Research Data

Post Type: Urban Legend

Type: Spirit

Location: Japan

Date of sighting: 1950

Persons of interest: None

Results: Unsolved

A urban legend about the spirit of a young girl  who haunts school toilets

Hanako-san, or Toire no Hanako-san is a Japanese urban legend about the spirit of a young girl named Hanako-san who haunts school bathrooms. Like many urban legends, the details of the origins of the legend vary depending on the account.

Different versions of the story include that Hanako-san is the ghost of a girl who was killed while playing hide-and-seek during an air raid in World War II or was murdered by a parent or stranger, or that she committed suicide in a school bathroom.

The legends about Hanako-san have achieved some popularity in Japanese primary schools, where children may challenge classmates to try to summon Hanako-san.

But she is not the only spirit who haunts Japan’s school bathrooms. Kashima Reiko, another young girl, was said to have been cut in half by a train. Now her disfigured spirit inhabits bathrooms, asking children who enter the stalls where her legs are.

The legend goes that if Kashima Reiko is not satisfied with their answer, she will rip their legs off.

The summoning  Hanako-san

It is often said that individuals must enter a girls’ bathroom (usually on the third floor of a school), knock three times on the third stall, and ask if Hanako-san is present.

If Hanako-san is there, she will reply with some variation of “Yes, I am.”

Depending on the story, the individual may then witness the appearance of a bloody or ghostly hand; the hand, or Hanako-san herself, may pull the individual into the toilet. This will may lead to hell, or the individual may be eaten by a three-headed lizard.

The Hanako-san character has appeared in films, manga, anime, and video games. She made her first cinematic appearance in the 1995 film “Toire no Hanako-san,” directed by Joji Matsuoka.

Author and folklorist Matthew Meyer have described the legend of Hanako-san as dating back to the 1950s.

Michael Dylan Foster, author of The Book of Yōkai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore, has stated that Hanako-san “is well known because it is essentially an ‘urban legend’ associated with schools all over Japan.

Since the 1990s, it has also been used in films, so it became part of popular culture … not just orally transmitted or local folklore”.

In 2014, an article published by NPR described Hanako-san as having “become a fixture of Japanese urban folklore over the last 70 years”.


A lively excursion into Japanese folklore and its ever-expanding influence on global popular culture through the concept of yokai.

Monsters, ghosts, fantastic beings, and supernatural phenomena of all sorts haunt the folklore and popular culture of Japan. Broadly labelled yokai, these creatures come in infinite shapes and sizes, from tengu mountain goblins and kappa water spirits to shape-shifting foxes and long-tongued ceiling-lickers. Currently popular in anime, manga, film, and computer games, many yokai originated in local legends, folktales, and regional ghost stories.

The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore

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