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In Japan, there is a rumor concerning toilets. At any elementary, go to the third floor, and then the third stall on the left. A little girl’s ghost lives there. If you knock three times, she might even show herself to you.

The history of this ghost is bizarre, but most sources agree that she is a new phenomenon–a ghost out of the post-World War II era: Hanako in the red skirt. Hanako in the toilet.

Toire no Hanako (by Digital Dolls)
Toire no Hanako (by Digital Dolls)

Hanako is a bizarre little ghost, but her varied origins are sad. The most well-known story of how Hanako came to be in the toilet is that she was bullied by the other girls in her school, and actually died in the stall, haunting it to take revenge on mean girls now. Another claims she died during an air raid. Yet another says that she died following an attack from a pervert in the stall.

However, despite this assorted and horrific history, she is relatively harmless as far as Japanese ghosts go. Unlike most of the other yurei I’ve covered in this series, Hanako actually gives her callers ample opportunities to get away. Now, if they’re foolish enough to keep on pressing…. well, she has a reputation to uphold.

hanako2

Hanako is much like the Bloody Mary of U.S. urban legends: she must be called upon to appear. Once a child knocks three times, they must ask a simple question: Hanako, are you there? If she answers you in a soft voice, you can open the door and she will appear for you. If she answers in an angry voice, you can open the door, but it’s probably a better idea not to–she has a tendency to drag people into the toilet with her.

Still, all is not lost. A surefire way to assure Hanako that you aren’t, in fact, a terrible bully is to flash her a perfectly marked exam when you open the door. She will vanish into thin air and leave you alone!

Sorta reminds you a bit of Moaning Myrtle, doesn’t she? I have to wonder if maybe J.K. Rowling found her inspiration for this amusing character in books on Japanese monsters.

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Somewhere in Aomori, a traveler makes his way up a steep snowbank, the wind pushing against his back with icy fingers. It is so cold the grip is gone from his hands, and his knees can barely bend for the chill. He needs shelter and he needs it soon. In the distance, a silhouette forms amidst the gusts of sleet––a woman in a white kimono, her long hair whipping about in gale. As she draws closer, the traveler is taken aback, half retreating and nearly stumbling backward into the piles of ice and snow around him. Her lips are as blue as a corpse, and rather than walk over the surface of the woodland, she glides without feet, carried by the abominable wind towards him. Before he can scream she is upon him, the deity of the snowstorm, and with one exhale from her icy lips, he falls, frozen to death.

A Yuki-Onna doll sculpture
A Yuki-Onna doll sculpture

Elsewhere, in the old northern province once named Echigo, a man is settling in for an unpleasant winter night. A storm howls outside, but he is warm and comfortable near his fire. Late in the evening, a rapping begins at his door, and soon, a girl’s voice follows it. “Let me in!” she pleads, over and over but to no avail. The man, knowing of no nearby families, has too much superstition in his veins to open the door. When he at last yells at the specter outside to be gone, he turns to go back to bed, only to find an ephemeral beauty, dressed head to toe in white, standing beside his futons. She asks for nothing but shelter. She doesn’t kill him.

Yuki Onna Final1.0
Copyright: David Aguero

In Yamagata, it is a clear night. A new moon shines brilliantly over the diamond dusted powder of the country’s snowy hills. There is a silent peace to all, a stillness on earth. From the tree line, a woman with porcelain skin emerges, gazing longingly at the gray craters of the world she came from. High up in the sky, in the pockmarked surface, she can see the palaces and countries of her great home. Having descended so many centuries before without a way to return, the Snow Woman can do nothing but pine for the world she has lost.

Yuki Onna

The stories of Yuki Onna are as numerous as snowflakes in a winter storm. They range from the beautiful and lonely woman of perpetual winter, to the yokai that devours the life-force of men and children who have the misfortune of crossing her path. She is a goddess, a princess, a yurei, a malevolent spirit… a woman who had the misfortune to die in a storm like the one she inhabits. In one tale, she even functions as a sort of groundhog spirit, letting the citizenry know whether winter will stay long or leave early in any particular year.

Her appearance, as well, depends on who you talk to. Tales in Japan range from the woman being nude to robed in white, with black hair, white hair, blue lips, no feet, or even having her body be translucent. One thing is true of each story, though: there is a certain melancholy that surrounds the beauty of a woman in the dead of winter––a woman frozen, a Snow White to never be rescued from the poison apple.

Or maybe she’s just trying to kill a cockroach, as in this commercial out of Japan:

Recommended Reading:

Sacred Texts: Yuki Onna
Yuki Onna @ Wikipedia
The Snow Woman @ Hyakumonogatari
Yuki Onna @ yokai.com

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The tales of Onibaba the Demon Hag are numerous and bloody. Her myths are centered around primal fears of pregnancy, menopause, and desperation.

Be warned, this post contains tales of fetal murder and cannibalism, as well as images of nudity.

Onibaba’s most famous story begins with a merchant family and a midwife. Shortly after giving birth to a daughter, the merchant family grows despondent to discover their daughter is rather sickly. They seek out a priest to heal her, and the priest informs them that the only cure for her illness is to consume the healthy liver of a newborn child.

In a classic tale of short-sightedness and desperate selfishness, the merchant family tasks the midwife with finding the liver. Never mind where it will come from, or that should it have been another person’s infant, they wouldn’t have given up their daughter’s liver to save another babe.

The midwife, however, does seem to understand that this will be a long and somewhat fruitless venture, and leaves the daughter with a protective charm, asking the gods to protect her while she waits for the liver.

It is no surprise to anyone, of course, that the midwife can not find a single family willing to sacrifice their child’s liver for her charge, and many years pass, her efforts unrewarded.

It happens that during a storm one night, the midwife, distressed and frantic for her poor charge, decides that she must change her tactics. She lies in wait on the side of the road with cooking knife, determined to take the liver she needs at the next opportunity.

A pregnant woman rounds the corner.

Diving out from the bushes, the midwife grabs and binds the pregnant woman, slicing open her belly and making short work of the child within. The liver finally in bloody hand, the midwife screams in tortured relief, but a glint on the woman stills her: a charm.

The same protective charm she had given to that baby girl all those years ago.

Her charge.

Horrified in this gruesome discovery, the midwife rips her own robes, the depths of her despair calling forth demons that soon possess her. She eats the liver she had stolen for and from her charge, and becomes a full-fledged yokai.

She escapes to the mountains, becoming feral and grotesque, though the curse of the yokai always brings her back to the roadsides, to find more infant livers.

The tales of Onibaba are more numerous, of course, but it is easy to see why this one terrifies the most. While many horror tales focusing on pregnant women deal with the “monster growing within,” the stories of Onibaba tend to lend themselves to the deadly jealousy of the Crone, too old to bare, too old to be sexually attractive to men, and in the confines of traditional womanhood, therefore, being cast out as worthless. The idea of the old woman becoming a demon at the age when a regular female would be going through menopause is interesting, and purely my own conjecture: in many images, Onibaba is portrayed as being bare-chested, a sight that would normally arouse feelings of attraction. Yet Onibaba is so hideous that the only emotion available is horror and rejection. These reactions come from nothing other than her portrayed age; wrinkled skin and sagging breasts, loose jowls and irregular teeth are the natural progression of age, and can be beautiful, but are rarely shown as such.

In the world of Japanese monsters, Onibaba is a force not easily forgotten, and most certainly primal in nature.

Recommended Reading:

Onibaba @ Matthew Meyer, Yokai-A-Day
Yamamba @ The Yokai Grove


BONUS!

A Japanese movie was made in 1964 that features the birth of an Onibaba, and is available on Youtube. The film is in black and white, and the subtitles are a little delayed, but Onibaba is acclaimed as the Psycho of Japanese horror films, with excellent cinematography and tension. I watched the film for this post, and can recommend it to those who love older movies. It’s a great look at the haunting effects of the feudal period of Japan on laymen.

Onibaba 1964 Japanese Horror