So if Japanese urban legends have taught me anything, it’s that the Japanese love permanently scarring their children. They try to explain it away by saying that a good ghost story helps chill your bones during the hot summers, but it’s become apparent for a long time that the screams, tears and nightmares of children must be sustaining the Japanese economy. I mean really, there’s no other logical explanation for it. The Teke Teke is just one of many Japanese urban legends that leave you thinking, is there anything in Japan that won’t become possessed and try to kill me? Well according to animism, which is a widely held spiritual belief throughout Japan, everything, including non-human entities, has a spirit or soul of some description. So the short answer is yes, everything will try to kill you.
The legend of the Teke Teke begins with a young schoolboy walking home alone at night, because apparently that seemed like a wise course of action in a place where possessed umbrellas frequently come to life and try to impale you. On his way, he caught sight of a pretty young girl looking out of a second-storey window. The boy wondered what the girl was doing there, as the building was part of a popular all-boys high-school. Resting her head on her elbows, the girl met his gaze and the two shared a smile. Then she launched herself out of the window, revealed that her lower extremities were missing, chased the boy down, and cut him in half. So just your average, boy-meets-girl Japanese love story really.
There are numerous variations on what exactly the Teke Teke is, but in all versions she’s a woman, she’s missing her lower-half, she carries a scythe or a saw, and she wanders around at night, searching for victims who are too slow to escape her. She’s usually found haunting train stations, so if you’re ever looking for a reason not to take that late night train to your friend’s poetry reading, I’d say risk of dismemberment is a pretty valid excuse. Her name derives from the scratching sound that she makes as she drags her stunted torso across the ground on her hands or her elbows. In some instances she’s lightning fast, while in others she is characterised by her creepy, measured approach.
The Teke Teke has several origin stories, each pointing to a potentially different meaning behind the urban legend. In one variation, she was once a homely Japanese schoolgirl who was notoriously afraid of everything. Don’t get me wrong, I consider being afraid of everything a pretty legitimate fear in Japan. After all, you never know when a katakirauwa, or dead, one-eared piglet, might run through your legs and steal your soul. But apparently her classmates didn’t feel the same way. Instead of befriending her, they decided to torment her with a series of pranks and practical jokes.
One day, after school, they were all waiting by the train station when one of these original pranksters caught a low-flying cicada and placed it on the girls shoulder. Unfortunately, the rumbling of the oncoming train masked the screeching of the cicada, so it took a long time before the girl noticed it. When she did, she flailed about in a desperate attempt to get rid of the angry insect, tripped onto the tracks, and was cut in half by the oncoming train.
In another variation, the Teke Teke is the ghost of a beautiful young woman who was brutally assaulted by a group of men in a cornfield. In some versions, the woman was left dragging her lifeless body around until she finally reached a train station and perished, while in others the woman, out of shame, committed suicide by hurling herself in front of a train. Evidently, no matter where you are in Japan, you’re never far away from a train station. In both versions of the story, the protagonist rises again as a vengeful spirit or Onryō and mutilates others, forcing them to share her fate. In some cases, people who are cut in half by the Teke Teke will themselves become Teke Teke, which, if nothing else, will save you wasting money on new pants.
The Teke Teke has also become synonymous with the urban legend of Kashima Reiko. Similar to one variation of the Teke Teke story, Kashima Reiko was assaulted by a group of men and was either left for dead in a bathroom, passed out on some train tracks, or threw herself in front of a train. Either way, Kashima Reiko somehow lost her legs and decided that, instead of visiting a prosthetist, she’d just haunt people whilst they pooped. Bear in mind she can theoretically appear anywhere, but has a bizarre preference for public bathroom stalls.
Her name, Kashima, is an abbreviation of the Japanese words kamen, shinin, and ma, which together mean “Masked Dead Person Demon” or “Masked Death Demon”.According to folklore, just as you settle onto your porcelain throne, she’ll appear behind you and ask you where her legs her. You must tell her that her legs are at the Meishin Railway Station. If she asks you who told you that, you must answer with her name, “Kashima Reiko”. She may then ask you what her name is but beware, this is a trick question. The correct answer is actually “Masked Death Demon”, as derived from her name. If you answer any of the above questions incorrectly, she’ll leave you alone. Just kidding. She’ll rip your legs off.
The Teke Teke is universally portrayed as a girl or young woman, usually with long, black hair. In some instances, her face has been disfigured by the accident that caused her death, but in most portrayals she looks like a regular girl. From the waist up, that is. The Teke Teke has been severed at the hips, so the top half of her torso is just a bloody stump. Many representations imply she has recently sustained the wound, so she is still bleeding profusely and looking a little fleshy. She’s often portrayed as having claws instead of fingernails or fingers, as these help her drag herself around.
Oddly enough, in spite of being integral to the urban legend, she’s rarely portrayed with her trusty side-kick, her scythe (or saw). Some depictions include the scythe, few include the saw as, let’s face it, saws are not a ladylike instrument of torture, and several depict her carrying other weapons like a katana, because all Japanese people own katanas, right?
Unfortunately, no one really seems to know the origins of this urban legend. It doesn’t appear to be based on true events and, even if it were, suicides in Japan are like explosions in Michael Bay movies, they’re so common that no one really pays much attention to them anymore. However, most people posit that, like kuchisaki onna, the slit-mouthed woman that harasses little children, or gashadokuro, the 50 foot skeleton that follows you home at night and pops your head off like a Coca Cola top, the Teke Teke myth was a cautionary tale. The legend was designed to discourage people, particularly young children and teenagers, from walking home alone at night. Amidst all the real terrors that may be lurking on dark street corners or behind alleyway dumpsters, parents invented a few preternatural horrors to reinforce the dangers of staying out late and separating from your group.
Another theory, which more directly relates to the Teke Teke’s status as an Onryō (vengeful spirit), suggests that the legend was designed to deter people from bullying, abusing or assaulting others. In both variations of the legend, the Teke Teke was mistreated by others in life and this ill-treatment directly caused her death. The only reason why she rose from the grave was to get revenge on others, albeit rather indiscriminately. So the moral of the story is, be kind to others or they may just split you in half. Now that’s a message that speaks to all of us.
Unfortunately, since most airlines won’t admit people who may bleed all over their seats and potentially eviscerate their staff, the Teke Teke hasn’t really made its way out of Japan. The legend is also not to be confused with Los Teke Teke, the groovy Latin American pop band. But there are a few, sparse modern-day references to our stumpy friend:
- The 2009 horror film Teke Teke and its 2009 sequel Teke Teke 2, both of which were directed by Koji Shiraishi and recount the urban legend.
- The 2006 horror film Otoshimono (Ghost Train), which was directed by Takeshi Furusawa and includes a variation of the Teke Teke legend.
- In the first episode of the anime Ghost Stories, the main characters are chased by a Teke Teke. In the anime, it is portrayed as a floating white spectre of unrecognisable gender that carries both a scythe and a pair of scissors. The scissors are considered an homage to the legend of kuchisake onna.
- In the four volume mystery-horror manga Hanako to Guuwa no Tera (Hanako and the Terror of Allegory) by Sakae Esuno, a folklore detective named Daisuke Asou investigates several Japanese urban legends, including that of the Teke Teke.
- The Creepypasta story “How I Became a Japanese Urban Legend” is about an encounter with a Teke Teke.