Kuchisake-Onna [口裂け女]

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Area(s) Reported: Japan
Date(s) Reported: Not yet set.

In the 1970s in Japan, wearing a face mask was perfectly normal. Due to societal pressure to constantly be productive, people would go to work even if they had a cold or a flu. Still, it would be very rude to get other people sick; so the practice of wearing a surgical mask anytime you felt like you had a cold or a flu became normal. Everyday, in any large city in Japan, you could see dozens of people just wearing face masks as they went about their business as usual.

Then the rumors started... rumors about a strange woman wearing a face mask, who was mutilating and killing people. The earliest mention of the stories in print appears to be an article in the January 26, 1979, edition of the Gifu Nichi Nichi Shinbun, a newspaper in Gifu Prefecture.

This strange woman was said to be approaching individuals to ask them "私きれい?[Wa-ta-shi Ki-re-i?]" -- which literally translates as "Am I pretty?" She was, of course, wearing a face mask; but most people in Japan would simply answer her question just to be polite... and answering in itself was a mistake.

If the individual said "no," the woman would attack and kill them with a weapon -- generally a knife or scissors. But if the individual said "yes" to the woman's question, she would take off her face mask... and reveal that her face had been sliced open from ear to ear across her mouth! She would then ask, once again, if they thought she was pretty; and again, an answer of "no" was simply fatal. Answering "yes," however, would lead to the woman attacking the individual and slitting their face from ear to ear in a rough imitation of her own disfigurement.

After newspapers started to report the details of this urban legend -- for no one seemed to actually know of any victims -- the strange woman came to be called "Kuchisake-Onna" [口裂け女]... literally the "Slit-Mouthed Woman" [Japan is not subtle in naming their nightmares!].

The initial stories were being spread by children; but once the newspapers picked the legend up it became a nationwide panic. In June, 1979, a 25-year-old woman was arrested in the city of Himeji in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture; she was purposely dressed as Kuchisake-Onna, wearing a face mask and walking about carrying a kitchen knife, to scare people.

By August the overall panic had worn down; it's suspected that this is because summer vacation had caused the children to stop spreading the rumor, so new "reports" stopped appearing.

But, though the newspapers and general public lost interest, the rumors did continue.

What is Kuchisake-Onna?

The first thing to be very clear on is this: Kuchisake-Onna is a MONSTER, not just a deranged woman... don't make that mistake! She cannot be escaped by normal means; Kuchisake-Onna is said to be able to run at incredible speeds, and some reports say she can actually float through the air past obstacles to track a chosen victim. It takes both luck and good knowledge to survive an encounter with this violent being.

The most common suggestion for escaping Kuchisake-Onna is: when she asks if you think she's pretty, answer her question by saying "普通 [ふつう, Fu-tsu-u]" ("ordinary") or "まあまあ [Maa-Maa]" ("so-so"), both of which implies you think she's neither special nor ugly... this will stymie her whole pattern and allow you to run away while she's deciding how to respond.

Good Reaction...

And now some of the other suggestions.

It's been said that Kuchisake-Onna can't go above the second floor of a building, so running upstairs to the third is a good idea. Some claim she won't follow a victim into a record store or cosmetics shop.

It's also said Kuchisake-Onna dislikes the men's hair gel called "Pomade" -- written ポマード in Japanese -- and because of this dislike, several ideas have been suggested to help when she attacks. Singing 'Pomade' six times is said to scare her away. If you're planing ahead, you can write 'Pomade' on your hand and then show it to her if she attacks; or you can throw Pomade at her, or sprinkle some as you walk along to protect against her. It's even been said that writing 'Pomade' on the soles of your feet can protect you from her!

On the other hand, Kuchisake-Onna is said to really like "bekkou candy," which is a basic hard sugar caramel, often sold as a lollipop or small wrapped candy. Bekkou candies are cheap and easy to make, and are often found in abundance during the many festivals throughout the year all across Japan... so stock up if you can! Handing over some of this candy will let you escape while she's busy eating it; or, if you are in the kanto region of Japan -- where it's rumored Kuchisake-Onna actually hates candy -- you can throw them at her to scare her away.

There are also a bunch of words that can apparently chase Kuchisake-Onna off. The phrases:

  • "ニンニク, ニンニク [Nin-Niku, Nin-Niku]" ("Garlic, Garlic")
  • "ハゲ, ハゲ [Ha-Ge, Ha-Ge]" ("Bald, Bald")
  • "犬が来た, 犬が来た [Inu Ga Ki-Ta, Inu Ga Ki-Ta]" ("A dog came here, a dog came here") ... this one makes her look for the dog, which is when you should run!

And, finally, something that may be good news for me: it's said that Kuchisake-Onna doesn't attack people with blood type 'O'.

Of course, I can't vouch for any of these ideas... so if you try them out and survive, let me know which one worked!

Origins?

Some researchers have proposed that the stories of Kuchisake-Onna have their origins all the way back in Japan's 'Edo Period', which spanned from 1603 to 1868. As proof of this idea, two stories from this time are generally presented.

The first comes from a book called "怪談老の杖 [Kai-Dan Oi No Tsue]" ("The Ghost Story Cane") first published in the Kansai period (1789-1801). In it is told the story of Gonsuke, a young man, who was walking with an umbrella in the rain in 'Okubo Hyakunincho' -- which is now a part of modern Tokyo. Gonsuke spotted a woman walking ahead of him in the rain whom, I presume, he found attractive... for he asked if she would like to join him under his umbrella. But when she turned to face him, Gonsuke discovered the woman's face was slashed open from ear to ear along her mouth; Gonsuke was so horrified that he became sick afterwards, and lost his ability to speak (I think; the translation is not the best!).

The second story comes from a book called "絵本小夜時雨 [E-hon Sa-Yo Shi-Gu-Re]" ("Rainy Night Picture Book"), published in 1801. In it is the story of a man who was visiting the  Yoshiwara brothels in Tokyo and who stopped a prostitute that he was interested  in "working with," only to have said prostitute turn to reveal her mouth  was split from ear-to-ear. The man fainted and, understandably, never  went there again!

While both of these stories might be related to the newer accounts of Kuchisake-Onna, it should be noted that both tales claim to come from Tokyo, which is nowhere near Gifu Prefecture; that in neither case were the men actually attacked, just scared; and there is a one-hundred plus year gap between those stories and the 1979 reports of Kuchisake-Onna, which seems to show there wasn't continually stories of such encounters.

The most likely starting point for the initial story of Kuchisake-Onna is in Gifu Prefecture itself, and many people have tried to find some particular incident or situation that sparked the stories there. Some have said that the violent woman was made up as an excuse by children to avoid going to "cram school" -- extra schooling after normal school -- by claiming it wasn't safe for them to walk home after dark. Others felt the story was based on the escape of a female patient from a mental hospital who had a tendency to overuse lipstick, which could look startling if encountered at night. It's also been said that the base story could have started with an incident of a psychotic woman who was wandering in a tunnel in Tajimi city threatening children.

There is no way to prove any of these connections, however, past that the first rumors of Kuchisake-Onna do appear to come from Gifu Prefecture; but she is now feared not only across Japan but, since around 2004, also in China and Korea where newer rumors have started to appear!

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Sources

  • "口裂け女 [Kuchisake-Onna]," page in the Japanese Wikipedia website, viewed 4-18-2020. Online [Japanese]: Click Here - [Google Translate to English]: Click Here.
  • "口裂け女 [Kuchisake-Onna]," page in the Japanese Wikipedia mobile website, viewed 4-18-2020. Online [Japanese]: Click Here - [Google Translate to English]: Click Here.
  • "Kuchisake-onna," page in the Wikipedia website, viewed 4-16-2020. Online: Click Here.
  • "絵本小夜時雨 [E-Hon Sa-Yo Shi-Gu-Re]," page in the Japanese Wikipedia website, viewed 5-5-2020. Online [Japanese]: Click Here - [Google Translate to English]: Click Here.
  • "5 Yokai to Run Away From Really Fast (+1 Friendly Yokai)," article in the Voyagin website, posted 8-13-2020, viewed 8-25-2020. Online: Click Here.

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