“Han’yō 半妖” by Mike Finn Chapters 1&2 of modern Japanese ghost story


Han’yō 半妖

Chapter 1

“I’m not ashamed. I refuse to be shamed. The truth is, I like it.”

Miko looks up at me as she says this, letting her hair fall backwards, revealing blue eyes that seem almost like a mutation when set in her classically Japanese face.

Small and vulnerable, she perches on the edge of a hard metal chair, her knees tucked up under her chin, her thin arms wrapped around her legs. Yet her young voice is strong and clear and her outsider’s eyes shine with a defiant pride.

She is showing no obvious indications of mental confusion or distress. Had it not been for the video, I’d be wondering why the Takata Clinic had asked me to see her at all.

The video had taken my breath away: grainy, silent, black and white, security camera footage, made compelling only by its content.

“I regret that you must watch this, Anna,” Dr Sato had said as he pressed play on the remote control, “but it is necessary.”

Sitting uncomfortably close to Dr Sato in his tiny office, I struggled not to show my reaction to the soundless, joyless scenes of sex we watched.

When the video finished we sat together silently, staring at the blank screen, carefully not making eye contact with each other.

“Her name is Miko,” Dr Sato said quietly. “Her father, a respected man, felt something was wrong. These images are from the hidden camera he installed in her bedroom.”

“He was spying on his daughter?”

“He was concerned for her. He says Miko has always been a good girl. And now…”

“…She is ill.” I said.

“Yes,” Dr Sato said, finally bringing himself to look at me, “Miko is ill.”

Now the living, breathing Miko is in front of me and she does not look ill.

For a moment the memory of Miko’s startling eyes staring at me from the screen as she twisted and sweated her way to orgasms that looked painfully intense, fills my mind. I shift uncomfortably in my chair. I do not want to admit to the guilty hunger those images rouse in me.

Leaning forward across the bolted-down metal table that separates us, I reach out with one hand out towards Miko.

“I didn’t mention shame,” I say, trying to sound reassuring and unshockable.

“You were thinking it. I can tell by your face. You think I should be ashamed. You think I should feel guilty.”

“But that’s not how you feel?”

“No. I feel… special, privileged, chosen.”

In Japan, it is seldom a good thing to be special. Individuality is treated as an aberration here. To stand out is to invite retribution, “The tallest nail is hammered the hardest,” they say. I wonder how often this young woman, barely more than a girl, has been hammered on her way to this private clinic’s “therapy room” that looks so much like a police cell.

Miko lifts her chin off her knee and searches my face for the impact of her words.

“I understand,” I say in a neutral tone.

“No,” she says. “You don’t.” This is a flat statement of fact with no emotion behind it.

Miko looks down, hiding her face behind a curtain of hair.

I wait for a second to let the silence build but the only pressure seems to be on me.

The room is a square box, over-lit at the centre and dark at the edges, where the attendants lurk. To me, it stinks of despair and indifference and I feel tainted by it. It is time to move things along.

“So,” I say a little too loudly, “If you think I don’t understand, show me. Isn’t that why we’re here? So someone else will understand?”

I know I’ve misspoken the moment her eyes meet mine but the anger in her voice still scratches at me.

“I am here because my father placed me here to help him deal with the shame he feels at what was done to me. He would rather think of me as ill than see me free. You are here because you are a half-breed, like me, and it makes sense to them that one half-breed should investigate another.”

I flinch at the vulgarity of her response but I can’t deny the truth of it. It takes considerable control to prevent myself from touching the freckles on my face that mark me like a scar. My mother is Japanese. My father was American. In Japan that makes me something less even than an American; it makes me a damaged Japanese.

I should respond to Miko, try to ground her anger with soothing words, but I cannot speak.

“Besides,” Miko says, placing both feet on the floor, spreading her legs wide enough to put her hospital gown under pressure, “you think you already know. You’ve seen it, haven’t you, the video my father made of ‘his little girl’?”

When she places her hands behind her head, legs still spread, leaning back in the chair, I realize that she is recreating a pose from the video. An image of her naked, her hair plastered to her forehead with sweat, nipples jutting up from her tiny breasts, forces itself to the front of my mind.

She smiles at me, then licks her lips. It is my turn to look down.

“Yes,” I say quietly, “I’ve seen it.”


I lift my eyes at the challenge in her tone. I will not let a patient brow-beat me.

“And what?” I ask.

She loses the lascivious pose. With her legs demurely closed and her hands clasped politely in her lap, she looks quite virginal. Then she launches her next question.

“Did the video excite you?”

There is no sneer in her voice. She seems genuinely curious.

“Does it matter?” I say. This is the wrong response. Too evasive. Too defensive. It makes me wonder what I am defending myself from.

“To me or to you?” she asks.

I pause for a moment wondering how to regain control. Miko presses her advantage.

“Oh, I see,” she says.”I shouldn’t ask questions about you. You are the psychiatrist and I’m the patient. I see you wear a wedding ring. How western of you. Do you still share a bed with your husband? You look like the kind of woman who would, the kind of woman who would need to.”

I let her continue, fascinated by the energy behind her words, even though I find them hurtful.

She leans forward, hands on her knees, her breasts just grazing the edge of the table, looking up at me as if she’s ready to pounce.

“When you’re in your bed, when he is in you, and you are sweating over him, I think you will remember that video. Do you think he will know, your husband, when your breath grows short and you grip him tightly in your wet embrace, that it is me and what was done to me, that you are thinking of?

I force myself to smile in the face of her rudeness and say, “My husband is dead.”

It is a phrase I still have to repeat to myself. It is too recent and too final to be true.

Miko is not cowed by my response. Instead, she relaxes, sliding back against her chair, her arms folded casually below her breasts. When she smiles I want to slap her.

“So that is why you are here,” she says.

“Because I am a widow?”

I manage to sound calm and detached but it costs me more effort than it should. My hurt is too great. Perhaps my counsellor was right and have come back to work too soon.

“No.” Miko says, quietly, “Because you want him back. Because you hope I can show you how to fuck the dead.”

Her words astonish me. Dr Sato has said nothing about necrophilia.

She stands so suddenly that she knocks over the chair. Leaning over the table she shouts into my face. “Understand this: I don’t fuck the dead. They fuck me. The dead fuck me.”

The attendants are on her then, pushing her back into the chair, holding her there. She doesn’t struggle. She just repeats the phrase, “The dead fuck me,” quietly to herself.

I waive the attendants away and move around the table to get closer to this angry woman who has just reminded me that she is my patient and needs my help.

I take her hand, small and warm, in mine and squat down beside her.

“That is what you meant when you said that you were here because of ‘what was done to you.'”

Miko nods but doesn’t look at me.

“Miko, you were right, I have watched the video, all of it, and in the video, you are alone. You do know that, don’t you?”

Miko grips my hand tighter and turns her head towards me.

“Alone like you, widow-lady? If you really thought my bed was a cold and empty as yours, you wouldn’t be here,” she says. “Despite what those around you whisper about your tainted blood, you have a Japanese heart. Have the courage to put aside the western ideas that you wear like a mask and look closely with your Japanese heart, you will see what is done to me.”

“Is done to you?” I ask, standing and taking a step back from this strange, compelling child-woman. “These things are still happening?”

Miko’s laughter bounces off the walls of our tiny meeting place. “Of course it’s still happening.”

Miko twists around so that she is facing away from the table, her arms over the back of her chair and with her legs spread on either side of it. She stares at the two attendants who have returned to the shadowy edges of the room.

“Ask those large men with the hungry eyes and the guilty hands who are set to guard me. They’ve seen.”

I look at the attendants, who had so easily held Miko down a moment ago. They look uneasy. They look guilty.

“And now they see it every time they look at me,” Miko says, staring at them.

“Now they want to be the ones between my legs,” She juts her hips against the back of the chair.

“They want to be the ones pushing themselves into my forced-open mouth.” She stretches her mouth wide, chin up.

I have seen her do this before, in the video. Then I didn’t understand what I was seeing. It showed Miko on her back, her head hanging off the edge of the dressing table she was spread on, her mouth was open unnaturally wide and yet she seemed to be choking. My skin prickles with the realization of what she thought had been happening.

“But you can’t pleasure me the way he does, can you?” she shouts at the attendants, “You can’t even get close.”

The attendants stay in the shadows, not trying to silence Miko. I resolve to ensure that Miko is attended only by women in future.

“It’s ironic really,” Miko, says, turning her attention to me, “When my father brought me here and had me strapped to that narrow bed ‘for my own good’, he made things so much easier for the dead one to fuck me. I could not even try to cover my breasts or my sex. I lay open to his tongue and his fingers and the thick, hot strength of his cock. God, how I bounced under him.”

Holding out her arms, Miko shows me the bruises on her wrists. “You can still see the marks the restraints left.”

I’d been warned about the bruises, told that, unless she was sedated, Miko would pull at her restraints until she hurt herself.

She seems to see the knowledge in my face and suddenly Miko-the-slut is back. She reaches for the hem of her gown, saying “If you like, I’ll show you the bruises he made when he ploughed me. Would you like that?”

“Miko,” I say, trying to call her back to herself, “Doctor Sato says that…”

“…the bruises are psychosomatic,” The slut persona has evaporated. The Miko before me could be a grad student in one of my classes. “They are hysterical injuries, self-inflicted by a disturbed attention-seeking woman who is ashamed of her elevated sex drive and who therefore creates a brutal demon-lover to take the blame for her behaviour.”

The words are so close to what Dr Sato wrote in Miko’s file that I almost smile. Except Dr Sato made no mention of demons.

“Did you know only women can be hysterical?” Miko says. “Hysteria is a label men use for truths that they are afraid of. I’m not hysterical. I’m…”

“Special? Privileged? Chosen?” I say, repeating her earlier phrase to this later calmer incarnation of Miko.

“Yes,” she says, “I am all of those things.”

It’s clear that she believes what she says, even in this lucid incarnation of herself. I decide to push for a breakthrough.

“If you are all of those things, Miko, why do you struggle and cry out for help?

Her smile is tolerant, “Tonight, in your empty bed,” she says, “ask yourself that question. I promise you, the answer will come to you.”

So much for a breakthrough. Perhaps a more clinical approach will help.

I sit down on “my” side of the table, open my notebook, allow myself a moment’s thought and then ask my next question in a calm and detached voice.

“Miko, what did you mean when you said the dead fuck you?”

“Well, it’s not always fuck. Sometimes it’s just a lick or a finger and on one painfully memorable occasion, a fist. Ah, but it wasn’t the fuck part of the statement that you wanted clarified was it? It was the dead part.”

Miko rests her head on her arms, laying forward on the desk with her eyes closed as if she is ready for sleep.

“You’re probably reaching into your Freudian tarot-card set and waiting for me to say that it is my ‘I-wish-he-was-dead’ father who parts my legs and fills me.” Miko says, so quietly she could be speaking to herself “But we’re in Japan, not Europe, Doctor and Viennese folk-lore doesn’t cut it here. The world above is not the only world. As a Japanese, you should know that.”

She is silent for so long after this little lecture that I lean across the table to check on her.

My face is almost level with hers when she springs the trap. Her right-hand grabs my pen from the desk while her left grabs the collar of my blouse and slams me down hard on the metal table. Before the attendants can react, Miko is up on the table, sitting astride my back, holding my head down with one hand and brandishing the pen like a weapon in the other.

The attendants are edging towards us, one from each side.

Miko brings the pen down close to my face and says, “One hard push through her eye is all it would take.” Her voice is chillingly calm.

The attendants step back to the edge of the room. One of them presses the panic button and a siren starts to wail.

Miko slides down my back until she is almost laying on me, and brings her mouth beside my ear.

“Am I making you nervous, Doctor? I hope so.” Miko’s tone is mocking and I should be paying attention to what she is saying to me, but my attention is focused on her right hand. Without looking away from me, she is scratching letters in my book. English letters.

Miko lets go of the pen. Immediately the attendants move towards her. Instead of evading them she wraps her arms around my neck and clings to me.

I am released when one of the attendants pushes a syringe full of sedative into Miko’ neck.

“Are you hurt, Doctor?” one of the attendants is asking. I don’t reply. I let him lead me to my chair so he can help his colleague take Miko away. I am unhurt but shocked and a little frightened; not because of the attack, but because of what Miko whispered when she had her arms around my neck.

Her mouth up against my ear she’d chanted “He sees through my eyes. He sees through my eyes. He sees through my eyes.” When she’d heard the attendant behind her she stopped her chant and in a whisper that sounded like a warning, she said, “He knows your name, Anna. Listen hard and he’ll sing it for you. He likes half-breeds. He was a half-breed himself.”

The chanting I could attribute to psychosis. It was not unusual. What was spooking me was that I hadn’t told Miko my first name.

Then I look down at the pen on the table. It was a gift from my mother on my graduation. She had my name engraved on it in Japanese. I sigh with relief. Miko is a disturbed woman with good eyesight and no more than that.

Reaching for my notebook, I see the word Miko wrote in it: HAN’YŌ. The letters are shaky because Miko was looking at me while she wrote them. I have no idea what they mean. I decide to head home for a much-needed bath.


Chapter 2

My apartment, which is small even by Tokyo standards, seems like a vast empty space without Jiro to share it with. His absence sucks at me constantly, like a recently stitched wound that any sudden movement could rip open.

On a day like today, he would have joined me in the shower, gently cleaning away the grime of the day before leading me to soak in the tub. I was slightly taller than him, another unwanted gift from my American heritage, but when he sat behind me in the tub and wrapped his arms around me, it seemed to me that he was huge and strong and I was safe.

But Jiro is not here. Jiro is dead and I must shower and soak alone. I shower efficiently, keeping my mind in neutral and paying no attention to my body, then I climb into the tub. When my back touches the enamel of the tub instead of Jiro’s warm flesh I feel so alone that I cannot hold back the tears. The tears turn into silent sobs. I will not let myself cry out. I do not want my neighbours to hear my grief and pity me.

When I regain control, I climb out of the bath, wrap one towel around my hair and another around my body and head towards my bed. It is a Queen-sized bed that fills the room from wall to wall. Jiro had it imported all the way from America as a wedding gift.

The crying has exhausted me and it is all I can do to dry myself before I slip naked under the duvet. My hair is still wet but I make do with combing out the worst tangles and then re-wrapping it in the towel.

I still sleep on “my side” of the bed. I tried to make myself move into the middle but the associations were too strong. The middle was where Jiro and I would meet in a tangle of limbs and lust. I cannot lie there alone.

Mercifully, sleep is tugging at me. I curl up on my side, facing towards were Jiro should be and let myself slip away from consciousness.

In my dream, Jiro is smiling at me. He is using his, “I’ve just slipped my hand between her legs and she hasn’t slapped me yet” smile. I clamp my thighs together, hoping to trap his arm. He retaliates by pushing up deep inside me with two fingers and working his thumb gently across my clit. His smile opens wider, anticipating that my legs will follow. Pretending irritation I lay on my back, spread my legs wide, and look away from him, letting him get on with it if he wants to. He will know this for the sham that it is. His fingers will tell him that I am slick with need. Playfully he lowers his head between my legs and goes to work with his tongue. I sigh at the soft wetness of his touch and spread my legs further. Jiro loves to bring me to orgasm with his tongue. He loves the power of it. He told me once that he feels like a fisherman struggling with a powerful fish that can only be reeled in with skill and persistence. It was not the most erotic of images but it was emblematic of Jiro’s approach to me and I love him for it.

In that state between sleeping and waking, when I am little more than a memory of myself, it is easy for me to imagine that Jiro really is between my legs. I cling to the imagined sensation as I would cling to him if I could. I do not have to imagine my arousal. It has been a long time now since I have let myself have any sexual stimulation and while my conscious mind dozes, it is easy for me to give myself up to lust. I am very close to orgasm before things start to change. The mouth working on me is no longer gentle; it is pressing too hard and pushing too deep. Then I realize that no tongue can be that long or that thick and yet this one is pushing into me strongly enough to part my labia. I try to move away but strong fingers press into the soft skin of my thighs, pinning me to the bed. Thick, hard and hot, a cock pushes into me, fast and deep. Filling me. Hurting me.

One word forms in my mind and pulls me up from sleep like fish on a line: NO!

Then I am sitting up, shaking off my nightmare, and realizing afresh that Jiro is dead.

Swinging my legs over the edge of the bed, I find that I am a little tender down below. Even though I am alone, I blush to think that I masturbated so hard in my sleep that I hurt myself.

My fear doesn’t start until I am in the bathroom. Reaching down to wipe myself I am astonished to see ugly, finger-shaped bruises at the top of my thighs. I know I cannot have bruised myself like that.. and yet the bruises are there.

The fear is as physical as the bruises. My gut twists and my nerves tingle. I tell myself that this is just delayed shock from being attacked by Miko mixed with continued grief. And yet I cannot bring myself to stand naked in my own shower to wash off my guilt-edged sweat.

I look up and see myself staring, wide-eyed and pale, in the bathroom mirror. I am afraid. Afraid that I’m not alone. Afraid that I am alone. Afraid of what might happen next.

Backing away from the mirror, unable to break eye contact with myself, I retreat until my back is against the wall. My mouth opens but no sound comes out.

Shivering in a silence that has fallen on me like a net I can feel my fear growing, spreading through me inch by inch. In the mirror, my face is calm as I wait to be consumed.

Moments stretch past as I wait, naked, wet and unable to look away from the freckled-scarred Japanese face in the mirror. A shiver runs through me, breaking the spell and letting me turn away from the mirror and wrap myself in a towel.

I cann0t stand the thought of staying in my apartment alone. I throw on some jogging clothes, grab my laptop and my notes from the interview with Miko and leave my apartment as fast as I can.

It is part way between being very late and very early, but the streets in Tokyo are never empty. The noodle shop is a small island of fragrant brightness in the dying dark. I push into it, telling myself that I need to eat and that I’m not just seeking company because I am afraid to be alone.

After finding a table where I put my back against a wall, I order noodles, tempura and tea and then open my laptop and connect to the net. Ah, the joys of wifi.

Even while I’m pulling up Google, part of me wonders whether this is just a displacement activity to distract me from my fear. Another argues that this IS how I confront my fear – by finding facts to combat it with. I compel both parts to silence and search my notebook for Miko’s scrawl.


The word is vaguely familiar but has no strong associations for me so I wait, as millions of us do every day, for Google to tell me what it means.

The list of links makes me groan. I am in the land of Manga and Japanese folklore: exotic demons called Yōkai and endless lists of manga and anime characters.

For me, this is alien territory. Of course, if I had grown up in Japan all of this would have been familiar, but my father wanted me to have “the benefits of a western education” so I spent my school years in Boston, only returning to Japan to go to University at Kyoto. By then I was too busy to get myself involved in Japanese sub-cultures. No, that wasn’t true. The reality was that I felt overwhelmed by the culture and unsure of my place in it, so cleaved to my books and my studies and pretended that I didn’t mind.

I had hoped that Miko had been trying to tell me something important but it seems that she is only channelling whatever was disturbing her mind into anime-based delusions.

The waitress arrives with my food just as I close my laptop, disappointed and annoyed with myself for ever having given credence to Miko’s scribble.

The smell of the food is greeted with the discovery that I am suddenly very hungry and soon I have a ramen in one hand, chopsticks in the other and a mouth full of a delicious, hot, slippery, salty noodles.

I look up and find the young waitress looking at me with thinly disguised amusement. It takes me a second to process this, then I realize she thinks that my early morning hunger is linked to some kind of drug taking. Which makes me wonder if my hunger and the bruises on my thighs are linked. I don’t want to go there and to my surprise I find myself asking the waitress, “Do you know about Han’yō?”

“You mean like Uzumaki Naruto?”

I nod although I have no idea who she means.

“My favourite is Inuyasha. He’s so cute and yet so lonely. I feel sorry for him.”

“Why is he lonely?” I ask.

“Well because no one trusts him and he can’t trust them.”

“Why not?” I’m still sucking in noodles rapidly and part of my mind is savouring the crispy batter on the tempura as if I have never eaten anything so perfect.

“Well because he’s a Han’yō – you know half Yōkai, half human – so he doesn’t fit in.” Then the waitress, leans forward a little and says, conspiratorially, “Though, with eyes like that, I’d let him fit in whenever he wanted to.”

I stop chewing. Suddenly, the fear is back.

The waitress is looking at me, wondering perhaps if she has caused offence. I nod at her and try to smile with a mouth full of noodles and she moves on.

“He likes half-breeds.” Miko had said. “He was a half-breed himself.”

I am no longer hungry. I feel alone and vulnerable and confused. It is then that I know that, despite everything, it is time to go and visit my mother.

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