John Boon, a prolific writer of horror and thriller short stories, is a regular contributor to Hiding from Japanese Ghosts with a number of urban legend recommendations and translated stories including My Black-Haired Jenny Doll and Four People Stood at the Riverbank.
During a trip to Nagoya, John and I had a chat about his interest in horror, the scariest traits about living in Japan, and what is it to be part of the global horror community.
What enticed you to an interest in horror?
When I was young, my mother always used to tell me horror stories. She used to watch horror movies and television shows – like Aliens, and I would ask we watch them together. I think that was a nice way to be close with my mum.
I also have an older brother who always liked the hero character in stories, such as Thundercats and such. He picked his favourite character, and I was left with whatever remained – which was usually the 'baddy' character.
My interest in spooky things increased, and has grown – perhaps a little bit out of control, actually.
Were there any stories in particular as a child which scared you the most?
Oh, yeah... There was a horrible little story – it was supposed to be scary, but it was called 'The Whipplesnip'.
It was a thing which didn't have legs, but had scissors for hands, and it would go to the local village and chop up all the paper.
The villagers didn't know who was doing it or why, and that seemed really scary to me.
There was also another story called 'The Ankle Grabber', like a monster lived under your bed and would grab your ankles if you couldn't get to the bed in time.
What do you do in the horror community?
I like talking to people with the same interest – what inspires them, what got them into horror, what they like... Just like I've been speaking to you (Becca) about urban legends and stories – I do just that with others. I really like talking to people. Especially films, music, and urban legends.
My role in the horror community is going to dark, scary places – like – abandoned houses, and forests at night – it helps me get ideas. I use these ideas for writing short horror. I've set myself up with a goal to write five short stories this year, and I have finished two so far. I need to up my game a little bit!
Out of your short stories, which ones do you like the most?
I really like 'Drained'; the one about the girl who gets lost in a sewer and tries to get out. I really liked reworking 'The Request', too.
You said you first read 'The Request' on Hiding from Japanese Ghosts. What inspired you to follow that idea?
I loved the way it was written on the website because it was succinct - to the point. I thought to myself this story is an example of archetypal Japanese horror – like a curse which keeps going around. It's just so Japanese, and I wanted to add a few more details in order to gain a bit more reader sympathy for the afflicted, and also try to envision the area, the place, and the time, and what it would be like to be cursed like that.
Coming back to Hiding from Japanese Ghosts, what is your favourite haunted location and urban legend?
Well, I do love Arai-san's House (Becca: "You were the person who recommended it!"), and the Request. There's quite a lot on the site, actually.
My favourite Hiding from Japanese Ghosts location is 'Kiyotaki Tunnel'. I love the rumors and history which surround the tunnel. Despite the fact it was constructed by slaves and is supposed to be 444 meters long, I think the eeriest things about it are the reported sightings of ghosts in mirrors and the screams heard coming from the forest nearby. I’d hate to travel through it at night time!
My favourite Hiding from Japanese Ghosts urban legend is 'Ghost Station Vanishings'. The idea that a mysterious train could take you to a demonic station is very unnerving but I particularly liked that the story listed some of the strange inhabitants of the station. It makes my mind race! It’s a modern urban legend which tends to be ones I prefer as well.
I think the ending is very bleak and offers the reader to imagine what will happen when Hatsumi and the gibberish-spouting stranger reach the mountain. I’m also partial to 'Vengeful Ghost' and 'Kotoribako'.
I am a big fan of all urban legends on Hiding from Japanese Ghosts so this was a close call!
For people who are enthusiasts in Japan who want to be more part of the horror community, what steps do you recommend they take?
Well, you've just got to talk to people. I mean – this (meeting and interviewing) – what we're doing now; it's making a connection and saying 'hey, this is something we have in common!'.
Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and talk to someone; the worst thing they could ever do is not reply. People – especially this community – are happy to share conversation with like-minded enthusiasts.
It's only a community if people talk to each other, and you can make a lot of connections by doing so.
Horror stories and urban legends aside, what do you think is the scariest part about living in Japan?
Wow – that's a good question. For me – for some reason – I constantly fear that I'm going to be in a fight or accused of committing a crime.
I think as a foreigner, you don't have that safety granted to most in their home countries. I've heard crazy stories of being arrested for accidentally touching each other.
The news is very scary over here. There will be reports, and you don't know how altercations start, but suddenly someone is in a lot of trouble and it's very difficult to get out of that.
For example, there was a Japanese man and a tourist on the news recently.
The Japanese man didn't like the volume the tourist was using on the phone during a conversation, and the Japanese man pushed the tourist.
The tourist hit his head as he came down, and he's in hospital – non-critical, but a serious state.
When asked about it, the Japanese man claimed to not remember the incident. Witnesses didn't say anything else.
It's things like that which worry me – maybe everyone will keep quiet if something were to happen to me.
I'm a bit of a worrier like that.
What are the next steps for you in the horror community?
I'm always trying to get a few more stories out, but I would like to build up to something longer than short stories.
At the moment I'm processing ideas of a novel and building a website to links of horror – kind of like what you (Becca) do.
Hiding from Japanese Ghosts
Ghost stories are the least frightening thing about Japan when facing culture clashes, mystery food, language barriers, and - scariest of all - marriage.