Everyone knows the standard J-horror staple: the young girl in white clothes with long, matted black hair. What you may not know is that it isn’t a recent invention — it isn’t even a 20th century, or 19th century invention! That black-haired girl has been around for hundreds of years, and she was immortalized by the great yokai illustratior (and one of my favorite sources) Toriyama Sekien in his illustrated work “One Hundred Demons of the Past and Present.” The book is mostly filled with yokai of his own invention, and as he was a great critic of certain aspects of the times — namely corruptible Buddhist priests and state-sanctioned red-light districts like Yoshiwara — it’s often easy to guess which yokai were Toriyama originals. This black haired girl is a red-light district yokai, and like other brothel yokai we’ve looked at on this site (Taka-onna, Kerakera-onna) one of his own, but you can bet he didn’t invent the black-haired girl image either. That goes way back even further to goodness knows when…
Like her name suggests (the kanji for her name are ke 毛, meaning hair, and jōrō 倡妓, an archaic writing of 女郎 meaning prostitute), kejōrō is a prostitute whose face and body are hidden behind a curtain of long, matted black hair. She appears in red-light districts and brothels. Her victims are young men who, thinking they see a girl they recognize from behind, run up the the kejōrō to speak with her. When she turns around, her victim is shocked by the horrible, hairy monster in front of him. In some variations of the story, she even tries to attack her victim, tangling him up in her hair and using it to slice him up; though, kejōrō-related fatalities are very rare.
I know that may not seem like much, but you can imagine the shock and disappointment for an anxious young man thinking he was about to “meet” his favorite “lady companion,” only to discover he has grabbed not just the wrong girl, but a hairy, faceless beast instead. Other theories suggest that her whole body may be covered in thick hair, not just her head.
Despite her horrible appearance to humans, kejōrō is said to be quite popular with yokai. So popular, in fact, that male yokai frequently fight each other over her, competing for her affection. There are even stories of kejōrō cutting off her hair and sending it to her lover or tattooing his name into her skin to prove her undying devotion to him. This is either very creepy, or very romantic. I’m leaning towards creepy…
There is some debate over Toriyama’s original description of the kejōrō as to whether she has a normal face under the matte of hair, or whether she is a faceless monster, like the nopperabō or the ohaguro-bettari, with various yokai researches weighing in on either side of the question.
Are you interested in yokai? Can’t get enough of strange Japanese culture? Then you should check out my book, The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, on Amazon.com and learn the story behind over one hundred of these bizarre monsters!