Japanese Language Blog

Four Terrifying Japanese Legends Posted by on Mar 1, 2020 in Culture

Countries from all over the world have legends – stories passed down from generation to generation. Some of those legends are absolutely terrifying. Japan’s stories are no exception. Here are four Japanese legends that just might freak you out.

Hanako of the Toilet トイレの花子さん 

Hanako of the Toilet is the story of a school girl ghost that haunts the third stall of the third-floor of the school bathrooms. Japanese school children often challenge each other to walk into the third-floor bathroom alone, and knock on the third stall. The student then asks, “Hanako-san, are you there” (はなこさん、いますか). This kind of creepy challenge, by the way, is similar to the story of “Bloody Mary” in the United States, where children are challenged to hold a single candle and say Mary’s name into a mirror three times. As for Hanako-san, if she’s there, the children will hear, “I’m here” (いますよ) from the third stall. If they open it, they will find the ghost of a small young girl with short hair and a one-piece (ワンピース) red skirt. I never want to go to the bathroom again.


Kokkuri-san (こっくりさん)

Kokkuri-san is a fox that appears if you correctly perform his ritual summoning. Here’s how it works: a Japanese person will write down all of the hiragana, from あ to ん, on a sheet of paper. Then they place a ten-yen (十円) coin on the paper. They then call Kokkuri-san by chanting “Kokkuri-san, please come here”, (こっくりさん、おいでください). If Kokkuri-san is there, he will spell out the word “hai”, (はい) meaning, “yes”, by moving the coin to both “ha” (は) and “n” (ん). Sounds harmless right? In many cases, yes, Kokkuri-san seems perfectly safe. In fact, it is said that you are able to ask him questions about all kinds of things, and he’ll answer you, by moving the coin. It is also said that, if the coin goes back to it’s original position, Kokkuri-san has happily returned to his foxy realm. But what happens if the coin doesn’t return? Well, apparently Kokkuri-san will mind control participants and make them do horrible murderous things, like commit suicide. Whoah.

Hoichi the Earless (耳なしほういち) 

According to Legend, Hoichi the Earless was a blind minstrel who played the Japanese lute (琵琶). He was incredibly poor and lived at Amidaji Temple with a priest. He was so good at his craft, that a Samurai approached him and asked him to play for his lord. Turns out, the Samurai (侍) was actually a ghost. The priest, realizing Hoichi had been tricked, painted Hoichi’s body with the kanji characters of the Buddhist Heart Sutra, for protection, should the ghost return. He painted the Kanji everywhere, but made one fatal mistake: he forgot to paint kanji on Hoichi’s ears. The next time the ghost came calling, all he could see was Hoichi’s ears. Enraged, he ripped off the ears, and blood gushed from the wounds. Nice, right? Don’t worry though, Hoichi  survived and went on to be a famous musician (音楽家). See, there are silver linings in creepy ghost stories about undead samurai ripping off ears.


Yamanba (山姥)

Yamanba is a yokai, (妖怪)  a supernatural creature in Japanese folklore that is sometimes described as an old woman, or おばーちゃん. In Shizuoka, she is known as Yamahime (山姫) and is described as a young and beautiful woman who repels the bullets of hunters with her bare hands. There are many more versions of her story, however, and each version of the story describes her differently. Yamanba is generally said to be either a benevolent spirit that blesses good people (and curses the bad), or a fearsome monster. In the more gruesome version of the tale, she is described as a monstrous crone with a mouth on her head that is hidden beneath her unkempt hair, and is said to wear a tattered and filthy Kimono. In one version, she roams about the forest, (森) hoping to satisfy her cannibalistic urges by eating people. Either way, a supernatural woman-creature roaming around the forest that may eat you alive is not something I would want to encounter, on a hike in Japan.


These are just a few of  the Japanese legends that freak me out. What unique or scary stories have you heard, in your country? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Philip Gregory

Philip Gregory is a singer-songwriter, concert photographer, and published writer. He has degrees in English, Japanese, and Philosophy. He speaks English and Japanese and has lived in Japan for more than 8 years.