For the last 5 paintings I wanted to do a few of the named, more famous ghosts from Japan, like the one I did of Gagoze a few days back. Something about these individual monster legends is so compelling; that they, as single characters, have kept par with the legions of bizarre and fantastic yokai that have filled Japan’s folklore over the centuries. Like the Jersey Devil or Bigfoot, these spirits have a lot more character and can feel a lot more personal than your ordinary spook.
Who among us hasn’t been scared of using a toilet at one point or another? When I was a kid, I was afraid that there was a lobster in our toilet that would sneak up and pinch my bottom when I couldn’t see. And of course the public restrooms on I-95… who wouldn’t be scared of those! What I remember most being scared of, though, was the ghost that lived in the bathroom mirror that we used to try to summon at sleepover parties. Sometimes it was the Candyman, sometimes it was Bloody Mary, but there was a morbid horror about that fact that you were actually inviting something to come into your home and destroy you… and that was probably what was so fun about it.
Hanako, or Toire no Hanako (“Hanako of the Toilet”) as she is known is Japan, is a somewhat modern ghost. She doesn’t have a distinct origin, but reports of her go back to the 1950’s, and can be found in every school in every prefecture across Japan. She is the “Bloody Mary” of Japanese elementary schools. The legend of Hanako tells of a ghost of a young girl who haunts a bathroom. Some legends say she was an abused child who was chased down and finally caught by her angry parent in the school’s bathroom. Some modern tales claim she is a student who committed suicide in the girl’s bathroom. Others say she was the victim of a school which was burnt down during one of the WW2 bombing raids — she was playing hide and seek and hid out in the bathroom when the bombs struck. In most stories, though, it is agreed that she died (and thus now resides) in the 3rd stall of the 3rd floor bathroom. And she waits there, ready to be summoned by daring or curious children.
It is said that she can be summoned by knocking on her stall three times and ask, “Hanako-san, are you there?” If she is there, she will reply, “Yes I am,” in a quiet, little girl’s voice. The stall door will open up a bit, and when the student looks in to investigate, the ghost of little Hanako, wearing a red skirt and with her hair done up in an old-style bun, will pull her into the toilet and down to Hell.
In the version my wife grew up with in elementary school, a girl who goes to the bathroom by herself will sometimes hear a voice asking her if she wants to be friends. If the poor kid is smart and tries to save her life by saying yes, Hanako’s ghost will come up beneath her and drag her down through the toilet to Hell. If the kid says no, Hanako will simply cut her to pieces. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Hanako is not the only school bathroom ghost in Japan, nor even the scariest. In fact, there are some stories where Hanako will actually protect children from other bathroom-based ghosts! And, unlike some other ghosts, Hanako can be easily avoided if you just stay away from her hiding place.
Of course, any kid who is like me will probably just seek her out anyway. And maybe they’ll grow up to be obsessed with ghosts and monsters too…