I find Japanese folklore and legends to be some of the most fascinating…and frightening. Here are five of the most terrifying Japanese legends.
Teke Teke (pictured above)
A young school girl on her way home fell on a railroad track. She was cut in half by a train and died. Returning later as a vengeful spirit, she drags herself along the ground using her elbows to pull her severed torso. As she moves she makes a scratching or “teke teke” sound. She travels at night, and if she catches you, she will slice you in half. In one version of the story, a school boy was standing outside of the school yard when he saw a beautiful young girl in the window of his school leaning on her elbows. He approached her, but when he got too close she jumped out of the window, revealing her missing lower half. Before the boy could run, she cut him in half and disappeared into the night.
Hitobashira (Human Pillars)
This ancient Japanese practice is no longer in use, for obvious reasons. During the first century, it was customary to make a human sacrifice in order to protect your new building or bridge. In most cases, this was done by burring your sacrifice alive somewhere within the structure. The Maruoka Castle, one of the oldest in Japan, was said to contain a sacrifice within one of its pillars. According to the story, an old blind woman was chosen as the sacrifice. She agreed on the condition that her son would be made a samurai. After the sacrifice, the ruler did not make good on his promise, and it is said that she flooded the castle with heavy rains. The floods lasted until a monument was built in her honor.
Gozu (Cow Head)
It’s a story within a story. For those of you old enough to remember every episode of MONTY PYTHON, its like the “The Funniest Joke in the World” sketch, in which a joke is developed to defeat the Nazi’s during World War II. The joke is so funny that anyone who hears it laughs themselves to death. The story of Cow Head is very similar in that it’s not actually a story about Cow Head but rather a story about the story of Cow Head, a story so frightening that it will literally scare you to death. No one knows what the story is actually about, because no one has ever survived reading it. According to the legend every copy of the story was destroyed. However, as one version of the legend says that a school teacher in the Japanese countryside came across an old text of it and read it to her class scaring them to death.
Aka Manto (Red Cape)
This urban legend proves that not even the bathrooms in Japan are safe. According to the legend, this spirit haunts public restrooms, usually the last stall. The spirit will ask someone, in mid-use, whether they want red paper or blue paper. In some versions of the story the spirit, usually depicted as a beautiful man, asks if they would like red cape or blue cape. If they say red cape (or paper), they will be sliced to pieces until their clothing turns red with blood. If they say blue cape, they will be strangled until their face turns blue. If they say yellow, the Aka Manto will shove their face into the toilet. Finally, if they ask for any other color the victim will be dragged into the Netherworld. And if you don’t answer, the Aka Manto will just leave.
Gashadokuro (Giant Skeleton)
These abnormally large skeletons are said to be comprised of the bones of several people who died from starvation. They roam the countryside at night looking for lone travelers. When they find one, they bite their heads off and drink the blood that sprays out of their neck holes. The Gashadokuro are said to be invisible and impossible to destroy, so good luck if you happen to come across one. However, there are certain Shinto artifacts that are said to keep them away. If you are walking alone at night in the Japanese countryside, listen for a ringing sound as that is they sign that a Gashadokuro is approaching.