In the dimly lit alleys in urban Japan, a woman wearing a mask is terrorizing the children walking home from late school. When she reveals her carved up mouth, it’s over. Kuchisake-onna, or The Slit-Mouthed Woman will get her revenge.

In Japan, the concept of cram school has been a thing for many decades now. Children stay out until late in the evening in these cram schools before going home in the dark. Is it really so safe? Not according to the urban legend that has been around for decades now. 

When going home in these urban and suburban areas, there is this woman that walks up to children walking alone in the evening. She is wearing a mask over her face and looks beautiful with her long black hair and pale skin. 

When she closes in on the children she asks them “Am I beautiful?”. Polite children will most likely say yes. It is then the true horror begins as she removes her mask, revealing her scars. Her mouth is carved up. 

She repeats the question:

“Am I beautiful even now?”

There is really no way of answering her right. If you say no, she will kill you with her knife she is carrying. If you say yes, she will slit your mouth so that they look like her. 

Who was the Kuchisake-onna ?

Kuchisake-onna (口裂け女, “Slit-Mouthed Woman”) is a malevolent figure in Japanese urban legends and folklore. She has been described as a contemporary yōkai as well as a classic example of an Onryō or a vengeful spirit.

Read about the Onryō here:

Onryō — the Vengeful Japanese Spirit

In many cultures, ghosts are put in different categories. Such is the case with Onryō (怨霊 onryō,) It basically means “vengeful spirit” or “wrathful spirit” in Japanese and is a mythological spirit of vengeance from Japanese folklore. They also have ghosts, called yurei, but these differ in the will of the ghost. As opposed to…

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There are many variations as to who she was. Was she a crazy person running around with a knife? Was she really a ghost as the urban legend suggests?

Her origin story points to more than one thing. In many variations she was mutilated during her life by a samurai because she was cheating on him and he slit her mouth as punishment. 

In the 90s with the rise of medical procedures and online urban legend, the legend changed to be a botched plastic surgery with the woman seeking perfection, or done by a jealous woman that mutilated her because of her beauty. 

The Manic Panic in the 70s

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Urbanization: Post War Japan saw a rapid change of urbanization. This was a perfect place for new urban legend to be born.

The story of a woman with her mouth slit can be traced back to the Edo period, perhaps even further. But the modern version of the legend started with a rumor from an old woman allegedly. She was from a farming family in the town of Yaotsu in Gifu Prefecture in Japan. According to this rumor, she once saw a woman standing in the corner of her garden. This woman had a slit mouth. 

The local newspaper printed an article about the story and the legend spread. It especially resonated with the children in the area. Six months later the legend was now a national phenomenon. When the children went to or home from cram school, they told the story about the mouth slithed woman and the legend spread. 

Children were terrified to go out alone at night and it wasn’t only the children that were worried about the legend. Teachers and parents arranged for patrols for their children’s safety, and in Ibaraki Prefecture, children were actually warned to stay away from people wearing masks. 

In Fukushima and Kanagawa Prefectures they took a step further with police cars being out on patrol to appease the hysteria. In June that year a 25-year old woman in Himeji City got arrested for dressing up as her as a joke, but with a kitchen knife in her hand to scare people. 

Although the hysteria around the urban legend died down the following year by the summer, possibly because the children started their summer holiday and didn’t talk about the legend on their way home from school anymore. But the legend of the mouth slit woman had just started. 

How to survive the encounter

An individual can survive an encounter with Kuchisake-onna by using one of several methods. In some versions of the legend, Kuchisake-onna will leave you alone if you answer “yes” to both of her questions. However, in other versions, she will haunt you down in your home later that night and murder you in your sleep. 

There are ways of distracting her by giving or throwing money or hard candies (particularly the kind of candy known as bekko ame, made of caramelized sugar) in her direction, as she will stop to pick them up. or by saying the word “pomade” three times.


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