Slit Mouth Woman
It’s unclear how long the ghost of Kuchisake-Onna has been wandering the streets of Japan. (Lately, she’s been appearing in Korea, too.) Her legend may date back as early as the Heian era (794–1185) but exact details are lost and subject to debate. In life, this very beautiful woman was a jealous samurai’s wife, consort or concubine. Doubting her fidelity, whether or not with any justification, he reacted violently, slitting her mouth from ear to ear and taunting her with the words, “Who will think you’re beautiful now?”
His words went to her heart; Kuchisake-Onna cannot rest in peace. Her ghost roams about on foggy, misty evenings. In her traditional manifestation, Kuchisake-Onna wears long, white, flowing clothes; her face, especially the lower half, is veiled by the draped white cloth. (In modern manifestations, Kuchisake-Onna may wear a surgical mask.) At first glance, Kuchisake-Onna appears very beautiful, sensuous and alluring. Eventually, however, Kuchisake-Onna will flag a passing car or someone on the street. When they stop, she asks something like “Do you think I’m beautiful?” simultaneously whipping off her mask or veil and exposing her horribly disfigured face
Most people react badly. The sight is unexpected: they panic and run. It’s the wrong thing to do: the ghost pursues and if she catches her victim, attacks them with some sort of metal implement: knife, sword or scissors. She may kill them or inflict injuries similar to her own.
Should Kuchisake-Onna be encountered, the best way to disarm her is to give her something to think about. Kuchisake-Onna is a low-level spirit: the process of thinking is beyond her and frustrates her. Straight-forward answers to her query activate her violence, regardless of whether the answer is yes or no. Those who answer her question vaguely or ambiguously survive without injury. Thus respond along the lines of “That depends upon perspective” and Kuchisake-Onna will not attack or follow. Instead she stands musing and you can walk away (rapidly).
For safety’s sake, keep small candies in your pocket. If unable to control yourself—you just panic and run—toss the candy on the ground behind you. One piece is insufficient; throw at least a handful or empty the container. Kuchisake-Onna, like so many ghosts, is afflicted with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She will be compelled to stop, count and pick up each piece while you get away.
Like La Llorona, Kuchisake-Onna is more than just a ghost story. Reports of encounters are frequent. In 1979, rumors spread throughout Japan regarding children who were terrorized by Kuchisake-Onna. Compared to other night wanderers like Hone-Onna, La Llorona or Aisha Qandisha and considering her history, Kuchisake Onna is unusual: her targets tend to be children or younger people, rather than men.
Real-life encounters with Kuchisake-Onna may be dreaded but she’s beloved in popular entertainment, making appearances in various manga and anime as well as her namesake 1996 film, Kuchisake-Onna.
- Aisha Qandisha
- Bloody Mary
- Diablesse, La
- Llorona, La
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.