Walking on a dark and lonely road at night, you encounter a person turned away. When the person turns, they reveal that they have no face. This is the faceless ghost from Japan out to scare their victims known as Noppera-bō.
Noppera-bō (野箆坊) are a type of yūrei, or Japanese ghost. Noppera-bō have been around in folklore and legends for centuries and have been depicted in many different ways, from the scary to the cute.
They appear as ordinary humans, except they have no face, and where the features were supposed to be, there is just a blank slate instead of a face. They are called faceless ghosts but actually, they are shapeshifters that take on the appearance of humans. Therefore they are considered more like a Yokai (Japanese monster/demon) rather than a classical Yurei (Ghost).
They will mostly be seen with their back to lure the human closer to them, often in disguise as a young woman. But when she turns she reveals that she has no face, and is just a blank canvas. No eyes, no mouth and no nose.
The Mythology Behind the Noppera-bō
In most cases, the Noppera-bō is not really a ghost, but a shapeshifter like Kitsune that looks like a fox or the Mujina that looks like a badger. They are mostly encountered on a lonely road, late at night where no one is there to help you. But are they dangerous? In most stories they work more as a prankster than something that would cause you actual harm.
They also have a habit of wearing a face they suddenly wipe away right in front of the humans they encounter. They also often work in teams to double scare their victims. Why do they do this? According to most legends, it is just to scare them for no reason. Or is there one?
Famous Legends of the Noppera-bō
There have been several encounters with the Noppera-bō passed down in legends and folklore, creating stories that were eventually written down.
The most famous story of a noppera-bō is “Mujina” in Lafcadio Hearn’s book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. Hearn usually just used the animals in the stories he wrote down and is one of the reasons why there are so many that mistake the Mujina for the Noppera-bō.
There are other tales about Noppera-bō, from one about a young woman rescued from bandits by a mounted samurai whose face disappears, to the story of a noble heading out for a tryst with a courtesan, only to discover that she is being impersonated by a Noppera-bō .
The Noppera-bō and the Koi Pond
One day a lazy fisherman decides to fish in the imperial koi pond near the Heian-kyō palace, even though he was warned by his wife. She said that the pound was sacred, near a graveyard and therefore haunted.
The fisherman ignored her warnings and went to the pound. On the way he encounters another fisherman that also warns him about fishing at that exact spot. He ignores the warnings again and eventually reaches the pound, There he sees a beautiful young woman standing by the pound.
She also pleads with him, begging him not to fish at this place. When he ignores her however, she turns right in front of him. She wipes her face off, revealing nothing but a blank canvas.
He runs back home and is confronted by his wife. She tells him that he should have listened before she wipes her face off as well.
The Mujina of the Akasaka Road
A man is traveling alone through Akasaka on his way to Edo. There he encounters a young woman near Kunizaka hill. It is a remote place and she is crying with her head in her hands, all by herself. He tries to comfort the woman and asks if there is anything he can do for her.
When she turns to face him, she has no face.
The man runs away, terrified and comes across a man selling soba noodles. Relieved to see another human he stops to relax and calm down. As he tells his story to the soba vendor though, he strokes his face, and with it, his features. He was a Noppera-bō.
Modern Sightings of the Noppera-bō
Today the tales of the Noppera-bō are mostly just read about in old legends. But there are some reports that are from the more recent centuries as well.
Interestingly enough, there have been reports of sightings of this no face ghost. In modern time there is also sighted outside of Japan. Especially in Hawaii there have been cases were some have claimed to see the Noppera-bō. This is perhaps explained by the big population of Japanese that immigrated to Hawaii.
In May 19, 1959, a daily newspaper called Honolulu Advertiser published a rather strange report about a Noppera-bō. Reporter Bob Krauss wrote about a sighting of a mujina at the Waialae Drive-In Theater in Kahala.
According to the news article, a woman was seen combing her hair in the women’s restroom. When the witness came close enough, the mujina turned, revealing her blank face with no features. The witness was reported to have been admitted to the hospital for a nervous breakdown.
A Hawaiian historian, folklorist, and author named Glen Grant, dismissed this whole encounter in a radio interview he did 1981. After the interview though, someone called in claiming to be the witness, who gave more details on the event, including the previously unreported detail that the mujina in question had red hair.
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