The year was 1978 and I was 15 years old. My best friend had returned to Japan after spending a year attending our junior high school in the states while her father was a visiting professor at the local university. I missed her terribly after she had gone and was able to persuade my grandfather to send me to Japan to visit her during that coming summer. I arrived on a July evening, completely exhausted, of course, yet terribly excited. My friend and her mother showed me to my room which was the only traditional Japanese room in the home, one with tatami matting and sliding doors. This is a feature common to fairly affluent homes in Japan – modern construction and conveniences for the majority of the house with one traditionally Japanese room. I recall that when her mother opened the corner closet to retrieve the futon mats that would be my bed, a cold chill emanated from it. I thought nothing of it. Of course, an enclosed space would be less affected by the ambient temperature of a room. I slept very soundly that first night.
The following night after I had retired, I lay awake, listening to the sounds of the house as it was winding down for the evening. I heard light switches click off and bedroom doors upstairs closing. I was imagining what new adventures we might have tomorrow. I then began to hear a faint laughter. It seemed to be coming from, perhaps, the neighboring house. Perhaps there was a little get together over there. Then the laughter became louder. Then the laughter became closer. Now the laughter was…menacing. It was a decidedly evil, man’s laughter which now closed in around my ears, growing louder, and louder. Hey! Just get up and go upstairs and get your friend! I was wide awake. I tried to do just that only to find that… I could not move, not a muscle. My instinct and unusual spiritual training for a young person kicked in. I had practiced yoga since I was a young child and just before leaving, my yoga instructor had mentioned something about an East Indian holy man named Ramana. The mere mention of his name dispelled negative energies. I tried to say his name aloud – I was ready to try anything. To my horror I discovered that I could also not speak. Fear freezes, my instinct told me. What I have to do in the midst of this terror is to relax. I began to imaging myself floating through a starry night sky. A calm in the midst of this storm around me came over me. I tried to speak the name of the holy man again and this time I was able to mouth the word (though still no sound came out)…”Ramana”. As I did so, it was as if a switch had been turned off. The evil laughter which had become deafening about my ears stopped. I was able to move and considered running upstairs to my friend, yet, somehow, I knew that I was safe now so I thought I would not wake her.
The following day, a number of my friend’s friends came by for a welcoming tea. I told the story of what had happened to me. Oh, yes, that was “kanashibari” they told me, quite matter of factly which means “wrapped in bandages”. It was a common thing which occurs in Japan whereby some spirit or another who happens to be roaming about decides to have a bit of “fun” with a resting human. They proceeded to tell me other tales of spirits, both playful and malevolent who specialized in turning children around in their beds so that their head would be where there feet had been when they awoke. They were not surprised in the least by my experience and had no trouble believing that I had indeed been awake and that this was no dream. The entity was likely a demonic one judging from my description, they said, and I imagine that anyone who heard that laughter would concur. The direction from whence the laughter had originated, I realized, had been the bedding closet which had exhibited the chilly draft the night before.
I took from that experience the notion that calm in the presence of malevolent entities is a powerful strategy. Indeed, my later studies of martial arts would serve to underscore that conclusion. “Don’t strike when you are angry,” I once heard a Tibetan monk remark, “you might miss”.