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The pandemic hampered the momentum Japan had going when it comes to ハロウィン (harouin, Halloween). Gatherings in Shibuya are discouraged or highly regulated, the Kawasaki costume parade has come to an end … in fact, the scariest thing happening on Oct. 31 this year is an election.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get into the spirit of the season, though. Japan has plenty of 妖怪 (yōkai, monsters) and お化け (obake, ghosts) to keep you spooked through the rest of October.

Japanese horror films saw a boom in the 2000s after “Ringu” and “Ju-on” were remade as Hollywood blockbusters “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” respectively. This brought the image of pale, angry 幽霊 (yūrei, spirits) into the 悪夢 (akumu, nightmares) of people around the world.

These 幽霊 have been haunting the Japanese for much longer, though. 都市伝説 (Toshi densetsu, urban legends) that center on vengeful characters (often women) have been the topic of ghost stories told among children who are looking for a harmless fright. One of the most well-known is that of “トイレの花子さん” (“Toire no Hanako-san,” “Hanako of the Toilet”).

Do you know what’s also scary to Japanese learners? Seeing a big block of Japanese text. However, try to read the text and see if you can get the gist of it. [We will provide romaji and English versions for this week’s stories below the article.]

学校のトイレに現れるという少女の霊。学校3階のトイレを3回ずつノックし、「花子さんいらっしゃいますか?」と尋ねる行為を手前から奥まで続けると、3番目の個室からかすかな声で「はい」と返ってくる。扉を開けるとおかっぱで赤いスカートを着た女の子が立っていて、トイレに引きずり込まれる。

Based on the passage, how much did you learn about Hanako? What is Hanako’s gender? Are they young or old?

Looking at the first sentence, we are told that Hanako is a 少女の霊 (shōjo no rei) that dwells in 学校のトイレ (gakkō no toire). The kanji for 少女 (shōjo) means “small woman,” so, “girl,” and you have seen 霊 (rei) introduced earlier in this piece as 幽霊, meaning “spirit” or “ghost.” You may see 霊 used in literature with words such as 怨霊 (onryō, vengeful spirit), 霊界 (reikai, the spirit world) or 霊園 (reien, cemetery). You may have seen 墓地 (bochi) used for the word “cemetery” before, but 墓地 are connected to temples while 霊園 don’t have such links.

Back to Hanako, how do we see this young girl’s spirit? The passage says 3階のトイレを3回ずつノック (san-gai no toire o san-kai zutsu nokku, in the third-floor restrooms, knock three times each [on the doors of the toilet stalls]) and ask “花子さんいらっしゃいますか” (“Hanako-san irasshaimasu ka?,” “Is Hanako-san there?”). Legend says that when you reach 3番目の個室 (san-banme no koshitsu, the third stall), she will respond with “はい” (hai, yes).

What happens next? Well, if you see a girl with おかっぱ (okappa, bobbed hair) and an 赤いスカート (akai sukāto, red skirt), you may possibly トイレに引きずり込まれる (toire ni hikizurikomareru, be dragged into the toilet).

Let’s try another 都市伝説, one called “口裂け女” (“Kuchisake Onna”).

1970年代後半頃から日本で大流行した都市伝説で、発祥は岐阜県とされている。学校帰りの子どもに、大きなマスクをした女が「私、きれい

?」と尋ねてくる。「はい」と応えると「これでも?」と言い、マスクをとって裂けた口を見せて襲い掛かってくる。足が速く、100メートル 6秒、または12秒で走るといった噂がある。べっこう飴が好物で、与えている間に逃げる、という撃退方法が広まり、当時はべっこう飴を持ち歩く子どもが続出した。

Why do they call her the 口裂け女? Were you able to understand the passage?

Of course, nobody knows what really happened, but it’s believed this urban legend spread out from Gifu Prefecture in the late-1970s. The woman in question, who wears a mask, speaks to children who are on their way home from school.

She asks them, “Am I pretty?” and, if you answer “yes,” she adds, “Even now?” while ripping off her mask and revealing her 裂けた口 (saketa kuchi, torn mouth). This facial injury doesn’t affect her legs, however, as it’s said she can run 100 meters in either six or 12 seconds, depending on who tells the story.

How can a kid protect themselves? Well, her 好物 (kōbutsu, favorite thing) is べっこう飴 (bekkōame, tortoiseshell candy) so 当時はべっこう飴を持ち歩く子どもが続出した (tōji wa bekkōame o mochiaruku kodomo ga zokushutsu shita, many children at the time used to carry tortoiseshell candy on them while walking).

So don’t worry about not having a costume party to go to this year because of the pandemic. However, you may want to keep some べっこう飴 in your pocket if you’re headed out for a walk.


“Hanako of the Toilet”

Gakkō no toire ni arawareru to iu shōjo no rei. Gakkō san-gai no toire o san-kai zutsu nokku shi, “Hanako-san irasshaimasu ka?” to tazuneru kōi o temae kara oku made tsuzukeru to, san-banme no koshitsu kara kasukana koe de “hai” to kaette-kuru. Tobira o akeru to okappa de akai sukāto o kita onna no ko ga tatte-ite, toire ni hikizurikomareru.

The ghost of a girl is said to appear in the school toilets. In the third-floor restrooms, knock three times each (on the stall doors) from front to back and ask, “Is Hanako-san there?” At the third stall a faint voice will come back with a “yes.” Open the door and a girl with a bob cut and red skirt will be standing there, and you’ll be dragged into the toilet.

“The Slit-mouthed Woman”

Senkyūhyakunanajū-nendai kōhan kara Nihon de dairyūkō shita toshi densetsu de, hasshō wa Gifu-ken to sarete-iru. Gakkō-gaeri no kodomo ni, ōkina masuku o shita onna ga “Watashi, kirei?” to tazunete-kuru. “Hai” to kotaeru to “Kore demo?” to ii, masuku o totte saketakuchi o misete osoikakatte-kuru. Ashi ga hayaku, hyaku-mētoru roku-byō, mata wa jūni-byō de hashiru to itta uwasa ga aru. Bekkōame ga kōbutsu de, ataete-iru aida ni nigeru to iu gekitai hōhō ga hiromari, tōji wa bekkōame o mochiaruku kodomo ga zokushutsu shita.

An urban legend that spread widely across Japan in the late-1970s, it originated in Gifu Prefecture. A woman wearing a large mask asks children, “Am I pretty?” If you answer “yes,” she says, “Even now?” and rips off her mask to show you her slashed mouth before attacking. She’s fast, and it’s said she can run 100 meters in six or 12 seconds (depending on who tells the story). She likes tortoiseshell candy and you can escape while giving her some. As that method of repelling her spread, many children would carry those candies with them while they walked home.

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