Kimodameshi: A Test of Courage on a Hot Summer Night

Darkness falls and the air becomes still. Old ladies fan themselves on balconies and small children run through empty lots catching fireflies. Neon signs and distant fireworks illuminate the night sky, but deep in a bamboo grove on the edge of town, only the full moon’s grey glow shines on the stone graves.

Other children, braver and older than those exclaiming over tiny lights in jars, edge out from the bamboo. They whisper, they shuffle forward. From behind a tomb, a ghostly figure emerges, cloaked in blue flames (vig by Izzo):

Scenes like this play out all over Japan throughout the summer. Well, maybe not with blue flames. Sort of like a haunted house outdoors, I have fond memories of going over to friends’ houses for kimodameshi (肝試し), or “test of courage.” We’d tell scary stories until it got dark, and then the parents and older siblings would disappear while we drank soda and ate candy. Once we were suitably, uh, energized, we’d head out into the dark, tittering with anticipation (vig by inago100):

Our destination wasn’t always a graveyard, but those were favorite places for kimodameshi. Surrounded by tombs in the dark, with nothing but a flashlight to light our way, we never knew what was around the corner. Inevitably, an adult or older brother would jump out from behind a tree, a grave, a wall, a bend in the path and scare us half to death (vig by Moko):

Silly “haunted houses” at the mall and in school gymnasiums here in the States pale in comparison to the fright of seeing a “real-live” (heh heh) ghost float out at you from behind a grave for the very first time. My own kids (when I have any) better watch out — I have a few tricks up my sleeve…

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