There was a link on Twitter to this article on ghosts that haunt Japanese bathrooms, and I thought that might be a topic worth addressing myself. Bathrooms can be pretty scary places anyway, but usually the fear is more that someone else will want to use it when you’re not finished. But there’s a definite sense of vulnerability when sitting with your pants down. The article also mentions how drains can be seen as a portal to another world, and likely not one as bright and colorful as the one Mario and Luigi found. I recently watched the movie Ghoulies, and while I’ll probably say a bit more about that in a future post, I’ll point out that the iconic image from it is of a Ghoulie coming out of the toilet. This does happen, but very briefly and not while anyone is using it. Anyway, kappa are sometimes said to dwell in bathrooms, but they’re not the only kind of Japanese monster to hang out there. The Akaname, literally “filth licker,” is a mostly benign but still creepy creature that shows up in dirty bathrooms to, well, lick up the filth.
Older pictures of the monster don’t show any context for what they do, but that’s generally how they were interpreted. They all have long tongues but otherwise vary quite a bit, some being red in color and others a moldy green, and some with only one eye. They’re used as a warning to keep the bathroom clean, even though this would presumably be depriving them of food. They are sometimes said to spread disease, however, so that’s a good reason to keep them away.
I guess it’s sort of like a dog drinking out of the toilet; it likely won’t harm them, but nobody wants to see that.
Another older myth is that of the Kawaya no-Kami, a god born from the excrement of Izanami. If you keep your toilet clean, he’ll protect you in less reputable bathrooms, and you’ll have better-looking children. He’s also associated with fertility, as fecal matter was traditionally used as fertilizer. But there are tales that say he’ll stab you with a spear when you sit on the toilet if you don’t announce your presence first. Gods are fickle like that.
Other bathroom ghosts mentioned in the article seem to be of more recent origin, fitting more into the category of urban legends than traditional mythology.
The Aki-Manto, or “red cape,” dates back to the 1930s. This supposedly handsome ghost who wears a mask asks people on the toilet if they prefer red or blue paper. Choosing the former results in their being stabbed to death, while the latter has them strangled or their blood sucked out. Some say you can avoid them simply by not answering, but they’re often thought to kill you anyway. There are variations that say that, if you answer “yellow paper,” you’ll be drowned in the toilet bowl. Then there’s Hanako, a young girl with a bobbed haircut and a red skirt, who lives in the third stall of third floor restrooms, and will show up if you knock three times and call her name.
It’s basically a variation on the Bloody Mary or Candyman legend, except usually Hanako doesn’t do anything except show up and look scary. Not surprisingly, though, there are variations where she’ll kill the summoner by dragging them into the toilet, and even one where Hanako is actually a ravenous three-headed lizard pretending to be a little girl. Origin stories for Hanako include that she died in the bathroom during a World War II bombing raid, or that she committed suicide or was murdered by an abusive parent. More recently, there have been rumors of another female toilet ghost called Kashima Reiko, who has no legs due to their having been torn off by a train after she collapsed on the tracks, and she’ll tear your legs off if you don’t correctly answer her question about where hers are. The correct answer is that they’re on the Meishin Expressway.
Other cultures have their own bathroom gods, demons, and ghosts. The Romans had Cloacina, Crepitus, and Stercutius, respectively gods of the sewer, flatulence, and excrement.
The Chinese have Zi-Gu, the Violet Lady, a concubine who was murdered by a jealous wife, and was later elevated to a goddess by the Tang Empress Wu Zetian. She’s worshipped in the form of a homemade doll. In Korea, there’s Cheuksin, the grouchy goddess of the outhouse, who is said to have originally been a thief named Noiljadae. After robbing and blinding a foolish man named Namseonbi, she went after his family, presumably so none of them would find out what she did and seek vengeance. She killed Namseombi’s wife Yeosan Buin and then took her place, but one of her sons realized that something was up, and he and his brothers ambushed her in the bathroom. She hanged herself there, and was forced to dwell in outhouses from then on. She has long hair that causes sickness, and spends much of her time counting it, like the much less creepy Watch-Dog of Merryland. Unless rituals were done to appease her, Cheuksin would knock children into the latrine and generally make a nuisance of herself, particularly on days of the month with the number six in them. Babylonian legend has Sulak, a demon who lurks in bathrooms and makes people sick.
Arabian lore that was incorporated in Islamic belief reports that jinn can sometimes infect or possess people while they’re on the crapper. And Belphegor, a demon associated with laziness and invention (so much for ninety-nine percent perspiration), is said to accept human waste as offerings, and is shown in the Dictionnaire Infernal sitting on a toilet.
His name derives from Baal-Peor, a god worshipped in Moab about whom little is known. It was presumably the inspiration for the name of Belfaygor in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, although he isn’t associated with toilets. I would imagine a beard that never stops growing would be a real problem in the bathroom, though.