Have you ever wanted to lose a little weight?
There is a saying among travelers that Japan is the best place to diet; everyone loses weight here. I have to disagree. As a foreigner who has lived here for several years, and watched her scale inch up progressively, I can’t help but think that anyone who loses weight in Japan simply doesn’t like the food.
Of course recently, I’ve had to consider a far more sinister reason: they’ve been possessed by an insidious yokai, which targets females with a supernatural disease.
The Futakuchi Onna, or Two-Mouthed Woman, could be the sister of Kuchisake Onna, whom I talked about last month for Monster Monday. Both possess grotesque mouths and are cursed for doing traditionally female-sins. The one huge difference, however, is that while Kuchisake Onna might be out to kill you, Futakuchi Onna is a monster that you yourself can become.
But what makes a Futakuchi Onna? From the front, she is average. A woman of any level of aesthetic and charm. But large, vulgar lips consume the back of her skull, transforming her hair into greedy, living tendrils that stuff any food they can find into its ravenous vacuum of a mouth. This terrifying transformation happens at night usually, but the afflicted will feel the hunger of the mouth all day.
The affliction of being cursed as a Futakuchi is two-fold. On a physical level, the woman affected must live with the knowledge of her ailment completely. She must listen to the loud slurps, groans, and gluttonous coos of the mouth as it eats. As a parasite, the Futakuchi represents a fear of grotesque deformation, and the woman’s psychological state suffers as anxiety and fear over being discovered, and having a hideous, parasitic mouth on her skull, build up. There is no known cure for those that become cursed.
So, how can a woman avoid this dreaded yokai? A look at her history might provide answers.
The Two-Mouthed Woman has two separate origin stories, and is in the process of being reinvented again for the modern generation.
The first origin story dates back to Fukushima, and tells the story of a wealthy man who was such a cheapskate that he would not marry, he loathed the idea of spending money on others so much. However, a life so spent is a lonely one, and how delighted he became to meet a woman who did not eat at all! He was so thrilled, in fact, that he married this woman right on the spot, and had her work for him, always carefully checking to make sure she was not eating.
Though he never saw her eat, he did notice that his rice stores were steadily decreasing, and certain that it was his wife, the man resolved to spy on her at the next opportunity. To his horror, he watched as his wife kneeled on the floor and her hair came to life, stretching and twisting outward to take hold of some rice cakes nearby.
But his wife never opened her own mouth. The hair pulled the morsels back to her crown, where a large, flat-lipped mouth sat in the center, smacking loudly in ecstasy with every bite and lick. The nauseating sound alone was enough to unnerve the miser, and he quickly decided to divorce her. But the Futakuchi realized what had happened, threw her husband into a tub, and carried him back to the mountains, from whence she had originally come.
The Futakuchi Onna of this story is said to be a mountain troll, or even spider, come to the cities of men to leech their bountiful, often gluttonous stores of food.
But there is another story: the story of a stepmother who starved her husband’s daughter to death by only giving her own flesh-and-blood daughter food. On the 49th day* after the husband’s daughters cruel death, the stepmother was suddenly cursed with the futakuchi mouth. From that day on, the stepmother had to live with the hunger pains of the girl she’d starved, and the mouth, in addition to its gross sounds while eating, wailed in the dead daughter’s voice. Karmic retribution: a trademark of the yurei.
* The 49th day marks the end of limbo in Japanese Buddhism, when the dead souls that had been walking between the spirit world and our own are judged for ascent into Heaven. The 49th day is usually the day that a family’s mourning period ends.
While this version of the tale is certainly the most popular, there is one more story that has been circulating in more recent times. No longer the troll woman of the mountain, or evil stepmother, the Futakuchi now afflicts girls who willfully starve themselves, becoming diseased through their own hunger.
As a yokai, the Futakuchi is harmless to others, much like Rokurokubi Onna, who drinks lamp oil. Her agony is her own living hell, and the largest discomfort is carried by the afflicted alone. And like most yokai, once the monster takes hold, it is with you always.
Futakuchi Onna has inspired a lot of characters over the years – maybe even one you are familiar with! If you’re ever wondered where the design for Mawile (a Pokémon from the Hoenn Pokedex) came from, Futakuchi is the answer! Makes sense, doesn’t it? 😉