Thought Catalog

The 10 Most Frightening Japanese Urban Legends

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Shutterstock / boscorelli
Shutterstock / boscorelli

Japan has a rich cultural history. Though this makes for great food, beautiful dress, and fascinating festivals, we cannot forget the Japanese tradition of Kaidan (怪談) or the telling of ghost stories. Japanese ghost stories are often told in the middle of August to “chill the blood” during the hot season. Much like English countries, Japan has developed what are called “urban legends” since the dawn of the 20th century. Urban legends are a form of modern folklore that may or may not be believed by the teller. The following is a list of the 10 most frightening Japanese urban legends:

10)トイレの花子さん(Toire no Hanako-san) Hanako of the Toilet

This legend is a lot like the Western story of “Bloody Mary.” Also, if you are interested in Japanese urban myths—then you have likely discovered that many tales of terror (or benign even) happen in the girl’s bathroom.

Hanako is said to be the ghost of a schoolgirl who haunts the third stall in the girls’ bathroom. In order to summon Hanako, you have to enter the girls’ bathroom, stand at the third stall, and then knock three times. After that, you must must call out “Are you there—Hanako-san?” If you hear “I’m here,” then you can open the door.

If done correctly, you will open the door to find a schoolgirl in a red skirt.

There are other versions to this story, depending on which prefecture that the story originates. Some stories claim that you will not see Hanako in full, but rather catch a glimpse of her pale (sometimes bloody) hand peer over the stall. There is even a version that claims that if you open the door, you will find a three-headed lizard that impersonates the voice of little girls.

Overall, this is the least frightening urban legend on the list.

9) 赤マント(Aka Manto)—The Red Cloak

Japan has a lot of creepy bathroom stories, and Aka Manto is no exception. Legend says that if you are alone in the last toilet stall, you might hear a voice ask:

“Red paper or blue paper?”

If you reply “red paper,” the bathroom door will burst open to reveal a cloaked figure who will then slice you in half—allowing for the blood to stain your clothing red.

If you reply “blue paper,” the cloaked figure will strangle you until your face turns blue.

If you try to outsmart Aka Manto by suggesting another color, it will drag you to the Netherworld. .

The only correct answer is “no paper,” in which case Aka Manto will leave you alone.

8) 口裂け女 (Kuchisake Onna)—The Slit-Mouthed Woman

This story is particularly scary due to the fact that there are actual police reports of Kuchisake Onna terrorizing children in Japan, Korea, and China as far back as the 1970s.

The Kuchisake Onna sports a Glasgow smile hidden beneath an inconspicuous surgical mask (wearing surgical masks in most Asian countries is seen as normal). The story behind her terrifying grin has been hotly debated. Some legends say that her face was mutilated as a result of botched plastic surgery. Some claim that the earliest rendition of the story, however, appeared in the Hein period—which said that a samurai slit his wife’s lips because she had been vain and subsequently unfaithful.

Regardless of the Kuchisake Onna’s origin, she is said to approach young people at dusk.

She will walk up and ask: “Am I pretty?”

If you say “yes,” she will take off her mask to reveal her slit mouth. Then she will ask, “Am I pretty now?”

If you reply “yes,” the Kuchisake Onna will take a pair of scissors and cut your mouth to look like hers.

If you reply “no,” she will cut you in half.

If you try to run, she will appear in every direction that you turn.

Legend says that the only way to escape the Kuchisake Onna is to reply, “You are average.” Others claim that the Kuchisake Onna can be confused if you throw candy or fruit at her feet. Another report suggests that she will become confused and walk away if you ask, “Is the child pretty?” or “Am I pretty?

Regardless, perhaps it is safest to be home by dusk.

7) テケテケ(Teke Teke)

Japan loves onomatopoeia.

Many stories and labels are named by the sounds that they make.

For this reason, Teke Teke should scare you.

Can you guess why her name is Teke Teke?

Teke Teke is named after the sound that long fingernails make as they “walk” on the ground.

The story begins with a girl who somehow ends up sprawled across the train tracks. There are many versions as to why she ends up on the tracks—sometimes she falls asleep on the tracks, other times she is pushed. Regardless, she eventually meets her end on the train tracks. The train is said to have rolled over her body and cut her in half.

It is believed that the girl came back from the dead as a vengeful ghost (onryo 怨霊,). Teke Teke is known to appear normal at first, with her assumed legs hidden by a wall or a table, but then the unsuspecting victim gets too close to realize that she has no legs. She is then said to attack people with a scythe and cut them in half.

In an alternate version, she stalks bathroom stalls (yes, Japan has a lot of bathroom myths and legends). If you are in the stall and you hear “Where are my legs?,” you ought to answer “at the Meishin Railway”; otherwise, she will cut you in half.

One thing is for sure, if you hear the “teke teke” of fingernails on the floor, you should run.

6) くねくね (Kunekune) The Meandering

On the internet, English speaking users have created myths through creepypastas. Other countries have as well. The most popular Japanese “creepypasta” is the Kunekune (pronounced Ku-nEH ku-nEH).

Starting around 2003, people began to report strange sights in rice fields and gardens. People reported humanoid wisps of white, seemingly fabric-like appendages wiggling in the distance. On rare occasions, people have seen the Kunekune over the open sea. It often appears to be “blowing” in the wind—even if there is no wind.

The scary part is that if you see the Kunekune, you should turn around. Do not go near it and definitely do not touch it. It is said that if a person tries to get too close to the Kunekune, they will go insane. Worse, if they touch it, they will die on the spot.

The best solution is to ignore the Kunekune, because it will then ignore you back. The problem is, how can you ignore such a thing?

5) 牛頭 (Gozu) The Cow’s Head

This legend is uncomfortable because you never actually learn the story.

How?

Well, you see, the story is called “The Cow’s Head”, but nobody actually knows the story because all those who know the story eventually die of fright. It said that some fragments of the story still exist, but the full story is too terrifying to try to piece together.

Allegedly there was a schoolteacher who came into possession of the original story.

One day, he and his class were traveling by bus for a school trip. To pass the time, the teacher decided to tell the students the story of The Cow’s Head.

He began the story like any Japanese folktale—at first the students were interested, but soon they grew uncomfortable with the subject matter. As the teacher neared the climax of the story, some students cried out in protest. They screamed for him to stop, but he seemed to be in a trance-like state as he progressed through the story. As the children held their ears and called for help, the teacher’s eyes glazed over as he concluded the tale of The Cow’s Head.

When he came to, the teacher was shocked to find that the bus had landed itself in a ditch. The students had fainted and the bus driving was left slumped over the wheel, frothing at the mouth.

Whatever happened to the teacher and the students is unknown—but one thing is for sure, none of them retold the story of The Cow’s Head.

4) Dream School

There is a boy named K who suddenly found himself wandering around a school that he did not recognize.

As he ventured through the corridors, he grew more and more confused. It was as though, no matter which direction he took, the hallway would loop back around to where he began.

K felt the need to find another route, so he kept down the hallway, turned left, and then left again. He soon found himself in the music room. When he opened the door to the hallway, he found himself in the girl’s bathroom. Nothing made sense within the mysterious school.

Then K heard the clock chime.

He looked up to see the clock’s hands swinging back and forth like a pendulum.

Then, K heard:

Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp… It was the sound of footsteps approaching him.

Fearful, K turned to a set of stairs that led to the 4th floor. However, as K climbed up, he felt himself go down. When he reached the top, K had found himself on the 1st floor.

Ahead of him, he saw where teachers keep the classroom keys. There was a large broken glass box which contained what K assumed was an important key. Yet, the key was missing—all that was left was a note that read: “The key is in room 108”.

CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP…

K could hear the footsteps grow nearer. He instinctively knew which way to go, so he ran down the hallway and away from whoever was coming for him.

He then reached room 108. K opened the door to discover that the lights were not working. He closed the door behind him and tried to pick out the details. All that he could see was the silhouette of desks, chairs, and bookbags.

Not long after, K heard the footsteps again:

CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP…

Then whoever it was, banged on the door.

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!

Though he was afraid, K opened the door.

His heart nearly stopped as K stood face-to-face with the most gruesome thing he had ever seen. A mess of disfigured student limps, torsos, and heads coagulated into one big fumbling—ungracefully dancing creature. The form swayed back and forth as K witnessed the countless dead expressions of boys and girls brought together by the mysterious school.

He screamed, then realizing that it was a dream.

But, K never woke up.

To this day, he still wanders the Dream School—unable to escape, always running away from the creature.

Legend says that, if after a week, you still remember the story of the Dream School—then you too will join K and never wake up.

3) 赤い部屋 (Akai heya) The Red Room Curse

The story of the “Red Room Curse” goes that there is an alleged pop-up that asks a target: “Do you like—?” in a child-like voice.

If the target closes the pop-up, it will pop up again, asking again: “Do you like—?” in a more distorted voice.

If the user continues to close the pop-ups, it will eventually change the question to: “Do you like red?”

Again, if the user continues to close the pop-up, the pop-up will eventually complete its question and ask: “Do you like the red room?”

A website will then pop up containing a list of people’s names—the target’s name is also listed.

Suddenly, the target will feel a presence behind them.

When the target is discovered, it will seem as though they committed suicide—after having painted the room in which they were found, red, with their own blood.

Yes, it’s pretty scary, but take solace in the fact that it is just an internet legend. However, real life can be stranger than fiction. This particular flash animation was a favorite of the killer in the infamous Sasebo Slashing. The Sasebo Slashing is especially horrific due to the fact that the killer was a 12-year old junior high school classmate of the victim.

2) トミノの地獄 (Tomino no Jigoku) Tomino’s Hell

Here is the famous cursed poem as translated by a user on creepypasta.com (http://www.creepypasta.com/tominos-hell/):

姉は血を吐く、妹(いもと)は火吐く、
ane wa chi wo haku, imoto wa hihaku,
His older sister vomited blood, his younger sister vomited fire,

可愛いトミノは 宝玉(たま)を吐く。
kawaii tomino wa tama wo haku
And the cute Tomino vomited glass beads.

一人地獄に落ちゆくトミノ、
hitori jihoku ni ochiyuku tomino,
Tomino fell into Hell alone,

地獄くらやみ花も無き。
jigoku kurayami hana mo naki.
Hell is wrapped in darkness and even the flowers don’t bloom.

鞭で叩くはトミノの姉か、
muchi de tataku wa tomino no aneka,
Is the person with the whip Tomino’s older sister,

鞭の朱総(しゅぶさ)が 気にかかる。
muchi no shubusa ga ki ni kakaru.
I wonder who the whip’s shubusa(?) is.

叩けや叩きやれ叩かずとても、
tatake yatataki yare tataka zutotemo,
Hit, hit, without hitting,

無間地獄はひとつみち。
mugen jigoku wa hitotsu michi.
Familiar Hell’s one road.

暗い地獄へ案内(あない)をたのむ、
kurai jigoku e anai wo tanomu,
Would you lead him to the dark Hell,

金の羊に、鶯に。
kane no hitsu ni, uguisu ni.
To the sheep of gold, to the bush warbler.

皮の嚢(ふくろ)にやいくらほど入れよ、
kawa no fukuro ni yaikura hodoireyo,
I wonder how much he put into the leather pocket,

無間地獄の旅支度。
mugen jigoku no tabishitaku.
For the preparation of the journey in the familiar Hell.

春が 来て候(そろ)林に谿(たに)に、
haru ga kitesoru hayashi ni tani ni,
Spring is coming even in the forest and the steam,

暗い地獄谷七曲り。
kurai jigoku tanina namagari.
Even in the steam of the dark Hell.

籠にや鶯、車にや羊、
kagoni yauguisu, kuruma ni yahitsuji,
The bush arbler in the birdcage, the sheep in the wagon,

可愛いトミノの眼にや涙。
kawaii tomino no me niya namida.
Tears in the eyes of cute Tomino.

啼けよ、鶯、林の雨に
nakeyo, uguisu, hayashi no ame ni
Cry, bush warbler, toward the raining forest

妹恋しと 声かぎり。
imouto koishi to koe ga giri.
He shouts that he misses his little sister.

啼けば反響(こだま)が地獄にひびき、
nakeba kodama ga jigoku ni hibiki,
The crying echo reverberates throughout Hell,

狐牡丹の花がさく。
kitsunebotan no hana ga saku.
The fox penoy blooms.

地獄七山七谿めぐる、
jigoku nanayama nanatani meguru,
Circling around Hell’s seven mountains and seven streams,

可愛いトミノのひとり旅。
kawaii tomino no hitoritabi.
The lonely journey of cute Tomino.

地獄ござらばもて 来てたもれ、
jigoku gozarabamo de kitetamore,
If they’re in Hell bring them to me,

針の御山(おやま)の留針(とめはり)を。
hari no oyama no tomebari wo.
The needle of the graves.

赤い留針だてにはささぬ、
akai tomehari date niwa sasanu,
I won’t pierce with the red needle,

可愛いトミノのめじるしに。
kawaii tomino no mejirushini.
In the milestones of little Tomino.

“Tomino’s Hell” is a poem written by Yomota Inuhiko (四方田 犬彦) in 1919. Though it is unclear how the poem gained notoriety for being cursed, it is said that if you read the poem out loud—bad things will happen to you. Most recently, it is said that reading the poem out loud will ensure certain death.

It is safe to read it in your head, however, but who knows for sure?

1. The Girl From the Gap

This story is number one because it taps into our collective fear of small cracks, tiny spaces, and tight crawl places. The girl from the gap can be spotted within any of the aforementioned locations. This is because the girl in the gap is a ghost that haunts every possible nook and cranny wherein she can hide. Legend says that if you make direct eye contact with the girl in the gap, she will ask you: “Want to play hide and seek?”.

Remember not to dangle any limbs between your floor and your bed. TC mark

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