The 13th Floor

KAGOME KAGOME — A Children’s Game With a Horrifying History

This viral legend takes its title from an old playground game enjoyed by Japanese children… but much like “Ring Around the Rosy,” which originated with Europe’s bubonic plague, its innocence is now tainted by a grotesque tale of war, sadism and unimaginable horror.

The word “Kagome” can be roughly translated as “circle,” but also can be interpreted as “cage” or “surround.” Most properly the game would be called “Circle You, Circle You.” The rules vary depending on tradition, but in one version a group of children choose one of their number to stand stationary, while the others form a circle around them, chanting a song beginning with “Circle You, Circle You” as they try to scare them with sudden moves, loud sounds or creepy faces. If the chosen child flinches, they lose.

No one knows for sure how long ago the game was invented… but the most bizarre and horrific account of “Kagome Kagome” dates back to 1942, at an orphanage in Japan’s Shimane Prefecture.

Image Credit: iStock/Apuuli World

According to documentation obtained by the Allies from captured German facilities, Nazi officials had occupied the isolated orphanage in order to conduct classified experiments on the children. The experiments — which authorities insisted take place outside of Germany to avoid negative publicity — involved the search for an alleged “kill switch” within the human brain, which, when activated, theoretically initiates the slow, deliberate process of physical aging and the eventual death of the body. Nazi scientists theorized that locating, isolating and removing this kill switch while a person is still young could make that person virtually immortal.

Numerous child and adult subjects met an untimely end as the Nazi doctors repeatedly tried and failed in their attempts to remove this specific area of the brain — which they had ultimately isolated in the region of the cerebellum which controls subconcious brian activity. The countless innocents who died from the procedure were buried in the woods surrounding the orphanage, and no record of their names is listed in the documentation.

Finally, it seems the doctors achieved success with one subject, a very young girl. Her heart stopped during the operation, but she was revived with electric shocks. Strangely, this happened repeatedly, with her heart often stopping while she slept, but she could be easily revived afterward and appeared to be normal… despite displaying rather odd behavior. The procedure was deemed a success, and repeated on several other children with similar results.

That’s when the game of “Kagome Kagome” is first mentioned in the documents.

Post-surgery, the child subjects were coherent and could converse normally with their doctors, but later wandered the corridors of the orphanage with calm, euphoric smiles on their faces — as if they shared a wonderful secret. However, when a single child was alone with one of the doctors or caretakers, their expressions were said to change instantly to a look of pure malice and diabolical hatred. They began to single out various adult watchers, circling them and chanting the words of the game: “Kagome Kagome”… Circle You, Circle You…

By the end of the war, when the experiment was shut down, many of the scientists and accompanying personnel had already abandoned the orphanage for reasons not given in the documents. The final entries give no indication what happened to the children; the only account comes from one of four remaining caretakers, who left just before Allied forces entered the area: he writes that the children approached him, smiling, asking him to play one last game of “Kagome Kagome.” He mentions that the looks on their faces were so horrifying that he turned and ran from the building, never looking back.

Image Credit: iStock/Mirlex

Today, the abandoned orphanage is still standing, but locals steadfastly refuse to come anywhere near it. They claim the woods surrounding the building are filled with strange, gnarled tree stumps which resemble human bodies. They also say that the children are still inside… not ghosts, but very much alive, cursed with eternal life thanks to the doctors’ surgical tampering.

Some skeptical visitors have explored the grounds, and a few claim to have actually seen the children. The kids are described as more or less normal-looking, but bear the scars of their surgeries, and their expressions are strangely angelic. They invite the visitors to play their game, with its one simple rule: if you flinch… you lose.

Those who claim to have played the game of “Kagome Kagome” with the children say that the kids’ facial expressions suddenly turned hideous… even monstrous, inhuman forms. Those who managed to return from the orphanage reported that, despite their absolute horror, they somehow managed not to flinch.

However, several others who explored the area have never returned, and are still listed as missing.

I guess they lost.