Mujina (The Faceless)
Passed down as common lore among residents of Tokyo for at least a century, most Japanese not only know the Tale of Mujina but many will gleefully tell you the tale with an excited shiver and gleam in their eye. Though brief, it conjures up not only the terrifying prospects of walking along darkened roads at night, but also wholly grounds in a very particular and identifiable location within Tokyo, making it all the more palpable to residents.
This tale first made its way to the West through the uniquely mystifying writings of Lafcadio Hearns over a century ago in his now infamous work entitled Kwaidan.
Below you will find the complete version of this classic Kwaidan tale.
From Lafcadio Hearn's classic Kwaidan, 1904.
On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka,-- which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens; -- and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace. Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas, this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset.
All because of a Mujina (Faceless) that used to walk there.
The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:
One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family. "O-jochu," ("Young Girl") he exclaimed, approaching her,-- "O-jochu, do not cry like that!... Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be glad to help you." (He really meant what he said; for he was a very kind man.) But she continued to weep,-- hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves. "O-jochu," he said again, as gently as he could,-- "please, please listen to me!... This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you! -- only tell me how I may be of some help to you!" Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve. He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded:-- "O-jochu! -- O-jochu! -- O-jochu!... Listen to me, just for one little moment!... O-jochu! -- O-jochu!"... Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand; -- and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,-- and he screamed and ran away.
Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it. It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba (noodle) seller, who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, "Ah! -- aa!! -- aa!!!"...
"Kore! kore!" ("Hey, hey") roughly exclaimed the soba-man. "Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?"
"No -- nobody hurt me," panted the other,-- "only... Ah! -- aa!"
"-- Only scared you?" queried the peddler, unsympathetically. "Robbers?"
"Not robbers,-- not robbers," gasped the terrified man... "I saw... I saw a woman -- by the moat; -- and she showed me... Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!"...
"Ha Ha!! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?" cried the soba-man, stroking his own face --which therewith became like unto an Egg... And, simultaneously, the light went out.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Noppera-bō , or faceless ghost, is a Japanese legendary creature. They are sometimes mistakenly referred to as a mujina, an old Japanese word for a badger or raccoon dog. Although the mujina can assume the form of the other, noppera-bō are usually humans. Such creatures were thought to sometimes transform themselves into noppera-bō in order to frighten humans. Lafcadio Hearn used the animals' name as the title of his story about faceless monsters, probably resulting in the misused terminology.
Noppera-bō are known primarily for frightening humans, but are usually otherwise harmless. They appear at first as ordinary human beings, sometimes impersonating someone familiar to the victim, before causing their features to disappear, leaving a blank, smooth sheet of skin where their face should be.
Noppera-bō in folklore
There are two primary stories about the noppera-bō.
The Noppera-bō and the Koi Pond
This tale recounts a lazy fisherman who decided to fish in the imperial koi ponds near the Heiankyo palace. Despite being warned by his wife about the pond being sacred ground and near a graveyard, the fisherman went anyway. On his way to the pond, he is warned by another fisherman to not go there, but he again ignores the warning. Once at the spot, he is met by a beautiful young woman who pleads with him to not fish in the pond. He ignores her, and to his horror, she wipes her face off. Rushing home to hide, he is confronted by what seems to be his wife, who chastises him for his wickedness before wiping off her facial features as well.
The Mujina of the Akasaka Road
The most famous story recollection of the Noppera-bō comes from Lafcadio Hearn's book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. The story of a man who travelled along the Akasaka road to Edo, he came across a young woman in a remote location near Kunizaka hill, crying and forlorn. After attempting to console the young woman and offer assistance, she turned to face him, startling him with the blank countenance of a faceless ghost. Frightened, the man proceeded down the road for some time, until he came across a soba vendor. Stopping to relax, the man told the vendor of his tale, only to recoil in horror as the soba vendor stroked his face, becoming a noppera-bō himself.
There are other tales about noppera-bō, from a young woman rescued from bandits by a samurai on horseback whose face disappears; to stories of nobles heading out for a tryst with another, only to discover the courtesan is being impersonated by a noppera-bō.
Though most sightings of noppera-bō tend to be historical, reports within the 20th century have not been uncommon, both in Japan itself as well as locations where Japanese have emigrated, most notably the U.S. state of Hawaii and where the term "mujina" vice "noppera-bō" is most deeply ingrained. Among the most recent reports:
On May 19, 1959, Honolulu Advertiser reporter Bob Krauss reported a sighting of a mujina at the Waialae Drive-In Theatre in Kahala. Krauss reported that the witness watched a woman combing her hair in the women's restroom, and when the witness came close enough, the mujina turned, revealing her featureless face. The witness was reported to have been admitted to the hospital for a nervous breakdown. Noted Hawaiian historian, folklorist and author Glen Grant, in a 1981 radio interview dismissed the story as rumor, only to be called by the witness herself, who gave more details on the event, including the previously unreported detail that the mujina in question had red hair. The drive-in no longer exists, having been torn down to make room for a subdivision.
Grant has also reported on a number of other mujina sightings in Hawaii, from Ewa Beach to Hilo.