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Ten Japanese Legends Tied to Reality
Legends have become a staple point in human history as a way to entertain—and to warn. Japanese legends, in particular, have continued to be a fairly popular source for movies, books, and ways to scare your siblings. However, every good story has a bit of truth to it, and these particular stories have a bit too much… These are some Japanese legends that are tied to reality.
10 The Red Room
The Red Room is a very creepy Japanese legend, as it is also known as “The Red Room Curse,” and nothing scares people like curses, right? The Red Room was originally a video that one could find by simply searching for it on a web browser, but it was very quickly removed. However, when it was removed, people naturally became curious and began to try to find information or a re-upload of the video.
By researching too much on the topic, a pop-up ad would appear on the user’s screen that could not be removed and would repeatedly play a child’s voice asking, “Do you like…?” eventually finishing the sentence with “The Red Room?” This would end up with the viewer feeling something behind them and then being found dead with the walls of their room painted red with their own blood. It is, however, uncertain whether the curse drives the viewers to take their own lives or something does it for them. I’m not sure what I find scarier about this legend: the fact that I researched it a lot for this article, the legend itself, or the fact that it’s a pop-up ad.
The Red Room Curse is a widely known part of the Sasebo Slashing where a child, referred to as “Girl A” in the investigation reports, sliced open the neck of her classmate in elementary school in June 2004. The victim, Satomi, had her arms and throat cut open with a box cutter. After killing Satomi, “Girl A” left Satomi to bleed out on the empty classroom floor. Then, in blood-splattered clothing and still holding the knife, she approached the teacher and said monotonously, “I have done a very bad deed.”
“Girl A” had been exhibiting strange behavior for a while before the event and frequently spent more time on the internet alone. Reports state that, after examining her browser history, the video of the Red Room was found recently opened before the incident and thus added to the urban legend as a horrifying tie to reality.
9 The Old Inunaki Tunnel
If you stand in front of the Inunaki Tunnel, you will hear the screams of those who were murdered inside. The tunnel is home to several murders in the town of Miyawaka in Fukuoka Prefecture. However, the tunnel is also known to lead into the Inunaki Village, another urban legend, where cannibalistic villagers await all those who trespass onto their land.
The tunnel is most famous for a specific murder on December 7, 1988, where the burned body of Umeyama Kouichi was discovered. The man was attacked by five gang members who were trying to steal his car. When Umeyama refused to give them his car, they beat and abducted him. However, he escaped the group and ran toward passing traffic. Unfortunately, his injuries caused him to collapse and be captured again by the group.
Enraged by Umeyama’s will to live, the group dragged him into the back of his car’s trunk and beat him with wrenches, cranks, and any metal objects they could find. Still, Umeyama lived, determined to survive this incident. The group decided that they had to kill the man. They wanted to throw his body into the Rikimaru Dam but were afraid his body would float, so they decided to burn his body to make him unrecognizable. They left Umeyama in the trunk and drove to the infamous Inunaki Tunnel. There, they poured gasoline on his head as Umeyama screamed.
The group, aware of the legend of the tunnel, flinched away, and Umeyama once again escaped, this time fleeing into the forest. The group called out to him, pleading that they would not harm him if he came out. Umeyama, most likely suffering from blood loss, came out of the forest and was again captured by the gang members. Umeyama pleaded for his life as they beat his head with stones. The blood splatter was reported to have landed several feet away, yet he still lived. The group finally set him on fire. Umeyama, however, still managed to get up and run almost to the tunnel entrance before collapsing.
The group of boys then went to a bar and cheerfully boasted to all there, “We just killed someone! Set them on fire!” The body was found later that day, and all five were arrested. The main leader of the group dared to appeal his life sentence by claiming that “there was no clear intention to kill.”. It did not work.
However, this is only one of the murders at Inunaki Tunnel recorded. The tunnel has since been sealed with cement blocks to stop visitors, though it was used in the Japanese movie Howling Village.
8 Inunaki Village
The Inunaki Village is a place just beyond the Inunaki Tunnel. To get there, you must pass the Inunaki Tunnel’s entrance first. Once through it, you can find a small side road that will lead you through the wilderness of Mount Inunaki to the entrance of the village. As you get closer to the village, it is reported that the road will get narrower and harder to manage. So much so that you may need to abandon your car.
You will know you have found the entrance by seeing a sign that states: “The Japanese constitution is not in effect past here.” If you pass this sign and go a while farther, you will see what looks like an abandoned village with dark and dilapidated houses. However, don’t be fooled. I can guarantee you that they are not empty.
After the initial dark gloom settles over you, a villager may appear in front of you and shout a welcome message—or they may appear behind you with no warning. Either way, you’ll be captured, as the villagers are very, very happy to see you but do not want you to leave. You must be there for dinner, of course.
While the concept of cannibalistic villagers in a forest is not uncommon nor very difficult to fathom, the Inunaki Village is still considered an urban legend.
Except it’s not. The Inunaki Village definitely existed from 1691 to 1889. However, it was thought to have merged with other areas until it became Miyawaka Village. Though the original village site is located under a dam, perhaps they simply moved over a bit? Who knows, right?
7 Okiku the Doll
Okiku is a doll about 16 inches (40cm) tall. She is dressed in a kimono and has long black hair that happens to grow every once in a while.
Too tame? Okay…
Okiku was a doll bought by the 17-year-old brother of a little two-year-old girl named Okiku. The girl absolutely adored the doll, and it remained by her side until her unfortunate and sudden death from an illness a year later in 1919. The family prayed for Okiku and placed the doll by her shrine on the household altar. Eventually, they noticed that the doll’s hair was growing. Following this, weird occurrences continued to happen around the doll, including flickering lights, loud noises, and strange voices—getting worse as the calendar date approached Okiku’s death day.
The family, along with the town shaman, concluded that the doll was, in fact, Okiku now, and they kept the doll in pristine condition until they had to move. Fearing that the proximity to her grave kept the doll alive, the family said their goodbyes and handed her over to the Mennenji Temple. The doll’s hair did not stop growing after the family left, however, and the temple continuously gives the doll haircuts to this day, with the priest stating that Okiku tells him when to cut her hair by sending him a dream.
You can visit her anytime you like at the temple. But I hope you don’t have a fear of dolls.
6 Doryodo Temple
The Doryodo Temple stopped gaining many new visitors around 1908 when visitors were diverted to the Yokohama Railway. It was the declining foot traffic that encouraged the crime rate to spike, resulting in the burglary and murder of an elderly woman on the premises in 1963. The thief stole the only money the temple had left, and it fell into ruin. The people who still visit the shrine say you can hear the old woman sobbing in the forest beside it today.
However, this was not the end of unfortunate deaths in the temple.
In 1973, a young girl had an affair with a professor at Rikkyō Daigaku University. The professor had a wife, of course, along with two children. The professor’s wife became suspicious and extremely despondent, eventually threatening suicide so he would tell her who he was cheating with. Thus, the professor decided he would have to murder his student to come out with a clean name.
He invited her to his house and then strangled her to death, dumping her body near the temple. The father then went home and committed a family murder-suicide with his wife and two children a little later. While the family’s bodies were found quite quickly, the young girl was not found for seven months. After the body was found, newspapers reported that visitors to the temple heard the young girl’s voice shouting, “I’m here!” over and over again. Thus, ghost hunters and others seeking a thrill visit the now fallen-in temple, creating the urban legend of “The Temple of Doom.”
The story of Hanako-san is one of the most famous legends in Japan. It is said that Hanako-san is the ghost of a young girl who haunts school bathrooms. The story of Hanako-san’s origins dates back to the 1950s.
According to the legend, Hanako-san was a young girl who died during World War II. She was hiding in the school bathroom during an air raid when a bomb hit the building, killing her instantly. Since then, her ghost has been haunting school bathrooms, waiting for someone to summon her. When she hears them asking if she’s there, she’ll respond with a ghostly hand or appearance, either as herself or as a lizard that will devour you.
The real story occurred during World War II. Many schools, including elementary schools, were used as shelters during air raids. On August 9, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, many students and teachers were killed in these schools. The bathroom was one of the few places that offered some protection during the blast, where Hanako-san is said to still reside after the walls failed to protect her.
4 Tomino’s Hell
Tomino’s Hell is a poem about a young boy named Tomino who descends into hell. The poem is written in the form of a letter that Tomino is writing to his mother. In the letter, Tomino describes the horrors he encounters in hell, including demonic creatures and a river of blood.
The poem gained popularity in the 1980s when it was included in Saijo Yaso’s collection Sakin. It has since become a popular urban legend in Japan and around the world, with many people believing that the poem is cursed.
There are different versions of the legend surrounding Tomino’s Hell, but the most common one is that the poem is cursed and brings misfortune to anyone who reads it aloud. Some people have reported hearing strange noises or seeing ghostly apparitions after reading the poem. Others have experienced illnesses, car crashes, evil presences, or death.
3 The Alice Killings
The Alice Killings is an urban legend that gained widespread attention in Japan in the early 2000s. In the legend, an unknown serial killer maimed its victims between 1999 and 2005, leaving a classic calling card—an actual playing card—and the word “Alice” written in the victim’s blood.
Unlike the legend where the murders are never solved, the real-life serial murder case it’s based on was committed by Alfredo Galán Sotillo in Spain from 1978 to 2003. Like the urban legend it inspired, Sotillo would leave playing cards as his signature. He would eventually be arrested in 2003 and sentenced to 142 years in prison.
Perhaps if his murder spree had lasted as shortly as the legend’s, he might have gotten away with it as well.
The legend of Oiwa, or “The Lantern Ghost,” is a famous Japanese legend that originated in the early 1800s. It is based on the life of a woman named Oiwa, who was married to a man named Tamiya Iemon. Iemon was a samurai who wanted to leave his wife for the younger, wealthier granddaughter of his neighbor.
To get rid of his wife, Iemon plotted with the granddaughter to poison Oiwa with a face cream that would cause her death. The plan failed, however, and instead of dying, she was left disfigured and in agony with a drooping eye and her hair falling out.
What happened next varies between each depiction. In one story, Iemon kills her himself. In another, Oiwa accidentally kills herself with a sword after Iemon sends his friend to rape her so he can legally divorce her. Either way, Oiwa dies, and Iemon throws her body in the river and goes to celebrate with his new future wife. Oiwa’s ghost continues on to terrorize Iemon, even appearing out of a paper lantern, until he goes insane. First, the ghost makes him behead his new wife by making him think his wife was Oiwa on their wedding day and then by constantly harassing him.
While the story of Oiwa is a legend, it is loosely based on real cases. One is of a samurai who actually did murder his wife after cheating on her, and another where a samurai found his wife cheating on him and nailed the unfaithful couple to wooden boards and threw them in the Kanda River.
1 Aka Manto
Aka Manto, also known as the “Red Cape,” is a chilling and intriguing legend deeply rooted in Japanese folklore. The tale tells of a malevolent spirit that haunts public restrooms, particularly in schools or urban areas. Aka Manto’s origins can be traced back to ancient ghost stories and superstitions prevalent in Japan. This urban legend has captivated the imagination of many, leaving a lasting impression on those who dare to explore its dark origins.
According to the legend, Aka Manto appears as a mysterious figure in a red cloak or cape, wearing a white mask. The spirit lurks in the last stall of a restroom and asks unsuspecting visitors a fateful question. The question usually revolves around the choice between a red or blue cape. Choosing the red cape often leads to a gruesome fate, while the blue cape supposedly results in a different, yet equally terrible, outcome. However, there is no safe choice when encountering Aka Manto, as the spirit is said to always claim its victims in one way or another.
There have been many variations of the urban legend. The most famous variation tells the story of two police officers investigating the rumors of a strange man lurking in the female bathroom after one of the students heard a strange male voice utter, “Shall we put on the red vest?”
The male police officer waited outside, and the female police officer entered the stall and heard the same question from the same man again. Wanting to get it over with, the female police officer exclaimed, “Okay, put it on!” Suddenly, a loud scream was heard, followed by an abrupt thump. The male police officer rushed in, opened the door, and was horrified at what he saw. The female police officer was found decapitated, and her police vest was stained red with blood.
Aka Manto serves as a cautionary tale, warning people to be wary of their choices and the consequences they may entail. It taps into the collective fear of the unknown, the supernatural, and the vulnerability felt in public spaces. Over the years, the legend has evolved through retellings and adaptations, becoming a staple in Japanese horror culture. Aka Manto continues to captivate audiences and instill a sense of unease, reminding them to tread carefully, even in seemingly mundane settings.