Myths And Legends: Kuchisake-Onna

Kuchisake-Onna (AKA “Slit Mouth Woman”) is a malevolent figure appearing in Japanese ghost stories.

She is said to be a woman who was mutilated by her husband, and returns as a malicious spirit. When rumors of alleged sightings began spreading in 1979 around the Nagasaki Prefecture, it spread throughout Japan and caused panic in many towns.
There are even reports of schools allowing children to go home only in groups, escorted by teachers for safety, and of police increasing their patrols. Recent sightings include many reports in South Korea in 2004 about a woman wearing a mask, who was often seen chasing children, and in October 2007, a coroner found some old records from the late 1970’s about a woman who was chasing small children. She was then hit by a car, and died shortly after. Her mouth was slit from ear to ear.
Although some stories describe her as a former patient of a mental asylum, a more common story describes that in the Heian period, her husband found out that she was having an affair with another Samurai. He used a sword to cut her mouth from ear to ear and asked, “Who will think you are beautiful now?”
According to modern legend, she walks around wearing a surgical mask. The woman will ask a potential victim “Am I pretty?” If they answer no, she will kill them with a pair of scissors or cut the Glasgow smile into them, which she carries in her pocket. If they answer yes, she will pull away the mask, revealing that her mouth is slit from ear to ear, and ask, “How about now?” If they answer no, she will cut her unfortunate victim in half. If the person answers yes, then she will slit his/her mouth so it resembles her mouth. It is impossible to run away from her, as she will simply reappear in front of the victim.

When the legend reappeared in the 1970’s, rumours of ways to escape also emerged. Some sources say she can also be confused by the victim answering her question with ambiguous answers, such as “You are average” or “So-so”. Another method is to flip her questions towards her, such as asking her “Do you think I’m pretty?” Unsure of what to do, she will give a person enough time to escape while she is lost in thought. Another escape route is to tell her one has a previous engagement; she will pardon her manners and excuse herself.

In some variations of the tale, she can be distracted by Coins or candies thrown at her which she will then pick up, thus giving the victim a chance to run, and even if you escape she’ll come for you and eventually kill you. If you have the chance to do so, you may be able to catch her off guard and run while she is looking at another potential victim.

Kuchisake-Onna, as told commonly, was a beautiful, young woman that lived in a village of Japan. She would roam around the village, and ask the folks, “Am I pretty?”, to which they would reply with an enthusiastic “yes”. This made her very confident in herself, and as she was married to an intelligent samurai, she believed that she would be able to get away with an affair with a noble soldier. But her husband found out, and in anger, asked the soldier, “Why her? Why my lady rather than all other women of the village?”, to which he replied, “For she is the most beautiful of the village, I cannot pass up such an opportunity.”

The samurai adored his honesty and acknowledged that he had the right response and reason. The soldier was poor after all, and had not had many positive things occur in his life. Although the soldier had proper intentions, the samurai’s wife did not. She was the most beautiful woman of the village, and without that, she would be nothing.

The samurai angrily went to the kitchen and grabbed a pair of scissors and took them upon her face, and badly cut her mouth from ear to ear, making her no longer beautiful. Soon after, she died by killing herself with a gun and fell off the bridge, and after she died, her soul was banished to eternity of avenging her own pain, and possessing a body and making it look like her, and now, she’s able to travel everywhere with no one knowing where she is.

I really do love this legendary tale, I know it’s big in Japan and has featured heavily in a lot of their films and cartoons. I wonder how long it’ll be before we see this tale get the Hollywood treatment, I’m actually surprised that it hasn’t been done already.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s