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11 April 2012

Japanese Urban Legends: The "Red Cape" and "Slit-mouthed Woman"

Recently, whilst searching the internet for more ghoulish figures of Japanese folklore, I came across a couple of more modern urban legends native to Nihon*. As they both have a somewhat grizzly quality to them, I thought I might share them with you.

First we have the legend of Aka Manto. "Aka Manto" translates literally as "Red Mantle", though it is better known as "Red Cape".
The Aka Manto urban legend is fairly recent and is supposedly a malignant spirit which haunts public and/or school bathrooms (usually the girls' room.) Aka Manto is said to be the spirit of a beautiful young man who, being constantly harassed by admirers, killed himself in a bathroom. Allegedly, the spirit now wears a mask to hide his face.
The legend goes that if you are sitting on the toilet in the last stall of an empty restroom, a male voice in the next stall will ask you if you would like red paper, or blue paper. If you say red, he will slash you until your clothes are soaked red with blood. If you say blue, then he will strangle you until your face turns blue.
In an older version of the legend Aka Manto would ask you if you would like a mantle or cape rather than paper. If you ask for the red cape, then Aka Manto will strip the skin off of your back from the bottom up so that it resembles a cape. If you reply "blue", then all the blood is drained from your body.
Supposedly, the only way to avoid a gruesome death is to say "No paper", or , as the case may be, "No cape." If you try to outsmart Aka Manto by requesting a colour other than red or blue , the spirit will drag your soul directly to the underworld.
Aka Manto is sometimes known as "Aoi Manto" or "Blue Cape."


Secondly, we have the lovely (note the traces of sarcasm) tale of the Kuchisake-onna or "Slit-mouthed Woman". Kuchisake-onna is said to be a beautiful woman who was mutilated and killed by her abusive husband, and became a malicious youkai*.
The Kuchisake-onna legend dates back to the Edo Period (Seventeenth Century).
In the Edo period version, Kuchisake-onna would appear to children, covering her nose and mouth with the sleeve of her kimono (this is not especially odd, since, during that period, women would often cover their faces with their sleeves when speaking to hide their teeth.) She would then ask, "Am I pretty?" If the child said yes, she then removed her sleeve from her face, revealing her mouth, which was cut from ear to ear, and ask "Even like this?" If the child said "No" or tried to run away, Kuchisake-onna would cut them in half; if they said "Yes, even like that" then she would cut their mouth to match hers.
The legend reappeared in a modernized version in the 1970's and 80's, and is still prevalent today.
In the modern version, Kuchisake-onna appears wearing a surgical mask to lone children who are walking home from school. As with the kimono sleeve, Kuchisake-onna's wearing a surgical mask is not overtly conspicuous since it is not uncommon for a Japanese person to wear that type of mask as a fashion statement or as protection against pollen. Other than the small detail of the mask, the legend is not much changed.

Like with the Aka Manto legend, their are rumored to be ways of escaping from the Slit-mouthed woman. Most involve confusing her or distracting her, such as:
-- Saying that she is pretty two times in a row so as to confuse her.
-- Throwing fruit or candy which will distract her, giving you time to escape.
-- Asking her if you yourself are pretty; this will also confuse her.
-- Rather than saying "yes" or "no", tell her that she is neither pretty nor ugly, but average. More than likely she will let you go because she won't know what to do with you.
-- Lastly, (and this one just goes to show the importance of manners in Japanese culture, if you'll pardon the stereotype), if you tell her that you have an urgent engagement or that someone is waiting for you, then she will pardon her manners and disappear.

When the story made it's comeback in the mid twentieth century, reports of Kuchisake-onna sightings were so were so severe that many a school teacher would advise his students to walk hime in groups, or if possible, have a parent, guardian or older sibling escort them home.

Several J-horror films have been made using the Kuchisake-onna legend as base including the 1996 film The Slit-mouthed Woman; a 2005 film of the same name; Kuchisake-onna, released in America as Carved (2007) and a prequel for the same franchise called Kuchisake-onna 2: The Scissors Massacre (2008); and The Slit-mouthed Woman 0: The Beginning


*The Japanese word for the nation of Japan; 'Nihon' means 'Source of the Sun'
*Spirit of the Weird
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