Frightening Japanese Urban Legends And Supernatural Myths

The best way to keep a record of history is by talking about it or writing it down. Stories about happenings get passed through generations. Japanese culture is rampant with stories that have traveled through its expansive past. Some of these are full of hope and inspiration, while others can be frightening. 

Japan is well known for its ability to share frightening stories, whether it be through movies, books, or passing down urban legends and supernatural myths. Some urban legends or myths have lessons behind them, while others are just downright terrifying. 

Japanese urban legends and supernatural myths can be gory, contain violence, and if you were to encounter one of the subjects of these stories, there is said to be no way to escape.

Having an unfortunate encounter with one of these creatures allegedly results in a painful and excruciating death. 

What’s more unsettling about some of Japan’s urban legends and supernatural myths is that some of them are based on true events, or have later been proven to be true.

Many have told about potential sightings of certain urban legends or have attempted to summon one of these otherworldly characters. 

Kuchisake Onna 

The legend of Kuchisake Onna is one that has spread quite far within Japan and outside of it. Kuchisake was a beautiful woman married to a samurai warrior. Because the warrior believes she had been unfaithful to him, he cut her mouth from side to side, leaving her permanently scarred. 

It is said that after this happened, she would walk around at night wearing a face mask. If you see her, she will approach you and ask you if you think she’s pretty. It’s expected that most people, attempting to be kind, would say yes. At this point, she will take her face mask off and reveal her full face to you, including her horrifically scarred mouth. 

She will then ask you again whether or not you think she’s pretty. What you respond with will determine your fate. It is said that if you tell her she looks average, she will get confused as that’s not one of the typical answers she gets, and that would cause her to spare you. 

If you say yes to her, she will use scissors to slice your mouth from side to side, just like hers. If you tell her no, she will cut you in half with a scythe.

Teke Teke

This urban legend revolves around another potential frightening encounter one might have on the streets of Japan. Teke Teke is the name for a woman who had a terrible accident on the subway tracks, cutting her body in half. The top half of her lingers, as she is angry about her death. She is called Teke Teke because of the sound of her dragging her body across the floor. 

Teke Teke is an example of what Japanese culture calls an onryo, or a cursed spirit. Her purpose is to seek out revenge, thus she will roam around at night on the hunt. She travels quickly on her hands or elbows. It is said that if you encounter her, she will catch up with you no matter how fast you run and use a scythe to cut you in half. 

In some versions of the Teke Teke legend, she is referred to as the spirit of Kashima Reiko. It’s said that she died in the same manner as the Teke Teke, with her legs being severed from her body because of a train accident. In this version surrounding Reiko, it’s said she lurks around restrooms asking visitors if they have seen her legs. 

In order to escape her wrath, there are a couple of things that can be done. One is to tell her that her legs are on the Meishin Expressway. The other is to say kamen shinin ma, which means mask death demon in English. If you respond in a way that she doesn’t like, she will cut your legs off. 

The Red Room

This supernatural myth is one that has been associated with a real crime. However, its origins are unknown and it is unknown what type of relation this video has to the unfortunate incident. 

The Red Room is an internet-based myth surrounding a flash animation video. A young girl had killed one of her classmates, and it was a huge story in Japan. Because this girl had this Red Room video on her computer, it was reported and the myth was spread all over the internet. 

Essentially, the video opens up to a red screen when the computer owner is alone. The red screen has black text on it that will start asking the owner if they like certain things. This will then lead to the computer program asking if the owner likes the red room. No matter how much they might try to exit the video, they are unable to. 

It is said that, after this question, the names of people The Red Room has taken will appear on the list, and the person who watched the video will end up dead somehow with their walls covered in blood. It’s believed that there’s a supernatural force within this video that causes these deaths. 

Aka Manto 

This one might make you chuckle at first, but shortly after, it will terrify you. Aka Manto is a man cloaked in all black who appears to people when they are using the toilet. If you were to encounter Aka Manto, it’s said that it’s best if you either find a way to escape or ignore him. 

However, if you can’t do either, he will ask you if you want to use red or blue toilet paper. If you choose blue toilet paper, he will kill you through asphyxiation, leaving you blue, or he will drain your body of blood. If you choose red toilet paper, he will stab you to death. Regardless, if you answer Aka Manto, it is said he will kill you. 

Toire No Hanako-san 

Most people, whether they are fans of horror or not, have heard of Bloody Mary. Japan has its own urban legend regarding its own Bloody Mary figure, known as Toire No Hanako-san. It is a little harder to summon her, but if you dare to, there are very specific instructions for how to do so. 

In order to try and find her, one must go to the third floor of a building and find a restroom that has at least three stalls. You then have to knock on that stall door three times and ask her if she is there. People will say “Hanako, are you there?” or in Japanese Hanako, soko ni imasu ka

If successful, Hanako will appear. She is a girl in a red dress with a traditional Japanese bun. She takes those who summon her and pulls them into the toilet with her. It is also said that she will sometimes try to befriend those who summon her, only to drag them with her into the toilets regardless of how they respond to her. 

It’s believed that Hanako may be the spirit of a young girl who committed suicide in a bathroom. Some legends suggest she did so because she was being bullied. Others suggest that she committed suicide because of an air raid during World War II. 

Tomino’s Hell (The Cursed Poem)

This urban legend is a somewhat modern one that has been interpreted into other poems and movies. It surrounds a poem written by a man named Yaso Saijo who tragically lost his family during World War 1. It is a very graphic and disturbing poem surrounding themes such as death, hell, and gore. 

Many people have debated over the years what exactly the poem was meant to describe. While its true purpose has never come to light, it is said that if you read the poem out loud, it can cause you to experience physical symptoms. It is said that it can also even lead to death. 

There was a book written that was inspired by the cursed poem in 2004 that it is believed gave new life to this theory. It was written in the book that if anyone were to read the poem out loud they would suffer extraordinarily. 

Okiku Doll

This urban legend revolves around the Okiku doll, which actually exists and can be found in a Buddhist temple. The doll was originally a gift from a young boy to his sister, and she loved the doll deeply. 

After the sister sadly lost her life because of illness, the family celebrated her life by putting up an altar and placing her beloved Okiku doll upon it. The family believes that the sister’s spirit began possessing the doll, as they witnessed paranormal activity such as the hair on the doll growing. They eventually gifted the doll to the Mannen-ji Temple in Hokkaido

The temple where Okiku lives is open to visitors, so people are able to view the doll if they choose to. However, one of the rules in place is to not photograph the doll, although it’s unclear why. 

The doll’s hair has continued to grow, and at one point, the doll’s hair grew past its knees. Some people have also reported that it appears that Okiku is starting to open her mouth, and some very small baby teeth can be seen. Priests that care for the doll have also reported having nightmares about her. 

Kunekune 

Kunekune is a horrifying urban legend about the wiggling man, also known as Kunekune. Kunekune lives in rice and barley fields and makes his appearance on a hot and sunny summer day. People will see him from afar, and it looks like he’s wiggling around or dancing. 

Even though the wiggling man can be enticing, it is said that you should not attempt to go near it to figure out what exactly it is. If you get too close, it can cause you to go mad. Touching Kunekune can also result in death. It’s believed this urban legend evolved from the well-known scarecrow and the belief that they may come alive at night. 

Hitobashira 

The hitobashira are also sometimes referred to as human pillars, which is a fairly apt description for what this urban legend entails. It is said that if humans were to be sacrificed by building them into pillars used for structures and buildings, it would bring good luck to the construction and keep the building strong and secure. 

One example of a building that is believed to have been constructed using hitobashira is the Maruoka Castle in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture. However, during construction, it was extremely difficult to finish as some of the walls kept crumbling. It is possible that they turned to hitobashira to finish construction. The reason? This urban legend is actually based on a true ritual that Japanese builders used to partake in centuries ago. 

According to the urban legend surrounding Maruoka Castle, there was a woman who was chosen to be sacrificed, named Oshizu. She agreed to partake, but asked that her sons would be made into samurai after her death. She was promised this, but the promise was not fulfilled. Because of this, it’s believed that the spirit of Oshizu causes the moat to overflow in the spring when it rains. 

It is believed that the spirits of those who have been sacrificed for hitobashira roam the buildings in which they permanently reside. This is potentially evident with the account of Oshizu. In Oshizu’s case, they attempted to appease her by building a tomb on the property in her honor. 

Explore Japans Urban Legends In A Three Volume Set

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.