Japanese urban legend

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Japanese urban legends (日本の都市伝説, Nihon no toshi densetsu) are enduring modern Japanese folktales of either:

  • paranormal creatures and their attacks on (usually) innocent victims; or
  • non-supernatural, widespread rumours in popular culture.

The former rarely include the fantastical yokai of earlier Japanese superstition, but are mostly based on onryo (Japanese ghosts (yūrei) who have become vengeful spirits and take their aggression out on any who cross their path). Modern urban legends tend to include Japanese schools and, similar to the yokai legends, incorporate cautionary tales into their stories, warning people not to bully others, walk home late at night, or talk to strangers. Although there are non-supernatural urban legends in Japan's cities, such as the secret Tokyo tunnels[1] or the corpse-washing job rumour,[2] this article deals with both the natural and supernatural legends of modern Japan.

Urban legends (natural)[edit]

1932 Shirokiya Department Store Deaths[edit]

On 16 December 1931, the Shirokiya Department Store fire in Tokyo resulted in 14 deaths. During the fire, many saleswomen in kimono were forced onto the roof of the eight-story building. Rumors later spread that some of these women refused to jump into the safety nets held by firefighters on the ground. Traditionally, women did not wear undergarments with kimono, and they were afraid they would be exposed and ashamed if they jumped. As a result, they died.[3][4] This news attracted attention from as far away as Europe. It has been alleged that in the aftermath of the fire, department store management ordered saleswomen to wear panties or other underwear with their kimono, and the trend spread.[3][4]

Contrary to this belief, Shoichi Inoue, a professor of Japanese customs and architecture at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, has denied the story of the ambivalent women with fatal modesty. According to Inoue, most people were saved by firemen, and the story of women who preferred to die with their modesty intact was fabricated for Westerners. The story has been prevalent in many reference books, even some published by the Fire Fighting Agency. Moreover, it is generally believed in Japan that the Shirokiya Department Store fire was a catalyst for the change in fashion customs, specifically the trend toward wearing Western-style panties, though there is no evidence to substantiate the belief.[5]

Sony timer[edit]

It was rumored that the Sony Corporation installed a device in all of its electronic products that caused them to fail soon after their warranties expired, an illegal form of planned obsolescence.

This has never been substantiated and while it is unlikely that Sony would explicitly add expiration devices to their hardware, the "Sony Timer" has also been taken to mean that Sony manufactures devices to withstand just enough use to necessitate a new line. At the annual shareholders meeting in 2007, then president Ryoji Chubachi said that he was aware of the term "Sony Timer".[6]

Urban legends (curses)[edit]

Cursed Kleenex commercial[edit]

In 1986, Kleenex released three Japanese commercials for their tissues, featuring a woman dressed in a white toga-like dress and a child dressed as a Japanese ogre, sitting on straw. Each advert had the song "It's a Fine Day" by Jane & Barton playing in the background. Many viewers found the advertisement disturbing. Some complaints claimed the music sounded like a German curse,[7] although the lyrics are in English. Because of its unnerving ambiance, several rumours began to circulate about the cast, such as with the crew meeting untimely deaths through accidents and the lead actress Keiko Matsuzaka either dying, being institutionalized or becoming pregnant with a demon child. And the voice and audio and the commercial itself is rumoured to change at midnight and an error occurs after it. [8] Similar urban legends: Set problems on The Exorcist.

Inokashira Park curse[edit]

In Inokashira Park, Tokyo, there is a lake where visitors can rent rowing boats. It is believed that if a couple rides on a boat together, their relationship will end.[9] The legend is connected to a local shrine dedicated to Benzaiten. She is believed to be very jealous and causes the break-ups of those who ride on the boats.[10]

The Red Room[edit]

The Red Room story is an internet legend about a pop-up that appears on the victim's computer, the victims are usually people who spend too much time online. The image simply shows a door and a recorded voice asks "Do you like - ". Even if the pop-up is closed, it will repeatedly reappear until the voice finally completes the question: "Do you like the red room?" Even after still trying to close it, it will not close out. Those who have seen the pop-up are found dead, their walls painted red in their own blood. The legend began with a flash animation of a boy being cursed after encountering the pop-up, but gained notoriety when it was found that the schoolgirl who committed the Sasebo slashing in 2004 had the video as a bookmark.[11]

Similar urban legends: Kata Lata Kulu Email

Curse of the Colonel[edit]

The Curse of the Colonel (Kāneru Sandāsu no Noroi) is supposedly suffered by the Hanshin Tigers baseball team and cited as the cause of their poor performance in the Japan Championship Series. In 1985, fans of the Hanshin Tigers celebrated their team's first and only victory of the series and, in their excitement, threw a statue of Colonel Sanders (the founder and mascot of KFC) into the Dōtonbori River. Since the incident, the team has yet to win the Championship again, and some fans believed the team would never do so again until the statue was recovered.[12]

The statue was finally discovered in the Dōtonbori River on March 10, 2009. Divers who recovered the statue at first thought it was a large barrel and, shortly after, a human corpse, but Hanshin fans on the scene were quick to identify it as the upper portion of the long-lost Colonel. The right hand and lower body were found the next day, but the statue is still missing its glasses and left hand.

Similar Legends: Curse of the Bambino; Curse of the Billy Goat

Urban legends (supernatural)[edit]

Aka Manto (Red Cape)[edit]

Aka Manto is a spirit who haunts bathrooms, usually the last toilet stall in a women's or girls' bathroom. Some versions describe him as wearing a mask to cover his extremely handsome face, which had caused him stalking problems in life. When the unlucky victim is on the toilet, a mysterious voice will ask them if they want red paper or blue paper. If you answer red paper, you are killed violently and drenched in blood. If you ask for blue, you are strangled or bled dry, leaving your face/skin blue. Attempting to ask for any other colour of paper will result in hands appearing (sometimes coming out of the toilet you are sitting on) that will drag you into the fires of Hell. In other versions the ghost will simply ask you if you want a red vest and will then rip the skin from your back.[13] He could also ask you if you want a red or blue cloak.[14] The only answer that will spare the person is to refuse anything he offers. In another version, prompting an answer of yellow caused him to attempt drowning you in the toilet.

Fatal Fare[edit]

This story concerns a lone taxi driver making his way along a road at night. Legend goes that a person will suddenly appear from the darkness and hail the taxi. The person will sit in the back of the car and will ask to be taken to a place the driver has never heard of. When the driver mentions this, he is assured that he will be given directions. The passenger then feeds the driver increasingly complex directions which leads them down streets and alleys, through many towns and even in some instances all the way from the city to the countryside. After traveling this distance and still seeming no closer to any destination, the driver becomes uneasy. He turns around to the back seat to ask the passenger exactly where they are – but he is shocked to find that the passenger has vanished. The taxi driver turns back to the steering wheel, only to drive off the edge of a cliff and die.[15]

Similar Urban Legends: Killer in the backseat and the Vanishing hitchhiker

Gozu (Cow Head)[edit]

Gozu (Ox-head), also known as Cow Head, is a Japanese urban legend about a fictional story called 'Cow Head'. This relates to the hanging of any symbolic cow decorations as well as actual bovine skeletal remains. Supposedly the Cow Head story is so horrifying that people who read or hear it are overcome with fear so great that they tremble violently for days on end until they die. One variation involves a teacher who tells a bored group of school children the story, resulting in the children and teacher becoming catatonic and losing their memory. Other variations include the detail that no one is able to retell the story since they die after hearing it. Rumors say that only fragments are left of the story. One such fragment is about a town that got cursed after they ate the Cow Head.

The Cow Head story was rumored to be an unpublished piece from sci-fi writer Sakyo Komatsu, but there is no evidence to link the author to the legend.[16] A Ukrainian folktale called Cow's Head exists, about a woman who receives good fortune by offering food and shelter to a disembodied cow's head that visits her one night,[17] A Gion Matsuri folktale called Somin Shorai exists, about a poor but charitable person who receives good fortune by saving a tourist Gozu Tennō (牛頭天王) who was looking for a place to stay the night on his journey,[18] as well as a 2003 film called Gozu, directed by Takashi Miike, neither of which are linked to the legend.

Jinmenken (Human-Faced Dog)[edit]

Jinmenken are dogs with human faces that supposedly appear at night in Japanese urban areas and run along highways at extremely high speeds. The jinmenken can talk, but reports say that they will either be rude or will ask to be left alone. Unlike most Japanese urban legends, the human-faced dog is not widely known to kill those unlucky enough to meet it. They are said to be escaped scientific experiments or the spirits of road crash victims.[citation needed]

There is speculation that witnesses who say they have met a jinmenken have actually come across Japanese macaques, which accounts for the quadrupedal movement, dog-like fur, human face and the human-like voices the jinmenken can supposedly make.[citation needed]

Similar Urban Legends: The Black Dog


Kokkuri is a Japanese version of an ouija board, which became popular during the Meiji era.[19] Rather than using a store-bought board with letters and a planchette, 'players' write down hiragana characters and place their fingers on a coin, before asking 'Kokkuri-san' a question. This is a popular game in high schools[20] and, similar to the western ouija board, rumours and legends surround it.

Some include Kokkuri-san only telling players the date of their death, while others say you can ask Kokkuri-san anything, but you must finish the game correctly, either by saying goodbye to Kokkuri-san before leaving the table or by disposing of the kokkuri game utensils within a certain time limit, such as spending the coin or using up the ink in the pen used to write the hiragana.[21] Failure to do so will result in misfortune or death for the players.

Similar Urban Legends: Ouija Board

Kuchisake-onna (Slit-mouthed Woman)[edit]

Children walking alone at night may encounter a woman wearing a surgical mask. This is not an unusual sight in Japan, as people wear them to protect others from their colds or sicknesses. The woman will stop the child and ask, "Am I pretty?" If they say "no", she kills them with a pair of scissors she always carries. If they say "yes", the woman removes her mask to reveal her mouth has been slit from ear to ear. The Kuchisake-onna will then ask, "How about now?" Regardless of whether the child answers yes or no at this point, the woman will kill them: If they say no, they are cut in half; if they say yes, she cuts their mouths to be exactly like hers.[22] To escape the Kuchisake-onna, you can answer her second question with "You're average" or "So-so", which will confuse her so that you can escape. Alternatively, you can throw fruit or sweets at her feet, which she will pick up, thus giving the victim a chance to run. One other option is to ask her if you are pretty: She will also get confused and leave. And a fourth possibility is to say you have to meet up with your husband/your wife and she will excuse herself and leave.

Similar Urban Legends: The Hook and Bunny Man

Teke Teke[edit]

The Teke Teke is the ghost of a young woman who was thrown onto a railway line and did not move in time and was cut in half by the oncoming train. Now a vengeful spirit, she carries a scythe and travels on either her hands or elbows, dragging her upper torso making a scratching or teke teke sound. If she encounters anyone she will ask "where are my legs" the victim will have to say where are her legs or "I'm too busy to talk friend" and if the victim does not say either, the Teke Teke will slice the victim in half and use the bottom half for legs, she will also use the torso and head for a new Teke Teke. Versions of the legend include a school boy walking home at night and spotting a beautiful girl standing by a windowsill resting on her elbows. When she notices him, she jumps out of the window and onto the pavement in front of him, revealing herself to be no more than an upper torso; she then cuts the boy in two.

Toire no Hanako-san (Hanako-san of the Toilet)[edit]

Toire no Hanako-san is a famous legend associated with Japanese elementary schools. The story tells of an omnipresent ghost who is thought to be the spirit of a student who committed suicide due to excessive bullying. However, the entity is also known to appear for no apparent reason. Hanako-san is a popular legend in elementary schools in Japan and supposedly haunts the fourth stall of the girls' bathroom. Characterized by a pair of stark gleaming eyes, the spirit scares any person who sets eyes on it. Not known to be malevolent or vicious, Hanako-san is simply an eerie entity that only scares its victims.[15]

Similar Urban Legends: Bloody Mary


Kunekune is a modern urban myth concerning a distant apparition seen on widely extended rice or barley fields on hot summer days. It is described as an indiscernible white object, like a big, slender paper strip, or a white, loose textile sheet, that shimmers and wiggles as if moved by a strong gust of wind, even on windless days. It is claimed that anyone who tries to get a closer look at it is driven insane or dies when touching it. First reports of the Kunekune appeared on several internet websites at the same time. It is most likely that the Kunekune is based on local Japanese ghost stories about scarecrows coming to life at night (or when someones stares at them too often), or Textile Deity (タンモノ様, Tanmono-Sama), or Snake worship like Hasshaku-sama (八尺様, Eight Feet Tall). Thus, the alleged encounters of Kunekune seem to be a misinterpretation of a scarecrow wiggling slightly in the wind[23][24][25] or misinterpretation of a wick drains planted to drain water from inner ground to robust the soft ground[26].

The White String[edit]

In the 1980 in Japan many Japanese children were scared to get their ears pierced after hearing this disturbing urban legend. It is said that once in Japan there was a girl who wanted her ears pierced so much that she begged her parents to let her get them done. Everyday she would ask and ask and protest that every other girl in her class/form had got their ears pierced.

One day her parents finally gave in and gave her the money to get them pierced instead the girl kept the money and asked her friend to do it herself, now this was a very foolish decision for the next day in class her ear started itching and twitching so she asked to excuse herself and go to the washroom. After taking her ear ring out she noticed something was coming through the hole of where she got her ears pierced, it was a white string... like any normal person she pulled at it until she couldn't stand pulling any more and cut the string. Everything went black for the unfortunate victim and was rushed to hospital immediately! The doctor looked stunned -and sounded it- in a shaky voice she said “that wasn't a white string... it was your optic nerve!” And the girl couldn’t see for the rest of her life.

In media[edit]

Urban legends are popular in Japan and are often used in movies, anime and manga, suggesting their endurance in the common imagination.



  • Kuchisake-onna (1996)
  • Kannô byôtô: nureta akai kuchibiru (2005)
  • Carved (2007)
  • Kaiki toshi-densetsu – Kuchisake-onna (2008)
  • The Slit-Mouthed Woman 0: The Beginning (2008)

TV series[edit]

  • The Kuchisake-Onna legend appears in the Guren Onna TV series.
  • An episode of Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi includes the Fatal Fare legend.
  • Toshi Densetsu no Onna is a TV series about a female police detective who is a fan of urban legends. While investigating a case, she considers its associations with an urban legend.
  • "Gugure kokkuri-san" is an anime adaptation of kokkuri-sans life with a young girl named kohina ichimatsu
  • An episode of Scream Queens includes the Aka Manto and the Kappa.

Manga and anime[edit]

Several horror manga works, usually anthologies, contain the urban legends listed in this article, along with some more obscure rumours and original stories.

Kuchi-sake Onna Manga

  • Kuchi-sake Onna
  • Kuchisake Onna Densetsu

Other legends

Video games[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BLDGBLOG: Tokyo Secret City". bldgblog.blogspot.com.
  2. ^ "Now hiring part-time cadaver cleaners ~ Pink Tentacle". pinktentacle.com.
  3. ^ a b Richie, Donald (2006). Japanese Portraits: Pictures of Different People. Tuttle Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-8048-3772-9.
  4. ^ a b Dalby, Liza Crihfield (1983). Geisha. University of California Press. p. 318. ISBN 978-0-520-04742-6.
  5. ^ Shōichi, Inoue (2002). パンツが見える。: 羞恥心の現代史 パンツが見える。: 羞恥心の現代史 [My panties are visible. The history of being ashamed] (in Japanese). Asahi shimbun. ISBN 978-4-02-259800-4.
  6. ^ ソニー、定時株主総会を開催。「利益を伴う成長へ」 「ソニータイマーという言葉は認識している」中鉢社長 (in Japanese), 2007-06-21, AV watch
  7. ^ "Cursed Kleenex commercial ~ Pink Tentacle". pinktentacle.com.
  8. ^ "Moroha 諸刃". moroha.net.
  9. ^ "Inokashira Park". mustlovejapan.com.
  10. ^ "Rent a rowboat, wreck a relationship ~ Pink Tentacle". pinktentacle.com.
  11. ^ 殺害手口、参考の可能性 ネットの物語掲載サイト (in Japanese). Nagasaki Shimbun. 2004-06-09. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
  12. ^ "USATODAY.com - The Colonel's curse runs deep". usatoday.com.
  13. ^ scary for kids. "Red Cloak". scaryforkids.com.
  14. ^ "8 Scary Japanese Urban Legends". Cracked.com.
  15. ^ a b Fitch, L: Have you heard the one about..? A look at some of Japan's more enduring urban legends. Japan Times Online, 2005. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20050607zg.html
  16. ^ "Cow head ~ Pink Tentacle". pinktentacle.com.
  17. ^ "Cow's Head: From Ghost Stories at Americanfolklore.net". americanfolklore.net.
  18. ^ "Gion Goku-Tennō no engi". Kyoto University Rare Materials Digital Archive.
  19. ^ "Have you heard the one about . . ? | The Japan Times". search.japantimes.co.jp. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  20. ^ "Obakemono.com". Archived from the original on 2011-06-16. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  21. ^ "Japanese Urban Legend: Kokkuri-san's voice". thejapanesehorror.com.
  22. ^ "Video: Severed Mouth Woman ~ Pink Tentacle". pinktentacle.com.
  23. ^ Richard Freeman: The Great Yokai Encyclopaedia: The A-Z of Japanese Monsters. CFZ Press, Myrtle Cottage, Bideford 2010, ISBN 978-1-905723-54-6, p. 200.
  24. ^ Yamaguchi Satoshi Taro: 本当にいる日本の「現代妖怪」図鑑. Ryukura Verlag, Tokyo 2007, ISBN 4773003650, p. 19-23.
  25. ^ Ito Ryuhei: 「ネット怪談「くねくね. In: 世間話研究, 18. Ausgabe. Smalltalk Study Group, Kyoto 2008, p. 55-57.
  26. ^ Kinjo, Rubber (21 May 2004). "発表報文(メディア紹介・発表論文)". Kinjo Rubber Co., Ltd. Kinjo Rubber Co., Ltd. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  27. ^ The Slit-Mouthed Woman (J-Horror) LiveLeak


External links[edit]