5 Japanese Urban Legends to Send Chills Up Your Spine

Updated May 26, 2021
Cropped Hands Hugging Trees In Forest

Japan has some spooky urban legends that will keep you awake at night. So read these tales of terror, and retell them if you dare. Japanese urban legends have the power to frighten even the bravest among us.

Slit-Mouthed Woman

In the 1970s, a woman was working at home in her garden when she sensed someone was watching her. Looking up, she noticed a woman looking at her. Curious, the gardener studied the woman more closely. She gasped in horror when she did, terrified to discover her visitor's mouth was merely a slit from one ear to the other.

Many years later, a child was approached by a woman in a red coat carrying a sickle. She asked the child, "Am I pretty?"

When the child replied yes, the creature removed the mask and asked, "Even like this?" The horrified little girl screamed when she saw the woman's mouth was an ear-to-ear slit. Then, the Slit-Mouth Woman kidnapped the child, who was never seen again

The Slit-Mouthed Woman is still at large, and she may appear to you. She is very fast, so you can't outrun her. However, you can appease her by offering a piece of hard candy. Do this, and you will escape unharmed.

It appears the origins of this story may have a kernel of truth...a woman told a few friends the story of a Slit Mouthed woman approaching her in her garden, and the local newspaper picked it up and published it as a factual encounter with something unknown. Within a couple of months, this urban legend had traveled across all of Japan like a wildfire. Television news channels and various newspapers reported on this strange creature, adding fuel to an already frightened public.

Panic gripped the entire Japanese nation. Sightings of the Slit-Mouthed Woman (Kuchisake-onna) were so common during 1978 and 1979 that parents along with teachers patrolled the neighborhoods and oversaw the children going to and from school. They always ensured that the children traveled in groups. The panic over the story of the Slit-Mouthed Woman died down, but the urban legend didn't go away. Instead, it became ingrained in the consciousness of the country. It is an urban legend that most Japanese know very well.

The Legend of the Okiku Doll

In 1918, a 17-year-old girl bought a doll for her sickly 2-year-old sister. The doll was dressed in a traditional kimono. The little girl adored the doll so much that she kept it with her at all times. Confined to bed, she hugged the doll while she fought the fevers ravaging her little body. Tragically, the little girl succumbed to her illness and her family had her cremated along with her favorite things, but somehow, they overlooked her most cherished possession - the doll.

As a tribute to their little girl, the parents built a glass encased shrine and placed her beloved doll inside. Miraculously, the doll's hair began to grow. It was soon longer than the doll was tall and the parents trimmed the doll's hair. This was just a temporary remedy, since the doll's hair continued to grow. The parents rejoiced, feeling the doll was possessed by the spirit of their baby girl.

Several years later, the couple took the doll to a monastery to reveal the miracle. The monks accepted the couple's gifting of the doll and took on the duty of trimming the doll's hair. They documented the doll's hair growth with before and after photos. Each day, the doll became more and more human like. It's said that her lips eventually separated, and now she stares at visitors as though she were human. No one has been able to explain the hair growth or the other changes in the doll.

The Legend of the Okiku Doll

The Ghost of Hanako-san

Hanako-san is a malevolent girl who was murdered in the third stall of a school bathroom. She has a bobbed hairdo and wears a red skirt/dress. She can be conjured in any school bathroom by knocking three times on the door of the third stall. This should be followed by asking, "Are you there, Hanako-san?"

She then replies, "Yes, I'm here." Then, her bloody hand curls around the edge of the stall door and pulls it open. If you are the one who disturbed the ghost, she will grab you and drag you into the stall. You will never be seen again, for Hanako-san drags you to Hell with her.

The urban legend of Hanako-san, the bathroom stall ghost, has been featured in numerous films, anime, manga, and video games. There are multi-versions of a benevolent ghost or a vengeful ghost. Her demise was either the result of a World War II air raid, murder, or suicide.

The Cow Head (Gozu)

Gozu is the scariest story ever written. Many people who have heard the story have died of fright. This is one story of children who heard the tale and the teacher who told it to them.

There was a school teacher was trying to calm an unruly busload of school kids, so he decided to tell them a few ghost stories. The kids enjoyed the stories until he began telling the one about the Cow Head (Gozu). He opened the story with the tale of the Cow Head and told how villagers killed a man who had a Cow Head and the body of a man.

Petrified, the children began crying and begged the teacher to stop telling them the story, but the teacher was possessed and took great delight in finishing his terrifying tale. Even when the children screamed, holding their hands over their ears, he continued with the horrifying story. The teacher was unaware of what he'd done until he woke up and found he was lying on the bus floor. Lifting off the floor, he was shocked to see the children had also fainted, but they were foaming at the mouth. The teacher realized the bus was on its side and the bus driver was unconscious and convulsing.

The tale of Gozu is said to terrify anyone who hears it, and just hearing the story carries a death sentence. All who hear the story die are overcome with fear so great that they tremble violently for days until they finally die from fright. It's also said that the whole story is too frightening to tell, even if people could survive the telling of it. So, if someone tries to tell you the tale of the Cow Head, don't listen or you will die.

The origins of this Japanese urban legend are shrouded in mystery, and thus it is difficult to know how it got started. However, the story about the killer story remains a well-known one throughout the nation. One theory suggests it was a story written by sci-fi writer Sakyo Komatsu, but no one knows for sure. Perhaps nobody knows because none have ever lived after hearing the story to tell of the story's origins.

Girl in the Gaps

In Japan, there is a little girl who hides in the gaps of things. Her name is Sukima-onna. She will hide anywhere there is a gap, such as in a couch where the cushion fits against the back, the space where your blanket meets the mattress, the spot behind the curtains, the space under your bed, or even the crack in a cupboard door. It doesn't matter how small the gap is. Sukima-onna will hide there waiting for you.

If you peer into a gap and see the girl, don't make eye contact with her. If you do, she will crawl out of her hiding space and ask you to play hide and seek. Don't answer her--just run away as fast as you can. Because no matter your answer, she will hide and the game will begin. You may not "find" her for a long time, but some day she will reappear in the gap. And as soon as you find her, she'll pull you into the gap with her and drag you straight to Hell. No one will ever hear from you again.

Sukima-onna's story traces back to the Edo period and an anthology of scary stories called Mimibukuro, written by a samuria named Negishi Yasumori. The story has been told since the mid-1800s and has showed up in Japanese popular culture including film.

Scary Japanese Urban Legends

Japanese urban legends are part of the culture. In some cases, the belief in these terrifying tales is so powerful that it actually affects how the Japanese work, play, and live. While evidence is almost always scant, you can't help but be mesmerized by these ancient stories of the macabre that still haunt one of the most populated countries in the world.

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5 Japanese Urban Legends to Send Chills Up Your Spine