Haunted Properties – Cursed: When the Ghosts Don’t Move Out

Death by suicide, “the realtor comments as she puts the floor plan of a spacious three-room apartment on the table.” Serious illness, “she says to the next, which is only slightly smaller.” Murder, “says the third Unimpressed. But Yamame Yamano, who has come here to find a cheap new home, tilts his jaw, his face pales, and the agent asks, “Would you like to see one of these?”

Yamame Yamano, an unsuccessful entertainer from Japan, gives himself a jolt and moves into one of the apartments in which there was previously a double murder. Finally, he was promised that he could make a television appearance out of it if he films and documents his life in this “haunted property”. And in fact, Yamano soon had incredible material: ceiling lamps that suddenly switch on, voices that can be heard, doors that open on their own. “Ghost, now come out of here!”, The frightened Yamano calls through his new apartment.

These scenes are famous in Japan. They come from the film “Jiko bukken: kowai madori” – which can be translated as: “Haunted property – an eerie floor plan”. It was released in cinemas last summer and quickly became a box-office hit. Because the book on which the film was based, published two years earlier, had already been widely discussed as a bestseller. After all, the whole story should be based on real events: The experiences of Yamame Yamano are the writings of the comedian Tanishi Matsubara, who moved into a “haunted property” in real life.

The spirit escapes at death

Because “haunted real estate” is the name given to apartments and houses in which there have previously been unusual deaths. They have a flaw in Japan. Because, like the Western superstition in ghosts, Japanese culture also knows stories of immaterial figures. In the East Asian country, the traditional belief says that a person’s spirit escapes when they die, so that they can leave their previous world in peace. But if someone has died in an unnatural way or if a ritual funeral could not be carried out, the spirit remains in place.

It is these spirits called “yuurei” who repeatedly cause unrest and fear in legends, novels and films. “You can definitely say that living in an apartment where someone has recently died isn’t a particularly good feeling,” admits Tanishi Matsubara, author of the book that followed the now popular film. “Maybe it’s not quite as creepy as in the movie. But you can feel a vague kind of discomfort.”

In a way, this has advantages too. Because Japan’s society is actually hardly religious and at the same time very open to science. But the superstition about such “yuurei” is still strong enough that there is hardly any demand for haunted apartments, even in the tense real estate market in metropolises like Tokyo or Osaka. The comedian Tanishi Matsubara, for example, has stated in interviews that he pays around 460 euros a month for a 20-square-meter apartment in the center of Osaka. For the otherwise much more expensive area, this is an unbeatable price. The previous tenant of Matsubara’s apartment suddenly died in the toilet. That was enough to push the value down drastically.

“Unsightly Incidents”

After all, it is not uncommon to know whether it is a corresponding property. For around 15 years, the Oshimaland website has been providing information on where unsightly incidents in apartments or houses are said to have occurred. “The information is not complete,” it says from the official side. But users can leave information on the site. Accordingly, on February 25, 2017, “a body was found” in an apartment in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Not far from there in another apartment there is – with reference to another realtor’s office – “a room with clues”.

A total of around 50,000 objects are noted there on an interactive map. In Japan, homeowners are required to report such incidents as soon as they are asked. The Oshimaland portal, which is well-known in the East Asian country, now also lists apartments abroad, from South Korea and China to the USA and Germany. There you can also find, for example, that a Japanese man threw himself out of the window in an apartment on Johannes-Brahms-Platz in Hamburg after being bullied by a work colleague.

A “jiko bukken” property is not officially restricted to unusual deaths. Apartments in the vicinity of cemeteries, crematoria or criminal organizations are also reduced in price. The discounts start at a tenth, but can reach 50 percent depending on the severity of the flaw. Suicide and murder are considered particularly serious. Because such fates are supposed to put the “yuurei” in a particularly agonizing and spooky mood. But it is precisely in times of crisis that these apartments – including those with a murder or suicide history – enjoy increasing popularity.

In the wake of the pandemic, the Japanese media reported more and more frequently that the fear of contact with such objects is now decreasing. After all, many people have since lacked purchasing power for more expensive apartments. The fact that the problem of a “jiko bukken” property seems to be gradually decreasing is also likely to be related to the fact that its number is increasing every year anyway. In Japan’s aging population, the death rate has been increasing for years.

Haunted after Corona?

The year 2020 was an exception, when fewer people died in the course of the measures against the corona pandemic, as more of them stayed at home and thus fell sick less often. However, Japan, which was only slightly affected by comparison, already has around 8,000 corona-related deaths to complain about. It is not yet known whether the apartments of such people will soon also be considered haunted properties. At least the Japanese history of literature and legends is not poor in epidemics either. The folkloristic basis for corresponding superstitions would be there.

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