7 Creepy Japanese Urban Legends That Inspired Horror Films

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.

  • The Legend Of Okiku Inspired The Ring
    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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  • The Onryo, A Yurei Bent On Vengeance, Inspired The Grudge
    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.

  • The Tale of Kuchisake Onna Inspired Carved
    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.

  • Hanako-San Inspired Two Movies, School Mystery And Hanako Of The Toilet

    Hanako-San Inspired Two Movies, School Mystery And Hanako Of The Toilet
    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.

  • The Legend Of Teke-Teke Inspired - You Guessed It - Teketeke

    The Legend Of Teke-Teke Inspired - You Guessed It - Teketeke
    Photo: Art Port

    This urban legend and film by the same name are about a young girl who fell under a train and was cut in half. It is said that her ghost can be seen roaming across Japan. In one version of the story, a young boy sees a girl in a window. When the girl notices that she is being watched, she smiles and throws herself out of the window. The boy recoils in horror as he realizes that the girl is completely missing the lower half of her body.

    The torso claws its way toward the boy, making a teke-teke sound as it walks on its hands and elbows. Terror grips the boy and he freezes in place. Before he can move, the monster is upon him. She pulls out a scythe and cuts the boy in half.

  • Yuki Onna Inspired One Segment of Kwaidan
    Photo: Sawaki Suushi / Wikimedia Commons

    The story of the Yuki Onna is a very old Japanese ghost story, and one of the segments of the anthology film Kwaidan. Literally translated, Yuki Onna means "snow woman." Possessing supernatural beauty, she is a classic yurei with pale white skin, a white kimono, and jet black hair (though in the original story she had white hair).

    There are many stories of the Yuki Onna across the many prefectures of Japan, particularly in the snowy and mountainous north. The oldest written account of the Yuki Onna is in Sogi Shokoku Monogatari. In it, the monk Sogi walked out of his house one snowy morning to see a beautiful, 10-foot-tall woman standing in the snow. Sogi tried to speak with her, but she vanished.

    The most famous story of the Yuki Onna is from Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things , a book of ghost stories later adapted into a film. In this version, a woodcutter and his son are trapped in a snow storm. They seek refuge in a tiny cabin, trying to stay warm around a meager fire. In the night, the son awakens to find a beautiful woman entering the cabin. She leans over his father and sucks the life from him. When she turns to the son to do the same, she is captivated by his youth and beauty. She spares him on the condition that he never speaks a word of the night.

    The next winter, the son meets a beautiful young woman. They get married, have kids, and everything seems to be going well. That is, until one night he looked at his wife and was reminded of the fateful night with the Yuki Onna. He tells his wife the story and she immediately gets really pissed at him. It turns out that she is, in fact, that same Yuki Onna from the storm. She decides not to kill him for breaking his promise, on account of the children, but she immediately leaves, never to be seen again.