April 22, 2022

#08-205: The Mujina

The mujina, also called the noppera-bō

Note: The Japanese have a rich folklore of supernatural beings and other creepy apparitions. This one is one of my favorites.

Get Ready: What's the creepiest story you know? (Creepy, not bloody!)

The Greek-born writer Lafcadio Hearn lived in Japan for his last decade-and-a-half. He married a Japanese wife, took the name Koizumi Yakumo, and collected many stories, including the creepy ones in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.

One of my favorites, "The Mujina," says that in Tokyo, one side of the slope called Kinokuni-zaka has an ancient moat across which there are gardens; on the other side stands a detached portion of the imperial palace.

Today the place is not far from the National Diet Building, and beyond that, bustling Tokyo Station. In days gone by, though, the area was remote and quite dark at night. People traveling on foot--meaning most people in the city--would avoid Kinokuni-zaka at night, because they believed a Mujina used to walk there.

The last man who saw the Mujina, according to Hearn's telling, was an old merchant whose business required him to be in the area at night. As he hurried up the slope, he saw a woman crouching down by the moat and crying bitterly.

The man was afraid she might harm herself, so he gallantly stopped to offer her his help. "My dear young woman," he said as he approached, "please, do not cry like that! Tell me what is wrong, and I will try to help you."

But she kept crying, hiding her face behind her long sleeve. Again he pled with her, and at last she rose up, keeping her back to him. He touched her shoulder, offering words of comfort, and she turned, and...


The merchant ran away up the slope--screaming--and at last saw a lantern ahead in the pitch dark. When he came to it, he saw it was the stand of a noodle-seller.

He fell at the man's feet, grateful for human companionship, and cried out wordlessly, "Ahh! Ahh!!"

"What's wrong?" the man asked coldly from above. "Has someone hurt you?"

"No," said the merchant, gathering his courage.

"Then were you robbed?"

"Not robbers! Just... a woman... oh, I can't describe it! Her face!"

"Well," said the noodle man, stroking his own face. "Was it something like THIS?" When the merchant looked up, he saw a face as smooth as an egg... and just then the lantern went out!


(Note: Strictly speaking, the faceless person is called a noppera-bo; but since a badger-like animal called the mujina can appear as the noppera-bo, Hearn used this as the name of the creatures in his story.)


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. apparitions
  2. bustling
  3. coldly
  4. crouching
  5. detached
  6. gallantly
  7. moat
  8. pled
  9. supernatural
  10. wordlessly

  1. spirits
  2. not part of this world
  3. begged
  4. busy
  5. like a hero
  6. without kindness
  7. a wide, water-filled ditch around a castle or town as part of its defense
  8. without speaking
  9. squatting down
  10. not connected

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 22, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. d; 3. f; 4. i; 5. j; 6. e; 7. g; 8. c; 9. b; 10. h