The Curse of Koro – A Short Story by Charlie Chin

by Charlie Chin. Posted February 8, 2023.

     At exactly 8:00 AM every Monday through Friday, the grey-haired crew at table 8 of Henry’s Hawaiian Diner sit down for breakfast.   Their ritual included politely asking Marci the waitress if Henry was in.  The answer is always no, because it happens that Henry has been dead for quite a while.   When he was still alive, the crew always said hello to Henry as he worked in the kitchen.  Long after Henry was buried, as a tribute to his memory, when they sat down and got their menus, they always inquired if he was in the house.

L & L Hawaiian Barbecue.

     Marci the waitress was Henry’s daughter and the current owner.   The over-the-hill “Boys” at table 8 had been her adopted “godfathers” since she started working at the diner during her high school years.     Chuck Chan, Surf Dog Leong, Victor Labrador, and Ichiro Shimizu had watched Marci grow up over the years.  They had seen her through a couple of jerk boyfriends, a cheating husband, and a very bad car accident that wasn’t her fault.  Often, a much-needed red envelope of money would appear during the times when things were rough.  This helped a lot while she was raising her two daughters by herself.  When she was finally able to pay off all the debts and buy the restaurant outright, it was arranged that table 8 would always be reserved for the “Boys.”

     Every morning they politely flirted with Marci and told outrageous stories that some people said might be true.  Surf Dog Leong took a sip of coffee and kicked it off.

     “What the most bizarre sexual experience you’ve ever had?”  Chuck Chan smiled broadly,

     “Did I ever tell you about Mona, the girl that I was dating who never took her socks off?  In one voice they all responded,

      “Yeah, yeah, we all know.  She had six toes.”   A little miffed, Chuck silently poured more syrup on his pancakes.  Victor took a shot,

     “I was courting a lady once; she was raised on a farm.  She used to neigh like a horse when she made love.”  Chuck became interested.

     “When was this?”  Ichiro cut in,

     “Must have been about twenty years ago.  That was the last time Victor was still capable of playing “Johnny rides the pony.”  When the laughing died down, Chuck Chan began with another one,

    “Here’s a story that begins with a phone call from my friend Judy Takata.  When she told me what was happening, I asked, “Is this a joke?”   It turns out it wasn’t a joke, she explained.

     “It’s true.  I’m sitting on the bed with him now.  I had to wait till he fell asleep to call.  You must help me Chuck, I didn’t know who else to call.”

     Victor looked up from his plate lunch,

    “Wait a minute, who’s this about?  Do I know her?”

     “Judy Takata is a well-known J-town community activist.  We met when we were all involved in that “Save Webster Street” event.  She was always on the soap box talking about the need for the oppressed proletariat to cast off the oppressive boot of the military industrial complex from off their necks.”   Victor picked up a ketchup bottle and inquired,

     “So, she’s a communist?”

     “Naw, she’s a little more to the left.  Anyway, when we first met, she was seeing a guy named Tony Baxter.  You all know him, he was from Michigan, totally into Japanese food, marital arts, and of course, an Asian girlfriend.  When she caught him in bed with another woman, she packed her things, poured sugar into his SUV’s gas tank, and dumped him like twenty pounds at a Weight Watchers meeting.

Menu from Henry’s Hawaiian Grill, Goodyear, AZ.

    Then the next thing I heard was she had fallen in love with a national from Japan and they were living together.  He worked at a joint on Clement Street called “Ramen O Rama.”  His name was Takashi, had long maroon dyed hair, too many tattoos on his thin arms, and claimed he was in the States to make it big as a Hip Hop star.  On Erte’s birthday I had lunch with Lydia the costume designer in North Beach and she confided to me that almost overnight, Judy Takata turned from a “Fist in your face Feminist” into a garage band Geisha.   That’s love, I guess, personally I wouldn’t know.

       Anyway, the next month I went to the Pistahan Filipino Festival,”

      Victor sat back and looked disappointed,

     “You went to the Pistahan Festival, and you didn’t call me?”  Chuck ignored him.

       “And I was brought up to date by Handsome Harry Hong, it seems that because Judy’s new boyfriend needed a Green Card, about a week before, Judy and Takashi got married at San Francisco City Hall.

    Now it was more than a month later, and out of the blue she was calling me for advice about some bizarre Nippon curse.”  She explained,

      “You see Chuck, Takashi my husband, lost his first wife in Japan when she tried to commit suicide.” I tried to be comforting.

     “Oh, sorry to hear that.  What happened?”

       “Well, she used to have a pet hamster named Musashi that she loved.  She let it run freely around the apartment.  One night Takashi came home drunk and stepped on it by accident.  She didn’t realize what had happened until the next morning when she saw the blood on his socks.  Takashi tried to suggest that the hamster was depressed and had run away, but she didn’t buy it.  She was so upset, that she cursed him with a traditional Japanese Shinto spell and then she jumped out the window.”  Surf Dog Leong was shocked,

     “Oh my God, she died jumping out the window?” Chuck went on,

     “Actually no.  They lived in a ground level apartment and when she jumped out of the window, she tumbled out onto the sidewalk and bumped her head on the curb.  Dazed and disoriented, she wandered into traffic, and she was hit by a passing Bento Delivery Pedi-cab.  Of course, the driver was inconsolable.  I tried to be the voice of reason with Judy.

    “Come on Judy, you were raised in the States, you don’t believe all that Shinto curse stuff, do you?”

     “It doesn’t matter what I believe, he believes it.”

      “So, what’s the deal?”


      “He believes that his dead wife put the spell of Koro on him.  He thinks that little Mr. Pokey is being drawn back into his body.  He must grip it all the time to prevent it from disappearing.   Every night right after he falls asleep, she appears at the foot of the bed and says she’s in hell because of him.”  Victor broke in with a comment,

     “My first wife does that too.”  Surf Dog snorted,

     ‘Shut up and let Chuck finish.”  Chuck took a breath,

     “Gentlemen, I’ve heard some wild excuses for choking the chicken, but this voodoo spell was a new one for me.”

     Ichiro offered his two cents,

   “Why didn’t he just go to sleep in another bed?”  Chuck rolled his eyes,

      “You don’t understand.  No matter where he was, he believed that his wife’s ghost was following him.  Every night he thought Mr. Johnson was getting a little shorter and when it finally went all the way back into his body, he would die.” Judy complained to me,

       “He’s so afraid, I must hold him all night while he’s sleeping.  I haven’t slept in days.”

      “Wow, you have stay up and hold him in your arms all night?”

       “No, no, I must hold “It” all night.”  A red flag the size of Utah flashed before my eyes.

       “Hey, look Judy, we’re friends but I draw the line at coming over and holding on to your husband’s trouser trout.”

      “No, I don’t want you to do that Chuck.  I was hoping you might know of somebody that could help.”

      “Oh.  O.K.  Give me a chance to call some people.  I’ll get back to you.”  I put down the phone, thought for a minute and then I gave a ring to my old meditation teacher, Barney Fagelbaum.   He runs a vegetarian and meditation center over in Marin.  It took a minute or two for him to answer the call.  He is a genius, but strangely he still hasn’t conquered the cell phone yet.

    “Mushi, mushi, who is this calling?”

     “Sensei, It’s me Chuck Chan.  I have friend who needs help in a somewhat usual situation.”  I explained the matter to him.  He thought for a moment and then said,

     “Mung beans.”  I thought I misheard him.

      “Mung beans?”

     “Get a package of dried mung beans.  Pour the beans into a bowl.  Set it by the bed and when his dead wife appears, have him grab a handful of mung beans and ask, how many beans are in my hand?”

     “Are you sure?”  He grunted a yes and hung up.    It seems a little wacky, but I stopped by the Golden Gate Grocery store on my way to Judy’s place and picked up a package of dried mung beans.  When I explained to Judy and her new husband what we were supposed to do, a desperate Judy said,

     “O.K., we’ll do it right now.”  I could tell by her tone of voice she was willing to try anything.  A bleary-eyed Takashi fell back into his bed and pulled up his blankets.  Judy took her place sitting on the bedside with her hand discretely reaching under the covers to hold on to “Willy the Wonder Worm.”   Takashi closed his eyes; the poor guy was so tired he instantly fell asleep.  He began to snore a little, and then suddenly his eyes flew open, and he stared into the empty space at the foot of the bed.  Apparently, he could see his departed wife’s image.  Feeling around with is right hand, he found the bowl of beans on the other side of the bed, grabbed a handful, and asked “How many beans are in my hand?”  His eyes widened, he shouted, “Aiiiieee!”, and fell back onto his pillow instantly asleep.

     Judy gently lifted the blanket that was covering him, and we saw that instead of shrinking, the Lop Cheong of Love seemed to be growing.  That was my clue to leave.  I got up quietly, Judy smiled and said in a relieved voice,

     “Just close the door behind you.”

    When I got home, I called Sensei and reported that the trick worked.  I asked,

      “What did the beans have to do with it?”  Barney explained it slowly.

     “His wife might have cursed him, but it was his guilt over having a new wife in America that made him think that her ghost was visiting him every night.  The curse of Koro was the worst thing he could think of.”

     “But the mung beans?”

       “When he asked the image of his wife how many beans he had in his hand, she couldn’t answer because Takashi didn’t know how many beans were in his hand.  Once he realized that, he understood that the image was just a figment of his imagination, and the apparition disappeared.”

     “Wow, meditation allowed you to see all that.”

     “Oh yes, and I see much, much more.  Chuck, the meditation center is having its yearly fundraising dinner.  There will be a vegan dinner, a ukulele raffle, and a famous Drag King, Big Buxom Avocado, will do a fun filled Botoh interpretive version of Macbeth for entertainment.”

     “I took the hint and ordered four tickets.”  Chuck sat back and threw his hands up in a sign of surrender.

    “That was a week ago, and so help me, I swear guys, that’s the whole story.”  The guys chuckled and Victor complained,

    “I liked the story about the woman with six toes better.”  Just then Marci the waitress walked up to the table, drew the pencil from behind her ear, began totaling the bill and asked,

     “What are you desperadoes talking about today?”  Surf Dog smiled,

     “Nothing important.”


Author’s Bio: Charlie Chin is an author, singer/songwriter, and master storyteller. He served as the Community Education Director at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City and as Artist-in-Residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. He is the author of several children’s books, including China’s Bravest Girl (1992) and Clever Bird (1996).


  1. Melody on February 15, 2023 at 11:12 am

    Charlie is a great story teller even on paper! Thanks for sharing this fun story. I am so glad Charlie is writing down his stories to share.
    I have a borrowed space in the Japan Center East Mall where we are working toward presenting art shows, teaching cultural movement classes, and hopefully more in the near future! Perhaps it can be a venue to do something interesting together in the old Takara Restaurant.


    • Eddie Wong on February 15, 2023 at 3:47 pm

      great news about your studio space. let’s stay in touch about any future possibilities for performance.
      thanks, Eddie

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