When I was a child I had a very overactive imagination. Thankfully I was around peers that shared similar attributes, and one of the things we enjoyed doing is making up stories. We’d make up stories about mutant sharks who could skateboard, while the most artistically talented of our group would bring our ideas to life in the form of actually quite decent drawings; drawings that turned into comics, with detailed storylines and a vast array of supporting characters. Although video games were climbing in popularity every year, and children’s TV had reached its peak with some excellent shows, it was a time when we weren’t obsessed with technology like kids these days and we’d actually go outside – even if it was just to sit on the grass with reams of paper, coloured pencils and heads crammed full of weird and often 80’s cartoon influenced ideas. When we weren’t coming up with stories of a football team where the best player was a crow who had to play against Tony Tornado (an actual tornado, because: why not?), we were coming up with stories that were designed to try and freak us out: ghost stories.
One such story was told to the group by a lad who would only come around to our street once every few weeks. We’d be playing a game on the street outside our homes, only stopping occasionally to wait for a car to pass, and he’d suddenly appear out of nowhere. Looking back it’s hard to be 100% certain he even existed, but that would make us all a little bit crazy (well, crazier than we already were anyway). Anyway, this one time he’d appeared out of nowhere as per usual. We thought of him as a pretty cool guy, and he’d always have something pretty interesting or amusing to tell us. This time he’d come armed with a spooky story that he wanted to share with us, and being the natural orator that he was he decided to jump up on a wall while we gathered around to listen to the story.
The story was a ghost story, concerning the tale of a woman called Elby. The story began with the woman dying in a bathroom, possibly due to being depressed from a separation with the love of her life. Being kids we didn’t really go into the details of what she’d done to die in there, although it was obviously assumed she’d committed suicide. The urban myth went that, no matter what bathroom you were in, she would come to the bathroom and frantically rattle the door if you uttered her name three times in a row whilst staring into the bathroom mirror. Our storyteller had apparently tried it with his friend at school, and it had scared them so much that he warned us not to try it for ourselves. Someone then chipped in and said he’d done it too, although the ghost had popped her head out of the toilet instead of rattling the door. This comment made us all laugh and I promptly forgot about trying it for myself.
Until, that is, a few days later.
My ‘Ghostly’ Bathroom Experience
It had suddenly popped back into my head when I was sitting in a dull Junior School class. I must have been around 8 or 9 at the time, and when it suddenly came back to me I was itching to prove the storyteller wrong. He had obviously made it all up; ghosts didn’t exist, did they? Putting my hand up I asked the teacher if I could go to the toilet. At the same time, a girl in my class called Emily had put her hand up to go to. One boy and one girl at a time was the rule. With permission granted, I walked to the nearby toilets, went in and immediately approached the bathroom mirror. Staring at my younger self I looked a bit nervous, but I decided to get it over and done with and said the three words out loud.
‘ELBY, ELBY, ELBY’
Laughing at how stupid I felt at being nervous, I looked down at the sink and turned on the tap to wash my hands. Then something happened that made my heart feel like it had leapt into my mouth, danced on my tongue, before running a mile away. The door rattled. It wasn’t a slight rattle, it was a rattle that felt like the flimsy school toilet door was about to fall off its hinges. I had seen it occur in the mirror, and just as soon as it had started it had stopped. I stood there for a moment, rooted to the spot in fear before I plucked up the courage to say ‘is anyone there?’.
An answer came from the girl’s toilet next door ‘Hello?’
“Who is that?” I replied.
I’d almost forgotten that Emily had gone to the toilet at the same time. For a second I thought it might be her, but for the short time that had passed it would be impossible for her to get back to the girls bathroom in time. As I was talking to her I’d grown some courage and approached the door, wrenching it open. There was no way it could have been her. Another explanation was that the door to the outside was open and a draft could have rattled the boy’s bathroom door, but I’m still dubious that a slight draft could rattle the door to such a degree.
Am I saying that I had a ghostly experience? No, because it was just a made up story that kids pass around to each other. Could it have been a product of my overactive imagination? Possibly, but I’ve never tried saying the words in a bathroom mirror again. It’s laughable given that I’m now 27, but it’s a rule I stick to because I’m a wimp.
If this story sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s a variation on the Bloody Mary tale. You may especially remember this if you grew up in the UK, and you’d usually do the ‘ritual’ of Bloody Mary in a group. During this ‘ritual’ a mirror is placed in a dimly lit room while ‘Bloody Mary’ is chanted repeatedly. Eventually, she is said to appear in the mirror; after which she can start screaming at you, curse you, strangle you, scratch your eyes out and steal your soul. In other words: she’s a nasty piece of work!
Interestingly there is a scientific explanation for a phenomenon that could have been the source of all these mirror-related ghost stories. If one stares into a mirror in a dimly-lit room for a while, you could eventually experience a hallucination. This can make it look like your face is melting, or another face could even appear in the reflection. Did this actually happen in my case? The boy’s toilets at my old school had no window and the light wasn’t the brightest light in the world, and since I only apparently saw the rattle in the mirror then it could go some way to explaining it. I can’t explain the noise though.
Unsurprisingly, we’re not the only group of children who made a connection between ghosts and bathrooms. From my research it looks like bathrooms are a popular haunt (see what I did there?) for ghosts around the world, most commonly in Japan, where bathroom ghost stories are rife.
Japanese Bathroom Ghosts
While we English have our tales of door-rattler Elby – or at least my small group of friends did – Japanese school kids have gone even further and come up with a whole host of spectral beings. Moreover, these are far more terrifying than simply jumping at a door shaking a bit – so much so that you can be killed for simply running out of toilet roll! Then again, running out of toilet roll when you’re not done is a MAJOR problem!
Hanako is the name that Japan gives its bathroom ghosts, with the tales spurned by it gaining notoriety around 20 years ago and leading to many schools having their own versions. One of the most popular Japanese urban legends is that of Hanako-San. This is allegedly the spirit of a young World War II-era girl who hangs around in school bathrooms. To see her you have to go to the third stall of a girls’ bathroom on the third floor of a school, knocking on the stall door three times before asking “are you there, Hanako-San” upon which she will answer “I’m here”. If you choose to walk into the stall you should see a little girl in a red skirt.
As with the Bloody Mary story, it was often used as a rite of courage for school children, after which they found out the story was a load of rubbish. Or did they?
Another Japanese bathroom ghost is Aka Manto, who is far more terrifying than a little girl. This spirit will approach you if you sit in the last stall of the bathroom, asking if you want red paper or blue paper. If you answer ‘red paper’ then the ghost will kill you and stain your clothes red (in other versions he may just give you a ‘red cape’, which means the skin will be ripped from your back). Answer ‘blue paper’ and you will be strangled until your face turns blue. The correct answer is to say no and he will go away. As horrific as this ghost sounds, he is said to have been a beautiful man during life who was hounded constantly by admirers. He now wears a mask to cover his face.
Although technically regarded as a demon or yōkai in Japanese folklore, the Akaname is another supernatural creature said to lurk in bathrooms. The Akaname is the “personification of the fear of using a dark bathroom late at night”, and it is said to come out at night to lick up all the dirt and grime that accumulates in an unclean bathroom. To be honest this one doesn’t sound so bad, because at least it would save me the job of having to clean the bathroom myself!
Kashima-Reiko is another dangerous Japanese ghost. It is said to be the ghost of a woman who was attacked by a group of men and left to die. She crawled away looking for help, only to pass out on some railroad tracks on the Meishin Expressway. A train then came along and cut in half at the waist. Now she is she to wander bathrooms looking for her missing legs. If you come across her she will ask you some questions. If you get any question wrong, she’ll tear off your legs. Lovely. The first question will be “Where are my legs?” to which you should answer “On the Meishin Expressway”. That’s followed up by “Who told you that?”, to which the answer is “Kashima Reiko told me”. So at least you won’t die now. If you want to see this one on film then check out the trailer for Teke Teke 2, an hilariously over the top Japanese horror film.
So, now that you’re thinking if you should ever visit a bathroom in Japan ever again, I’ll leave it at that. If you have any bathroom related ghost stories, feel free to share them in the comments below!
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