Urban legends are passed on from generation to generation for different reasons. Some adults use it to scare children into avoiding sketchy places or doing stupid things. It can also be used as a way to teach valuable lessons to people when shared at the right time. Every country in the world has their respective urban legends to share and in Japan, knowing that they have a knack for the unique and extraordinary, you can be assured that the urban legends they have are a bit more intriguing than those you can hear or read about in other countries.
A List of Scary Japanese Urban Legends and Myths as well as some that changed the World
There are urban legends that are based on real life events. Sometimes, urban legends become more than just stories because they drastically affect the real world due to the lessons learned in the story. An example of such a Japanese urban legend that was based on a real incident and was able to influence people as far as Europe to change something about themselves is the legend of the 1932 Shirokiya Department Store Deaths.
In the year of 1932, during the month of December, there was a fire that spread throughout the Shirokiya Department Store. Wearing kimonos was still very popular then and it is said that some of the saleswomen who were working in the department store during the fire died because of this. You see, it was common to not wear undergarments under the kimono during those years and when these saleswomen had to make a choice to either jump from the rooftop of the store onto the safety net that the firemen prepared for them or die in the fire, they chose not to jump because they did not have any underwear so if they did jump, everyone would see their hidden regions that they would be ashamed for life.
From an outsider’s perspective, you might see this as a shallow reason not to jump but remember that honor is something that the Japanese value very much. Exposing yourself like that can ultimately cause you to lose your honor so it was a very believable reason for why they would not want to jump and save their lives. This news spread as far as Europe that it was the story that pushed the trend of wearing underwear under your kimono. It might not be much of a change but for a story to change something traditional, it means that it was seen to have a huge impact on society.
There are some urban legends that are scary because once you hear them, you will realize that if you ever find yourself in that very situation described in the legend, you will have no way out. A fitting urban legend of this kind is the legend of the Aka Manto.
The Aka Manto or the “Red Cape” is supposedly a spirit that haunts bathrooms, particularly the last stall in the men’s or women’s bathroom. According to the legend, if you use the toilet of the last stall, you will hear a mysterious voice ask you if you want a blue paper or a red paper. If you choose the red paper, you will be murdered on the spot with your blood painting the stall red. If you choose the blue paper, you will be strangled until you turn blue. Any other color of paper you ask for will make the Aka Manto grab you from the toilet and drag you down to Hell. This legend might not have any real life basis but just knowing about it will surely make you think twice before using the last stall in any bathroom.
There is another urban legend that is related to bathrooms but this time, it singles out the 3rd stall in any school’s girl’s bathroom. Much like the urban legend of Bloody Mary whom you would have to summon before anything actually happens, the urban legend of Hanako-san also requires people to summon her. All they need to do is knock on the door of the 3rd stall in the ladies room and ask if Hanako-san is there. What happens next would depend on which school the person comes from because the punishment for each school is different. The fact that you have to summon Hanako-san is great news because you can easily avoid any fear or danger from the spirit by just not daring to challenge it in any way. Some urban legends leave you with no choice but at least Hanako-san is nice enough to not bother those who do not bother her as well.
The Creatures of Japanese Urban Legends like the Jinmenken
Much like Japanese folklore, you are sure to bump into figures and creatures that you will only ever hear about in these urban legends. Also like the creatures in Japanese folklore, they usually have different shapes and forms. Some of them are animalistic while others can be abstract figures like ghosts. There are also instances wherein the creature in the urban legend is the story of the urban legend itself and a perfect example of such a scenario is the Gozu or the “Cow Head”.
Since it is named after something that you can imagine, you can easily be misled or confused with this urban legend. To clarify things, the Gozu isn’t a real creature because it is actually what this fictional story is called. The legend about it says that the reason why no one knows the actual details of the Gozu is that once someone hears it, they die from the fear that it brings them.
There is a variation of this legend wherein the people who hear the Gozu become petrified and shake uncontrollably until they die. There is also a variation wherein a teacher tells her students about it which results in them losing all their memories. The variation that causes them to lose their memories is obviously the least probably to scare kids because it contradicts itself by stating that the teacher knew the story before they shared it and forgot all about it.
If you are looking for an urban legend that involved animalistic creatures, like in Japanese folklore, you should look into legends related to the creature called Jinmenken. The Jinmenken is a mixture of a dog and a human with the creature’s body as the body of the dog and its face as the face of a human. In legends, they usually appear at night and run along highways at a very fast pace. Luckily, unlike most creatures of urban legends that will kill you or cause death upon you once you set your eyes on it, the Jinmenken isn’t a fatal creature to bump into.
It is said that it will just be rude to you or tell you to leave it alone and then it will continue running freely into the night. Adults probably use urban legends about the Jinmenken to scare kids into not going out late at night because they might bump into this freakish looking creature who image might haunt them forever.
There are, of course, better legends you can use to keep children off sketchy streets and alleys during the night and such a legend that is sure to be effective is the legend about the Kuchisake-onna or the “Slit-mouthed Woman”. There aren’t any photos of this character but she supposedly walks around at night with a surgical mask on. In Japan, this is a common sight because a lot of people wear such masks to avoid getting sick.
When you bump into her during the night, she will stop you, whether you are a boy or a girl, and ask you if you think she is beautiful. If you answer no, she will kill you with the scissors that she always carries around. On the other hand, if you answer her question with a yes, she will remove her mask and show her face reveal that her mouth is slit open like the Joker from the Batman movies. Once you see her face, she will ask you again if you still find her beautiful. If you answer this with a no, she will cut you in half. If you answer with a yes, she will cut your mouth like hers is cut.
There is, however, a way to get out of this and this is by confusing her. By answering her second question with something that neither says yes or no, she supposedly will get confused long enough for you to run away. Another option is to throw candy or any type of sweets to her feet and this supposedly has the same effect as giving her an ambiguous answer.
Japanese Urban Legends Used in Anime and Movies
The movies that make use of these Japanese urban legends are usually the ones that lean towards horror as the theme. With this being the case, it is a no brainer to use the urban legends that really strike fear into the hearts of people. It is for this reason that the urban legends of Kuchisake-onna and Hanako-san have been the most used urban legend for movies.
Kuchisake-onna has had 5 movies based on its legend. There is the Kuchisake-onna which was released in the year of 1996, Kanno byoto: nureta akai kuchibiru, which was released in the year of 2005, Carved, which was released in the year of 2007, and 2 more movies that were both released in the year of 2008. For Hanako-san, on the other hand, there have been 3 movies based on it that were released in the years of 1995 and 1998.
Kuchisake-onna, being one of the creepiest urban legends in Japan, has also made appearances in manga and anime. If you are looking for one anime to watch that incorporates many urban legends like Kuchisake-onna, Hanako-san, as well as the likes of Teke Teke and Jinmenken, you should check out the anime called Hell Teach Nube.
There are many Japanese urban legends out there that are worth knowing because they are great stories to tell over a camp fire or any other bonding event. You can opt to share poems but unless you’re in love, the majority of the time, the urban legends have the greatest impact in such bonding events because everybody can relate to fear but not everyone can always relate to being in love. If the list of urban legends left you hanging, all you need to do is search for more online. The internet holds all kinds of details and variations to the many Japanese urban legends to satisfy your hunger for such stories.