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