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Decoding the mystery of "Lavender Town Syndrome" and the "Lavender Tone"
In the "Red" and "Green" versions of the Pokémon (ポケットモンスター, Poketto Monsuta) video game for the Nintendo Gameboy system there have been reported rumors circulating the internet of "Lavender Town Syndrome." The phenomena is described as occurring when the player is within Lavender Town, a small area with a paranormal theme including ghosts, ghost themed Pokémon and a tower constructed for the purpose of housing deceased Pokémon. The music in the area, which was later quickly changed for a second release, contains binaural beats which can induce psychological effects on the listener. These subtle beats comprise the so-called "Lavender Town Tone."
For a description of the effects on Japanese children which played this first edition, I shall quote from the page with information on the subject (Readers should note that most but not all of the information on the page is factually sound.)
It was not until Spring/Summer of 1996 that the cases that would eventually become linked to the Lavender Town Tone began to surface. The earliest record of the acknowledgment of the effects of the Lavender Town Tone that the author could find came from an internal report made in June 1996 by the company Game Freak Inc. (株式会社ゲームフリーク), which was then leaked by one of its former employees, Ms. Satou Harue. In it, an employee gives a list of names, dates and symptoms—records of children between the ages of seven and twelve who had suffered various medical problems as a result of playing Pocket Monsters Red and Green versions…
京极 勝女; April 12, 1996 (11)
Obstructive sleep apnea, severe migraines, otorrhagia, tinnitus. Attacked a police officer near a government building and was killed.
千葉 広幸: May 23, 1996 (12)
General irritability, insomnia, addiction to video games, nosebleeds. Developed into violent streaks against others and eventually himself. [自殺]
桃井 久江: April 27, 1996 (11)
Cluster headaches, irritability. Self harmed and carved the kanji symbols for "Empire" into his wrists, then died. [自殺]
吉長 為真: March 4, 1996 (7)
Migraines, sluggish and slow behavior, unresponsiveness. Developed into deafness, and went missing. Body discovered beside road April 20, 1996. [死出]
Hundreds of Japanese children fell victim to these effects, many of them committing suicide eventually. As you can see these binaural beats lead to many problems, including symptoms of brain hemorrhaging and violent actions against others.
The article also mentions a "Ghost Animation" which appears throughout the tower. It supposedly displays static, pictures of screaming faces, the "Grim Reaper" and photographs of corpses along with the standard ghost model itself. While the rest of the paragraph itself is fiction (No such "Games Commission Board" ever held the programmers on trial) there is some truth behind this "Ghost Animation." In the recalled first edition of the games in which the Lavender Town Tone was present, hidden in the game's code is an unnamed Pokémon only identified by its assigned number - 731.
The Pokémon can only be found in two places. One is depicted in Figure 1, Route 7. The thirty first tile of grass, which is boxed with red in the picture, has a 100% chance of entering a battle with Pokémon 731. It is unknown whether this is due to the game's code itself or it was purposely put there by programmers. Another way to find it is to use the "Missingno" Glitch. The Missingno glitch involves having an Old Man show you how to catch a Pokémon. Due to "Old Man" taking the place of your characters name in the games memory, your characters name is moved to the memory which determines what wild Pokémon are shown. On Cinnabar island there is a narrow strip of land in which wild Pokémon can be caught, but it has no specific Pokémon assigned to it. Therefore, a Pokémon which corresponds to the hex value of your name will appear. If your character is named "gca" (in lower case letters) you will encounter Pokémon 731.
The Pokémon itself is strange in nature. It does indeed use the ghost sprite, along with some flashing static. However, about twenty frames in it becomes a flashing series of low quality pictures. Two of the clearest ones have been included, figures 2, 3, and 4. Figure 2 appears to be a man standing over a table upon which something hard to identify—a corpse perhaps—rests. He has his hands on this unknown object and also has what may be a surgical mask over his mouth. This strengthens the theory that it is a body in the frame. Figure 3 appears to be a low resolution image of a building, the significance of which will be explained later. Figure 4 is possibly one of the strangest images, a picture of the Imperial Japanese flag with the two kanji symbols that mean "Emperor" in the bottom right corner. Other frames of the animation that can be made out include more images of doctors, corpses, and buildings. The theme from Lavender Town plays the whole time during the battle, although accelerated 3x.
If one attempts to catch the Pokémon, the game will freeze. After restarting, the title screen of the game will have been modified, displaying only static and the tone accelerated to the blistering pace of 10x.
What is the purpose of this Pokémon? What is the significance of the number 731? Were the binaural beats comprising the "Lavender Town Tone" inserted into the music on purpose? The answers require a look at some of the staff of Game Freak, the company which developed the game for Nintendo.
Game Freak, a Japanese video game developer founded in 1989 by Satoshi Tajiri, created the Pokémon series. Shin Nakamura, who was married Satou Harue with a six year old child, Ken Nakamura, worked there as a programmer. Ms. Harue, who leaked the list of children affected by the Lavender Tone, was trained in musical skills, and in charge of sound design. In order to gather more information on this subject, I traveled to Japan to interview Ms. Harue, who now lives in the small town of Toma, in the Kamikawa District of the Hokkaido Prefecture.
Initially unwilling to answer my questions, she finally relented and gave me the information I desired. The reason she had leaked the list of children was partially due to personal guilt. Mr. Nakamura had asked to tweak the Lavender Town theme, Ms. Harue accepted and Mr. Nakamura added the tone, telling Ms. Harue that he decided that it was fine as it was and did not add anything. Because the tone is not audible for those over the age of twelve, Ms. Harue believed Mr. Nakamura.
In the middle of the night after the game was released, Mr. Nakamura committed suicide in Aokigahara Forest by hanging himself on a tree, leaving a letter addressed to Ms. Harue below him. Their son Ken was killed in an automobile accident down the road from their house, naked, with several cracked ribs, frothing at the mouth and heavily bleeding from his nose due to a brain hemorrhage. The two Kanji symbols for "Emperor" were also carved into his chest. The story that Ms. Harue told me was that while Ken was sleeping Mr. Nakamura put headphones on his son and played the Lavender tone, then left, eventually their son woke up and, due to the effects of the tone cut the symbols into himself with a kitchen knife then attempted to attack the passengers of a nearby car. Frightened, they ran over him then drove off. Unfortunately her story was not accepted by police, although the bloody kitchen knife was present in his bedroom.
Ms. Harue has agreed to allow me to release a revealing passage from Mr. Nakamura's letter with the rest omitted due to personal reasons. It is as follows:
(section omitted)… tonight is the eve of a new era for Japan, a new empire of which I am responsible. I cannot, however, linger to see my creation unfold within the coming months, visions of my father's work haunt me…(brief section omitted)…Our dear Ken will be the first martyr for the empire, followed by many other children as our disgraceful society collapses, uprooted by its own young. A phoenix will rise from the ashes, the second Great Imperial Japanese Nation…(rest of letter omitted)
This passage makes it obvious that Mr. Nakamura's goal was to create a second "Great Imperial Japanese Nation" by using the newly released Pokémon games. He hoped that the Lavender Tone, which causes violence against the victims themselves and others, would turn all of the children who purchased the game into warriors for the Empire. But what explains the pictures on the Ghost Animation, and what was his father's work?
Unit 731 was a secretive unit of the Japanese army under the Empire of Japan during World War two. It was dedicated to biological and chemical research, also delving into human experimentation. It is infamous for its many war crimes. It consisted of several divisions:
- Division 1: Research on bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax, typhoid and tuberculosis using live human subjects. For this purpose, a prison was constructed to contain around three to four hundred people.
- Division 2: Research for biological weapons used in the field, in particular the production of devices to spread germs and parasites.
- Division 3: Production of shells containing biological agents. Stationed in Harbin.
- Division 4: Production of other miscellaneous agents.
- Division 5: Training of personnel.
- Divisions 6–8: Equipment, medical and administrative units.
Under division 4 worked Hoshu Nakamura, the father of Shin Nakamura. According to Ms. Harue "he was a very conservative man, had an Imperial Flag on his wall and followed all traditions. He was stuck in the former half of the century."
If we delve further into records we find that Hoshu Nakamura worked in Division 4. He held the title of "Director of Experimentation Relating to Audial Engineering." From here we can only speculate what responsibilities that title held, but one can guess that the Lavender Tone was engineered there between the screams of vivisected patients and the smoke of burning bodies.
Now recall figures two and three. As figure two pictures a man in a surgical mask holding a body, it was likely taken by Mr. Nakamura himself at the faculty. Figure three looks similar to the main entrance to the facility. We can gather that the rest of the photos are "patients" of Unit 731 and buildings of the facility.
The effects themselves were certainly not as great as Mr. Nakamura hoped. There is no second Japanese Empire, but only a few hundred Japanese children, who died in fits of insane rage against government officials and themselves, he is responsible for. This is mainly thanks to the quick actions of Ms. Harue and Game Freak at removing the tone and the secret code and images which Mr. Nakamura implemented into the game. Mr. Nakamura also neglected to foresee that the effects were hardly present at all without the use of headphones during the Lavender Town segment specifically. The quiet and fast recall by Nintendo is also a contributing factor.
Pokémon continues to be a popular worldwide series of video games. Sadly the government, possibly by the request of Nintendo, has neglected to acknowledge the connection between the lost children and the Pokémon games. The information Ms. Harue leaked has been all but erased from any records, only one copy of the list remains at her home.
I'd like to thank Ms. Harue greatly for complying with my requests, supplying nearly all the information in this article, and providing a rare copy (possibly the only one left) of first edition Pokémon for investigation purposes.
Ms. Harue continues to live alone with her two cats in Toma, Hokkaido, working as a store clerk. She left Gamefreak shortly after her husband's suicide and her child's death. Sadly she has all but given up trying to spread awareness of the events which led to the loss of her child.
*UPDATE* Ms. Harue passed away from Leukemia on May 3, 2001. This page is now dedicated to her, may she rest in peace.