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  • Writer's pictureharu

#SlitMouth & #Halloween (T & F)

We had one streetlight on the dirt path back home in the northern alpine foothill town of Karuizawa Japan. An older kid, BearHunter Kumatoriya, accidentally on purpose put out the light in the summer of ’74 making the path the perfect site for the annual kimodameshi test of courage.

The rules of the game were simple. Walk – or run – the 200-meter path from the Mampei Bridge back home. No flashlights. No screaming. But if you encountered a yokai spirit you could – you should – stop to answer her questions, especially if she was Kuchisakeonna, aka, SlitMouth.

Legend had it that one autumn, SlitMouth had another man’s baby. Jealous and angered, her husband slit open each side of her mouth from corner to ear. She bled to death but came back to haunt him and eventually everyone, asking the question: Do you find me beautiful? Answering No led to instant death; answering Yes led to her making you look just like she did, cutting the sides of your mouth up to your ears.

The adults laughed and reasoned the obvious way to get by her safely was to answer: Average. But the intel from the other kids was that that was exactly the kind of stupid reasoning that got you killed. The only way you could stop SlitMouth from slashing or murdering you was to bribe her with money or hard candy. Adults knew nothing.

On the kimodameshi path that night, I was last in line. Everyone had gone and I couldn’t see the tips of my fingers when I held out my hands in front of me the way the older kids told me to. If you couldn’t see the yokai, they explained, at least you’d feel her, cold, wet and horribly disfigured. Their explanation only increased my fear but I stood firm, running my tongue over my chipped front tooth, the one I got from jumping on a poster bed and knocking myself out. Then, licking the scar on my lower lip from when I’d crashed my bike at the bottom of the shrine hill, I swallowed hard, letting the tiny bit of saliva I had left work its way past the gates of my fish-tailed tonsils from when the wire ends of my retainers had hooked onto them.

I was an accident-prone kid but I convinced myself that these accidents, though all around the mouth, were just coincidence, not the work of SlitMouth. Besides, should she show her face, I was prepared and ready with my thousand-yen summer pouch money and a tin of hard candy jammed into my back pockets. The older kids may have been laughing when I came charging into the house at the end of the test of courage that night but they were also glad that they’d been right – with all the insurance in my pockets I’d made it back home unscathed.

So this Halloween weekend, remember to pack plenty of bribe candy for the ghosts and yokai who come visiting. Also important to remember this weekend: Trust kid intel.

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