There was a short delay between ringing the doorbell and hearing the footsteps, but before long a thick, rough voice replied from behind the door.

“Who is it?”

“Hello. It’s Tamura from the daily M. We spoke on the phone a while ago,” I replied.

As Dr Tanabe opened the door, I noticed the badly lit nature of the room within.

“I live alone you see,” he explained before guiding me to the reception room.

Primitive mannequins and spears, grotesque in nature, lined the display cabinets of the room, and furthest to the rear, a shrunken head hung within a glass case. Its face was bluish-white and its expression cold and disturbing.

“So this is the head in question then?” I asked.

“Indeed it is. And these are extremely difficult to get hold of.”

Dr Tanabe was a well-known explorer as well a somewhat hidden authority on ethnology. He was especially knowledgeable in South American customs and had just returned from a tour of the continent where he had been researching the mysterious techniques used to prepare shrunken heads.

I wasted no time in getting to the main point. “Are shrunken heads still being made now?” I asked.

“Well of course. They are closely linked to the religious beliefs of certain ethnic groups, so production is hardly likely to come to a halt.”

“But the preparation method is being kept a secret from outsiders?”

“That is correct. They rarely let anyone see the preparation process.”

“But you were able to see this during your recent trip?”

“Yes. But it took an incredibly long time to become close enough to the people concerned.”

“Could I ask you to explain it in detail for me?”

“Well it’s something I’ve put my whole life into,” said Dr Tanabe, laughing ironically. “There’s no way I would divulge the details publicly.”

“How about just a brief outline?”

“Ok. Well, you cut a hole into the back of the head and carefully remove the skin and bone, sew up the hole and boil with medicinal plants, then insert a fist sized stone into the middle and you’re done.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes that’s about it. But each stage of the process has a certain knack to it. It’s not that simple. I observed every stage of the process carefully and even brought back with me some medicinal plants.”

“What’s the most difficult part? Could I ask you to explain about that part in detail?”

Dr Tanabe stood up, handed me a drink and proceeded to explain. “First of all, it’s difficult to remove the skin without damaging the facial expression. Secondly, it’s difficult to mix the medicinal plants correctly. Also, it’s difficult to dry the head without destroying the lifelike facial expression. I’ve actually thought about making one myself but then the most difficult part is…”

Dr Tanabe stopped talking, before continuing his explanation slowly and clearly. I noticed the peculiar, bitter taste of the drink.

“Getting hold of the materials.”

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