Do you think Ringu is scary? Wait until you hear these five other Japanese legends and folktales that’ll give you more nightmares than you can handle.
Japanese folklore is known for its seemingly endless supply of creativity when it comes to dreaming up monsters and urban legends. You’re probably familiar with the film Ringu, otherwise known as Ring (or The Ring in the American version); a supernatural psychological horror famous for its disturbing story and images. Ring is based on a popular Japanese folktale known as Banchō Sarayashiki, a story about a servant girl who was killed by her masters when they threw her into a well after she misplaced a plate. She returned as a ghost to haunt the living. Terrifying as that may sound, it’s certainly not the scariest story the oriental island-nation has come up with. For reference, here are 5 Japanese legends and folktales that are (potentially) scarier than Ringu.
Hachisakusama (Eight Feet Tall Lady)
Not too long ago an eight-year-old boy was staying with his grandparents for the summer. While smiling and playing in the garden one happy afternoon, the boy heard a strange sound coming from somewhere nearby. “Po po po po.” It sounded like a human whisper, as if someone with a deep masculine voice were muttering to themselves. “Po po po po po.”
The sound was disturbing, and soon it became clear the direction from which it originated. Behind and over the garden’s eight-feet-tall hedge, the boy saw a straw hat moving towards an opening. “That can’t be a person,” the boy thought, “it’s too tall.” As he investigated, the boy saw a thin woman dressed all in white whose arms and legs stretched seemingly forever. “Po po po po,” she kept saying, as she faded into the distance.
The kid told her grandparents about the encounter. First they ignored him, but as soon as he mentioned the height and sound, the old couple became pale and trembled. The grandfather immediately made a call and left the house shortly after, leaving the kid to be watched closely by his crying grandmother. “What’s going on?,” the kid asked. “You were liked by Hachisakusama,” she told him as she held him tightly.
After a while the grandfather returned with the town witch, who handed the boy a white parchment and ordered him to hide in a room with the door locked. “Don’t come outside nor open the door for any reason before 7:00 am,” she told him, after she covered the windows with papers, placed four bowls filled with salt in each corner of the room and a Buddha statue in the center for the kid to pray should he be afraid.
During the night, the kid heard clanking and rattling from outside the window, as if someone was hitting it trying to come inside. “Po po po po po,” he heard on and on with varying intensities. At some point he heard his grandfather calling to the door. “Are you okay in there? If you’re scared, it’s safe to open the door so I can hold you and keep you safe,” the old man said. But the boy remembered his instructions and started praying. The voice suddenly became graver. “Po po po po,” he heard on the other side of the door as the rice in the bowls turned pitch-black.
When morning came, the boy got out of the room to find his grandparents waiting for him. They were ecstatic to see him safe, and they rushed him out the door and into a van driven by the witch. Eight other men awaited him and rapidly sat around the kid to protect him. “Hold the parchment and don’t open your eyes,” one of them said. “We can’t see her, but you can.”
As the van advanced something kept hitting it from outside. The boy peeked and saw Hachisakusama’s face staring back at him. “Po po po po po.” He immediately shut his eyes and held the parchment as tightly as he could. While the others could neither see nor listen to the eight-feet-tall woman directly, they felt the increasingly violent strikes clearly. The windows trembled and nearly broke, as the witch prayed so loudly it was as if she was screaming to compete with the deafening commotion.
After a while, the noise stoped and the boy was saved. His parents took him out of the country, for once someone's liked by Hachisakusama, they will always be in danger. The evil being is known to kidnap children a little while after they first meet her, never to be seen again. Those who manage to escape do so by never returning to their homeland. The kid didn't see his grandparents again, but decades later he received a call from them. They urged him to visit, insisting on how much they miss him and claiming that, after so long, it would be safe to come back. “What about Hachisakusama?,” he asked. After a brief silence, he heard on the other side of the line a deep masculine voice. “Po po po po po.”
Kuchisake-onna (“Cleft-mouth woman”)
Long ago, a woman of legendary beauty chose to marry a powerful samurai who shortly after left for war. The beauty, coveted by every man in town, eventually grew too lonely and succumbed to her pretenders’ advances. When the samurai returned home, he found her with one of the many men with whom she had shared his bed. With the deepest ire and in jealous revenge, the samurai took his sword after killing his wife’s lover and slashed the woman’s mouth from ear to ear. “Let’s see who thinks you beautiful now!,” he exclaimed before leaving.
After bleeding to death, the beautiful woman rose as a malevolent monster whose quest for vengeance blindly seeks out any victim she can find. It is said she covers her wound by wearing a cloth or a surgical mask and walks around approaching strangers in the night. “Am I pretty?,” she always asks. If the victim says yes, she will remove her mask and ask again, with a sarcastic high-pitched voice, “Am I pretty still?”
If the victim screams or otherwise shows fear, even if they say “yes,” she will slash him or her with a pair of scissors and inflict the same wound she bears. The victims will generally bleed to death no matter what they do, as the supernatural wound can never heal. If the victim answers “no” to the second question, Kushiake-onna will follow them to their house and brutally murder them that very night, usually by stabbing.
Jikininki (“Human-eating ghosts”)
Legend has it that a priest named Muso was traveling by himself across the mountains when he got lost and came upon a hill. On top of it there was a small house of the kind typically owned by hermits or solitary priests. Muso approach the cottage hoping to find shelter for the night, where he was met by a rude old priest who told him he wasn’t welcome there, pointed him in the direction of the nearby village, and sent him on his way. Surprised by the ill-manners of the old man, Muso left promptly for the village, where he was warmly received.
After being offered a room, Muso was approached by a young man who told him that his father had died and, as was the custom, the residents would travel to the next village to spend the night so the body would be left alone. Otherwise, bad things could befall them. He recommended that Muso joined, but he refused. “I am a priest,” he said, “and will perform the appropriate rites of my office accordingly.” He was not afraid of evil spirits.
That evening, after all the villagers had left, Muso performed the funeral service and meditated next to the corpse. It didn’t take long before a horrible, almost shapeless being entered the room and began devouring the dead body. Muso could not move nor speak as he watched the horrific scene playing out in front of him, paralyzed and terrified by the supernatural entity.
The next morning, when the villagers returned, he told them about what had happened. They were not surprised. “We know. That’s the reason we leave.” When Muso asked why the solitary priest in the nearby hill didn’t do something about the monster, the villagers told him no priest nor cottage is to be found there. Confused, Muso resumed his travels.
Before he left, however, he visited the hill and easily found the cottage still standing. The old priest received him and apologized for his rudeness the day before. “I didn’t want you to see my true form,” he said, “and then you saw it anyway.” The old man explained that he was cursed for his greediness in life, and now wonders the world as a Jikininki, a man-eating monster forever doomed to an insatiable hunger for flesh. Muso then performed a cleansing ritual to lift the curse, much to the gratitude of the old priest. As soon as the ritual was done, the old man and his cottage suddenly disappeared and Muso was left kneeling next to a newly formed tombstone.
A young girl was walking on her own one night when a few boys decided to follow her. Thinking it would be fun, they scared her while she stood near the train tracks, falling down. Before the boys could do anything about it, a train approached and killed her, splitting her body in half. Fearful and shocked, the boys ran away and vowed to remain silent about the incident.
A while later, thinking they had gotten away with it, they noticed a strange and disturbing noise following their footsteps. “Teke teke teke teke,” they heard, and upon turning around they saw the very girl whom they had left on the tracks. She was missing her lower half and dragged herself with claw-like hands, featuring a terrifying supernatural smile on her ghostly face. Then and there, she ripped the boys in half to reproduce her own injury. Not satisfied, Teke-Teke wanders around looking for more victims to slice in order to appease her anger.
A similar story involves a woman knocking on stall doors in lonely nights. “Where are my legs?,” she asks the innocent occupant. If he or she hesitates or gives the wrong answer, the spirit will crawl below the door and rip the victim in half to steal their legs. The only supposed way to survive the encounter is to answer “On the Meishin Railway,” after which the monster will simply crawl away.
Legends tell of a mysterious monster whose body resembles the union of woman and snake. With a long, reptile tail instead of legs and torso, and the head of a chillingly beautiful girl, she’s often found near lakes and rivers ready to feed on passing humans. It is said she frequently guises herself as a solitary mom carrying what appears to be her baby. When someone offers to help her, she gives them the bundle claiming she needs to rest.
The victim soon realizes they’re not carrying a baby at all. Unable to drop it, the bundle becomes so heavy the victim is rendered incapable of fleeing, so they’re left at the complete disposal of the Nure-onna. Only then does she reveal her tail, which she uses to trap and immobilize them, as she sucks their blood with her tongue until they die.
On other occasions these monsters are said to remain idle near the shore, and whenever someone approaches them thinking they need help or simply attracted to their seemingly human beauty (not realizing they have the tail of a snake), the monsters use their hair to immediately entrap their victim and devour them whole.
Japanese culture surely knows how to produce chilling and terrifying stories. So, do you know any other?
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