The Medium Who Committed Suicide

I had intended to write about Ted Serios, the man who was said to be able to take pictures with his mind. But while reading through some 1962 letters about Serios between Dr. J. B. Rhine and Pauline Oehler, who had written an article about Serios for Fate Magazine that year, I got side-tracked by a reference to a medium who killed herself in 1911, and the man who had conducted experiments with her the year before, Dr. Tomokichi Fukurai.

Thank heaven for Google and the internet! The medium was a young woman named Chizuko Mifune and Fukurai wrote about the experiments (and others) in a 1931 book titled Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. I didn’t read the whole book, but they were basically ESP card experiments. Could Chizuko tell what characters were on the cards without seeing them? Fukurai reported that she could at first, but then her abilities declined. There was talk of cheating and scientists became skeptical about all her results. At around this time her sister developed abilities. On January 18th Chizuko killed by taking poison. She was only 24 years old.

Kyohei Iseri, her former school principle and the one who introduced Chizuko to Dr. Fukurai, wrote to Fukurai afterwards. He mentioned that Chizuko’s sister had become clairvoyant, hinting that this was an issue, and that Chizuko’s reaction was, ‘I have now become of no use of the world.’

“She looked very pitiful and I solaced her with all my heart. She confessed: ‘I feel it already hard to read a card in a single envelope …’”


Fukurai talks about her death in the book, and says it could be due in part to “family affairs,” without explaining what those were, and the fact that she was losing her abilities. He also writes a little about her psychological history, saying she was sensitive and temperamental, had trouble sleeping, and perhaps she had an eating disorder, but he downplays one symptom that I found very interesting.

“She began to hear singing in the ears since about twelve years of age, and this became continuous.  She was, however, fond of music by nature, and, especially after the clairvoyant force appeared, she began to enjoy herself by playing the koto, a Japanese instrument.  She did not find it so difficult to hear music as to hear others talking.”

I’m currently researching a book about singing and the composer Robert Schumann had a similar disorder and it worsened. It drove him crazy and he ultimately tried to kill himself as well, but he didn’t succeed and he was committed voluntarily to an asylum which he never left.


Chizuko Mifune’s story is a sad one. But apparently she has captured the imagination of the Japanese public. According to Wikipedia, “Chizuko Mifune has recently grabbed the attention of Japanese horror filmmakers and has in some way been acknowledged in such films as Yogen and Ringu.” She has also been the inspiration for various Japanese novels and anime, I’ve read.

In 1919, as a result of his work, Fukurai was forced to resign from the Imperial University of Tokyo, but he continued to study psychic phenomena, and he died in 1953.

“Yes, it is too bad about Professor Fukurai,” Rhine wrote in one of the letters to Oehler. “The poor man was not very careful. I have had several inquiries made about him and what he left. Friends have visited his institute. Had he been more of a scientist he might have made great headway for parapsychology in the Japanese culture, which is much more favorable than ours. But then, too, he might not have found what he claims to have found had he been more careful. Who can tell?”

3 thoughts on “The Medium Who Committed Suicide

  1. Given his reported symptoms, one modern view is that Schumann’s death was a result of syphilis, which he may have contracted during his student days, and which would have remained latent during most of his marriage. According to studies by the musicologist and literary scholar Eric Sams, Schumann’s symptoms during his terminal illness and death appear consistent with those of mercury poisoning, mercury being a common treatment for syphilis and other conditions. Another interesting possibility is that his neurological problems were the result of an intracranial mass. A report by Janisch & Nauhaus on Schumann’s autopsy indicates that he had a “gelatinous” tumor at the base of the brain; it may have represented a colloid cyst, a craniopharyngioma, a chordoma, or a chordoid meningioma. In particular, meningiomas are known to produce musical auditory hallucinations, such as Schumann apparently had. Still other sources surmise that Schumann had bipolar disorder, citing his mood swings and changes in productivity.

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