Be careful walking alone in the wee hours of the night, Japan is full of ghosts, ghouls and other characters lurking in shadowy corners.
I’m talking, of course about yurei (ghosts of the deceased) and yokai (mythical spirits) that have been part of Japanese folklore for centuries. They haunt everything from riverways to misty mountains to city streets.
Dating back to the early eighth century, these dastardly spirits first appeared in the Kojiki (古事記, “Records of Ancient Matters”) which is the earliest record of Japanese mythology, chronicling the creation of Japan.
Yurei and yokai have since appeared in Japanese traditional art like ukiyo-e (woodblock carvings) throughout the ages. Some are seen as pop-culture icons, such as in the manga-turned anime Gegege no Kitaro in which all the characters are some form of yokai. If you’re brave enough, you can visit Gegege no Kitaro and his yokai friends in the manga kingdom of Tottori.
Keep an eye out for these ghostly spirits in Japan this Halloween.
1. Kuchisake Onna: A murderous woman with a hellish, gaping mouth
Kuchisake Onna is a malicious, contemporary yurei, whose name literally translates to “slit-mouthed woman.” Legend says when she was alive, her husband punished her for her acts of adultery by slicing her mouth open from ear to ear.
Her ghost appears as a beautiful young woman wearing a surgical mask, holding a sharp weapon like a pair of scissors. She approaches people at night and asks them a question with sinister intentions.
“Watashi, kirei?” or “Am I beautiful?” she coos. If you answer no, she will kill you instantly. If you say yes, she removes the surgical mask revealing her gruesome mouth. With a big smile, exposing sharp teeth, she’ll ask, “how about now.”
An answer of no will result in you being dismembered by the ghost. Say yes, and she will make you as “beautiful” as she is by slicing your own mouth from ear to ear. An encounter with a kuchisake onna is a lose-lose situation, always resulting in death.
This murderous ghost was a character in the 1984 Studio Ghibli movie "Pom Poko" and several Japanese horror movies have been made with her story as the premise, including the 2007 low-budget horror flick "Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman."
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