My Spirit Possession

as of October 2014:
> 1/3 of readers think I was spirit possessed

Here is the story:

After one year in Pakistan and India working on my philosophy/religion Ph.D, I moved to Kyoto, Japan and for the first three months my American girlfriend and I lived in a gaijin (foreigner’s) ghetto. These ghettos were run by Japanese folks who spoke good English and charged high prices for small rooms to those who did not have the language or cultural savvy to sign contracts and secure cheaper houses or apartments.  Gaijins, by their own laziness, would often stay trapped in these ghettos for years.  They were terrible places to learn about Japan because you were surrounded only by fellow illiterate foreigners.  But fortunately, within three months we had both landed good English-teaching jobs and met a wonderful Japanese friend who helped us to find a place, to negotiate a contract and she signed as our guarantor so that we could move out of our ghetto.

japanese houseOur new home was a classic Japanese house – with sliding shoji doors, tatami floors, a large court yard, a tokonoma and simple, clean woodwork.  The house had a large attached building where the Obaa-san (grandmother) lived downstairs and we lived upstairs.


We weren’t there for more than two months when Obaa-san died.   The Japanese funeral was fascinating.   Obaa-san was laid out in her main room on a futon in her funeral kimono for two days. In the afternoon on the first day, guests lined up in front of the house to sign a guest book, greet the family members with bows and ceremonial greetings, and then to hand over envelopes with money. That evening was the wake where friends and family remained in Obaa-san’s room and sat around her all night on the floor drinking sake and socializing.  The next morning Obaasan was incinerated and her ashes were interned at the family gravesite.  The house then returned to normal but the downstairs was now abandoned.

We had only met Obaa-san briefly before her passing.  But these meetings were nothing more than ceremonial bows — we never really chatted with her.   Besides neither my girlfriend nor I spoke much more than a few words of Japanese and Obaa-san spoke no English.

The day after her funeral, I woke up in the middle of the night in utter confusion.  I looked around the room and did not know why I was in that room.  I did not recognize my girlfriend.  I was scared.  My girlfriend woke seeing me agitated.  She could hear me speaking but did not understand me.  I was speaking Japanese.  I could hear myself, but did not understand myself and this confused japanese slippersme even more.  I finally realized that I should lay down and sleep and maybe the confusion would leave.   I fell asleep and woke the next morning remembering the whole incident vividly, as did my girlfriend.   On going to our bathroom I was surprised to find the grandmother’s slippers.  We had no clue how her slippers got into our bathroom because they were always kept in her side of the house.  We returned them to the parents next door who thanked us for the slippers and for our patience with the funeral.  We all bowed.

My girlfriend was shocked that I seemed to have spoken in apparently fluent Japanese that night.  To further the mystery, it was oddly coincidental that we found the slippers of the dead Obaa-san in our living quarters.  My girlfriend was sure I had been temporarily possessed by Obaa-san’s wandering spirit which hadn’t yet made its full transition to the next life.  The merging of our spirits, she felt, caused us both our temporary confusion and fear and had me speaking Japanese — a language I had not yet learned.

That is how we understood the incident back then and how I told it for years.  But even when I told the story, I only half believed my own words.

Related LinkMy Supernatural Experiences !


Filed under Events, Personal, Philosophy & Religion

15 responses to “My Spirit Possession

  1. West Virginia Salvation


    Very interesting story. kinda has a mystery novel sort of quality to it. I think overall I would be more impressed if your girlfriend spoke fluent japanese and could varify that you weren’t just blabbering nonesenical sounds.

    I wonder if you grabbed the slippers in your hypnotic state and brought them to your house?

    Very curious story.


  2. Ian

    Cool. I’m very jealous of your time in Japan.

    I was listening to Felicitas Goodman give a lecture a few years ago on Speaking in Tongues (on which she was perhaps the leading scholar, she died in 2005). She remarked how many people reporting glossolalia to her attributed them strongly to a particular language, and how almost none of those people could speak that language. The most common being Hebrew and ancient Greek (since Christians associate these with being ‘holy’ languages).

    She concluded that glossolalia is an altered state of consciousness in which we utter streams of word-like vocalizations. Interestingly for your story, I think, she remarked that although the vocalizations have no meaning (and can have no meaning – their theoretic information content can be calculated and shown to be far too low to be real language), they consist of phonemes distributed roughly according to the person’s perception of the language they are trying to speak. Glossolalia among south east asian cargo cults is often intended to be English and has a distinct British accent, Christian speaking in tongues often includes a lot of glottal elements that are common in Hebrew.

    In your case, perhaps the spirit of Obaasan was speaking through you by putting your brain into a glossolalic state and having you spatter out phonemes in roughly Japanese proportions. Of which your girlfriend, presumably, would have recognized the odd desu or shimasu and interpreted you speaking in very confident fluent Japanese.

    Of course, we all know Obaasan would be capable of having you speak perfect Japanese, but I suggest that given that her spirit was tired after her passing (which is why she settled for you in the first place, rather than seeking out someone who’d actually understand her), she is more likely have gone for the simpler option 🙂

  3. @ Anoat : Yes, there is much in this story that a true skeptic would reflexively explore deeper. But to believers in spirits (all of us) it gives us that fun tickle.

    @ Ian : Indeed. The present me would agree totally with Goodman, and like Anoat start doubting immediately. But I wanted to tell the story with the voice, the memory and the feelings of that former me. And actually, that former me is still inside the bigger me ! Smile. Thanx for the background — fantastic !

  4. Very interesting story. Are you highly sensitive? As in do you cry easily, fall in love really hard, and experience things intensely?

    I’m thinking that the funeral affected you heavily, being so new and different to you, and that your brain processed the experience that way.

    I think it’s perfectly possibly that you spoke Japanese; after all, your brain had heard a great deal of it during the funeral, and the brain doesn’t forget. The words were there whether you understood them or not.

    As for the slippers, who knows? A relative may have brought them over for superstitions reasons.

  5. Nice story. Who knows what happened, but obviously there was something out of the norm. Unfortunately it cant be quantified as to what happened but Im sure it still makes you pause to think every once in while. Some time I will tell you about my “ghost” story.

  6. Gosh!

    I wish I had a ghost story. I’ve tried so hard to have a “supernatural” experience that by now I know for sure there is no such thing.

    The only weird thing I ever saw was a huge black butterfly the day my dad died.

    There is a superstition in my country that if a black butterfly comes to your home and stays awhile, someone is going to die.

    The butterfly came at about noon and stayed until late at night the day my dad died at 7 pm.

  7. I know for sure there is no such thing(Lorena)

    I see the “Fundy” in you still pops up every once in a while. 😉

  8. I took the quiz, my score was 0%. I’ve met Larson before, I attended some of his public presentations back in my religious days, before I realized what a nutball he is. The guy sees demons in everything, he doesn’t strike me as a very stable individual.

    That said though, humans are inherently pattern-seeking animals, we look for correlations between events and any two events that happen around the same time are likely to be seen as related, even if they are not. This often explains odd occurrences because the individual may see two totally unrelated experiences as correlated or causal when it’s simply not the case.

  9. Ian


    I appreciated that you didn’t bubble out of the story to be skeptical about it. I like that.

    I tried to drop down into the story layer myself at the end there, but it didn’t come off 😦

  10. @ Lorena — no, actually it takes a great deal (unfortunately) for me to cry — but I have and I can count them. I occasionally am moved, but not to tears. But I do feel passion for things. I can not fall asleep easily after a movie — I see them in my head and think and feel about them for hours — it is like they echo. My wife can fall right to sleep and not think twice. So I rarely watch movies late . I guess that is a sort of sensitive.

    The funeral did not really get to me emotionally — I did think it fascinating. I have an extremely curious personality — I will try anything 10 times ! And I highly doubt my brain really knew Japanese — that took 3 more years.

    I like the slipper theory !

  11. Temaskian

    That is one scary story. As an ardent atheist in all things spirit, I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for all that.

    I would hate to believe in spirits. It would mean the possibility of an after-life. And that’s scary.

  12. @ Temaskian
    Energy responds to energy. Our cells and atoms are conscious energy. Energy never dies it just transforms.

    @ Sabio
    It sounds like you have fluid boundaries. I could be wrong, just an idea considering the possession and how you think and feel movies and it interrupts your sleep.

    Enjoying your posts!

  13. Dana,
    Thanx for stopping in. Interestingly, I have used the phrase “unstable boundaries” for myself. I thought everyone had similar experiences, of course, until I talked with people as I grew up.
    Are you out in Portland?

  14. B. Elexander

    The story was a bit creepy…I wonder if it was at all true??? Anyway, I hear al the time about how people with a work visa come to Japan without learning Japanese well. I know that you’re not to speak it while at work to facilitate learning, but didn’t you(I meant people with a work visa in Japan) think that you’d have to use it after hours to build some comradary (mspl) with the other teachers or whilst not teaching? The reason I ask is because I studied my ass off and am well on my way to doing the same (sort of).

  15. @ B. Elexander: Yes, it was very true. BTW, I learned Japanese to the highest fluency level while there and even graduated from a Japanese Unviersity (the only foreigner in my class). So I guess I was not similar to those you speak of, though I met many of them.

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