5 November 2012, Singapore – During my stay in Japan, my Japanese friends told me some of the ghost stories they grew up with. 花子さん(Hanako San) is one of my favourite horror story so far.
Hanako-san — a spooky young girl that haunts school restrooms across Japan — has in recent decades become one of the nation’s most famous ghosts.
It is not uncommon for schools to have a toilet permanently occupied by the mysterious girl, who is known in Japanese as Toire no Hanako-san (lit. “Hanako of the toilet”). She is often found in the third stall in the restroom on the third floor — usually the girls’ room — but this can vary from school to school. Details about her physical appearance also vary, but she is usually described as having bobbed hair and wearing a red skirt.
Hanako-san’s behavior also varies according to location, but in most cases, she remains holed up in the bathroom until an adventurous student dares to provoke her. Hanako-san can be conjured up by knocking on the door to her stall (usually three times), calling her name, and asking a particular question. The most common question is simply “Are you there, Hanako-san?” If Hanako-san is indeed present, she says in a faint voice, “Yes, I’m here.” Some stories claim that anyone courageous enough to open the door at this point is greeted by a little girl in a red skirt and then pulled into the toilet.
Details about Hanako-san’s origins are murky. Although she became a national phenomenon in the 1980s, there is speculation that she has existed since the 1950s. Some stories claim she is the ghost of a WWII-era girl who died in a bombing raid on the school while she was playing hide-and-seek. Other stories claim she is the restless spirit of a young girl who met her end at the hands of an abusive or deranged parent (or a perverted stranger, according to some stories) who found her hiding in the bathroom. In some cases, she is the ghost of a former student who died in an unfortunate accident at the school (one story from Fukushima prefecture, for example, claims she is the ghost of a girl who fell out of the library window).
Countless versions of the Hanako-san legend have emerged over time. Here are a few of the more colorful variations:
– According to one Yamagata prefecture legend, something terrible will happen to you if Hanako-san speaks to you in a nasty voice. Another legend from Yamagata prefecture claims that Hanako-san is actually a 3-meter-long, 3-headed lizard that uses a little girl’s voice to attract prey.
– At a school in the town of Kurosawajiri (Iwate prefecture), it is said that a large, white hand emerges from a hole in the floor of the third bathroom stall if you say “third Hanako-san” (sanbanme no Hanako-san).
– In the boys’ room at a school in Yokohama (Kanagawa prefecture), it is said that a bloody hand emerges from the toilet (presumably an old-fashioned squatter) if you walk around it three times while calling Hanako-san’s name.
– Stories have also circulated about a so-called “Hanako fungus” that can infect anyone who scrapes their knee on the playground. The infection reportedly causes tiny mushrooms to sprout from the scab.
For the most part, Hanako-san is harmless and can be avoided simply by staying away from her designated hiding spot. But if you ever need to get rid of her, try showing her a graded exam with a perfect score. Some legends claim that the sight of good grades makes her vanish into thin air.
So study hard and bring your report card with you when you are going to the toilet.