Would you dare play hide and seek with a possessed teddy bear?
If you’re a kid in Japan, most likely you not only would, you have.
Hitori Kakurenbo is a distinctly Japanese version of hide and seek, with two distinct differences from the American version. One, you play alone (the name actually means Hide and Seek Alone), or at least without any other people around. Two, your opponent is a demon.
When the four authors in Samhain’s CHILDHOOD FEARS anthology of novellas decided to share blog posts, the main character in J.H. Moncrieff’s story, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, made me think about the legend of Hitori Kakurenbo, which I’d done some research on as preparation for a story I’m still in the process of writing. Holli’s story doesn’t involve the Japanese game; it does, however, involve a very disturbing and deadly teddy bear with some evil intentions. So I decided to do my blog on Hitori Kakurenbo, which might not be known to the average American reader.
On paper, it sounds like a silly game. In fact, it originally was popular among younger kids, the pre-teen and tween ages, and only recently has gained a new audience among teens and even twenty-somethings, who post videos of themselves playing and trying to record paranormal experiences.
The rules are fairly simple – you can look up the specifics online – and no special preparations are necessary. Everything you need will most likely be in your house right now.
The player begins by preparing the bear for the game. Snip it open, take out some of the stuffing, and replace it with dry rice and a bunch of your own fingernail clippings. Sew the bear back up, with red thread. Give the bear a name if he doesn’t already have one. At 3am, take the bear into the bathroom and fill the tub with water like your going to give him a bath. Hold the bear – let’s call him Mr. Fluffy – over the water and say “For the first game, I’m, (your name here), is going to be it.” Repeat this twice more and then drop Mr. Fluffy in the water. Next, you have to run around the house and turn off all the lights. When the whole house is completely dark, stop and count to 10. Then, armed with a good, sharp kitchen knife, return to the bathroom and flick the light on. Shout out, “I found Mr. Fluffy!” and then stab the bear repeatedly with the knife.
You win round 1!
With me so far? To this point, it’s a pretty harmless game, right? Hang on. Now comes the fun part.
Aloud, say “Now Mr. Fluffy is it. (A special note here. The word for “it” in this game is “oni,” which is also the Japanese word for “devil.” So you are actually saying, Mr. Fluffy is the devil. This is what calls the demon into the bear.” Drop the bear into water, either the tub or a puddle on the floor if you made one in your stabbing frenzy. Leave the knife there, too. Then run out of the bathroom to a hiding place that you chose ahead of time. Your hiding place should be somewhere you’ll be comfortable for several hours, and you should have a glass of either salt water or whisky waiting for you there. Whatever you do, don’t forget that part – it could be the difference between life and death, as we’ll see in a moment.
At this point, you can only sit quietly and wait. Japanese players say this is when the crazy shit begins to happen. People say they hear noises, like footsteps, voices, or even the television coming on. Others have reported terrible odors and temperature changes.
This part is hard because you have to stay in your hiding place until dawn. Supposedly at dawn, the demon has to leave the bear, so it will be safe for you to leave your hiding place and finish the game.
But let’s say you can’t wait that long. Maybe you have to pee. Maybe you’re just too scared. If you need to emerge early, you have to first take a big mouthful of whiskey or salt water (don’t swallow it!) and go find Mr. Fluffy. Of course, he might not be in the bathroom anymore. He’s possessed, right? So he’s cruising the house with that knife looking for you. Wherever you find him, you have spit the water or whiskey all over him and shout three times, “I win!”
Now comes the end of the game. Whether you waited or not, you have to take Mr. Fluffy and burn him to ashes. Otherwise the demon could return the following night and take him over again.
Crazy game, huh?
Oh, and by the way, remember that this is hide and seek ALONE. If anyone else is in the house when you play, they are fair game for the demon and unless their fingernails are in the bear as well, all the salt water or whisky in the world won’t protect them if the demon-bear decides to go after them instead.
In Japan, what the kids do is they’re all playing at the same time, in different houses, and they’re on their phones texting each other about the things they see and hear. Like a live version of remote game playing.
So, would you play Hitori Kakurenbo? As a kid, if I’d known about it, I know I would have. Most of my friends probably would have, too. Kids love scary shit, and this is way more scary than playing Blood Mary or telling ghost stories with a flashlight under your chin.
Now that I’m older and I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in my life, would I teach my nieces and nephews about the game?
I don’t think so.
For more scary bear goodness, check out the Childhood Fears anthology from Samhain. It contains four stories that are guaranteed to bring back all those things you feared as a kid: Clowns, Scarecrows, Teddy Bears, and Santa.
The stories are:
Nightmare in Greasepaint, by LL Soares and G. Daniel Gunn – A man is forced to relive the terrors of his childhood when he has to empty out his parents old house. In the process, he discovers some of those terrors might not be gone.
The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, by J.H. Moncrieff – A stuffed bear helps a young boy deal with his nasty step-father. But now things are going too far!
Scarecrows – by Christine Hayton – A young girl is locked away for murdering a school mate. She claims the scarecrows made her do it. Now the town is learning they should have believed her.
Winterwood – by JG Faherty – a harrowing tale of a family trapped in the land of the Krampus, the original Santa who has a penchant for violence and a taste for human flesh.
"This collection of four horror novellas explores the fuel of children's nightmares with sympathy and inventiveness... horror fans looking for new spins on familiar scares will appreciate this anthology." - Publishers Weekly
To pick up a copy of the book, visit the Amazon page, http://tinyurl.com/ChildhoodFearsAmazon.