AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Prefecture--A shuttered grocery store streaked with spider webs and littered with mummified mice corpses provided an apt setting for a writer's "ghost story trading" event.
Shikataro Utsuro, 44, has cleaned up the place, but it still maintains a musty atmosphere and is lit by candles in the back.
Although his "ghost story trading" events have all ended in the red, Utsuro, a horror writer, hopes the neighborhood’s economy can cash in on the spooky and supernatural.
"I’m happy and excited if scary stories play a role in revitalizing my hometown because they have always been looked down on and frowned upon by adults," he said.
The events are held in a deserted, dimly-lit shopping arcade. Utsuro places a candle on a table in the back of the room and waits for customers.
He tells a ghost story for 100 yen ($0.90) and listens to a customer’s scary experience for the same amount.
He has lost money because customers who wanted to tell their stories far outnumbered those who wanted to listen to his tales. However, he collected the stories for a horror anthology that was published in May.
Utsuro, whose real name is Shinichi Matsubara, went to Tokyo to pursue an acting career after college. But he returned to Amagasaki at the age of 28 after failing to fulfill his dream.
A longtime fan of horror manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, Utsuro has also loved scary stories.
He worked as an instructor at a personal computer class. But his main source of excitement came from listening to the increasing number of stories told by people claiming to have experienced scary and otherworldly events.
Utsuro eventually quit the instructor job and started working part-time jobs while submitting stories to magazines specializing in the supernatural.
Also a movie buff, Utsuro visited the Sanwa Ichiba market near Hanshin Amagasaki Station for the first time five years ago for a summer film event at a vacated store.
After the event, he was approached by Hisashi Moritani, 64, vice head of the market, and was encouraged to make use of the spot.
When Utsuro came up with the idea for the ghost story trading event, Moritani was intrigued.
"It is normal to buy and sell things at a market," Moritani said. "I thought it was interesting when he told me about ghost stories." Utsuro has held his events on several occasions since 2013. Each time, he received more stories than he told.
One customer described a ghostly pet cat walking through "fusuma" sliding doors, while another gave details about a haunted apartment complex.
One man said he was almost offered as a human sacrifice while traveling around Asia.
Utsuro has collected as least 200 scary stories through his activities at the market and elsewhere. He is still looking for ways to end up in the black.