We’ve all heard about urban legends, in fact – there’s probably a couple in your town. Some quirky, some weird, but some so incredibly frightening, we’re afraid to sleep after we’ve learned about them. Japan happens to have some of the most intriguing myths and legends we’ve come across – so we present our personal favourite Japanese urban legends. Don’t have nightmares!
Kuchisake-Onna translates as ‘the woman with a split mouth’, and is probably the most well known of Japan’s ghosts. Legend says that she walks the streets at night wearing a trench coat, and has the ability to teleport. Unassuming passersby will be approached by Kuchisake-Onna, and the woman will ask you if she is pretty. If you say no she will chop off your head. If you answer yes, the woman will pull off her surgical mask, reveal a mouth that is slit from ear to ear, and ask, “How about now?”
If you answer no, you will be cut in half. If you say yes, you will have your mouth slit like hers.
The Okiku doll has resided at the Mannenji temple in the town of Iwamizawa since 1938. According to the temple, the traditional doll initially had short cropped hair, but over time it has grown to about 25 centimeters (10 in) long, down to the doll’s knees. Although the hair is periodically trimmed, it reportedly keeps growing back.
It is said that the doll was originally purchased in 1918 by a 17-year-old boy named Eikichi Suzuki while visiting Sapporo for a marine exhibition. He bought the doll on Tanuki-koji, Sapporo’s famous shopping street, as a souvenir for his 2-year-old sister, Okiku. The young girl loved the doll and played with it every day, but the following year, she died suddenly of a cold. The family placed the doll in the household altar and prayed to it every day in memory of Okiku.
Some time later, they noticed the hair had started to grow. This was seen as a sign that the girl’s restless spirit had taken refuge in the doll. In 1938, the Suzuki family moved to Sakhalin, and they placed the doll in the care of Mannenji temple, where it has remained ever since.
Nobody has ever been able to fully explain why the doll’s hair continues to grow. However, one scientific examination of the doll supposedly concluded that the hair is indeed that of a young child.
Aka Manto (Red Cape) is a Japanese urban legend about a malicious spirit who haunts public and school toilets. Often described as a beautiful man in life and hounded constantly by admirers, he now wears a mask to hide his face.
If you are sitting on the toilet (usually the last stall), a mysterious voice will ask you if you want red paper or blue paper. If you answer red paper, you will be sliced apart until your clothes are stained red. If you choose blue paper, you will be strangled until your face turns blue. Any attempt to outsmart Aka Manto by asking for a different color will result in you being dragged to the netherworld. The only correct answer is to say no paper and he will leave you alone
Hitobashira translates as ‘human pillar’. In ancient Japan, people believed that sealing human beings in construction would make the building stronger and stable. By sealing people in the pillars and in the walls, they made sacrifices. If the gods were pleased, the construction was said to last longer and be protected from natural disasters.
Buildings with human pillars are thought to be haunted today by the ones sealed within the walls.
Fatal Far concerns a lone taxi driver making his way along a road during the night. Legend goes that a person will suddenly appear from the night darkness and hail the taxi. The person will only ever sit in the back of the car and will ask to be taken to a place the driver has never heard of. When the driver mentions this, he is assured that he will be given directions. The passenger then feeds the driver increasingly complex directions which leads them down streets and alleys, through many towns and even in some instances all the way from the city to the countryside.
After traveling this distance and still seeming no closer to any destination, the driver becomes uneasy. He turns around to the back seat to ask the passenger exactly where they are – but he is suddenly shocked to find that the passenger has vanished. The taxi driver turns back to the steering wheel; only to drive off the edge of a cliff and die.