Graveyard Shift 7 Creepy Japanese Urban Legends That Inspired Horror Films  

Christopher Myers
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There are countless Japanese urban legends and most of them are pure nightmare fuel. A lot of the legends are supernatural, making them the perfect inspiration for horror films. The Ring is just one example of a Japanese film to take inspiration from Japanese myth. The long tradition of telling stories about ghosts goes back hundreds of years in Japan, and these urban legends still circulate today. These films and the stories that inspired them once again prove that Japan is an absolutely terrifying place.


Ring is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 7 Creepy Japanese Urban Legends That Inspired Horror Films
Photo: tinanwang/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

So, The Ring is an adaptation of the Japanese film Ringu, which itself is an adaptation of the Ring trilogy of novels by Koji Suzuki. The backstory (downplayed in the American version) involves a young girl named Sadako whose mother, Shizuko, is psychic. Shizuko's abilities are documented by Dr. Heihachiro Ikuma (Dr. Fukurai in the film). When Shizuko is accused of being a fraud, she kills herself by jumping into a volcano.

Years later, Dr. Ikuma discovers psychic powers in Sadako. She is able to project images onto film with her mind. Things get fuzzy, depending on the version, but the bottom line is that Sadako ends up getting thrown in a well. Still alive, she uses her powers to burn the images onto a blank VHS tape (now it's all starting to add up), creating a curse.

Interestingly, an even older Japanese story can be attributed to inspiring this tale. The story Banchō Sarayashiki existed at least as far back as the 18th century. It's about the Japanese Okiku, which is basically the ghost of a woman whose body is thrown down a well. Every night the ghost comes back to haunt people and create a general ruckus.

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Ju-on: The Grudge is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 7 Creepy Japanese Urban Legends That Inspired Horror Films
Photo: Columbia Pictures

The film Ju-On: The Grudge was based on the urban legend of Kayako. When Kayako was young, she was a weird loner. Other children teased her. When she grew up, she married and had a son named Toshiro. Her husband and her son were her world.

One day, her husband came home and read Kayako's diary. He became convinced that she was cheating on him and, in a rage, he attacked her. He stabbed her and beat her viciously as Toshiro watched. He strangled her, breaking her windpipe so that she was only able to let out a hoarse death rattle. Then, he put her into a plastic bag and stuffed her in the attic to die. He turned to Toshiro and drowned him in the bathtub.

According to the legend, Kayako's ghost remained in the form of a powerful grudge. Anyone that comes into contact with the vengeful onryō is doomed to die.

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Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 7 Creepy Japanese Urban Legends That Inspired Horror Films
Photo: Tornado Film

Literally translated as the Slit-Mouthed Woman, Kuchisake Onna is a Japanese urban legend which made an appearance in the film Carved. Hundreds of years ago, a beautiful woman was married to a very jealous man. He becomes convinced that she is cheating on him, and to prevent future infidelity he decides to cut her mouth from ear to ear, saying, "Who will find you beautiful now?"

The spirit appears wearing a surgical mask, a common sight in Japan. She approaches a child and asks, "Am I pretty?" If the child says yes, she removes her mask to reveal her gruesome smile and then asks "How about now?" If the child changes his answer to no, she cuts him in half on the spot. If the child sticks with yes, she carves up their face to look like hers. You can't run away because the ghost can teleport. The only way out of the situation is to tell her she looks so-so, which confuses her enough to allow you time to escape. You can also throw candy at her, which, apparently, she finds distracting.

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Hanako-San Inspired Two Movies... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 7 Creepy Japanese Urban Legends That Inspired Horror Films
Photo: Toei Company

There are two movie renditions of the urban legend Toire no Hanako-san, the first of which, School Mystery, came out in 1995 and the second, Hanako of the Toilet, came out in 1998. The legend takes place in an absolutely terrifying place: a school bathroom. In Japan, the third stall of a great many third-floor school bathrooms, usually the girl's room, is allegedly occupied by a ghost named Hanako. The story varies by location, but generally, Hanako has bobbed hair and a red skirt.

To summon Hanako, you walk up to her bathroom stall, knock three times, calling her name, and then asking something along the lines of, "Are you there, Hanako-san?" You then hear a little girl respond in a faint voice, "Yes, I'm here." If you are brave and stupid enough to then open the stall, she drags you into the toilet.

The origins of Hanako vary by location. Some say that she died in the stall during a World War II air raid. Others say she was murdered by an abusive parent or perverted stranger who found her hiding there. The legend became really popular in the 1980s but has been around for much longer than that.