Happy Halloween everyone!
It’s October 31st here in the states, and all I can think about is what I was doing a year ago in Tokyo. Now, Halloween in Japan isn’t really a holiday- it doesn’t have any religious background like it does in the US, nor is it widely celebrated. In the past, it’s mostly been an excuse for foreigners to dress up in costumes and go out drinking, rather than allow children to trick-or-treat.
However, thanks to the influence of American popular culture, Halloween is starting to grow significantly in popularity. Today, many stores put up decorations, sell Halloween treats, and host themed parties. Although you still won’t see pumpkin carving or widespread trick-or-treating, it’s turning from an obscure western holiday into a fun day for youth.
In honor of Halloween, I want to share some of Japan’s most obscure ghost stories and folklore. Most of Japan’s mythology focuses around supernatural monsters called yokai, which is made up of the kanji characters for “bewitching” and “apparition.” Yokai can be terrifying and malevolent or simply mischievous, and can appear human or have animal characteristics. Just make sure to read this post with the lights on, as I’m not sure you’ll be able to sleep tonight otherwise.
1. Aka Manto
Aka Manto is a malicious spirit that haunts public toilets. If you are sitting on the toilet, a mysterious voice will ask you if you want red or blue paper. If you answer red, he will slice you apart until your clothes are stained red. If you answer blue, he will strangle you until your face turns blue. Definitely don’t ask for yellow paper, as he will force your head into the toilet. If you try to trick him by asking for another color, Aka Manto will drag you into the underworld. The only smart way to respond is no paper.
Gashadokuro are giant skeletons that roam around Japan, also known as “starving skeletons.” If they see any humans, they will attempt to bite off their heads. These creatures are formed from bones of people who have died of starvation, and the only way to detect them is hearing a bell-like ringing in your ears. Gashadokuro often target people when they are alone, and roam around after midnight.
Kuchisake-onna, or the slit-mouthed woman, is a lady who was viciously mutilated and murdered by her jealous husband. She returned to this world as a malevolent spirit, and appears to children walking alone at night as a woman wearing a surgical mask. Kuchisake-onna will stop the children and ask, “Am I pretty?” If the child responds no, the woman will kill the child with a pair of scissors. If the child answers yes, the woman will take off the surgical mask to reveal that her mouth is slit from ear to ear. Kuchisake-onna will then ask, “How about now?” If the child answers no, they will be cut in half, and if they answer yes, the woman will slit their mouths like hers. It’s impossible to run away or escape from her, as she will just reappear in front of you
4. Teke Teke
Teke Teke is the ghost of a young schoolgirl who fell onto a railway and was cut in half by a train. She too returned as a vengeful spirit, and haunts train stations, railways and schools. Teke Teke carries a scythe or saw and drags herself around using her hands or elbows. Her dragging torso creates a scratching sound, “teke teke,” which gives her her name. If Teke Teke encounters anyone at night, she will slice him or her in half at the torso.
Akaname quite literally means “filth licker,” and is a yokai that personifies the fear of using a dark bathroom late at night. Akaname comes out late at night to lick up the filth and dirt in bathrooms that untidy owners leave behind.
6. Toire no Hanako-san
Toire no Hanako-san is similar to the western urban legend of Bloody Mary, and haunts Japanese school restrooms. If someone goes to the third stall in the girls’ bathroom on the third floor, knocks three times, and asks, “Are you there, Hanako-san?” a voice will answer “I’m here.” If you go into the stall, there will be a small girl in a red skirt. Hanako-san is typically benign and will usually just vanish, but if you’re unlucky enough, she might just pull you into the toilet and kill you. Calling her name is often used as a rite of courage or hazing ritual in schools.
Pretty creepy, right? If this isn’t scary enough for you and you need a little more terror in your life, check out this great article on the 10 most haunted spots in Japan. But in the meantime, happy Halloween, and be careful tonight! You never know what sort of monster you might run into.