There are so many scary urban legends from Japan. The country has a rich history of ghost stories. Yurei, or ghosts, are the subject of many classic folk tales. But Japan doesn’t just have creepy folklore. There are plenty of modern Japanese urban legends that are so scary, you can’t even speak them aloud without becoming cursed.
This list includes many terrifying tales from Japan. There is, somehow, more than one story of a ghost haunting a toilet. There are also stories about secluded villages, murderous families, women with sharp objects - you name a terrifying thing, this list has it. Including dolls. What, you didn’t think you were going to be spared a scary doll story, did you? Enjoy these creepy urban legends, and try not to get too scared.
If you ever find yourself alone on a quiet, foggy street after dark in Japan, you should probably beeline for the nearest populated place because you might just encounter Kuchisake Onna.
At first, you probably won’t be too upset about running into the woman who seemed to just appear out of thin air right in front of you. She’s gorgeous and demure, wearing a white surgical mask over her mouth. She asks you, “Am I beautiful?” You say yes, because she really is. She takes off her surgical mask for you. Her mouth has been slit from ear to ear. She asks, “How about now?” You:
A.) Say “No.” She slices your mouth from ear to ear with a pair of scissors, giving you a beautiful smile just like hers.
B.) Say “Yes.” She allows you to leave, and you think you’ve gotten off the hook. But when you arrive home, she appears again, killing you in your own doorway.
C.) Say “Maybe.” This confuses her. You run; she’s so flummoxed that she doesn’t give chase and you escape.
Do you think you would be composed enough to trick her? Or would you fall victim to a scissor-wielding maniac?
As if public bathrooms weren’t already scary enough, there’s a Japanese urban legend called Aka Manto, or Red Cape, about some weirdo in a mask who hides out in the last stall of women’s restrooms and asks his victims a question that’s nearly impossible to answer. Get the answer wrong and you die a horrible death. If you get the answer right, you live, but you’ve still been playing twenty questions in a bathroom with a ghost. There’s kind of no way to win with this guy.
The legend goes like this: Red Cape was extremely handsome in real life, attracting the attention of every woman who saw him. He became so fed up with women desiring him only for his looks that he began wearing a white mask, a tradition he continued in death. When you enter the last stall in the women’s restroom that he haunts, you’ll hear a voice.
“Red Cape or blue cape?” it asks. Answer “red” and he’ll tear your shirt off and skin your back. The blood will make it look like you’re wearing a red cape. Answer “blue” and he’ll strangle you to death, leaving your body a dazzling shade of periwinkle. Say something else, like “pink” or “leopard print with feather trim, please!” and two hands will reach up out of the toilet, dragging you down to hell. Say nothing and you get to walk away, contemplating whether that was even the worst experience you’ve ever had in a public bathroom.
If you believe this legend, there’s a secluded, abandoned mansion just outside of Tokyo where a series of brutal murders was carried out. The family who lived there would carry out a sick practice called “The Strangling Ritual.” They believed that there was a portal on their property that brought them bad karma from within the earth, so in order to seal the portal, they would choose a local village girl at birth, raise her in isolation, and then tie her wrists, and ankles, and neck to five oxen, which would rip her limbs and her head off her body. They would then take the rope, soak it in her blood, and lay it at the entrance of the portal. This protected them for fifty years.
But something went wrong during the last ritual. The woman, who was supposed to have been raised in isolation, had formed a bond with a man who tried to rescue her. Because of this, the ritual didn’t work, and the patriarch murdered his entire family before falling on his own sword. Now, the mansion is said to be haunted by his family. Rumor has it that the walls are splattered with blood - fresh blood. Blood of the unfortunate people who go looking for the mansion, looking for a thrill, not knowing that the ghosts of the family are waiting for the next victim of the strangling ritual.
Have you ever heard a story so scary that it made you catatonic and when you woke up you were foaming at the mouth? What about a story so scary that it killed you? Well, okay, you probably wouldn’t know if you had experienced the second one. Because you’d be, you know, dead. But that first one is a pretty common experience, right? No?
The story of the Gozu is a legend within a legend. According to the tale, a story called the Gozu, or Cow Head, appeared in Japan around the 17th century. It was so horrific that almost all copies of it were destroyed; those unlucky enough to read or hear it trembled and shook for days before dying of fright. Only fragments of the tale remain to this day.
Another version of the story holds that a schoolteacher was taking his students on a field trip. Tired of their chaotic behavior on the bus, he decided to try and get their attention by telling them horror stories. He had read part of the Cow Head story in the past and repeated that small section to the children. He only meant to frighten them a little bit, but they began convulsing and begging him to stop. He couldn’t pause, though. His eyes turned white but he continued, telling parts of the story he had never heard before. Saying unspeakable things. Losing all control as the children screamed.
He awoke a few hours later. The bus was in a ditch. The driver was slumped over the steering wheel, shaking. And the kids? They were all unconscious, foaming at the mouth.
This story starts out with a tragedy: a girl was accidentally pushed off the platform at a train station just as the train was pulling in. She was cut in half and died on impact. Some time later, a boy was walking home from school alone. He saw a girl through a window. She was leaning on the window sill with her elbows, looking outwards. When she saw the boy, she pushed herself through the open window.
There was nothing the boy could do except stand there, horrified. He had just seen a girl fall from a window, and on any other day, that probably would have been his low point. It might’ve even been the low point of his whole life if he got to live it. See, after the girl hit the ground, the boy realized something: she had no lower body. As he was trying to process this, the girl pushed herself up with her hands and started crawling towards the boy. She was at his feet before he had time to run. He didn’t even realize what she was carrying until the scythe was midway through his waist. As the two halves of his body fell to the ground, it was the sound that she made as she dragged herself toward him - teke, teke - that he heard last.
The Red Room
The legend of the red room comes from an interactive flash video. In it, a boy hears about an Internet pop-up ad that asks, “Do you like—?” His friend tells him anyone who gets the pop-up dies. The boy doesn’t believe him, so he goes home and searches the internet for more information. He can’t find any mention of the pop-up, so he figures his friend was just trying to scare him.
He closes out all his searches and reads some of his favorite websites instead. A little while later, he gets a pop-up. It’s red with black text. “Do you like—?” it reads. A child’s voice repeats the question. He tries to close the window, but it reappears. He keeps clicking and clicking, closing and closing, but it keeps coming back. The text changes. It reads, “Do you like red?” The voice echoes the change. Now he’s frantic, trying desperately to close the pop-up. Finally, the voice asks, “Do you like the red room?”
A new website appears. It’s red with black text, just like the pop-up. It’s got a list of names on it; his friend’s is at the bottom. Hands reach out towards the boy’s neck. The video then cuts to a scene at school, where multiple children are talking about two boys who committed suicide, painting their walls red with their own blood before dying. There’s a surprise at the end of the video, but I won’t spoil it for you. Go ahead. See for yourself if this legend is real.
The Girl from the Gap
You know that small gap between your dresser and the wall? Or between your bed and the floor? Don’t look in there. Because if you see a pair of eyes staring back at you, you’re in trouble.
The first time you see the girl looking at you from a small gap, she’ll ask you if you want to play hide and seek. You don’t really have a choice. Even if you say no, you’re still locked into her game, which isn’t so much a game as it is an exercise in never letting your eyes lock on a gap ever again. If you see her a second time, she’ll drag you down to hell.
You probably don’t need a reminder about why so many people are afraid of dolls, but here’s another terrifying story just in case. There is an actual doll (not a mythical one) known as the Okiku doll on display in a temple in Japan. Why is a doll on display in a religious temple? Because rumor has it that its hair grows. On its own. For no apparent reason. And, as if that weren’t upsetting enough, a sample has supposedly confirmed that the hair that grows from the doll’s head is human.
The doll was originally given to a two-year-old girl by her brother in 1918. She died a year later, and her family kept the doll as a remembrance of her. But soon they noticed that its hair appeared to be growing, so they brought it to a priest, who observed it for a few months and confirmed their story. The doll, which was named after the little girl who owned it, was put on display in the temple and remains there to this day.