Hanoko san is a Japanese toilet ghost—one of many such specters, it seems, who haunt bathrooms all around the world. Back in the day, the only creatures lurking in the school bathroom were people skipping class or smoking or both. We were a rowdy lot, but not supernatural in any way.
If your elementary school has a girl’s room on the third floor, go to the third stall, and knock three times. If you ask, “are you there, Hanoko san?” She will answer “yes.” At this point, I think I would be finished and have no further need of a bathroom since I would have lost control of my bodily functions. A braver soul who opens the door will find a girl in a red skirt—a school uniform. After that, the story varies.
Some say that she is a girl killed as she played hide and seek in the bathroom during a World War II bombing raid—maybe even the A-bomb. Other stories peg her as the victim of an abusive adult who beat her to death in the bathroom. She is more mischievous than mean, but some stories do have her demanding to see an exam paper with an A on it or she will drag you into the toilet and straight to Hell.
Others suggest that Hanoko san isn’t really a ghost at all but a lizard creature who uses a girl’s voice to lure girls into the bathroom where the creature eats them.
You will notice that Hanoko san bears a close resemblance to Moaning Myrtle of Harry Potter fame as well as the Bloody Mary urban legend we all know and love. Honestly, I lost my fear of Bloody Mary a long time ago. If I’m in the bathroom at midnight saying “Bloody Mary” over and over, I’m looking for something less ghostly and more cocktaily and if getting one was as easy as saying it three times—well . . . .
Toilet ghosts go as far back as the Romans (who probably stole it from the Greeks) and even further back to the Babylonians who had not only toilet ghosts, but toilet deities. Sulak was a Babylonian demon who liked to hide in places where humans came to be alone. As long as you were quiet and respectful, your chances of completing your business were high. But if you made too much noise or were disrespectful, he struck when you were most vulnerable, dragging you down into the sewers.
The Romans may have had a god of toilets and flatulence named—think about it—Crepitus. You summoned him if you were constipated. I don’t know exactly how you summoned him and, honestly, I don’t want to think about it. This guy could be just a Roman joke, but gods of dung in many cultures were honored since the dung of humans was used as fertilizer. Rituals promoted fertility and good crops.
One notable toilet deity was supposed to be a blind man with a spear. You were to clear your throat loudly before entering the toilet to let the blind god know to sheath his spear. Several toilet ghosts and deities required only that the homeowner keep the toilet clean or risk being drug into the sewer and killed.
Gives the phrase praying to the porcelain god quite a different connotation.