Kuchisake Onna: Slit-Mouthed Woman

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It’s early evening in Japan, and you’re walking down a quiet street in the suburbs of Tokyo. There aren’t many people around, and the only thing on your mind is the bag you carry, a quick convenience store dinner from the local Family Mart. The sun is going down. The street lamps come on, a flicker in the fading light, until they are beacons calling out for the neighborhood’s abundant insect population. Something about a gritty shadow at the base of one of those poles makes you walk a little faster.

Then, you start to hear footsteps behind you.

The click of heels, the speed of the gait –– all suggest a woman. Nothing to be afraid of.

But when you turn the corner, so does she. When you speed up a little, so does she. When you finally slow down, giving her a chance to pass you, she stops, and the need to turn and look overcomes you.

It is a woman. And she is gorgeous. From her long black hair to her pale skin and shapely curves, there is no denying her attractiveness. Yet, she wears a surgical mask around her face. Maybe she has a cold, you think.

After all, the flu is going around.

But then, she asks you something. Her voice is odd. Grating.

“Am I pretty?”

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Answer “no,” and the woman will dive at you with a pair of sewing shears. She will stab you to death, relishing in the violent shanks of her blunt weapon.

Answer “yes,” and the woman will take off her mask, revealing a hideous Joker’s grin, a gash cutting her jaw from ear to ear.

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She’ll ask you again. “Am I still pretty?”

Answer “no,” and your bloody death is assured. Don’t bother running. This woman will catch you. Your fate is sealed.

Answer “yes,” and she will cut you as she was cut, taking her shears to your cheeks.

tumblr_mcrpyq6cjy1qzbx4go1_1280Because this woman is Kuchisake Onna, and she is a vengeful spirit. But why does she wait under street lights, and why does she ask that question before killing her victims?

The origins of the Kuchisake Onna are hard to trace to any single source, as can be expected from any urban legend. Some reports say that she can be found as far back as Heian Period, but most concur that the first stories of the slit-mouthed woman started in Edo, Japan, same as Rokurokubi, the Rubber-Necked Woman.

The original story goes that Kuchisake Onna was once a beautiful, if vain, woman, who obsessed so greatly over her looks that her samurai husband became jealous of her. Here accounts change depending on the source, which is interesting. In some cases, the story goes that she was cheating on him, but in others, they simply leave it at “he was jealous,” which suggests that her beauty was so great that even the husband was spiteful of how attractive she was. In a rage one night, he took his katana (sword) to her face, leaving her mouth cut from ear to ear. No matter what account you hear the story from though, his following line after the gruesome mutilation remains the same:

“Who will find you beautiful now?”

kuchisake_onna_by_davidgaillet-d4lva4bIn despair, the woman committed suicide, a common tactic among female yurei in Japanese lore to purposefully tie their hatred to the world, and make their spirits ghosts. The concept of revenge after death is a curious and fascinating one. Here, we have a society that had complete control and subservience over its women, but the idea of an “unchained” female ghost coming back to return all of the injustices laid upon her is a repetitive and psychologically terrifying concept. In addition to being vengeful, these sorts of yurei often show themselves to be immortal, resisting all attempts to pacify, exorcise, or kill them.

The story of Kuchisake Onna fell into obscurity after the 1800s, until in the 1970s her story suddenly started making the rounds again. Rumors of a woman in a long brown trenchcoat and surgical mask waiting under street lamps followed grisly reports of a woman who had been stabbing children and chasing them into traffic. One day, a car hit the woman, cutting her jaw wide open. The reports were so frequent that schools had to start having teachers escort children home, and the police were convinced that there was a real, possibly unstable woman running loose around the city.

As well, there is a bit of a violent play-on-words happening with the woman’s question. In Japanese, she says “Watashi ga, kirei?” This means “Am I pretty?” However, after she drops her mask, she changes two syllables, distorting the meaning completely: Watashi wa kire? or “Shall I cut?”

According to the children who survived their encounters with the woman, there is only one way to escape the Slit-Mouthed Woman: when she asks her question, you can confuse her with unusual answers. Say she is average, or ask her the same question back, and she can become so disoriented that you might have a chance to run away before she can catch you with her sheers.

However you decide to answer, be wary of women in surgical masks. She could be any one of them.

Anyone.
ANYONE.

Further Sources:
Youtube Origin Story
口避け女 [J-Horror, loosely based on legend, subtitled]

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51 Comments

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  1. The story is creepy, but what I really like of your article is the analysis of the myth itself. When and how it may have come to exist.
    I find the idea of the vengeful ghost and the possibility of women to intentionally become one, so very fascinating… on a storytelling level, of course 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes…. on a story-telling level, haha. But in all honesty, it was a common belief. There are a TON of stories that deal with this: a woman who intentionally kills herself to tie her wrath to the world… typically to seek vengeance on a lover who did her wrong. It’s a really fascinating part of the horror psyche of Japan. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah! I found that really interesting. I’m tempted to see how much of the psychotic woman was urban legend or true…. there’s just enough info in there to make it feel very real (and people have done more bizarre stuff over here… just last year, a man was roaming around my school’s neighborhood with a butcher knife….[no coincidence, I hope!!])

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    1. Hi Marilyn!! Hope you’re well. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the discussion. It’s been entertaining for me, too! 😉

      Like

  2. There really is no correct way to answer her question is there? My cheeks are itching just thinking about it! She is truly horrifying, and given your last comment (about her being behind willowdot), I’m almost scared to turn around. What was that…?! Great post, Alex. It was a lot of fun learning about this legend 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Are You Afraid of the Dark? recently and I have my campfire storytelling hat on, haha. Just a little fun on my end. 😉 I’m glad you enjoyed it though! I’m very excited for next month, where her equally terrifying cousin will get the stage. XD

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It’s good to feel a little scared sometimes. 😉 Helps with circulation… or something. XD Pleasure to meet you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kowaii!!!!! But I love it that they give us a way out. Unusual answers- I will always have a few in stock henceforth! LOL Great research!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, they really are! The Grudge, anyone? 😮 There’s just something about 100% rage + non-corporeal form that scares me silly, haha. XD

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    1. Haha, I apologize… I just had to make it scary, since it was creeping me out researching it. Especially when I got ot the part where kids were saying “Oh yeah, she can run faster than anyone alive. You can’t get away from her, and no, she can’t be killed.” 😛

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Well this is horrifying.

    Now I’m wondering about all sorts of stuff, not the least of which is the exaggerated mouth—it’s almost a motif, as I can think of several other things that feature that sort of horror-show smile. The hiding is interesting too. That ups the ante.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s technical term is ‘Glasgow smile,’ but the actual injury is far, far more dated in history. I’m sure it’s rooted in the severe vulnerability of our mouth (losing teeth as a child), or the general mutilation of the face, which is perceived as the heart of external identity. Fascinating stuff. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on Alex Hurst and commented:

    Take a walk down in the suburbs of Japan, and you might come across the subject of my latest Monster Monday post over at Part-Time Monster. Kuchisake Onna is a horrific apparition, and can’t be killed. So, what do you do if you are confronted by this terrible yurei? Come on over and read to find out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah… There’s something about knowing she could be behind any mask that terrifies. Also, as with most yurei, knowing she can’t be destroyed or stopped kinda increases the ‘please don’t let me cross paths with her’ to a whole new level.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yup. The part about confusing her with questions is also good. I’ve stashed that one away on my list demon-evasion tactics. Not the first time I’ve seen it, but it made an impression here.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. There were also a few people that suggested calling her ‘average.’ Haha. I think that would confound most people, not just demons. 😛

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Do you think, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese” would work?

          Unrelated: her mouth reminds me of Canadians in South Park, which is the only ridiculous thing in this horror show that will let me sleep.

          Liked by 3 people

        3. It might! Especially since she does ask in Japanese. ☺ Good thinking!

          And now I can’t get that image out of my head. Thanks! 😛

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha. Stay away from hospitals? Her story always crops up again around flu and pollen seasons, when everyone starts wearing masks again.

      Liked by 1 person

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