmistakably drawn from the well-known legend of the haunted Okiku doll — the traditional Japanese doll whose hair is said to grow to great lengths, all on its own.
Heck, there’s even a second paragraph contained within the press release I pointed to as the source for the Shibata soundbyte that checks out in a way the first paragraph doesn’t. After describing the alleged house which supposedly served as the inspiration for Himuro Mansion, the press release goes on to further quote Shibata on the folkloric roots of one of the game’s subplots:
“In the same region, there’s a tree that is said to weep like a young woman. Many traffic accidents have occurred near this tree, and there have been many accounts of people seeing a young woman’s ghost. Two lovers used to meet at this tree every night. Although they loved each other very much, they were not allowed to see each other because of the difference in social standings. The young girl couldn’t stand the pain, so she hung herself from the tree. Ever since then, it’s said the tree weeps in sorrow. One day, a young man chopped down the tree, hoping that he could rid the area of the ghost and its cursed past. The youth shared the firewood from the tree with families in the area. Since then, those people are reported to have died with no medical explanation why. The young man who chopped down the tree has also disappeared without a trace.”
In this instance, “in the same region” refers to that location this quotation originally pinpointed as the area in which the supposed mansion is allegedly positioned — that is, “in an area outside Tokyo.” According to Tara A. Devlin of the excellent Kowabana content network, however, this folktale, usually called something like “The Weeping Tree,” doesn’t originate in a region near Tokyo, but rather in one up north, in Hokkaido. Devlin cites a variety of different tales associated with the weeping tree, one of which is, almost beat-for-beat, the one specified in the Fatal Frame press release.
Another version, called “The Spirit Of The Willow Tree” in the 1918 book Ancient Tales And Folklore Of Japan by Richard Gordon Smith, positions the tale in Kyoto. It’s a bit more mystical than spooky; the star-crossed lovers aren’t separated by class and don’t die by suicide. Rather, the woman isn’t a woman at all, but the spirit of the willow tree; she is separated from her true love — and, in this version, their child — when the tree to which she is tied is chopped down.
Either way, it’s easy to see the inspiration of the “Weeping Tree” story in Fatal Frame: The reason the Strangling Ritual is said to have failed is due to this same type of star-crossed romance.
Come One, Come All To The Yokai Parade
Furthermore, although Makoto Shibata has not, as far as I know, spoken in any Japanese interviews about a specific real-life haunted house that may or may not have served as the basis for Fatal Frame’s Himuro Mansion, he has talked at length about the things that did inspire him — including actual supernatural experiences he says he’s had.
Shibata has told one particular story several times: When he was a child, he believes he witnessed a hyakki yagyō (百鬼夜行) — a yokai parade. Shibata’s family home was “right at the bend of a long, open country road,” as he described it in an interview translated at the website FFTranslations, alongside which was “a small shrine.” Said Shibata:
“Often, I would wake inside my futon in the middle of the night, and there would be hundreds of ‘presences’ coming down the road. In hushed, whispering voices, they would say things that I couldn’t catch, slowly walking along, filling the width of the road.”
He noted that the “presences” always seemed to be coming from the shrine; then, once they turned the curve in front of the house, they would disappear.
Along the long road was a small shrine. It seemed as though the “presences” were coming from there. Once they reached turned the curve in front of our house, they would always vanish.
He felt that he shouldn’t look directly at the parade, however; to do so, he worried, might prompt the “presences” to start charging towards him. Later on, though, his father gave him a camera to play with, and he wondered: “What would happen if I used this to take a photo of the procession without looking directly at it?” Many years later, this idle thought grew into the idea of Fatal Frame’s main “weapon” or source of protection: The Camera Obscura.
Shibata has also had plenty to say about the “unique charm” of Japanese houses, highlighting why Fatal Frame’s setting is so much a character all its own. “In contrast to the solid architecture of the West, [Japanese houses] are divided by fragile materials such as wood and paper doors, loosely connected to the outside air. The ventilation is good, and a soft light filters in through the paper doors,” Shibata said, again in a piece translated over at FFTransaltions. “On the other hand, there are lots of hiding places,” he continued:
“Behind folding screens, under the floor, atop the criss-crossing beams, on the other side of a lattice — a warm darkness resides everywhere. It’s a warm darkness that gradually seeps into your body as you stand there.
Perhaps the reason why it seems as though something is lurking in a space you suddenly look at is because Japanese houses are made from living materials, starting with wood, that has breathed and passed the time alongside their residents?
Maybe because of this, it seems to me that the emotions of the people who have been there have seeped into these wooden Japanese houses. Meagre happiness, small sentimentalities, terrible memories — all of it. When I immerse myself in that darkness, I feel as though the memories of the deceased are secretly whispering to me.”
Shibata certainly believes in ghosts, and in the power of history — and it’s that personal connection that makes the Fatal Frame games so effective.
This is what Shibata experiences. And he wants to share what it’s like to experience it with the rest of the world, too. And what better medium is there than a game — especially one whose story blurs the lines of fiction and reality?
Will The Real Himuro Please Stand Up?
It’s worth noting, by the way, that there are actual Shinto shrines and temples in Japan bearing the name Himuro. The most famous is Himuro Shrine in Nara (where the deer are); it’s dedicated to the guardian deity of ice and refrigeration. Indeed, the direct translation of Himuro is something like “icehouse” or “cold room.” There’s a shaved ice festival there that’s usually held during the first week of May; if you’re into kakigori, you’ll definitely want to check it out if you’re in the area at that time.
But there are others, as well. For instance, there’s an old temple now called Himuro Yakushi up in Miaygi Prefecture, although it was previously known as Murakamiji. Furthermore, numerous other Himuro Shrines can be found in places such as Iwata in Shizuoka, in Kyoto, and in Yaminashi.
All of this is to say that Himuro isn’t exactly a unique name, particularly when it comes to Shinto shrines and temples. This is one of the reasons it’s so easy to discount random people on the internet claiming to be the last remaining Himuro alive; since the name is fairly common, it’s… unlikely any of these claims are true.
You may not be able to visit the Himuro Mansion shrine itself. But you can visit a Himuro Shrine — as long as you don’t mind that there won’t be any Rope Shrine Maidens for you to face off against while you’re there.
Of course, it’s also been noted that “Himuro Mansion” might be a pseudonym — a false name given to mask the real one and protect the location of the actual mansion. I’ll point out here that in my quest to find any real locations or stories matching the details of the Himuro Mansion legend, I made sure to divorce the search from the specific name precisely for this reason, and I still came up empty — but, well… hope springs eternal, I guess.
But even if the place did exist…
…Would you really want to chance going there?
After all, it doesn’t seem to have gone well for anyone else…
…If the stories are to be believed, that is.
Do you believe them?
And, more importantly: Would be willing to wager your life against that belief?
But that’s just me.