For the Love of ‘Urban Legends’
My obsession with “exploring the unseen” started at a very young age. The concepts of ghosts, demons, and other paranormal phenomena always managed to get me excited. I remember how I curated a book with creepy articles, pictures, illustrations and got into a lot of trouble with my mom. I remember how my friends and I from fourth grade formed a secret society where we would go around school looking for ghosts as it was “the trend” back then. We didn’t stop there, we wanted to explore all the creepy urban legends, from “Mohini” to “Bodhilima” to “Mahasona”, as they gave us a sense of happiness. The obsession was real and serious. Did I gain anything from it? I don’t think so, except for the fact that I am not scared of anything paranormal anymore, only humans.
I’m going to take you on a journey through urban legends today, not of Mohini or Bodilima that we love and adore, but of Kuchisake Onna also knwon as the slit mouthed woman from Japan.
Let’s go back in time for the Japanese Heian period, the last division of classical Japanese history that ran from the period of 794 to 1185. There was a beautiful woman, married to a samurai. She was well aware of her beauty and a bit obsessed with her looks as well. Thus, she would walk around the village constantly asking people the question, “Am I pretty?”. Yes, it does sound a bit weird, but don’t we have such attention seeking people nowadays as well. Her husband was not happy with all the attention his wife was getting due to her unmatched beauty. The woman wasn’t happy with her husband’s jealousy either. To make matters worse, he found out that she was being unfaithful to him and wanted to teach her a lesson. As a result, one day he attacked her with a knife slitting her mouth ear to ear, completely destroying her beautiful face. “Nobody will think you are pretty now”, he yelled, looking at her scarred face which now had a bloody grin imprinted upon it. She is said to have died soon due to the pain from her wounds, while some stories point towards the idea that she committed suicide. The legend says that she was reborn as an angry spirit named “Kauchisake – Onna. This is said to be the folklore surrounding the urban legend of the slit mouthed woman, which was initially supposed to deliver a message about the importance of being faithful to your partner. However, things took an interesting turn in the late 1970s with the urban legend gaining much popularity.
A nationwide panic broke out in Japan in 1978, with people especially children claiming to have encountered the slit-faced woman. It became serious and extreme to the point where students did not even walk home from school alone and were always accompanied by peers or teachers. Sometimes even policemen were assigned on night duty. Kuchisake Onna is said to appear wearing a trench coat and a surgical mask which was a normal outfit of. A typical woman. Surgical masks were commonly worn by people across East and South- East Asia even before COVID-19 to prevent the spread of germs. This attire was a good cover-up for the slit-mouthed woman. She would approach people and ask her famous question, “Am I pretty?”. This question was trap because there was no way out it. If you say “no” to her question, she will kill you instantly. If you say yes, she will come closer so that her nose is an inch away from yours, take her mask off to reveal her disfigured mouth and ask, “Am I pretty now?”, and no matter what answer you give she would still kill you on the spot. Some school children however found a way to deceive her, and that was to reply to her question with “so so” instead of a “yes” or a “no”, as it would confuse her and give you time to run away. With time, rumours of the slit- mouthed woman died down, but it was already a big part of the culture of Japan, just like how Mohini is in our South Asian countries.
Soon she became a part of popular culture as well. She has appeared in live action movies, manga, anime, video games and a lot more. Famous movies surrounding the urban legend include the 2007 movie, ‘Carved – The Slit Mouthed Woman’ and its sequel, ‘The Scissors Massacre’. This was a perfect story for entertainment industries to monetize on. Even today, the urban legend is famous on digital platforms and social media with its own fan base.
The most interesting thing about urban legends is the fact that nobody knows whether they are true or not and they might never get confirmed or disproved, but their sheer existence has an impact on how people carry on their daily lives. Thus, if by any chance you come across the slit-mouthed woman, be prepared to run!
– Rtr. Kavindi Gunawardena
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