Happy Halloween! It’s my favorite day of the year, and also one of the reasons I ever got into yokai in the first place. A-Yokai-A-Day was started as a Halloween celebration, so it’s always a little bittersweet when I post the last yokai of the month. But I’m excited to share with you tonight’s awesome story!
Towards the end of the month, I like to focus on the scarier end of the yokai spectrum, which is why we’ve seen a few creepier entries over the past couple of days. Something that is requested a lot, and which I am always happy to cover, is urban legends—toshi densetsu in Japanese. I’m often asked if urban legends like Hanako-san and Kashima Reiko (and even urban legends with older roots, like Kuchisake onna) qualify as yokai. My answer is always a resounding YES! In fact, I think urban legends are the perfect analogy to yokai in the modern day.
Yokai started out as explanations for the unknown, and were gradually explained away by science—sort of a god-of-the-gaps (or in this case maybe ghost-of-the-gaps works better). Over time, though, they changed from being just-so-storie, morality tales, and genuine superstitions into stories made for entertainment. Certainly some superstition still existed; part of their attraction is that they have that air of believability. And isn’t that exactly what an urban legend is today? We shake our heads and laugh that you might wind up in a bathtub full of ice, missing a kidney, but there’s that nagging spot in the back of our minds that thinks, “Well… it’s not like it couldn’t happen…” That feeling right there is the source and essence of what it means for something to be “yokai.”
Urban legends and even creepypasta aren’t just like yokai. They are modern day yokai, moreso than anime or manga, video games, Pokemon, Yokai Watch, and any other pop culture property. Urban legends are true folklore, because they are adapted to fit every locale they pop up in, and they really can’t be traced to any one source, and even when there is historical precedent, the stories are larger than their humble origins. They are rumors that have grown a life of their own and spread beyond their original parameters, becoming something much bigger than they were. It’s the modern day expression of whatever part of human nature caused us to invent ghosts and goblins back in days of yore.
So on to today’s yokai. Along with the ones I listed above, Aka manto is one of the most well known and highly requested urban legend. It seems like every one has heard of it or a version of it from their own school, or at least from a friend’s or a cousin’s school, and so on like that. Even as a non-Japanese, it feels so familiar and so believable that it wouldn’t be out of place in an American elementary school. It might be the location (along with Hanako, there are a few other memorable yokai that live in bathrooms, like kanbari nyudo and kurote); it might be the fact that it relies on a riddle (and the riddle is different from version to version); it might be the fact that the true shape of the killer is unknown; but there is a special charm to the story that makes it universal and gives it real staying power.
Click below to read about this most famous of bathroom monsters: