Welcome back my fellow fright-seekers! With the chilling legend of Taira no Masakado still fresh in your minds, I have decided to shine the spotlight on not one, but TEN of Japan’s most creepy urban legends!! That’s right folks, your resident Yokai Hunter has collected enough ghostly fables to put Tobin’s Spirit Guide to shame! So dim the lights, put your ouija board on silent and prepare to enter the domain of frights…
#10 – Kunekune
Easily the most recent urban legend to chill Japan, with its origin dating from the turn of the 21st century. The Kunekune is a fictitious entity that first appeared on various Japanese internet sites in the year 2000. Said to be a long, slender and deathly white humanoid (black ones are also said to exist), the Kunekune is a terrifying apparition that is mostly spotted drifting alone in large open spaces like rice fields or grasslands. Their name comes from the meaning “to twist and turn” which is reflected in their long sinewy body and limbs. They are believed to be only visible from afar, but should you be stupid enough to attempt a closer look, you will be sent insane. Or if you’re REALLY stupid, you can try touching it and face certain death! Probably best to walk in the opposite direction then…!
#9 – The Antarctic Human
This is an interesting legend since, as the name suggests. This beastie is not actually native to Japan, though being first discovered by a Japanese whaling vessel, it has become a well-known legend here. Most sightings of the Antarctic Human (or Nankyoku no Ningen as it’s known in Japan) have been in the Antarctic region with the cryptid being completely white in color and reaching staggering lengths of up to 30 meters. According to eye-witness reports from Japanese whaling vessels, the creature is said to resemble an iceberg but, upon closer inspection, human-like features can be seen. Other sightings report seeing not only a human face, but also extremely large limbs that resemble arms or hands. The legend of the Antarctic Human became so widespread that the popular Japanese magazine “Mu” ran an article on it in 2007 showing what looks to be a sighting off the coast of Namibia. Don’t believe me? Check out the photo for yourself!
#8 – The Turbo Granny
Yes, you read that right. This woman HAS to be the fastest geriatric in existence. The Turbo Granny (or Turbo Baachan as the locals like to call her) is a legend originating in Hyogo prefecture where several people claim to have been overtaken in their cars… by an old woman running on foot! There are several reports supporting the legend, but the largest number of sightings seem to take place throughout the numerous tunnels peppered around the mountainous region of Rokkōsan. The general premise is that cars exceeding speeds of 100kmph when passing through the tunnels at night, will see an old lady running behind them in their rearview mirror. In most cases, the old woman will run up alongside the car, surprise the driver by tapping on the side window, and then sprint on ahead before vanishing into thin air. Other eyewitness reports indicate that in some cases, the old woman will also smash the window and dent the car whilst running past. The most chilling rumor however is that should she look back over her shoulder and laugh while sprinting off ahead, the driver of the car will meet with certain death. Yikes!!
#7 – The Headless Rider
For some, biker gang members can be pretty scary but how would you feel if you saw one hurtling down the freeway minus his head? Though the exact location isn’t known, legend has it that a biker fell foul of a trap laid out for him involving piano wire being tied between two trees on opposite sides of the road. Allegedly the biker sped straight through the trap, slicing his head cleanly off his shoulders as he continued to ride off into the night. It is said that the Headless Rider, or Kubinashi Rider as he’s known in Japanese, will sometimes appear on the same stretch of road at exactly the same hour and minute he lost his head, while others assert that he only appears once a year on the anniversary of his death. Though explanations are pretty varied, the two most popular theories behind the sightings are that the biker is either looking for his head, or he is looking for the felon that set the trap up in the first place. …I wonder if said felon had ever seen Mad Max?
#6 – The Tiny Old Man
Every bit as cute as he sounds, this little guy is between 8 to 20 centimeters tall, and has been spotted all over Japan in various situations ranging from peeking through windows, loitering in rest rooms, sitting on tree branches, or rolling empty cans by the roadside. Though it would seem that this little fella is some kind of fairy or Yokai, seeing him is generally considered to be an omen of good fortune. Don’t get too excited though, since the fortune he brings is usually relative to his size. Tiny man, tiny fortune, I guess! On a side note, my wife’s best friend swears blind she actually saw the tiny old man late one night when she was on the way home from her office! Call me gullible, but I totally believe her! Haha!
#5 – Kashima-san
This is where things start to get really creepy! Kashima-san is one of Japan’s more well-known Onryō, or vengeful spirits. According to legend, Kashima Reiko was a young woman who died a violent death after being brutally attacked and raped near a railroad overpass. Badly injured, she was then dragged down on to the railroad tracks where she was left for dead. There she lost consciousness but not before a passing train severed off both of her legs. Ouch.
Nowadays Kashima-san usually appears as a young woman with a missing abdomen, and is said to harass her victims with a series of demands which, if not answered correctly, will result in the victim having their legs torn off. If she says “Give me your arms”, you must respond with “I’m using them.” If she says “Give me your legs” you must respond with “I’m currently in need of them.” Another version of the story suggests that she simply asks her victims one question; “Where are my legs?”. The correct answer to this is “You can find them on the train tracks of the Meishin Express”, to which she’ll respond with “How do you know that?” with the final correct answer being “That’s what Kashima Reiko told me.” …So you now you know!
#4 – Teke Teke
Named after the sound it makes when pursuing it’s victims, the nocturnal Teke Teke is also a ghost with no lower half, and nearly always female. The origins of the Teke Teke are uncannily similar to that of Kashima Reiko, in as far as it being a vengeful spirit of a woman who was also cleaved in half by a speeding train. Unlike Kashima-san however, the Teke Teke gives her victims zero chance of escape once she has cornered them. Simply put, Teke Teke are NOT to be messed with. Dragging their bodies along by walking on their hands, Teke Teke are said to be capable of “running” extremely fast. So fast in fact, not even escaping in a speeding vehicle will help! What happens if you’re caught? Well, you will be scythed in half to share their disfigurement of course! Lovely!
#3 – Toire no Hanako-san
Heading into the top 3, we finally meet one of Japan’s big hitters. Hanako of the Toilet, or Toire no Hanako-san as she is more accurately known, is one urban legend that almost all Japanese children hear about. Legend has it that schoolgirls who approach the third stall of the bathroom on the third floor of the building and knock three times before asking “Hanako-san, are you there?” will hear a voice answer “I’m here.” Should the person then choose to open the door, they will come face to face with a little girl in a red skirt and bobbed haircut before being grabbed and pulled into the stall. The legend was heavily popularized throughout the 1990’s, receiving a movie and several manga adaptions, and has even become somewhat of game that Japanese schoolgirls play for kicks. What’s really chilling though, is that the legend is said to be based on an actual true event where a psychotic stranger snuck into the girls toilets and murdered one of the students. Gulp!
#2 – The Human-faced Dog
I bet you’re conjuring up all kinds of strange mental polaroids now, huh? Well, you’re more than likely thinking along the right lines because that’s exactly what these critters look like; a dog with the face of a human! This particular urban legend swept the nation way back in October, 1988 when a late night radio show did a special section dedicated to sightings of the unexplained. Soon after, sightings of a mysterious human-faced dog began to spring up across the country. The most famous of these “sightings” being a fabricated story written by a reporter for a ladies magazine, who wrote of a human-faced dog running past a speeding car on a highway (Turbo Granny style) before cutting in front and taunting the driver. Though obviously a prank, the article caused a media frenzy and the legend was further cemented into the Japanese conscience. Human-faced dogs are said to be incredibly fast, and though they are thought to be harmless, it’s worth noting that seeing one is considered a bad omen. Human-faced dogs are also able to talk which amuses me no end, since they are rumored to say short, obnoxious comments like “Shut up!”, “Leave me alone!”, and “Stupid humans!” before scurrying off into the night! How charming!
#1 – Kuchisake Onna
And now we come to the most sinister, and feared urban legend of modern day Japan; the slit-mouthed woman, or as terrified locals call her, Kuchisake Onna!
By far the oldest legend on this list, with her appearance said to go back as far as the Edo period (1603 -1868), the Kuchisake Onna is, for want of a better word, a serial killer who likes to dispatch her victims with either a pair of scissors or a fan after asking them a series of innocuous questions. Legend has it that the Kuchisake Onna is actually the spirit of woman who was found to be cheating on her samurai husband. Being married to the most beautiful woman in the village, the samurai pardoned the villager for his actions since he understood how alluring she was, but that’s where his empathy ended. In a rage, the samurai returned home and slashed his wife’s beautiful face from ear to ear leaving her horribly disfigured. Unable to live with her ugly appearance, the woman soon committed suicide before coming back as a vengeful spirit.
Targeting lone men late at night, victims who come into contact with the Kuchisake Onna will undoubtedly be asked the same question. With her long black hair and surgical mask covering the lower half of her face, she will look alluringly into the eyes of her victim and ask “Am I pretty?”. Should the man respond with a “No” he will be killed with a large pair of scissors, but should he say “Yes”, she will take off her mask, showing her gruesome visage and ask in a cute voice “How about now?”. Unfortunately for the victim there is no correct answer, as saying “No” will result in being cut in half and saying “Yes” will earn them an ear to ear gash just like hers.
Sadly, running away isn’t an option either, as she will simply reappear in front of her victim. There does however, appear to be a slight hope of escape. According to sightings since the Edo period, confusion seems to be the best form of defense with ambiguous responses like “You’re neither pretty or ugly”, or by turning the question around and asking her if she thinks if YOU’RE pretty, thereby confusing her long enough to make a clean get away. It’s worth noting that throwing money or sweets at her is also rumored to be effective in buying enough time to flee the scene!
Kuchisake Onna has terrified generations of Japanese people and she continues to be a powerful force in popular culture, with several manga and live action movie adaptations being made over the past few decades. I personally recommend checking out Kōji Shirasihi’s Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman if you fancy being scared out of your wits!
So there you have it! A top-ten list of Japan’s most famous urban legends! I hope you enjoyed reading it and I look forward to seeing you all again on Halloween for the final installment of these spooky “Weekend Yokai Ghost Hunter” specials!!
See you on Wednesday!