I like visiting haunted houses. I’m not really sure what it is, or if anyone really is, but it is somehow fun being scared. Maybe it is in seeing the normal composure of your friends crack and how even the most macho of us can still scream like little kids–no matter how many layers we’ve built around our cores. Sort of the other side to the cracks in rational composure discovered through humor/laughter. You see people for what they really are and come to remember that we’re more than the defenses we build up around ourselves.
Haunted houses are incredibly interesting from an anthropological point of view as well, for inside one little building people pack as many things as they can that they find most terrifying within their given culture. It’s interesting to look at the differences between haunted houses around the world, that is, the physical representation’s of a country’s idea of fear.
In the USA, we draw a lot upon classical horror stories written by various novelists. Frankenstein, vampires, werewolves. We deal a lot with the undead (zombies) as well, perhaps more than any other country in the world. Throughout haunted houses, the principle way that people try to scare you is through mock attempts at murder. People chasing you with chainsaws, popping out and grabbing you; it gets the heart pumping and even though on some cerebral level you know its all a show, there’s some part of your brain unable to differentiate and it really is quite terrifying. Behind all the terror, the main focus seems to be the loss of one’s personal life.
What I’ve seen in Japan, however, has been equally terrifying, but in a very subtle yet very different way. Now, I will break for a second: If you’ve ever been in a traditional Japanese house, you know that they are kept spotless, cleaned to perfection almost every day. There are often some heirlooms that have been passed down for hundreds of years, and photos of deceased ancestors hang above an alter. The house is sort of a physical manifestation of the family lineage itself, and is traditionally inhabited for as many generations as the building allows for. Nearly every scene of the haunted houses I have been in in Japan depict scenes of beautiful Japanese homes being destroyed. Tatami mats stained with pools of blood, slash marks from swords all over the walls, overturned and smashed tea and flower arrangements, children crying over dead parents–chaos brought to a space that is usually one’s central basis for security. There are occasionally something like people with slash-marks across their stomachs laughing and rocking hysterically on the floor, but attempts to jump out and threaten the observer’s life are not so common. Something beautiful has been irreparably shattered, and that is what is truly terrifying. A world turned upside down, apparently even more terrifying than the loss of life of the observer.