Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Daily Ghost Post – H is for Hanako-San

Being an on-the-road performer, I find myself in many exotic places – cars, cafetoriums, and rest stops. We drive so much that we have favorite rest areas, like the first one in West Virginia on I-70 West. It has shady outdoor picnic tables and decent bathrooms.

But no matter how decent a public bathroom is, even if it is a fancy toilette, I always enter with trepidation. You see, my overactive teenaged imagination once conjured a horror story that involved a corpse and an innocent tourist who happen to meet in an out of the way, grimy bathroom stall. With that image permanently emblazoned on my brain, I still open every bathroom stall door cautiously, half dreading the discovery of a bloated corpse sitting on the toilet in deathly contemplation.

So it tickled me greatly to learn that I am not alone in my fear of bathroom stalls. There is a traditional, albeit contemporary, Japanese urban legend about a bathroom ghost -and I don’t mean JK Rowling’s Moaning Myrtle. Her name is Hanako-San.

Hanako-San is a totally modern ghost. Popular in anime, manga, film, video games, and schoolyard urban legends, she conjures up courage and fear. The legend was probably born mid-20th century, sometime after she died in a bathroom.

But unlike other ghosts who haunt the exact place of their deaths, Hanako-San doesn’t remain in one bathroom. Any Japanese elementary school girls’ bathroom can host her.

Hanako-San is always found in the third stall. Depending on which version of the story one hears, she is helpful and will protect you from other bathroom ghosts lurking in the toilets, pipes, and cabinets. But I ask you, just what is it about ghosts and their bathroom hauntings? I mean, aren’t there nicer places to spend eternity?. The darker Hanako-San stories say that she is no protector, but can cut you to bits or pull you down into the toilet. What a way to go!

Her origin is a bit of a mystery. It is possible that she committed suicide after being bullied – it is also possible that she got caught in the bathroom during World War II bombing raids. No matter how she died, she is the ghost of a little girl who died in and around a toilet in the third stall of a bathroom somewhere in Japan. And she wears a red skirt.

The brave among us can invite a visitation from Hanako-San. Knock three times on the stall three door, call her name, and she may be there to greet you when you enter. It is not surprising, then, that children dare each other to go into the bathroom and call her name. (Going into girls’ bathrooms is scary enough, but this?).

The story and the schoolyard ‘dares’ that are associated with it are reminiscent of an American urban legend with the power to ruin sleepovers – Bloody Mary. She is the scary woman who lives in a mirror and can predict your future. Or snatch at you with her bloody grip.

The next time I am at a rest stop or working in an elementary school, if all the bathroom stalls are closed, I won’t knock on them. You never know if Hanako-San has made an overseas crossing. I’m patient. I’ll wait for a safe door to open by a living human, thank you.

Do you know bathroom ghost lore? Have you participated in sleepover ghost dares? What happened? Do tell…

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Gail de Vos, What Happens Next? Contemporary Urban Legends and Popular Culture
wikipedia – Hanako-San; Japanese urban legends

Photo Credit: By Pete unseth (Own work)/ CC BY-SA 3.0 /Wikimedia Commons

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17 thoughts on “Daily Ghost Post – H is for Hanako-San

  1. Bottom line: Avoid the third stall at all costs. Right?

  2. OMG Jeri – have been enjoying your daily “ghostly” posts – but have not been up to leaving comments. Have been out of sorts since STF – more than that – “coughing up a lung” as they say. Oiy Vey. Still trying to get back on track.

    Before my next coughing fit, please know how much I love this one because it reminds me to aproach public bathroom stalls with caution. YIKES! This is scary stuff. Can’t say I was afraid of ghostly creations in bathroom stalls, but when I was a very little girl and would go to the movies I NEVER dangled my legs…but sat in a lotus position on seat, terrified that someone, something would be hiding under my seat and “grab” my legs. (Happy to say it never happened, but could this be why I rarely go to the movies, hmmm….just saying.)

    Okay I’m off to have any coughing spell…

  3. I don’t think I know of any bathroom ghosts – at least until now. 🙂

  4. Yes, I am also wondering why a ghost would want to spend eternity in a bathroom. Unless it’s a very nice one and I’ve seen a few 😉

  5. The third stall, hmm? Well. Reasons to avoid the third stall.

  6. Argh! I thought I was the only kid who believed in the toilet monster! This has completely freaked me out… From your description, she’s far too easy to imagine!

  7. You know, my recurring dreams/nightmares of public bathrooms no longer seem so crazy–it seems like public toilets hold certain horrors for many of us. 😉 Hanako-san sounds absolutely creepy. I will now forever be freaked out by the third bathroom stall.

    And I did NOT like the Bloody Mary game. I refused to play haha.

    Really interesting post, glad to have found you through the A to Z Challenge. 🙂

    • Join the club of 3rd stall fear – I wonder if there are real phobias that are based on urban legends like this. They are powerful in the way they can change behavior! BTW, I didn’t play Bloody Mary either, it was too horrible to contemplate. Thanks for visiting Sara 🙂

  8. I’ve heard of Hanako-san and the version I heard was the nasty one – I think I’ve also seen a short film about it too, but it escapes me where now :). I do remember seeing a Japanese short film called The Tripping Stall and it seems to be to do with stall 3 in a bathroom, so it might be a bastardisation of the same thing: ( has English subs if you turn them on).
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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