Japanese Urban Legends: a Comprehensive List
Everyone knows Japan for its rich culture and weird social and cultural customs. But the country has a creepy side too, led by numerous toshi densetsu (urban legends). Unlike superstition-based lore of yurei (ghosts) and yokai (mythical apparitions), urban legends are circulated as true.
Ready to explore urban tales of paranormal entities, creatures, games, and other things? These eerie stories will send chills down your spine.
Stories of Sinister Dolls
Okiku Doll, the doll that grows human hair
Okiku is none other than a cute little doll possessed by the spirit of a child. A two-year-old Hokkaido girl named Okiku used to play with this doll back in 1918. The girl and the doll kind of looked similar because of their okappa haircut (bob hairstyle). Of course, the doll was a tiny kimono-clad figure with round eyes.
Okiku died of cold and the doll apparently possessed her spirit. It started growing hair, which kept growing back even after cutting it.
Okiku’s father donated the possessed toy to Iwamizawa city’s Mannen-ji Temple. Her hair still grows long and it is periodically trimmed.
Mary-san, a terrifying blonde doll
This story is about the vengeance of a blonde doll that has been thrown away. Her shtick is hunting her former owner by calling at each milestone up to the owner’s house. She then calls to inform that she is at the front door but does not show up when the door’s open.
The story ends with her saying, “This is Mary-san. I’m right behind you now.” The ending has several versions with some speculating the murder of the owner while others have left it up in the air.
Visits from Murderous Spirits
Aka Manto, the Red Cape Murderer
Based on a blue-blanket wearing real murderer from the central Fukui Prefecture in 1906, the killer in this wears a red cape and white mask.
The killer appears in the last stall in a line of ladies toilets and asks whether they want red or blue paper.
Choosing red makes him slashing the victim, so the blood flows like a red cape. Asking for blue leads to death by suffocation so the victim turns blue. He will drag the victim down the Hell if they try to escape by asking for a white paper.
The only way to survive is to reply with “no paper”.
Teke-Teke or Kashima Reiko
Kashima Reiko is a vindictive spirit of a schoolgirl who cuts everyone in half. She died a painful death on a rail line where a train cut her off in two pieces.
The name ‘teke-teke’ comes from the ‘teke-teke’ sound when she drags her torso on the ground by using her claw-like hands.
She wanders around at night and approaches unsuspecting victims with a scythe. The only way to survive is to outrun her but she crawls extremely fast.
The Terrifying Tales of Curses
Elder sister vomits blood, younger sister is breathing fire, while sweet little Tomino spits op the jewels.Tomino’s Hell, The Heart is Like a Rolling Stone
Yomota Inuhiko is the writer of this weird and somehow scary poem titled Tomino’s Hell. The poem is about a little boy named Tomino who has to pass through the eight stages of hell.
According to popular beliefs, reading this poem aloud will bring your death. Director Shūji Terayama released a movie based on this poem in 1974 and he died untimely because of a liver condition, which further fueled the rumors about the poem.
Red Room Curse
Related to a computer pop-up, the Red Room Curse seems to be a perfect story for the 1990s when people had just started using personal computers.
A pop-up message reading, “do you like the Red Room?” will appear on the victim’s computer screen.
There is no way to close the pop-up or escape the room as the doors and windows will be locked. The victim’s dead body will be discovered in the room a few days later and the walls will be painted red with blood.
The story had been widely circulated after an 11-year-old girl murdered her 12-year-old classmate in Sasebo, Nagasaki. The murderer girl had a “Red Room” link bookmarked on her computer.
People consider this traditional theater mask supernatural because it looks both sad and smiling from different angles.
According to popular beliefs, the mask feeds off the wearer’s negative energy and becomes alive after absorbing enough of those emotions.
Once the mask becomes powerful enough, it starts to manipulate the wearer and suck the life out of their body. After that, it begins looking for a new victim.
Deadly Dream (If You Fall You Die)
Some people in Japan claim to have this dream and according to popular beliefs, falling in the dream will lead to death in real life.
In the dream, you will be in a rural village where bluish dead bodies are lying on the ground. Some girls in kimono will run to you to warn that you cannot fall to the ground. Then, one girl will fall and die instantly.
Your challenge here is not to fall on the ground during the dream.
Gozu (Cow Head)
Resembling slightly to Tomino’s Hell, Gozu is a story that is so terrifying that listening to or reading it will lead to death. Like any urban legend, this tale has several versions.
One variation says that a bus full of schoolchildren became paralyzed by fear after their teacher had read the story to them. Other variations claim that only the fragments of the story are left, as no one has survived to retell the story after reading or hearing it.
If you remember the story behind the purple mirror, you are destined to die before your 20th birthday. Creepy and unnerving, right? Do you still wanna know the story? Go ahead at your own risk.
Once a girl had a purple mirror that made her reflection look beautiful, despite her being anorexic in real life. She broke the mirror in a fit of rage but later regretted and grew an obsession for mentioning the mirror all the time.
The girl later got hit by a car and died on her 20th birthday, giving birth to this urban legend.
This story is about a schoolgirl who pierced her own ears and ended up having an endless white string sticking out of the earlobe holes.
Out of confusion, she severed the string, which was, unfortunately, her optic nerve. It made her blind for the rest of her life.
It circulated like a wildfire in the 1980s, probably to discourage teenagers from piercing their own ears.
The Doomed Places
Himuro or Himukyru Mansion
This legend tells the story of a mansion and the people who got murdered there. Nobody knows where this mansion is, except for it’s hidden in the rocky regions beyond Tokyo city.
The mansion belonged to the Himuro family that had to perform a Shinto ritual every half-century to seal off the bad karma within the earth. The “Strangling Ritual” involved tearing off a maiden from limb to limb.
Failing to perform the ritual once drove the master of the household mad. He killed all of his family members before committing suicide. The spirits of those people still haunt the place, attempting to repeat the ritual with unsuspecting visitors entering the abandoned building.
Inunaki Village, a lawless place
This mysterious village is located in the countryside of Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu. According to local tales, nobody has actually lived there since World War II.
You have to access the village through a tunnel where hundreds of workers lost their lives due to a construction failure. There is a sign to the entrance of the village saying, “the constitution and laws of Japan don’t apply here.”
Maruoka Castle, the human pillars
Until the 16th century, Japanese people used to perform human sacrifices in construction sites to make the foundation stable and long-lasting. It was known as Hitobashira (human pillar) where a person was sealed alive inside of a structure.
The castle in this story is located in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture. When a wall of that structure kept falling apart despite building every day, a woman named Oshizu agreed to sacrifice her life on the condition that her son would be a Samurai. But Oshizu’s promise was not kept and her tears flood the castle moat during spring rains.
Two other landmarks carrying this Hitobashira legend are the Matsue Ohashi Bridge and the Matsue Castle.
This tunnel outside of Kyoto connects the northern Arashiyama to the Sagakiyotaki town. The single-lane tunnel is 444-meter long, which is considered bad luck because Japanese people consider the number “4” unlucky.
People claim to see the spirits of those who died there due to accidents, harsh working conditions, and for committing suicide. Many also profess to experience nausea, headache, and dizziness after entering the tunnel.
This park has a shrine of Benzaiten, the Japanese goddess of love. If you believe the circulating tales, she is a bitter goddess who becomes jealous of happy couples .
The goddess will curse the couples who visit the park or take a boat ride on the park’s Inokashira Pond, causing them to break up soon.
This is a scary place that is impossible to find. People in this small village in Aomori Prefecture had a perfect life until one man developed a manic phase and killed them all. He committed suicide after the killing spree.
Since then, nobody has lived there, except for evil spirits. Anyone accidentally entering the village will never come back.
Stories of Scary Games
Hitori Kakurenbo (Hide and Seek Alone)
This game is about playing hide and seek with a possessed doll. Perform some rituals on an animal doll with limbs at 3 am in the morning to make it possessed by a spirit. Once done, you can play hide and seek with this doll.
According to some versions, the spirit will kill you if you get caught. In others, it will give you just one stab with a knife.
Similar to the ouija board, this popular Japanese game is dated back to the Meiji period. Players have to write hiragana (a component of the Japanese writing system) character on a piece of paper and place their fingers on a coin. Then, they will summon Kokkuri-san (an animal spirit) and ask questions.
The spirit gives answers by moving the coin to the letters written on the piece of paper. Learn the rules here if you want to play it.
Daruma-san (the Bath Game)
It’s a female ghost that lost her one eye by falling on the bathtub tap. You can summon her by performing some nighttime rituals and play hide and seek.
You must end the game before midnight or she will try to kill you in your dreams. The safe word to finish the game is Kitta (I cut you loose). Which will work only when you catch a glimpse of her and do a slashing gesture with your arm.
You can seek answers in this game from an evil spirit or demon named Satoru-kun. He takes the incarnation of a small boy and you have to summon him by using a coin-operated payphone.
Satoru-kun will drag you to Hell if you look at him, try to touch him, or summon him without having a question.
Legends about Women (Femme-Fatales and Malefic Spirits)
Kuchisake-onna, the slit-mouthed woman
It’s a disturbing tale of a young woman wearing a mask. She may appear when you are walking alone at night, asking if you think she is pretty. A negative answer will lead her to kill you with a pair of scissors. A positive answer will make her take off the mask, revealing her grotesque mouth slit from ear to ear.
She will ask again and you will meet the same fate for answering, “no.” Answering “yes” will not save you either as she will slit your mouth to resemble her own.
The only way to escape is by saying, “you’re average” or something similar, so she gets confused and you get some time to flee the scene.
Futakuchi-onna, the two-mouthed woman
According to popular tales, these women have a large second mouth on the back of their heads concealed under the hair. This mouth is always hungry and causes the women an unbearable pain until it’s fed.
These women never appear to eat anything because the second mouth eats all foods.
Harionago or Hari-Onna, the hook woman
As the name suggests, a Harionaga is an attractive woman who tries to seduce people, especially young men, when they are walking alone on empty roads at night.
A Harionago’s hair looks normal but actually has pointed barbs and hooks. She can use them as tentacles to attack her victims. You can avoid her by not smiling back or approaching her.
Hanako-san, the Japanese Bloody Mary
Another spirit that haunts girl’s bathrooms in schools, but it’s a female spirit this time. The backstory is unclear, but it involves her dying in a bathroom.
You can summon the Japanese Bloody Mary by going to the third stall in a girl’s bathroom on the third floor and asking, “Hanakosan, imasu ka (Are you there, Hanako-san)?” after knocking on the door three times.
She will respond with, “Yes, I am,” while opening the door slowly. You will see a blood-covered schoolgirl in a red skirt.
One version of the story says that she will drag you into the toilet with her, but other versions paint her as quite harmless, except for throwing some tantrums to scare you off.
The Girl from the Gap
This girl is a ghost that lives in the gaps between furniture pieces. Once you lock eyes with her, you have to play “hide and seek” that starts with her vanishing from the scene.
You are safe until you see her again, which means she wins the game. Then, she will drag you into the furniture gap all the way to the fiery Hell.
Hachishakusama is an eight-foot-tall woman who kidnaps those children who she takes a liking for. Wearing a white dress and hat, she deceives kids by posing as one of their relatives. Once she sets her eyes on a child, she will end up taking its soul.
The only way to save the child is to visit priests, follow their advice, and leave the country altogether.
Chilling Lore of Ghosts and Supernatural Creatures
Jinmenken (Human-Faced Dog)
These dogs with human faces can talk, but prefer not to, and run at high speeds. You may see one when driving a car on the highway as Jinmenkens are known to overtake vehicles and look at the driver, exposing their human face.
Some people believe them to be the combined ghost of a man and his dog who were struck by a vehicle while others blame this on botched genetic experiments.
In Japan, a human-faced puppy was first displayed at a misemono (exhibitions) around 1810. The latest stories about them date back to a more recent time, in 1989.
Kunekune (Wriggling Body)
With a tall, slender figure, this ghost appears in rice or barley fields on a scorching summer day. Similar to a scarecrow, this spirit appears to wiggle even when there is no wind.
You can see it only from a distance because getting closer will make you insane and touching it will lead to death.
A vengeful spirit that always stays in groups. Due to being dead with anger, this ghost can harm people and take revenge on those who had killed or wronged them.
They dress in white clothes and have a pale face with dark circles around the eyes. These evil spirits are so powerful that they can cause fires and earthquakes too.
Kanbari Nyudo (the Bald Man)
A pervert spirit of an old man who peeps into the bathroom to see adolescent girls naked. This bald-headed spirit scans the bathrooms hoping to spot girls and drools all over them when they are taking a shower.
It is believed that his bald head will appear in the toilet bowl if you call his name in the bathroom. Saying “Ganbari Nyuudou Hototogisu!” (ganbari priest, cuckoo!) three times in the toilet on the New Year’s Eve will prevent his visit in the next year.
More Contemporary Urban Tales
Curse of the Colonel
This tale is more comedic rather than scary. The Colonel here is Colonel Sanders, the face of the Kentucky Fried Chicken. Drunken fans of Hanshin Tigers, a professional Japanese baseball team, pushed a life-sized statue of Colonel into the Dōtonbori Canal when celebrating the team’s 1985 Japan Series win.
Since then, the Tigers have never won anything, stirring up the rumors that it’s because of the curse of the Colonel. Divers rescued the statue in 2009, but without its glasses and left hand. And the Tigers are yet to win another series.
Another funny urban legend that had stemmed from the public’s wild imagination. The rumors indicate that Sony had installed a device in their electronics to make them dysfunctional after the expiration of the warranties.
In fact, Sony’s then-president Ryoji Chubachi admitted in a 2007 annual shareholders meeting that he was aware of the “Sony Timer” rumors.
Cursed Kleenex Commercial
A 1986 Kleenex commercial featuring the song “It’s a Fine Day” drew complaints from the viewers that the song had sounded like a German curse.
Rumors circulated that everyone involved in filming the advertisement met with unnatural death. The fate of Keiko Matsuzaka, the actress who was in that commercial, had different versions involving a mental breakdown and conceiving a demon child.