A-Yokai-A-Day: Kuchisake-onna

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Kuchisake-onna is a great Halloween yokai! She’s yet another one of Japan’s cursed-woman-type of yokai, but she has also evolved from an ancient ghost tale to a modern urban legend. Early versions of this story take place during the Heian Edo Period.

And older version says that a jealous samurai was married to a very, very beautiful but vain woman. He believed that she had been unfaithful to him, and attacked her, slitting her face from ear to ear, and saying, “Who will find you beautiful now!?”

Afterwards we move into the urban legend. A ghostly woman can be seen wandering the streets in the night mist. She wears a surgical mask (which isn’t uncommon at all in Japan), and approaches a stranger asking, “Am I beautiful?” If the stranger answers yes, she removes the mask, revealing her mutilated face and asks threateningly, “Even now?” If the stranger answers, “No,” she slits his face with scissors to resemble her own. If he answers, “Yes,” she follows him home and murders him at the doorstep to his house.

Some say that if you answer, “So-so,” she’ll be confused for a few moments — enough to run away.

Kuchisake-onna

Kuchisake-onna

There were a number of kuchisake-onna sightings in the 20th century. Apparently, in the 70’s, a woman who was chasing little children was hit by a car, and her face was ripped open from ear to ear. After that accident, a large panic of sightings happened. Other variations of the urban legend have to deal with a woman butchered by plastic surgery. In any case, it’s a pretty scary yokai, and another one of my favorites. Enjoy the picture!

10 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Kuchisake-onna

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  5. It’s also common for her to be described wearing a beige trench coat.

    And want makes this Yokai even creepier to me, was during my research on her I came across a Japanese newspaper that had been translated. It talked of a beautiful, self-absorbed woman who had been chasing kids around with shears. She wasn’t paying attention and got hit by a car. The underside of the car tore up her face, slitting her mouth from ear to ear.

  6. Apparently, every now and then, there are “kuchisake-onna epidemics” where many people report sightings within a short period of time. These get into the newspaper when they happen. I guess it’s kind of a sort of mass hallucination, where if you hear about one incident you are more likely to imagine one up yourself.

  7. Do you have any sources on the Heian period version of the story? I’m writing an essay on the Kuchisake-onna, and my professor claims that, while scholars have tried to tie the kuchisake-onna to a Heian period story, the legend actually only began in the 70’s. If you had a source for the earlier story, that would be very much appreciated!

  8. Hi Kelsey,

    I believe that’s actually a typo. I meant to write Edo Period, not Heian Period. I don’t know of any kuchisake onna from the Heian Period, but there are stories in Edo Period sources (Kaidan rou no tsue, Ehon sayo shigure).

    Kuchisake onna as we know her today really was born in the 70’s. Although the same story pattern appears in the past, the 1970’s version doesn’t seem to have been consciously based on it, and may have just been spontaneously reinvented.

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