Question: When a ghost in a Japanese bathroom asks if you want “red paper or blue,” what’s the only safe answer?
Answer: No answer at all.
It’s Halloween all year round in the bathrooms of Japan. At least if you believe in one of its toilet ghosts.
That’s right: not only are the stalls haunted, if you believe local lore, but there is more than one spirit to contend with. Perhaps the spookiest of all is the polite, helpful-sounding Aka Manto.
Aka Manto means “red cape,” and refers to the shape the ghost takes. Long before you can see any features, you know him by the red hooded cloak he wears. From within the drapery, his ever-so-charming voice whispers to you in the politest of tones: Akai Kami, Aoi-Kami? (Red paper or blue paper?)
Leaving aside the heart-attack-inducing fright of a cape-wearing stranger appearing in your stall offering a choice of toilet papers, answering him is even scarier. The legend is that if you say red, he will flay your skin until you die; if you say blue, he’ll suffocate you where you sit. Worse, if you cleverly avoid either fate by saying “white” or any other color, he’ll carry you away to the underworld (where, presumably, earthly bodily functions no longer matter).
The smart move is to refuse to take any paper at all. But do be as polite in your reply as he was in the asking. In Japan, good manners are everything—and in this case, a matter of life and death.
Aka Manto is not alone in roaming the stalls…
Meet 5 More Japanese Bathroom Ghosts
- Hanako of the Toilet (Toire no Hanko-San)
In this legend, a young girl who died during the tumult of World War II, still clad in her favorite red school outfit, keeps traveling from school bathroom to school bathroom. If you want to summon her, you knock three times on the third stall of a bathroom on a third floor. You ask, “Are you there, Hanako-san,” and she’ll either say yes or extend her hand. But don’t go inside to see your new “friend”—if you do, you will be eaten by a three-headed lizard creature.
- Kashima Reiko
Poor Reiko was crossing the train tracks when she was struck and killed, losing her legs in the process. No one knows why her ghastly torso haunts only bathrooms, but many claim to have heard her whispered question: “Do you know where my legs are?” If you can’t answer correctly—“On the Meishin Railway”—she is said to take yours instead.
- The Kappa
Tales of the water creature known as the Kappa predate modern bathrooms entirely. In the early legends, rivers and ponds were most likely to lure out the beast. But when outhouses came into fashion, stories spread of the Kappa coming up from beneath to torment the ladies of Japan. Naturally, now that there are indoor bathrooms with the world’s most cutting-edge fixtures, the Kappa has moved inside too.
This vile goblin doesn’t want to hurt you. He just wants you to keep your bathroom disgusting. That’s because he’s “the filth-licker” and he uses his long pointy tongue to slurp up grime and scum in a dirty bathroom. Despite his terrible hygiene and the one extra-long toenail on each foot, he looks almost human, and seems fairly harmless. But watch out: don’t get between him and the mildew build-up. If you touch his tongue, you’ll be poisoned.
- The Featureless (Noppera-Bo)
The Featureless are just that: ghosts that appear out of nowhere with no face. They can be found anywhere in Japan (and beyond: Japanese travelers have reported seeing them as far away as Hawaii). One of their most popular targets is bathrooms, where they quietly materialize behind unsuspecting victims who eventually see them in the mirror and freak out. But unlike Aka Manto, the Noppera-Bo ask no questions—being featureless, they can’t.
Tall tales and ancient legends are just part of what makes Japan so memorable, as you’ll discover when you join O.A.T. for Japan’s Cultural Treasures.