Folktale Violence: Kuchisake-onna

Alright, Daniel here, back at it again with the folktales! This week I thought I’d take a look at a little bit of Eastern stories and talk about the Kuchisake-onna, or the Slit-Mouthed Woman.

Kuchisake-onna is reputedly a woman who comes from the Heian period in Japan, approximately 1200-800 years ago. She was a rather gorgeous woman who was either the wife or concubine to a samurai, and as a sidenote was extremely vain. According to the story, she was cheating on the samurai, and was caught. In punishment, the samurai slit her mouth from ear-to-ear, granting her a glasgow smile, saying “who will think you’re beautiful now?” Pretty brutal dude.

That’s where the original story ends, and the moral to it is pretty obvious: don’t cheat or you’ll get scarred for life. However, Kuchisake-onna lives past the old story, and became a sort of cultural legend, where the ghost of Kuchisake-onna was said to appear to lone travelers at night. She would be wearing a surgical mask, which in Japan is rather common (for when you’re sick and coughing or something), and would ask her victim if they thought she was pretty. If they said “No”, she’d either kill them, according to some versions of the myth, or slice their mouths into a smile like hers. If one said “Yes”, she’d remove the mask, revealing her scars, and say “How about now?” And if you said “No”, she’d unsurprisingly kill you, and if you said “Yes”, then she’d…follow you home and kill you on your doorstep? I don’t really understand the logic behind her actions, but the way to escape her is apparently to say “Yes” to her first question, and then respond with an “Eh, you’re pretty average looking” or something along those lines to her second question. This would cause her to ponder (I guess she’s coming to terms with the idea that perhaps tons of people out there have glasgow smiles. Maybe she’s gotten to too many victims or something), and give her victim enough time to run for it.

The extended, modern-day version of the story has another plain moral to it: don’t be out late at night, or if you really have to, have someone with you. Or uh, tell strange woman at night that their looks are just average, I dunno. The violence in this story is committed by two main actors, Kuchisake-onna, and the Samurai guy. In regards to narrative, the violence is used as a plot device to drive home the morals of the story, and to give Kuchisake-onna something scary to do. No one wants a glasgow smile right?

If you wanna know more about Kuchisake-onna, look it up! If you’re too lazy too, check out

Kuchisake-onna

or

https://maskofreason.wordpress.com/the-book-of-mysteries/know-your-ghosts/eastern-asia/kuchisake-onna/

Anyways, that’s it for this week! Have a good one!

-Daniel Rodrigues

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