the online database of Japanese folkore

Futakuchi onna


Translation: two-mouthed woman
Habitat: usually occurs in married women
Diet: as a normal person, only twice as much

Appearance: Families who notice that their food stocks are shrinking at an alarming rate, while the women in their houses hardly eat a bite, may be the victims of a futakuchi onna. Futakuchi onna appear as regular women until their terrible secret is revealed: in the back of their skulls—buried beneath long, thick hair—is a second mouth, full of teeth and with large, fat lips. This second mouth is ravenous, and uses long strands of its hair-like tentacles to gorge itself on any food it can find.

Origin: In the folk tales of Japan’s eastern regions, futakuchi onna are most often thought to be shape-changed yama uba posing as young women. In the western regions they are frequently shape-changed kumo, or magical spiders. In the other tales they are the result of curses brought about by wicked deeds, similar to rokuro kubi. In each story, regardless of its true nature, this yōkai is used as a punishment upon a greedy man or woman for wickedness and extreme parsimony.

Legends: One story tells of how in a small rural village in Fukushima there lived a stingy miser. Because he could not bear the thought of paying for food to support a family, the miser lived entirely by himself. One day he met a woman who did not eat anything at all, and he immediately took her for his wife. The miser was thrilled with her because she never ate a thing and was still a hard worker. However, his stores of rice steadily decreased, and he could not figure why, for he never saw his wife eat.

One day, the miser pretended to leave for work. In truth he stayed behind to spy on his new wife. As the miser watched from a hidden location, his wife untied her hair, and revealed a second mouth on the back of her head, complete with ghastly lips and teeth. Her hair reached out with tentacle-like stalks and began to scoop rice balls into the second mouth, which cooed out with pleasure in a vulgar, raspy voice.

The miser was horrified and resolved to divorce his wife as soon as possible. However, she learned of his plan before he could act on it, and trapped him in a bathtub and carried him off into the mountains. The miser managed to escape. He hid in a heavily scented lily marsh where the futakuchi onna could not find him.

Another story tells of a wicked stepmother who always gave plenty of food to her own daughter, but never enough to her stepdaughter. Gradually the stepdaughter grew sicker and sicker, until she starved to death. Forty-nine days later, the wicked stepmother was afflicted with a terrible headache. The back of her head split open, and lips, teeth, and a tongue formed. This new mouth ached with debilitating pain until it was fed, and it shrieked in the voice of the dead stepdaughter. From then on the stepmother always had to feed both of her mouths, and always felt the hunger pangs of the stepdaughter she murdered.

Alphabetical list of yōkai