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CREEPY CORNER: 5 Terrifying Women in Japanese Ghostlore

In Japanese ghost stories, the ghosts almost always win.
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Publish date:
October 10, 2014
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ghosts, creepy corner, japan

Everybody has their scary story game changer. That story that radically changed what you thought of as scary. It's the story that made the things that go bump in the night darker, meaner, and a whole lot more sinister.

Up until I was about six, the scariest story I could think of was the story of "Ah Woo Dook," the poking monster my aunt told me about BEFORE BED. Ah Woo Dook would slink into naughty children's bedrooms at night while they slept, and poke them with his long pointy fingers. If you woke up, he'd take you away.

That was my family's idea of a bedtime story.

Then I saw "It." And I don't think I've ever slept quite right since.

Then came "Candy Man" (have only seen it once, will never watch it again), "The Blair Witch Project" (hasn't quite held up for me, but I'm still a sucker for the shaky-cam "real life" stuff), and finally "The Ring."

"The Ring" opened up the world of Japanese horror, ghosts, and legends to me. This was a world where ghosts were not only vengeful, but they were thoughtful, ruthless, single-minded and PATIENT.

Ghosts in Japanese ghost stories are exacting, and they have an M.O. Why rush when it's more torturous to have your victims driven witless from every creak, every flutter in your periphery, every flicker of the light? It's a slow build. This makes the living person's eventual demise all the more delicious.

And in Japanese ghost stories, the ghosts almost always win.

Even better, there are a LOT of pretty intimidating women in Japanese ghost stories. Maybe it's the patriarchal society, maybe it's the whole "a woman scorned" thing, maybe it's that beneath all that orientalist malarkey that all Japanese women are "delicate" and "mild," there's the understanding that you don't eff with Japanese women, and if you do...

So here are five terrifying Japanese woman ghosts. You may recognize some from movies, you may not. But turn the lights down low, nestle into the glow of your computer, and you just might recognize them in YOUR NIGHTMARES, muahahahahahahaha.

1. Kuchisake-onna

I know I've mentioned her before, but you really can't have a list of Japanese ghosts or urban legends without Kuchisake-onna, AKA "the Slit-Mouthed Woman."

Her mouth is slit because in life, her jealous husband believed her to be cheating on him, and in retribution he slit her beautiful face, saying, "Who will think you're beautiful now?" After which, she killed herself.

Legend says that Kuchisake-onna appears to people walking at night. Wearing a mask, she asks if you think she's beautiful. If you say "yes," she takes off the mask revealing that her mouth has been slit from ear to ear. Some say she will then follow you home and kill you on your doorstep. Others say she will slit your mouth like hers.

If you say "no," depending on the telling, she'll chop off your head with giant scissors and/or slit your mouth open like hers.

The only way to escape Kuchisake-onna is to answer her question with, "You're average looking" or "Do you think I'm beautiful?"

This will confuse her, and you can escape.

2. Hone-onna

Hone-onna, or "bone woman" is a vengeful or jealous spirit. This is a female spirit with a voracious sexual appetite who consumes the life force of her partners.

Though there are many stories about Hone-onna from oral legend to anime, the basic story is that the Hone-onne seduces men (some say she seduces men who wronged her, other say she just needs to feed on their energy) with her charm and beauty.

Little do they know this is all an illusion.

Over the course of several days or weeks, the Hone-onna rises from her grave to have sex with her lover. As time passes, her lover grows weaker and weaker, but he is so enraptured by Hone-onna he does not see her true form -- a skeleton.

One Hone-onna story talks of suspicious neighbors who peek into the man's house at night, only to see him lying with a writhing skeleton. Another tells of a man is almost seduced by a Hone-onna, but when the light of his lantern falls on the lovely woman's face, it is a skull.

Either way, once a Hone-onna takes hold, death is almost unavoidable.

3. Onryo

If you've seen "The Grudge" or "Ju-On" you've gotten a taste of the Onryo.

The Onryo is one of the most feared Japanese ghosts. Typically a woman (though there can be men Onryo), the Onryo is a furious ghost that believes it has been terribly wronged in life. Often the victim of a violent or traumatizing demise, the Onryo seeks vengeance indiscriminately. When an Onryo is seen they appear as they did at the moment of death -- no matter how gory.

The most famous Onryo is the story of Oiwa, a faithful and loving wife married to a deceitful man named Iemon.

Despite their their poverty, Oiwa was happy with Iemon, while Iemon was tiring of Oiwa. Eventually, an opportunity presents itself to marry a wealthy woman named Oume. Iemon need only get rid of Oiwa.

So Iemon decides to poison Oiwa. The poison works, so much as it disfigures Oiwa's face, making her eye sag, her skin bleed, and her hair fall out, but it does not kill her.

There are various descriptions of how Oiwa died. In one version Iemon pays a man to seduce Oiwa so he can divorce her, but due to her disfigurement, he cannot. He shows Oiwa her face in a mirror, and Oiwa is driven mad.

In an attempt to murder the man, Oiwa runs at him with a sword, but she falls and accidentally slits her own throat. With her dying breath she curses Iemon.

On Iemon's wedding day to Oume, he lifts his bride's veil, but instead of Oume, there stands Oiwa seething with rage. In fear, Iemon swings his sword and decapitates who he thinks is Oiwa, but instead Oume's head rolls at his feet.

Oiwa laughs and laughs.

Running home in horror, Iemon cowers until he hears a knock at the door. Answering it, there stands Oiwa. Again, Iemon swings his sword and decapitates who he thinks is Oiwa. This time, his father-in-law to be's head falls to his feet.

Oiwa's ghost, as well as Oume's and her father's ghosts chase after Iemon. He sees Oiwa's face everywhere. Finally, Iemon is driven mad and dies.

But, and here's the twist, Oiwa's ghost cannot be laid to rest. Her curse continues, supposedly to this day.

A curse is supposed to touch anybody who tells her story (gulp). Even now there are stories of injuries, even death, befalling movies or theatrical productions telling her tale. In order to avoid Oiwa's wrath, it is recommended to visit Oiwa's grave -- yes she has an actual grave -- at a temple in Sugamo, Tokyo. Oiwa died on February 22, 1636.

I did not visit Oiwa's grave. I hope she will be merciful.

4. Ame-onna

In Japanese folklore the Ame-onna, or "rain woman," is a baby snatcher.

An Ame-onna becomes an Ame-onna because her baby is stolen from her. Driven mad by grief, the woman is turned into this distraught spirit.

On rainy days, it's said that an Ame-onna can be seen looking bedraggled, soaked, and animal-like, licking the rain water off of her limbs. Carrying a large black bag, she seeks out infants to carry off with her. If she hears a baby crying in your home, she will even sneak in to carry it away.

The baby then potentially becomes another Ame-onna, and the mother is also in danger of being transformed.

5. Teke Teke

Reader be warned, a couple sources claimed that upon hearing the story of Teke Teke, you will see her within a month near a train station or railway.

Teke Teke is the ghost of girl who was split in two by a train and lurks in and around train stations.

Delightfully, she gets her name from the sound she makes dragging her torso around by her arms. Tek-tek-tek.

Oh yeah, and she carries a scythe.

Teke Teke is said to be the ghost of a timid, and picked-on school girl, who was the victim of a trick played on her by her classmates. While waiting for the train, she was startled by a cicada her classmates put on her shoulder to frighten her. She fell into the path of the train, and her body was sliced in half.

Now poor Teke Teke stalks train stations at night with her scythe. If she catches you, she cuts you in half.

A variation on this story is that the school girl was actually a woman named Kashima Reiko. She was waiting at the Meishin Railway, when an impatient man accidentally pushed her onto the tracks. She was unable to move in time, and she was sliced in two by the train.

Kashima Reiko can appear dragging herself around the train station, or perched atop a bathroom countertop in the station. Remember, that's just her torso.

To escape her, her you must answer her questions correctly.

If she asks, "Where are my legs?" you must answer "Meishin Railway." When she asks, "Who told you?" you must answer with her name, "Kashima Reiko." If you answer either question wrong, she will slice you in half.

I'm not going to lie; I'm on my way out, and I'm more than a little spooked to be in the train station late tonight. Thankfully, there will be hundreds of people in Yokohama Station, but if I need to use the bathroom, you can bet I'll be keeping my ears peeled for that tek-tek-tek sound.