What is a Kuchisake-Onna?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Kuchisake-onna is a vengeful Japanese spirit, or yokai, with her mouth cut open from ear to ear. Her name means "slit-mouth woman," and rumor has it that she roams the streets at night wearing a surgical mask and asking her victims, "Am I beautiful?" In 1979, there were many reports of Kuchisake-onna sightings throughout Japan, and the ghost was said to target school children.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

The story of Kuchisake-onna is thought to originate in a legend dating from the Heian period (794-1185). According to the legend, a samurai had a very vain wife or concubine whom he suspected of infidelity. Her husband mutilated her in a jealous rage, asking, "Who will find you beautiful now?"

In modern Japanese urban legend, Kuchisake-onna has evolved into a monster who stalks the city streets looking for victims. She appears as a beautiful young woman wearing a surgical mask, which is not uncommon in Japan, as people with colds often wear them to protect others. She asks her victim, "Am I beautiful?" and is typically answered in the affirmative. She then rips off her mask, revealing her slit mouth, and repeats her question.

If the victim answers no or runs away, Kuchisake-onna kills him or her. Kuchisake-onna is usually equipped with a sharp, bladed weapon, in some cases, a large scythe. In the case of a female victim, the ghost may turn her into another Kuchisake-onna.

Different versions of the Kuchisake-onna story offer different ways to save oneself if approached by the monster. In some tales, she will leave the victim alone if he or she still says that Kuchisake-onna is beautiful after the mask is removed. In other versions, however, this will only delay death, and the correct answer is, "You look normal." Other stories suggest throwing something attractive, such as a piece of fruit or candy, away from oneself in order to distract Kuchisake-onna.

Kuchisake-onna appears in much modern day Japanese media, including references in film and anime series. A film entitled Kuchisake-onna, released in 1996, updated the legend by making the monster the result of a botched plastic surgery.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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