By Kathleen Townsend
Toilet-bound Hanako-kun is an anime filled with beautiful imagery, an adorable protagonist, and is absolutely chock-full of Japanese folklore and urban legends. Many of the characters, settings and events are based on or directly reference stories from Japanese culture, from horror to magic.
You might be surprised to learn that the series really isn’t about toilets at all, and much more about the supernatural mysteries hiding within the series’ school’s halls.
Let’s take a look at some of the history behind the folklore of Toilet-bound Hanako-kun.
Our titular character, Hanako-kun, lurks in the third stall on the third floor girl’s bathroom. But the anime’s take on the spirit is a bit different than its origin, starting with the fact that it’s a young boy, rather than a girl.
Hanako-san (also known as Toire no Hanako-san or “Hanako of the Toilet”) is a well-known legend in schools across Japan. Some say that Hanako-san died during a World War II air raid—and, in fact, Hanako-kun’s school uniform in the series is from around that time period. Others say she was killed by either a parent, a stranger in the bathroom or died by suicide.
But this part remains the same: Knock three times on the bathroom stall door and ask “Hanako-san, are you there?” and Hanako-san will answer. People will hear either a, “Yes, I am,” in reply, or else a ghostly hand will open the door. Then, Hanako-san will grab you and drag you down into the toilet, occasionally straight to hell. One version of this legend even says that there’s a three-headed lizard in the stall that will eat you. Ouch.
Hanako-san isn’t always the most friendly ghost in these tales, but the apparition from Toilet-bound Hanako-kun is a kind soul, making this a unique take on the spirit!
Mermaids in Japanese folklore are quite different from the mermaids you may have seen in Western tales like The Little Mermaid. Instead of the half-human, half-fish combo you may be accustomed to, these mermaids are mostly fish with only a bit of human; in addition to some monkey or lizard influence.
The flesh of a mermaid also has magical properties. Some say that eating a mermaid will give you an unnaturally long life. One such case is an 800-year-old nun who ate some strange fish her fisherman father brought home and ended up outlasting all of her family, friends, and multiple husbands. Another legend states that a fisherman’s two children ate some mermaid meat, grew fish scales all over their bodies, and then died. Scary.
While mermaid scales might not be used exactly as they are in folklore, mermaids still remain dangerous creatures that aren’t to be crossed and whose flesh and scales are best avoided. In Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, mermaid scales are not to be messed with, but they’ll link those who eat them together forever.
Seven Wonders of the School
The number seven is considered a special, lucky or otherwise mystical number across many countries and cultures, and Japan is no exception. Many sets of legends and ghost stories tend to crop up in sevens. Take the Seven Wonders of Honjo, for example. Sometimes these legends are called the Seven Wonders; other times the Seven Mysteries. This sort of legend can be found in many places — not least of all in schools — proliferating by word of mouth.
Hanako-kun is the seventh of these mysteries in Toilet-bound Hanako-kun. How many others will we get to meet as the anime rolls along? We’re betting a few.
Minamoto no Yorimitsu
In Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, Kou Minamoto is part of the Minamoto clan and a direct descendant of Minamoto no Yorimitsu. And Minamoto no Yorimitsu was not only a real figure, but someone found in many tales in Japanese folklore. He lived in the late 900s and served the Fujiwara clan.
One legend says that he met Kintaro, another hero of Japanese folklore. Impressed with the younger man, Minamoto no Yorimitsu took Kintaro along to Kyoto as a personal retainer. Most of the other legends involve yokai and a number of legendary creatures, including the pursuit and defeat of them.
For example, there’s a tsuchigumo — a spider-like yokai — who Minamoto no Yorimitsu famously defeated. Or the oni Shuten-doji, who was the oni king that he took down. Sometimes he defeats these yokai alone, and other times he leads allies into battle against them.
No matter what story it is—legend or otherwise—Minamoto no Yorimitsu is quite the individual. It isn’t hard to believe that his descendant, Kou, technically followed in his footsteps until teaming up with Hanako-kun and learning that not all supernatural beings are bad.
Kitsune, Fox statues, and Inari Shrines
Kitsune are foxlike yokai that are very common in Japanese folklore. They’re often considered to be tricksters, while some are wives or faithful friends in human disguises. In Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, we’re introduced to Yako, who haunts the school as its second mystery.
She takes the form of a beautiful woman with a ribbon fashioned like fox ears. However, she can be quite brutal, what with her construction of bodies and what not. She was also a kitsune statue that protected a shrine paying tribute to the godlike Inari. Unlike their mundane brown or red relatives, kitsune that serve Inari are often white in color.
Inari shrines can be found throughout Japan. These are often guarded by statues of kitsune, the messengers of Inari. Many of the statues found at shrines are stone, though those closest to the shrine itself can be ceramic. They also wear red bibs and tend to hold some sort of symbolic item, like a key to a granary.
While some kitsune are tricksters, those that serve Inari tend to help people. These kitsune ward off evil, protecting Inari’s shrines as well as locals and those that leave offerings—even providing protection against other kitsune that aren’t associated with Inari.
Kamikakushi and being spirited away
No, not that Spirited Away, though the concept is very much the same. The concept of folkloric kamikakushi is probably familiar to you if you’ve seen Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. At heart, this is exactly what the term refers to— people who disappear without a single trace — taken away by an angered god. It’s a common legend used frequently in storytelling both in ancient tales and more modern stories, anime included.
And this is exactly what happens to those who step on the Misaki stairs in Toilet-bound Hanako-kun—they’re spirited away, never to be seen (or remembered) again.
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