Teke Teke: The Vengeful Ghost of Modern Day Japan

"Sign on Tohoku Shinkansen Train: 'Don't give up Japan, Don't give up Tohoku'" by yisris is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Vengeful spirits have been a part of Japanese folklore for an incredibly long time, dating back as far as 8 AD, and while there is nothing new about these stories, they are still some of the most fascinating and terrifying ones that you’ll ever come across. The Legend of Teke Teke is such a yarn, and it’s a bloody good one, whose lesson is simple. Don’t abuse others, or their rotting carcass will hunt you down with a very large scythe.

These are tales that are passed down from generation to generation, from parents to children, and told by teenagers amongst their groups of friends with the intention of not only giving a damn good fright but also to educate the listener in what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior. Each of these ghosts has a moral to them, usually being “Don’t behave like an assh*le or your soul will get eaten,” and the reason behind this is simple: the Japanese expect their children to behave in a certain way.

I’ve been fascinated with Japan and its culture for decades now. This is to do with the fact that they seem to be everything that the United Kingdom isn’t. They are organized, not afraid of intelligence, and their younglings have a respect for their elders that hasn’t existed in this country for the best part of 30 years. This is in no small part down to how strictly they are raised, but there is also the use of ghost stories as morality tales to help keep them in line with fear. This may seem a harsh way to raise your kids, but in a country that has a ton of history and legends that are spread by word of mouth, it’s a very effective one. After all, you are less likely to misbehave or commit a crime if you think that there’s a chance that a long-dead spirit will rise from its grave and swallow your soul.

A Japanese street in the dead of night. i't s empty and blossom trees line the path. Under which a blurred figure, a ghost, is seen walking.
“Ghost” by halfrain is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

While researching this legend (yes, I know, I was surprised that I do research, as well), I found that there are two different origin stories for Teke Teke. The first one dates back to the end of World War II, meaning that this isn’t ancient lore by any stretch of the imagination. While the second doesn’t really have a date as such, it does contain the use of the Shinkansen train, so it’s safe to say that it’s no earlier than 1957 when the country decided that it was going to invest in a high-speed rail network.

The spirit herself is classed as an Onryō, a ghost who only exists to rain down hatred upon those unfortunate to cross their path. These ghosts are always women who have been wronged and in their death throes, their anger and passion will leave them tethered to this world on a never-ending quest to seek vengeance against those who forced them into the afterlife, either by their own hand or by the hand of another.

The Teke Teke spirit falls into this category quite well, as both geneses of the tale involve quite violent and sudden deaths, such as in the case of Kashima Reiko, our first vengeful spirit whose ending is as disturbing as it is chilling. It allegedly occurred in post-war occupied Japan, where this woman from Hokkaidō is assaulted by an American GI, or a group of them depending on who’s telling the story, and her body is thrown onto railway tracks. Severely injured, but still alive, she is then hit by a passing train which cuts her clean in half, separating her legs from her torso. Instead of bleeding out immediately as most people would, the vicious cold of the Hokkaidō night prevents this from happening, leaving her cut in twain and in the kind of agony the human brain cannot fathom. Luckily, her agonized screams alert the Station Attendant, but instead of rushing to her aid, he is so shocked and disgusted by what he sees that he simply covers her body with a plastic bag and leaves her to die the most horrific of deaths.

It is this version of the legend that was adapted for the 2009 J-Horror Teketeke, a movie worth an hour and ten minutes of anyone’s life. This version should be the tale that most people outside of Japan are familiar with as long as you have a healthy interest in the genre. It is, quite easily, one of the most disturbing stories you will ever hear, and even though the second tale isn’t as brutal as its predecessor, it’s still disturbing nonetheless.

The second story is told of a young Japanese schoolgirl who was afraid of her own shadow. Ridiculed by her classmates for her lack of courage, she was the constant victim of their cruel practical jokes, but it was when one of these pranks turned fatal that this legend of Teke Teke would be born. While waiting for a train one day after school, the girl’s friends decided to have a little fun at her expense and dropped a cicada bug onto her shoulder. But what should’ve been a simple case of giving her a nasty fright turned deadly after she panicked at the sight of the creature and fell onto the tracks just as the Shinkansen barrelled through the station, chopping her in two.

Whichever version of the Teke Teke’s origin you care to believe, both end with a violent death that spawns a spirit that is bent on vengeance. But what happens to those who are unfortunate enough to encounter either of these women in their ghostly state?

People take photographs of Super Komachi Shinkansen bullet train as it pulls into station.
“People take pics of Super Komachi, the latest Shinkansen train.” by fukapon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you ever find yourself at a Japanese train station, my advice is to resist using the toilets as this is the domain of our first ghost, Kashima Reiko. She is rumored to haunt bathrooms across the country, and when she appears she will ask you the simple question: “Where are my legs?” If the thought of an undead spirit appearing out of nowhere while you try to relieve yourself doesn’t give you a massive case of the heebie-jeebies, then failing to answer her question, or choosing to ignore her while you scream your lungs out, will see you carved up like a Christmas turkey, courtesy of the scythe she carries. To avoid this horrendous fate, the correct answer is “On the Meishin line.” Tell her this, and she might just leave you be.

There is no explanation as to why Kashima Reiko appears in these situations, but as most ghost lore happens in or around the place of the person’s demise, then it makes sense for it to be at a train station, even if the fact she only ever appears while you’re in the can does seem a tad odd.

As for our poor school-girl who fell victim to a misjudged jape and an incoming bullet train, there is a story that goes along with it, too. It’s a doozy that revolves around a student returning to his family after putting in some extra work ahead of his exams.

It was 10 PM, and Satoshi was heading home after Cram School had kicked out. On his way, he looked up at an abandoned building he was passing and noticed a very beautiful young girl sat, looking out of one of the windows at him. Their eyes locked and they exchanged smiles before the girl asked him, “Where are my legs?” Confused and not understanding the question Satoshi replied, “I am sorry, I do not know.”

The girl suddenly sprang from her perch, and it was then that Satoshi noticed that she was only an upper torso. Shocked, stunned, and paralyzed by fear, Satoshi could not move as the girl crawled towards him using her arms and elbows, making a “teke-teke” sound as she approached. When she reached him, she raised the scythe she had gripped in her hand and sliced him apart.

There is no explanation as to why in both legends the specter carries a scythe as their choice of weapon with which to dispatch their victims, and trust me on this—I looked. If anyone reading this does know why, please feel free to hit me up in the comment section as I’d love to know. The sound that she makes, however, that haunting noise that gives her her name, is due to her using her overgrown fingernails to drag her torso towards whoever is now the subject of her rage and that is what both these creatures are. Angry, with a capital A, and it’s not hard to see why.

The fate that befell Kashima Reiko was a terrible one. Sexually assaulted, beaten nearly to death, and then cast onto the tracks was an atrocious series of events, but to then be hit by a train and left to die by someone she thought was coming to save her? It’s easy to see why she is still anchored to this pain. And as for the young nameless victim of the Shinkansen train incident, she is purely out for revenge on anyone in a school uniform. She is obviously seeking to wreak havoc on those who once tormented her and cost her her life, but as those people are obviously long dead themselves or at least fully grown adults, she will happily settle with killing any young student unfortunate enough to cross her path.


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Written by Neil Gray

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