For many, Japan is as famous for their horror stories as they are for anime and manga. And for good reason; there is something about Japanese tales that perfectly captures what makes for a truly chilling story.
Such tales often reflect the fears, beliefs, and concerns of society at the time. Consequently, many of the stories that center around women focus on their abuse by men. In other cases, they simply play with their expected gender role, although they’re some exceptions.
A prominent example is the legend of a vengeful spirit named Kayako, who was violently murdered by her husband out of jealousy. Her legend inspired the 2004 movie The Grudge. There’s also the ever-popular Kuchisake-onna (Slit-Mouthed Woman), another vengeful spirit that was disfigured by her husband, and who reached the height of her popularity around the late 70s.
However, for this article I chose to focus on other legends than the ones that I already mentioned; some lesser known, some particularly tragic. Without further ado, here are some ladies that you would never want to cross paths with.
Kashima Reiko is the ghost of a woman without legs that haunts school bathrooms. Be warned, though, that it is said that she will appear in front of those who hear her story within a month.
When she was alive, she used to live in Hokkaido, but one night, she was attacked and left for dead by a group of men. As she crawled around asking for help, she ended up collapsing on top of a railway track. Eventually, the train came and killed her, severing her body at the waist.
Unable to move on, Kashima Reiko wanders around the world looking for her missing legs. She mostly appears in school bathrooms, but she might appear at your own bathroom at midnight as well. If she sees you, she will ask you where her legs are. The correct answer is “on the Meishin Express” and if she asks who told you that, the answer is “Kashima Reiko told me that.”
If she gets tricky, she will ask you if you know her name. But don’t say Kashima (it’s a trap) say “Mask Demon Death” instead, since Ka is Kamen (Mask), Shi is Shinin (Death person) and Ma is Demon. Make sure to remember the proper answers, because if you’re unable to give them, she will tear off your legs. Good luck!
Kiyohime is a powerful demon woman and a famous antagonist in Japanese literature. Hers is an ancient legend, situated during the reign of Emperor Daigo (885-930), and it has been retold multiple times.
The core of the story centers around Kiyohime, who fell in love with Anchin, a handsome priest. However, at some point, Anchin found himself unable to return her affections. In some versions, the reasons are unknown. In others, he joked that he would married her when she came of age, only to be pursued and taken seriously. So he ran away from her.
Feeling deceived, Kiyohime chased after him. When he jumped on a boat to escape her over a river, she swam after him. On the river, such was her rage that she transformed into a giant, fire-breathing snake.
Once he reached land, Anchin tried to take refuge in a giant temple bell, but Kiyohime wrapped herself around it and breathed fire, melting the bell and burning him alive. “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned,” I suppose.
And speaking of hell…
Uji no Hashihime
Also known as “The Bridge Princess,” Uji no Hashihime origins are unknown, but she is featured on one of Japan’s first work of literature “Genji Monogatari,” written by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu. Like Kiyohime, she was a scorned woman that took revenge to the extreme, but her tale is even more gruesome.
Hashihime was one the most feared demons of the Heian period (794-1185). Originally, she was a lonely woman, neglected by her lover. Upon discovering he was with another woman, she was consumed by jealousy and hatred.
After that, she prayed furiously at a shrine for the power to kill the woman that stole her lover. A deity took pity on her, and instructed that to become a demon, she needed to change her appearance and bathe in the Uji river three times a day for a week. So she divided her hair into five sections, which she shaped like horns; painted her body red with vermilion; attached a tripod with torches on her head and held another torch between her teeth. Then, she went to the river to fulfill the ritual.
That’s how she became Uji no Hashihime. It is said that her appearance was so terrifying that after seeing her, some people died of fear. She killed not only the other woman, but her lover and their entire families as well.
This one is part of “Nihon san dai kaidan” (Japan’s Big Three Ghost Stories). It started as a kabuki play “Yotsuya Kaidan” in 1825, based on real-life events in the 17th century, and it has since become one of the most famous (and the most adapted) ghost stories in Japan.
Of course, many details were changed over the years, and there are multiple versions of this story, but it basically goes like this: Yotsuya Kaidan tells the unfortunate tale of murder and betrayal between Oiwa, Iemon, and Oume.
Oiwa and Iemon were married. In some versions, Oiwa was pregnant, in others, she already gave him a son. However, they were poor and Iemon resented her wife. Eventually, he had an affair with Oume.
In an attempt to dispose of Oiwa, she was poisoned so Iemon could marry Oume and have access to her wealth. The poison didn’t kill her, but it left her horribly disfigured. In the versions where she was pregnant, this also caused her to miscarriage.
Determined to finish the job, in some versions, Iemon arranged to have Oiwa killed, but after seeing her face in a mirror, she killed herself while cursing Iemon’s name. In others, Iemon pushed her off a cliff.
However, Oiwa returned from death as a vengeful spirit to haunt him. He started to see her disfigured face everywhere, both in his dreams and in reality. After she appeared on Ouma’s face, Iemon got so scared that he decapitated her. He eventually succumbed to madness, and in most versions, Oiwa ends up killing him.
This one is from a manga, where protagonist Kazuki falls victim to Tokyo urban legend Strange Lolita. I’ll admit that I’m adding this one because I’m terrible and I find the concept a little amusing, considering the existence of shows such as Eromanga-sensei, and the currently airing A Sister’s All You Need. It’s certainly a dark twist on the “little sister fetish.”
The legend says that at midnight, a strange girl dressed as a “lolita” approaches unsuspecting men to ask: “Do you have a little sister?” If you see her, the only way to avoid her is to run away without answering the question.
If you say no, you’re killed on the spot. If you say yes, Strange Lolita will become your little sister. She will torment you by incorporating herself into your life, trying to make the perfect big brother out of you. She will only release you by giving you a “twisted” death, just before going after her next victim.
Apparently, a big brother is all Strange Lolita needs.
Did you already know any of these legends? Do you know other Japanese legends centering around fearsome women? Which one is your favorite? Share them with us in the comments!