Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Japanese Ghost Stories from Peter Payne!

I always enjoy Peter Payne's J-List blog entries, but today's is of a particular personal interest because it's one I'm familiar with firsthand. Here's what Peter wrote:

Do you know the story of Toire no Hanako-san, or Miss Hanako of the Toilet? It's a Japanese urban legend that can be found at most every elementary school here, and it goes like this: if you go to the fourth stall of a specified girl's bathroom, usually on the third floor of the school, knock three times and call out "Hanako-san, are you there?" then you'll hear her reply, "Hai" (yes). Open the stall and you'll see a shimmering figure of a girl with bobbed hair with a red skirt on standing there. It's the ghost of Hanako, a girl who committed suicide after being bullied by her classmates (ijime), who is said to haunt the girl's bathroom looking for revenge. Or in an older version, Hanako is a girl who was playing hide-and-seek in the school bathroom during the war and was killed in an American air raid because she couldn't hear the air raid siren.

Three junior high school students of mine related this story in class one day. Their version didn't include Hanako's physical description but was otherwise identical. Also, in their telling, Hanako-san is the bully victim. Bullying has a lot more currency these days than American air raids. And of course, they don't believe it any more than American teens believe in Bloody Mary or the Lover's Lane Hook.

Here are some more Japanese urban legends from Peter Payne:

Hanako-san is part of a pantheon of "school ghost" stories that are well known in Japan, like Kuchisake Onna or Split-Faced Woman, a female ghost who asks you if she's beautiful before trying to devour you, and Teke-Teke, the upper torso of a female who claws her way around Japan searching for her lower half, which was severed in a train accident in Hokkaido. Anyone hearing this story will supposedly see Teke-Teke's lower half walking aimlessly around the countryside within three days. Let us know if you see anything!

They told me about Kuchisake Onna. What would you say to her if she asked you that question? And don't worry- I doubt Teke-Teke's legs are going to cross the Pacific Ocean to show up in Athens or Albany to terrify anyone... but who knows? Maybe that's why she can't find them!

I love this stuff. Ever since I read my first book of urban legends. Or maybe it was the Halloween episode of Real People featuring the "true" ghost stories. Anyway, make sure you click on the J-List blog link. You have to scroll down a little, but it's worth it because you can see a couple of artist's interpretations of poor Miss Hanako.


ghosthunter said...

I am alsways astonished how creepy Japanese ghosts stories generally are. They seem able to tap into our core fears and are less encumbered by expectations and preconceptions. "Out there" is a very appropriate term. Love them!

Joel Bryan said...

Ghosthunter- Exactly! You described the feeling they exude perfectly. One of the best ghost stories I've read is in the Banana Yoshimoto book Hard Boiled Hard Luck. She develops an atmosphere of menace and then takes it into some strange directions.