The hour is late and the streetlights barely cut through the fog. As you make your way home, a woman approaches. Her face is cast in shadow, but you can tell she is wearing a surgical mask. The filtered streetlight glints off of something metallic in her hand.
“Am I pretty?”
You’re honestly not sure how to answer, but tell her “yes” in an effort to get her to leave you alone. She stops you, stepping closer until she’s properly in view.
“Even with this?”
The mask falls and reveals one of the most beautiful women you have ever seen. Truly, she would be flawless if not for the jagged slits beginning at the corners of her mouth and pulling up towards her jawline. Her molars peek out between the flaps on one side. In this moment, you’re not sure what terrifies you most: her mutilated face or the giant pair of blood-crusted scissors she’s clutching.
You scream and she descends.
Yōkai are supernatural demons, monsters, and spirits in Japanese mythology, and there are many subcategories of them depending on the nature of the entity. The Kuchisake-onna (“Slit-Mouthed Woman”) is an onryō, a vengeful spirit who preys on late-night street wanderers.
The origins of the Kuchisake-onna are a cautionary tale for those who would commit adultery.
It’s widely believed that she was the wife or consort of a samurai, and supposedly lived during Japan’s Edo period (1603-1867). This woman was beautiful and she knew it. She basked in male attention, often asking men if they found her beautiful and glowing when yes, of course they did.
How could anyone think otherwise?
Finding her unfaithful, the samurai confronted her, slitting her mouth ear-to-ear. This wound would be fatal, his last words to her:
“Who would find you beautiful now?”.
Dying in anguish, her spirit bound itself to the dark nights of our world, searching for those who would find her beautiful and those who would dare tell her otherwise.
A more modern take on this tale is that she was a woman who underwent plastic surgery and was unintentionally mutilated in the process. Some people believe another woman did this to her out of jealousy.
But the samurai’s adulterous lady is Japan’s most memorable iteration of this yōkai legend, and the oldest telling of the tale. In any case, encountering the Kuchisake-onna will not be a pleasant experience.
She often appears before her victims as a woman wearing a trenchcoat, her face often covered by a scarf or a surgical mask (a common sight in a society concerned about spreading unwanted illness). Her weapons of choice are often a pair of scissors, a knife, or something less inconspicuous such as a scythe or machete.
If you encounter the Kuchisake-onna, she will ask you if you find her pretty, or even beautiful. She will kill you if you tell her she isn’t. Answering “yes” doesn’t get you off scot-free either, though. Now she will remove her covering and ask you:
“Do you still think I’m beautiful, even with this?”
Now would be a good time to keep your shit together. Screaming will instantly get you killed, and she will continue to appear before you if you run. So this is where answering the Kuchisake-onna gets a little tricky. Again, it appears you have only two options. You can decide for yourself which would be worse.
You decide to answer “no”
She will use her weapon of choice for that evening to either cut your head off or chop you in half.
Congratulations. You are now dead.
You decide to answer “yes”
You would think this is a smart decision: tell her you think she’s pretty, and the slit-mouthed woman will leave you alone.
Well you would be wrong. Answering “yes” invites the Kuchisake-onna to give you a makeover. She will use her weapon to carve out your face just as hers had been.
Congratulations. Enjoy your new smile, so long as you don’t bleed out first.
Not all of her victims are this lucky. There have been some reported instances where the Kuchisake-onna has said and done nothing, leaving them alone after she’s been given the validation she’s sought. These unfortunate souls will go home and go to sleep believing they are safe, only to wake up to her standing over their bed mid-procedure.
So there really is no escape, unless...
Here’s what you need to do: tell her she is average. This will make her stop and think about what that could possibly mean, giving you enough time to get the hell out of her sight.
Run, run, as fast as you can. And don’t look back.
Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.