So, Halloween is coming and you are getting ready to dust off that old ghost, vampire or witch costume that you wear every year. But this year why not try something different, something that takes its inspiration from the local folklore?
Below are some ideas for spooky Halloween costumes that come from Japan’s scary movies, stories and legends, both urban and historical that you may not have considered!
Taken from the movie Ringu (later adapted into the English language movie The Ring), Sadako is the vengeful spirit of a young girl killed by her father. She takes her revenge on the general populace by making, from the afterlife a VHS movie and literally frightening to death those who watch it (proving that VHS is, in very literal terms, a dead media) While the movie was made in 1998, it has its origins in a folktale from the 1700’s in which a servant throws herself down a well rather than be tricked into accepting the amorous advances of her samurai boss, and returns to haunt him.
Gigantic ogre-like creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads, oni were originally invisible spirits or gods which caused disasters, disease, and other unpleasant things. They are humanoid for the most part, but are sometimes shown with odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes. Their skin may be any number of colors, but red and blue are the standard and are often depicted wearing tiger-skin loincloths and carrying iron clubs called kanabō. Terrifyingly strong, these guys are the true bogeymen of Japanese folklore, though they are often confused for their long nosed relatives, tengu.
The Edo period legend of the Jorōgumo has it that a beautiful woman would entice a man into a quiet shack with her enchanting lute play. While the victim is distracted, Jorōgumo, who is actually a giant spider, with the ability to take the form of a beautiful lady – sometimes the top half is human, and her lower torso is that of a spider – binds her victim in spider silk threads in order to devour him as her next meal. One variation of the myth has it that she appears holding a baby asking men to hold it. When they do, they are surprised to discover the “baby” is made up of thousands of spider-eggs, which burst open. For anyone who saw the movie ‘Arachnophobia‘ as a child, this costume should send shivers down the spine.
Gozu is the subject of a story so terrifying that people die just by hearing of it. It is said to be so old that it has, for the most part, lost to the winds of time. There are various versions of this urban legend, a popular one being of a school teacher who had somehow uncovered the old tale and relayed it to a bus full of students. Though they begged him to stop, in a trance, he continued. When he came round he found them all dead, having foamed at the mouth. The original story is perhaps based on a tale in which a village of peasants were starving to death and killed a visitor who had the head of a cow, and ate him. From that day on the village was cursed. As costumes go, it beats the ubiquitous horse head businessman for fear, hooves down!
For some reason there are many scary public toilet stories in Japan. Hanako-san is perhaps the most famous. Hanako-san, the spirit of a World War II–era girl who haunts school bathrooms, is a ghost that you summon yourself by going to the third stall in the girls’ bathroom on the third floor and knock three times before asking, “Are you there, Hanako-san.” Hanako-san will reply “I’m here.” If you choose to enter the stall, there will be a small girl with bobbed hair wearing a red skirt, who may drag the student in with her, or possibly take the appearance of a three headed lizard and eat you. Often used as a childhood right of passage, Hanako-san is what many a Japanese girl’s nightmares are made of.
Another toilet based spooky thing is Aka Manto (Red Cape, or Red Cloak). He is said to be a devastatingly handsome man who, tired of the attraction it brings takes to wearing a cape and a mask. He spends his time going to bathroom stalls offering to those in the final stall two choices of colored toilet paper, red or blue. If they answer red paper, they will be sliced apart until their clothes are stained red. If they choose blue paper, they will be strangled until their face turns blue. Any attempt to outsmart Aka Manto by asking for a different color will result in them being dragged to the Netherworld. If they say yellow he will shove their face in the toilet but they will survive. If you say no paper, he will depart.
One of the more popular Halloween dress in Japan is Kuchisake-onna. In the original Edo-era tale a beautiful woman, covering her mouth with a fan, asks passers “am I pretty?” If he answers yes, she will remove her fan revealing that her mouth has been split from ear to ear and asks again in a grisly voice. If he answers no or screams, she will slash him from ear to ear so that he resembles her. If he answers yes, she will walk away, only to follow her victim home and brutally murder him that night. In the modern telling, if the victim answers no, she will kill him with a pair of scissors. If he answers yes, she will pull away the mask and ask “How about now?” A negative answer will result in her victim being sliced in half, while a positive answer will gain him a slit mouth, just like hers.
By Mark Guthrie
Image by Hayami Shungyōsai (速水春暁斎, Japanese, *1767, †1823) (scanned from ISBN 978-4-336-04447-1.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image: http://variety.com/2015/film/asia/nbc-universal-sadako-versus-kayako-1201658165/ – Modified
Image: https://yokaihigh.wordpress.com/tag/oni/ – Modified
Image: http://yokai.com/jorougumo/ – Modified
Image: http://smatterist.com/6131/dont-read-this-before-bed-creepy-japanese-urban-legends-to-scare-you-senseless/ – Modified
Image: http://pinktentacle.com/2010/04/hanako-san-terror-of-the-toilet/ – Modified
Image: http://www.elginpk.com/worsley1314_1/li/6.htm – Modified