the online database of Japanese folkore

Kuchisake onna


Translation: slit-mouthed woman
Habitat: dimly-lit streets and alleys
Diet: none; though enjoys hard candy

Appearance: The kuchisake onna is the ghost of a woman who was mutilated and has come back to wreak vengeance on the world. Her name comes from the deep, bloody gash which runs across her face, grinning from ear to ear. She appears at night to lone travelers on the road, covering her grizzly mouth with a cloth mask, a fan, or a handkerchief.

Interactions: Kuchisake onna sneaks up on her victims in the dark and asks them if they think she is beautiful: “Watashi, kirei?” If the victim answers yes, she pulls off her mask and reveals a red, blood-dripping, grotesque mouth. Then she asks in a grisly voice if they still think she is beautiful: “Kore demo?” If her victim answers no or screams in terror, she slashes him from ear to ear in an imitation of her own mutilation. If he lies and answers yes a second time, she walks away—only to follow her target home and slaughter him brutally that night.

Origin: The spirits of the dead who were killed in particularly violent manners—abused wives, tortured captives, defeated enemies—often do not rest well. The kuchisake onna is thought to be one such woman. However, during the Edo period, a large number of kuchisake onna attacks were blamed on shape-changed kitsune playing pranks on young men. During the 20th century, the blame began to be placed on ghosts, serial killers, and simple mass hysteria. This resulted in an explosion of kuchisake onna sightings over Japan. Over the years, clever young people claim to have outsmarted kuchisake onna by delivering quick, confusing answers, or by throwing money or hard candy at them. This buys enough time to escape from the kuchisake onna’s wrath and lose her in the darkness.

Alphabetical list of yōkai