The Legend of Kuchisake-onna

In Japan, there is a popular urban legend about Kuchisake-onna, the spirit of a woman with her mouth slit from ear to ear, supposedly mutilated by her husband. Starting in the late 1970s around Nagasaki, this urban legend quickly spread throughout the country, leading to an increase in police patrols as well as precautionary actions in schools.

What’s the story?kuchisake-onna-pi01
According to legend, Kuchisake-onna wanders around wearing a surgical mask. When she finds a victim, she will approach them and ask, “Am I pretty?” If the answer is “No,” then the victim is cut in half with a large pair of shears. If the answer is “Yes,” Kuchisake-onna takes off her mask, revealing that her mouth is split open from ear to ear, and ask “How about now?” If the answer is “No,” the victim will die. If the answer is “Yes,” then she will split the victim’s mouth open from ear to ear so they look more like her.

According to legend, it is impossible to get away from Kuchisake-onna. If you try to run away, she will appear in front of you. She cannot be outrun. However, rumors from the 1970s are starting to emerge with ways to escape. Some say that giving an ambiguous answer – such as “So-So” or “You’re okay” – will confuse her long enough for the victim to get away. Other sources say that if you tell her you have a previous engagement, her manners will get the best of her and she will excuse you. She can also be confused if the victim asks her if they are pretty. Supposedly this will cause her to leave.

Recent sightings include reports in South Korea of a woman running around with a red surgical mask, chasing children. The most recent sighting was in 2004.

How’s it used today?
Kuchisake-onna is so popular that she is very common in Japanese pop culture. There are movies, television shows, manga and anime about her. I bet kids dress up like her on Halloween. I mean, it would be an easy costume. Just draw red slits on your face and buy a surgical mask.

What’s it based on?
In October 2007, a coroner in Japan found records from the 1970s of a woman who used to chase children. She was hit by a car and died shortly after. The records revealed that her mouth was split open from ear to ear.

Though I cannot verify this next statement with any written research, I believe that this legend originated in that woman’s home town. I think that parents used her actions as a cautionary tale to tell their children, but it got so out of hand that it terrified an entire country. Urban legends with a discernible beginning like this one are always the scariest.

Let me know what you think in the comments!


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