The Real-Life Legend of Toilet-Bound Hanako (and Other Toilet Ghosts)
Toilet-Bound Hanako is based on a real-life ghostly legend, of which there are plenty in Japan — some of which appear in other anime as well.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is a series that draws on the ghost stories children tell to scare one another. While one may think that a child haunting a school bathroom is rather strange, it isn’t the only legend of its kind, with several ghosts lurking in the shadows of public restrooms. It could be said that the idea comes from the fear of something getting you in one of the most vulnerable situations a person could be in — and usually also in an area away from prying eyes.
In the West, we dare each other to go into a dark bathroom and chant Bloody Mary or even Candyman, expecting to glimpse a vision of a vengeful specter. To give you an idea of what kind of spirits hide in the dark bathroom stalls of Japan, here are four ghosts you should watch out for the next time you need some “privacy.”
While a male in Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, the original story features a young girl, usually wearing a red dress or skirt and sporting a bobbed haircut. While the story varies from school to school, the outcome is usually the same: dying in some gruesome fashion. The legend began making the rounds in the ’50s, when World War II was still fresh in the minds of Japanese citizens. Some claim that she is the spirit of a girl who was killed in an air-raid while playing hide-and-seek. Other sources say she was killed by a stranger or even an abusive parent in the toilet of the school.
Summoning her is as simple as knocking on the third stall of the third-floor girl’s bathroom three times and asking, “Hanako-San, are you there?” You may hear her say, “Yes, I am.” You may also see a bloody hand, or even Hanako-san herself, just before you get dragged to hell for disturbing her.
Usually translated as “Red Cape,” “Red Cloak” or “Red Mantle,” this spirit was once a handsome young man who always wore a red manto (traditional Japanese vest) or cape, and was immediately loved by any woman who laid eyes on him. Because of the constant attention, he started wearing a mask to conceal his face. At some point, he died, although how is never really clarified. However, it’s said that he died in the last stall of the school bathroom. He returned as a vengeful spirit, wearing his trademark cape and mask. Now, he haunts the last stall of public restrooms.
He’ll ask bathroom visitors, “Red paper or blue paper?” or “Red cloak or blue cloak?” Should you answer red, he’ll either cut your throat or head off, causing the blood to turn your body red. If you answer blue, he’ll suffocate you until your face turns blue. If you try to outsmart him and answer a different color, a pair of hands will come through the toilet and drag you to hell. The story has origins in the 1930s and is most likely inspired by a series of 1906 killings known as the Blue Blanket Murders.
Fans of Studio Ghibli may recognize this spirit as No-Face, who was featured in Spirited Away. It’s said that usually, this creature was a badger or raccoon-dog called a mujina or a kitsune (fox spirit). It would take on the form of Noppera-Bo, which would be humanoid in form but have only a flat sheet of skin where the face should be. Real Noppera-Bo spirits like to haunt public toilets — usually, women’s restrooms, lonely roads or anywhere humans can be isolated. While not as threatening as the other spirits listed, this still isn’t something people would probably want to see when doing their business. This story has roots in the Edo Period of Japan.
Normally found near train tracks, Teke-Teke is actually an onomatopoeia of the sound this spirit’s elbows make as she drags herself along the ground. Usually, she’s a schoolgirl who tragically fell onto the tracks right as a train approached, severing her torso from her legs. As a result, she returned as a vengeful ghost, looking for her lost legs. Appearing at night, she’ll chase people down with a scythe, which she uses to slice them in half.
In terms of haunting restrooms, there’s a particular version of this story that features a Teke-Teke by the name of Kashima Reiko. Her story is said to predate that of modern Teke-Teke legends, with her spirit haunting public restrooms, usually that of train stations. She’ll ask if you know where her legs are, to which the correct answer is “On the Meishin Expressway.” She’ll ask you, “Who told you?” The correct reply is “Kashima Reiko.” Finally, she will ask what her real name is, to which the answer is “Kamen shinin ma.” This roughly translates to “Mask Death Demon” and is a possible phonetic root of “Kashima.” You might want to save these answers somewhere, as it’s said that she’ll appear within one month of learning about her…
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