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Three Japanese Urban Legends That Gives Shivers Down Your Spine

In the present society, horror and the occult are types of topics that are intriguing to many people. Although it is uncertain whether they are made-up stories or true stories, once someone starts saying “Hey, I heard this story that goes…”, then almost all the people present would want to hear the story.

In Japan, there are dreadful stories and folk tales that have been passed down from generation to generation and remain across the country. They are considered as admonitions and warnings for Japanese people today. Of course such folk tales and tradition have been left and handed down all over the world but recently, many occult stories with the contemporary world as a background that have no relation to ancient times or folk tales have emerged. These stories are called urban legends and this concept was spread by Jan Harold Brunvand of America. These urban legends are widely talked and believed by the people. Photo:


Characteristics of Urban Legends

Many of the stories considered as urban legends tend to make you believe that these stories are something your neighbors such as your friends’ friend experienced but actually, these are the stories experienced by people you don’t know and they can’t even be identified. The stories being things that seem to have been experienced by people close to you, when they actually are not, give people a familiar feeling and arouse their interest.

Also, there are more than a few urban legends that are the exaggerated versions of folk tales, traditions and phenomenon that actually transpired or existed.

Urban legends mostly consist of occult stories but there are many fun stories such as the “Urban legend: Going to a bookstore somehow makes you want to go to a bathroom” which thought is accepted by people but nobody has figured out why.


1. Kokkuri-san


“Kokkuri-san” is one of the spiritualisms that became a trend in the 1970s and its origin is said to be the “table turning” that was popular in America and Europe during the second half of the 19th century.

“Kokkuri-san” in Japan is believed to be a spiritualism that calls for lesser animal spirits including a spirit of a fox, so “Kokkuri-san” is expressed with three kanji symbols meaning a fox, dog and raccoon dog.

American sailors that arrived at the shore of the Izu Peninsula in 1884 taught locals how to play “table turning” which was very popular in America at the time, and it soon spread all across the country thereafter. Tables were not common in Japan at the time so people created a table by supporting a rice tub with three bamboo sticks. As this table tilted during the spiritualism, people called it “Kokkuri-san” after the term “kokkuri” which expresses the sight of something tilting in Japanese.

“Kokkuri-san” is played by using a sheet of white paper on the table with “yes”, “no”, “50 letters of the Japanese phonetic alphabet”, “numbers” and “a drawing of the shrine gate” written with a pen. Then you place a 10 JPY coin on the drawing of the shrine gate and surround the table with two to four people to start. There exists an absolute rule which is to never play alone. There are various reasons for the rule but it is a significantly dangerous spiritualism that must not be played alone. 

When you have called down “Kokkuri-san”, have it answer your questions without taking your finger off the 10 JPY coin. When you are done, ask it to “go back” and then return the 10 JPY coin back on the drawing of the shrine gate. Only then you can take your finger off the 10 JPY coin. The paper you used for “Kokkuri-san” needs to be torn into 48 separate pieces before thrown out and you need to spend the 10 JYP coin within the next 3 days.

It’s a well-known story that in the 1970s when “Kokkuri-san” became a trend, boys and girls got into it too much to the level which had affects on the mental state, resulting it to be banned at many elementary and middle schools. The fact that the “Charlie Charlie” game which was a big topic overseas became a trend among middle and high schoolers and turned into a problem proves that the feeling of interest people have has never changed since long ago.


2. Phone Call From Mary


“Phone Call From Mary” is one of the ghost-story type urban legends that is well-known in Japan. It has a storyline but does not have a conclusion and is open-ended so it’s a story that gives you a lingering terror after the story is finished.


A girl threw away her old foreign-made doll “Mary” when she moved. That night, there came a phone call to her new residence, and when she picked up the phone, a caller said “This is Mary. I’m in a dust box now”.
The girl got scared and hung up the phone but the phone rang again. When she put her ear on the phone, “This is Mary. I am at the corner of the tobacco shop” said the caller.
“Mary” came closer and closer to the house and finally she said “This is Mary. I am standing in front of your house”.
A girl fearfully opened the door of the house but no one was there outside.
Relieved, she went back to her room but then another call came.
When she put her ear on the phone, “This is Mary. I am standing right behind you” said the caller.

What happened to the girl after that? Just imagining it gives shivers down your spine.


3. Kuchisake-onna


Among many urban legends, “Kuchisake-onna” would be one of the most major ones. When you are going home alone late at night, a lady with a big mask comes up to you and asks if she is beautiful or not.

Depending on your answer to her question, you may lose your life. Because of this, the significant number of children feared “Kuchisake-onnna” in the 1970s when this rumor spread and caused a social phenomenon in which schools decided to have children leave school in groups.   

If a child answers “yes, you are beautiful” to the question from “Kuchisake-onna”, she takes off her mask and shows her mouth torn to the edges of her ears, and then goes “Do you still think I’m beautiful?”. The child gets abducted after that and will never return alive. Also, if a child answers “no, you are not beautiful”, the child will be attacked with a kitchen knife or a sickle. The fact that both answers lead to the unfortunate endings probably made children fear “Kuchisake-onna” more.

However, even this “Kuchisake-onna” has her weakness. It is said that if you repeat the word “pomade”, she would run away. “Kuchisake-onna” is said to be a lady who had a failed cosmetic surgery. The doctor who conducted her surgery had a large amount of pomade on his hair so the word “pomade” brings back her traumatic memory of the surgery making her running away.

It’s a story in which you can feel the grudge of a lady who went to receive a cosmetic surgery with a wish to become beautiful but instead became appallingly disfigured, but it’s troublesome that she turns her grudge towards innocent children.


You don’t have to be too careful about the urban legends that just give you a scary feeling through talking or listening like “Phone Call From Mary” and “Kuchisake-onna”, but since “Kokkuri-san” is a spiritualism, make sure you don’t play it casually. 

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About the author

Favorite genres are various aspects of Japanese otaku culture. Having been away from Japan for some time, there are many scenes where Azuki realizes the differences between international culture and Japanese culture. Through her own experience and knowledge, she hopes to deliver useful information to the international community who are interested in Japan.

View all articles by Azuki