Date of Discovery
Matthew Meyer, an author and folklorist, has dated the legend of Hanako-san back to the 1950s, but like the western counterpart, Bloody Mary, it is clear that the legend existed before official documentation.
Supposedly the urban legend began in 1950 as, “Hanako of the third stall.” In the 1980s, her story became widely known all over Japan, and in the 1990s a variety of movies and animes were made about her. She is now known as, “Hanako of the Toilet.”
Hanako-san and Toire no Hanako-san in Japanese, which translates roughly to, “Hanako of the Toilet.”
Vaguely related to the legend of Bloody Mary.
Hanako-san, according to Japanese urban legends, is the spirit of a young girl who haunts the bathrooms of schools. Although her physical description varies across the different sources, she is commonly seen as wearing a red skirt or dress, with her haircut worn in a bob long enough to cover her neck.
In Japanese culture, she is known as a yōkai–which is a reference to a spirit in the form of a monster, or demon–or a yūrei, which is synonymous with what western culture considers a ghost.
Over the last seventy years, Hanako-san has become a fixture of Japanese urban folklore, before the 1990s, it was just an oral legend, but it has since become a part of their pop-culture, being featured in movies as well as manga and anime series. Michael Dylan Foster wrote The Book of Yōkai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore, in which he stated that Hanako-san is a well known urban legend associated with all schools across Japan.
Mythology and Lore
As a part of Japanese urban legends and folklore, Hanako-san is more versatile spirit than most, like Bloody Mary she comes to haunt only when she is called. Each reported case has different details of the haunting and encounter, but there are common themes across the board. In one version, she is a school child who was killed during an air raid, while playing hide-and-seek, during World War II–a variation on this is that she was starving, but agreed to play the game anyway, but her body gave in to hunger and died in the bathroom stall. In other versions, she either committed suicide or she was hiding from an abusive parent and upon finding her in the bathroom they killed her. Some stories suggest that she came to the school to play when it wasn’t in session, was followed by a pedophile, then was assaulted and killed. Depending upon the variant of the story, however, she can either appear as a ghostly, bloody hand or Hanako-san herself. Additional details about where her grave can be found are given in some scenarios, which suggest that she was either buried in a garbage dump in Saitama, or behind a school gym in Tokyo.
In Japanese schools across the country, the typical ritual goes, that you enter the girl’s bathroom (usually on the third floor) and knock three times on every door. From the closest door to the farthest door, after knocking, you would ask, “Is Hanako there?” After repeating this question three times the answer, “yes,” will come from the third stall in a small, soft voice. When you open the door to the stall, Hanako will be standing there, waiting to drag you into the toilet.
While it may sound like an odd trend, there are quite a few yōkai and yūrei that reside within bathrooms and toilets. Most any person from Japan will tell you that they have tried to summon Hanako-san while they were in elementary school.
Modern Pop-Culture References
Books & Literature
Is there anything we missed about Hanako-san? Let us know in the comments section below!
North Carolina-based author and artist, Mary has been a horror aficionado since the mid-2000s. Originally a hobby artist and writer, she found her niche in the horror industry in late 2019 and hasn’t looked back since. Mary’s evolution into a horror expert allowed her to express herself truly for the first time in her life. Now, she prides herself on indulging in the stuff of nightmares.
Mary also moonlights as a content creator across multiple social media platforms—breaking down horror tropes on YouTube, as well as playing horror games and broadcasting live digital art sessions on Twitch.