Ever since I heard the Japanese urban legend "Akai Kami, Aoi Kami" I've chosen my public bathroom stalls wisely.
According to the urban legend, if you choose the last bathroom stall in an empty public bathroom, you run the risk of being attacked by a ghost. In some versions, only women are susceptible to this ghost (of course), so maybe there's some logic in going to the bathroom in pairs?
While attending to your business, you'll supposedly hear a mysterious voice, ask you if you want "red paper" (akai kami) or "blue paper" (aoi kami).
If you say "red paper" you will skinned alive. If you say "blue paper" you will be strangled. Some tellings say you can answer "yellow paper" and just get doused in pee.
The only way you can supposedly escape Akai Kami-Aoi Kami, if you're lucky enough to encounter an angry ghost that subscribes to version 3.0 of this legend, is by politely answering, "No paper, thank you." Then get the hell out of there.
Since I'm convinced I'm a beacon for all things spooky, I avoid the last stall of a bathroom now, Japan or not. With this simple precaution, I thought I was safe from Japanese bathroom ghosts. I thought wrong.
Japan has a preoccupation with bathrooms (musical, heated toilets with rinsing functions) and ghosts. It's only logical that the twain shall meet.
So if you're already afraid that a trip to the restroom will result in Bloody Mary or Tony Blair coming to get you, here are a few more stories to make you really question if you NEED to go now -- in that desolate movie theatre bathroom between the 11 p.m. and midnight show -- or if you can wait until you get home.
One of Japan's most popular legends, this story typically takes place in the bathroom of a school, so teachers beware. OR DARE.
Much like Bloody Mary, Hanako-san is something of a summoning game. If you are brave enough to bring forth Hanako-san, go into the women's restroom and stand outside the door of the third stall in a row of stalls.
Some versions say it should be the third stall in a bathroom on the third floor, but generally the third stall should do it.
Knock three times on the closed door and ask, "Are you there Hanako-san?"
It may take her some time to answer, giving the you some time to run, but wait long enough and Hanako-san will whisper, "Yes, I am here."
Now depending on the telling, Hanako-san may invite you in by opening the door a crack, signaling for you to enter the stall and see her pale, ghostly self. Or, if it's a more sinister version of the tale, she will open the door and grab you, killing you in the stall.
A variation of the story is that Hanako-san will ask a girl alone in the bathroom if she wants to be friends. If the girl says "yes" she'll be dragged down the toilet. If the girl says "no," Hanako will simply cut her to pieces."
Supposedly in life, Hanako-san was a young school girl killed in the bathroom of her school during a WWII bombing. Some say that you'll know if she is occupying the third stall because the bathroom lights will flicker, the stall will always have a mysterious "out of order" sign on it, and you'll often hear a small voice coming from the stall even when no feet are visible under the door.
Akaname, the "Filth Licker"
Akaname is a strong argument to keep your bathroom clean, or stay away from that dingy subway toilet.
Akaname traditionally lives behind the toilet, or in the darkest recesses of public baths or bathrooms. He comes out at night to lap up, with his prehensile tongue, the filth and slime left by humans. Akaname actually detests sanitary places, so that is your best protection to keep him away.
While Akaname is fairly harmless, some versions of the legend say that if a person thinks evil thoughts, they will become Akaname -- doomed to slurp up the excrement of others for all eternity.
OK, I admit I don't know how much of an actual Japanese legend the Daruma-san game is, but I'm a sucker for reading about these spooky rituals, so I had to share this. Supposedly this game originated in Japan.
By the way, a Daruma is actually a good luck doll in Japan. A little, round, red figurine, the Daruma has white eyes with no pupils. On New Year's Day you fill in one pupil and make a wish. In the course of the year, if your wish comes true you fill in the other pupil.
The Daruma-san game has nothing to do with lucky dolls.
Here are the basics of the Daruma-san game, also called the bath game:
1. Before you go to bed at night draw a bath. Turn out all the lights, take off your clothes, and get in.
2. Facing the faucet, close your eyes and wash your hair repeating, "'Daruma-san fell down. Daruma-san fell down." Do not stop repeating it until you have finished washing your hair. Do not open your eyes.
3. You'll get a "mental image" of a woman falling down and hitting her head on the faucet and losing an eye. At this point you'll sense a presence behind you in the bathtub, BUT DON'T TURN AROUND. Ask, "Why did you fall in the bathtub?"
4. Keep your eyes shut and get out of the bathtub. Don't turn on the lights, "do not drain the tub. Exit the bathroom, shutting the door behind you."
5. Open your eyes now but don't turn on any lights. Go to bed.
6. In the morning, "the game begins the moment you open your eyes."
7. Throughout the day you'll feel HER behind you all the time. You may catch a glimpse of her over your shoulder -- a mess of tangled hair and one eye missing. If she gets too close for comfort shout, "Tomare!" (Stop!) and run. "Do NOT allow her to catch you."
8. To end the game you have to see her behind you, and shout "Kitta!" to cut her lose. Do this with a chopping motion with your arm. If you did this right (you see her and you say "Kitta" at the same time), the game is over. You win!
If you did this wrong (she got the chance to hide) -- RUN.
"Do NOT let her catch you. "
Noppera-bo and the Mujina
The noppera-bo is a faceless ghost.
Mentioned throughout ancient legend, the noppera-bo will often appear as a friend or relative, but as a person gazes upon them, the face will melt away to just a smooth, blank surface. While the noppera-bo is not exclusive to bathrooms, they have been known to inhabit -- you guessed it -- women's restrooms.
Noppera-bo are often referred to as mujina or "badger" in old Japanese. While not quite the same thing, a mujina can appear as a noppera-bo, but not the other way around. Mujina are often portrayed as tricksters.
Strangely enough, there have been "sightings" of noppera-bo/mujina in both Japan and the US, specifically Hawai'i.
In 1959, the Honolulu Advertiser reported that a woman saw a mujina in noppera-bo form one night at the old Waialae Drive-In (which, by the way, was built overlapping an old cemetery). Apparently the woman entered the bathroom and saw another woman with her back to her, brushing her hair. When she got closer the woman turned around, revealing a blank, featureless face.
Up until the Waialae Drive-In closed the mujina, called the "Faceless Lady Ghost," continued to be seen. Witnesses say that if you went to the bathroom alone, she'd appear behind you while you were looking in the mirror. Always faceless.
I don't know why the bathroom is such a scary place. I easily get skittish when I'm alone in one at night. Is it because you're at your most vulnerable? Because it's easy to get you alone? There are all those stalls to hide in? Is it the echoing?
All I know is that I can avoid a bunch of really scary places in Japan, but sooner or later I'm going to have to go into a public bathroom. I just hope I have a buddy, and that my buddy has a face.