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Kuchisake-Onna: Exploring Japan’s Most Notorious Ghostly Legend


Do you think I’m beautiful?

Kuchisake-Onna is a popular urban legend originating in Japan during the Heian period, approximately 800-1200 years ago. While Japan is well recognised for their numerous superstitions and myths, the story of Kuchisake-Onna is particularly ghoulish, sending shivers down the spines of many today.

Long ago, lived a samurai and his beautiful wife; she was so beautiful that anyone who laid eyes on her couldn’t help but gaze upon her radiant skin, flowing ebony hair, and enchanting brown eyes. Enjoying the attention, she would walk around her village and coyly ask, “Am I beautiful?”. Over time, her husband grew more and more angry but tried to subside his jealousy, until one day, he found out she was unfaithful, just as he suspected. A little while after the discovery, he snuck up behind her, drew his blade and cut her mouth open from ear to ear, creating a mutilated, twisted grin across her face. While she cowered to the floor, blood gushing from her face, he cackled and taunted her, “Who will think you’re beautiful now?” She fled the house, pleading for help; everyone stared, but this time, it wasn’t out of envy or lust but in complete disgust. She ran as far from her village as she could, laid by the river, and shorty passed away.

A black and white illustration of a mythical female creature from Japanese folklore, known as 'Kuchisake-onna'.
“Ehon-Sayoshigure Kuchisake onna” by Tanapat user is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

After her death, rumour spread that she had returned to the village, but as a malicious spirit, seeking her revenge. They named her Kuchisake-Onna, the slit-mouthed woman.

Kuchisake-Onna falls under the category of a yuurei, a ghost caught between their human life and the afterlife due to some wrongdoing on Earth.

Curiously, Kuchisake-Onna no longer seeks the approval of men but now of children. In 1979, Kuchisake-Onna created a localised hysteria among school children in Japan; the problem became so severe that students would have to be escorted in groups with adults. However, there is a basis of fact: in 2007, a coroner found records that in the late 1970s, a woman who had a torn mouth, similar to the story, used to chase children; however, she was eventually struck by a car in one of these chases.

The legend hasn’t died, resurfacing in the early 2000s, and is still prevalent across Japan and popular culture. From live-action films, manga, anime and video games, the story has inspired a myriad of different works across the horror genre; the 2007 movie Carved, directed by Kōji Shiraishi, was inspired by the tale, a school teacher discovers that the vengeful Kuchisake-Onna is behind many child abductions and murders in his local area.

Centuries on, there are numerous accounts of the spirit lurking in the streets of Japan, on the hunt for her next victim. In recent years, she is said to blend into crowds wearing an oversized trench coat and a surgical mask to hide her mutilated smile.

Diagram of a possible conversation with Kuchisake-onna and its consequences, according to the legend.
Diagram of a possible conversation with Kuchisake-onna and its consequences, according to the legend, CC BY-SA 4.0

She will approach you when you’re alone and coyly ask, “Am I beautiful?” There is no correct answer to Kuchisake-Onna’s question. If you answer “yes,” she reveals her mouth and asks again. Regardless of your reply, there’s no hope, either killing you on the spot or leaving you with a mutilated scar across your face, a souvenir of your encounter, ensuring you spend the remainder of your days looking just like her.

So, how do you survive an encounter with this vengeful spirit? It is said that offering spare change or candy will subside her bloodlust; additionally, answering her question with a “so-so” response will confuse the spirit, giving you enough time to escape her clutches. But be warned, no one ever truly escapes Kuchisake-Onna; if you manage to flee, she travels to your home in the dead of night and slaughters you in your bed.

As a popular legend, there is no denying the impact she has made across Japan and the horror genre. So when you’re walking home alone, remember you never know who may have you in their sights.

One Comment

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  1. Wow, I had never heard of the Kuchisake-Onna legend before reading this post. It’s truly chilling to think about, especially the part about her asking people if they think she’s beautiful. Can’t help but wonder how many people have fallen victim to her curse… 😳

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Written by Charles Buttle

Meet our writer, Charles from England, a horror expert and enthusiast of unearthly tales. Growing up in a real-life haunted house, he developed his interest in the unknown at a young age. Charles has always been fascinated by the horror genre and what it tells the audience about human psychology and modern culture.

From gaming, film/television, creepypastas, and urban legends, Charles has explored every horror aspect and uses his expertise to create informative, engaging, and high-quality articles for his readers.

In addition to his work with Horror Obsessive, as a freelance journalist and content writer, Charles has contributed to various publications and websites, covering a diverse range of topics and stories.

Collage featuring iconic symbols from popular horror movie franchises set against a dimly lit, eerie background with a full moon. Central elements include a hockey mask from 'Friday the 13th', a glove with knife-like fingers from 'A Nightmare on Elm Street', a chainsaw from 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', a puppet figure from 'Saw', and a creepy doll from 'Child's Play'. The composition is enveloped in shadows and mist, adding to the spooky and suspenseful atmosphere of the horror genre.

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