Japanese urban legends

japanese urban legendsPopular Japanese urban legends
Image adapted from: Tornado Films

There’s a reason why Japan is so famous for horror, it has spun off into a sub-genre of its own – J-horror. Be it anime, haunted places, or films of ghostly encounters and spirits, many of these sensational tales were inspired by urban legends that may very well be true. 

Pull the blinds down, switch the lights off, and huddle under your blanket. Ready or not, these 9 Japanese urban legends will chill you to your bones and leave you wide awake long after the night has passed. 

1. The Okiku Doll – with real human hair

japanese urban legends okiku doll hair
Image credit: @hanimaru_gt

Hokkaido is best known for seafood, snow, and rejuvenating bathhouses. But there is another highlight you cannot miss – seeing the Okiku Doll in the flesh.

The doll is believed to contain the spirit of Okiku, a little girl who died of a cold. It was a gift from Okiku’s brother, who thought that she resembled the doll as both of them sported a short bob. Okiku loved the doll so much that she carried it with her everywhere.

When Okiku passed on from a vicious cold, her family kept the doll as a keepsake. They soon noticed something odd – the doll’s hair, which was previously in a bob, had started growing. No matter how many times they tried to cut the doll’s hair, it kept growing back.

Frightened, the family passed the doll to the monks at Mannenji Temple for help. Scientists have analysed the doll and confirmed that the hair belongs to a human child.

This perplexing phenomenon remains unexplained till today. The temple is open to the public so you can verify it yourself. Note that photography is not allowed.

2. The Red Room Curse – linked to a murder

japanese urban legends red room
Image credit: Amino Apps

What started as a baseless rumour turned into a real-life tragedy in the early 2000s. The Red Room Curse begins with a pop-up on a computer screen. An audio clip then asks a single question – “Do you like the Red Room?”

According to hearsay, even if the pop-up notification was closed, victims were not spared. They were killed soon after and every inch of their rooms was drenched blood.

japanese urban legends red roomThe elementary school where the Sasebo slashing took place
Image credit:

This urban legend remained a myth until a murder was committed in 2004. Known as the Sasebo Slashing, the incident involved an 11-year-old killing her 12-year-old classmate with a utility knife after being bullied online.

You may know the culprit as “Nevada-Tan”, a moniker netizens gave her as she wore a Nevada sweatshirt in a photo.

Further investigations revealed that Nevada-Tan bookmarked the “Red Room” page on her computer. This gave rise to rumours that she committed the horrific deed after being influenced by the website.

3. Inunaki Village – an abandoned village that doesn’t exist

japanese urban legends cannibal villageImage credit: @supercub1100

The Inunaki Tunnel is a well-known haunted spot, but trek a little further and you may find Inunaki Village, an other-worldly site said to be located in Fukuoka Prefecture. 

Rumour has it that the entire village has been isolated since the Edo period and the villagers turn cannibalistic at the sight of outsiders. There’s zero phone reception in the village so you’ll be on your own. To know you’re at the right place, keep a lookout for a sign that says “The constitution and laws of Japan do not apply here”.

4. Kuchisake-onna – the slit-mouthed woman

japanese urban legends kuchisake onnaImage adapted from: Tornado Films

There’s a few variants of the Kuchisake-onna take. Some said that her husband, a samurai, slit her mouth as revenge for her infidelity. Others offer a more modern interpretation – a dental or plastic surgery procedure gone wrong. But the most classic version involves a woman who was jealous of Kuchisake-onna’s beauty, so she decided to eliminate her competition.

Post-disfigurement, Kuchisake-onna roamed the streets with a handkerchief or mask covering the lower half of her face. She goes around asking unsuspecting victims if she is beautiful. If your answer is “no”, she’ll slit the corners of your mouth in a fit of rage. If you say “yes”, she’ll reveal her face, repeat her question, and hack you into pieces.

japanese urban legends kuchisake onna
Image adapted from: Tornado Films

But there are ways to escape. You can confuse her by repeating her question or come up with a third answer. Some claim that you can even offer the name of your nemesis and she’ll go after them. 

5. Aka Manto – red or blue toilet paper

japanese urban legends red mantoImage adapted from: FOX

J-horror seems to have an affinity for creepy toilets and the legend of Aka Manto is no exception. The tale revolves around a male spirit donning a red cloak, which is aka manto in Japanese.

The spirit is said to only haunt female toilets. When victims go about their business and realise they’re out of toilet paper, he’ll emerge and make them choose between red or blue paper. Choose “blue” and you’ll end up being suffocated to death, turning blue. Choose “red” and he’ll eviscerate you, leaving you and the toilet stall drenched in blood. 

To escape, you have to politely refuse his offer.

6. Hanako-san – the spirit in the 3rd cubicle

japanese urban legends hanako san
Image credit: Lost Bird

Hanako-san’s story is a childhood nightmare for many elementary school students. The legend goes that in the third stall of a third-floor bathroom lies the spirit of a young girl whose background is unclear. Some claim that she was hiding from her murderous parents. Others say she was killed during World War 2 while hiding in the third cubicle of a toilet.

To summon her spirit, knock on the toilet door 3 times, followed by “Hanako-san, imasu ka?” or “Hanako-san, are you there?” Should you hear a faint reply, that’s your cue to run or risk getting dragged into Hell through a portal in the cubicle.

7. Okiku – inspired the making of Sadako

japanese urban legends okiku well
The well where Oikiku drowned
Image credit: Uncover Travel

Not to be confused with the Okiku Doll, this urban legend can be traced back to the shogunate era. There are 2 versions, but the one involving Himeji Castle will be familiar to travellers who have visited the tourist hotspot. 

Okiku, a lowly servant of a samurai, overheard her master’s plot to murder a warrior whom she fancied. The plan was averted, but like most urban legends, she did not escape unharmed. Okiku was accused of stealing one of the 10 valuable plates owned by her master and was thrown into a well.

japanese urban legends okiku well
A close-up view of Okiku’s well
Image credit: NelC

Desperate for revenge even after her death, Okiku’s spirit emerged from the well at night and drove the samurai mad with her incessant counting and her heart-wrenching cries. The director of the horror franchise, Ring, was inspired by Okiku’s tale. In both Ring and Okiku’s story, both spirits were wronged and came out of wells for vengeance.

Check out the alternate telling of the story here.

8. Teke Teke – disembodied body

japanese urban legends teke teke
A scene from the film “Teketeke”
Image credit: Tsuburaya Productions

If you ever visit train tracks at night and hear a curious scratching sound accompanied by the silhouette of half a woman, run. You’ve just sighted Teke Teke, the spirit of a woman torn into half by a train. The name is an onomatopoeia of the scratching sound she makes as she drags her body towards you.

japanese urban legends teke teke train tracksImage adapted from: Sunyu Kim

According to one version of the story, her real name is Kashima Reiko. She was run over by a train and torn into half. Desperate to survive, she dragged herself across the train tracks towards station staff in search of help, only to be cruelly tossed back onto the tracks.

Since then, her spirit is said to roam the earth in search of the rest of her body. If she asks you where her legs are, answer her with “Meishin Expressway” or “kamen shinin ma”. The latter is an alternate reading of her name written in Kanji – ka as in mask (仮面), shi as in death (死), ma as in demon (魔), rei as in ghost (霊), and ko as in accident (事故).

9. Kisaragi Station – the train station that doesn’t exist

japanese urban legends kusaragi stationImage adapted from: bantersnaps 

This incident was documented in real time on Japan’s 2channel message board, under a thread titled “Post Strange Occurrences That Have Happened To You”. An archive of the original posts can be found here, and you can read the English translations here

Hasumi, the original poster, was riding a train late at night on a private railroad in Shizuoka Prefecture, when she noticed something amiss. The train was one she frequently rode and it usually stopped every 5 minutes. However, Hasumi realised that the train had not stopped at any station for the past 20 minutes.

After an hour, the train finally stopped at Kisaragi Station and Hasumi alighted. However, nobody on 2ch could find any information on Kisaragi Station. She contacted her family for help, but they couldn’t find Kisaragi Station either.

By then, train services had ended for the day and her phone battery was running out. Hasumi decided to walk along the train tracks towards the previous station. Before she went offline, Hasumi claimed that a stranger offered her a ride to the nearest business hotel. Since then, there has been no trace of Hasumi.

Horror stories to keep you awake

Believe it or not, these 9 Japanese urban legends were supposedly based on true stories. While there is no way to confirm the authenticity of each tale, we want to leave you with a word of caution: don’t look back – even if you sense a pair of eyes boring into your back right now. 

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