Building 640 at the Presidio in San Francisco

Building 640 at the Presidio in San Francisco
Information Source for the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Faceless Ghost at the Drive-In

The new issue of Nikkei Heritage, "The Supernatural" has just come out and, as often happens, we didn't have enough space for every article. Here is an article written by Ben Hamamoto, about "Noppera Bou" faceless ghosts.

In May of 1959, a young woman headed out for a night at the movies at the Waialae Drive-In Theater in Kaimuki. Around midnight, she went to the restroom to freshen up but found another girl standing at the mirror. The second girl did not turn around; she just stood there, combing her long hair, black hair. As the first girl approached the mirror, the second girl slowly turned so the first girl could get a glimpse of her face — only where the face should have been, there was only a smooth, white surface, like an egg-shell. Her feet were also missing, a white mist in their place. The first woman ran out of the bathroom screaming and was hospitalized from a nervous breakdown shortly after.

At least that’s the story, one of the most famous in Hawaii, as told to reporter Bob Krauss of the Honolulu Advertiser. Rumors spread like wildfire, with numerous people claiming knowledge of sightings of the faceless phantom in the drive-in’s restroom and even at a nearby elementary school. Since then, details have changed, a radio caller in 1980 claimed to have encountered the ghost two years prior, but with one significant difference. The ghost, she said, had red hair.

The story persists today with reports of hauntings all over the Islands. But what’s really remarkable, Glen Grant asserts in his book “Obake: Ghost Stories in Hawai’i,” is that this particular kind of ghost has no history in Hawaiian or American lore. This ghost seems to come directly from Japanese folk belief, as recorded in a story by Lafcadio Hearn, which he collected from villagers in late Meiji-era Japan.

According to legend, there was dark, desolate road in Asakasa, where travelers would sometimes hear the plaintive cries of a woman. One night, a man was traveling alone when he heard the crying. He looked for its source and eventually, he was able to make out the figure of a woman slouched down by the side of the road. He called out to her and approached.

“I know how distraught you must be,” he said to her, “but whatever has happened, you should not be alone on the road this late at night.”
The woman, her hands covering her face, suddenly stopped crying. Softly at first, then maniacally, the woman began to laugh and, very slowly, she lowered her hands to reveal she had no face.

The man fled in terror and didn’t stop until he came across a soba noodle stand. He frantically told the merchant what had just happened, but the noodle peddler seemed unfazed.

“Heh,” he laughed gently.

“The woman’s face,” he said, slowly stepping into the light of his stand’s lantern, “was it anything like… this?”

The merchant too had no face. And the poor traveler fled in terror once again.

Hearn’s story calls the faceless creature a “mujina,” which has created some confusion. “Mujina,” is another term for “tanuki,” a type of raccoon-dog the Japanese believed were shape-shifting tricksters. Tanuki/mujina were known to scare people for fun by transforming into any number of things, including faceless ghosts, which are themselves called “noppera-bou.” Whether the faceless entity seen in Hawaii was a tricky tanuki, a spirit of the dead or simply a hoax, its story remains one of the best-known tales of the supernatural in Hawa

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