A young man lived all alone. One day, he felt someone looking at him from within his room. He looked around but, of course, nobody was there. There was no reason for anyone else to be there but him. And yet, the feeling that someone was looking at him continued.
Worried, the young man searched his room, but he found nothing. It was possible that someone was peeping at him from outside, but his curtains were closed, so there was no way to see in. Maybe someone had installed a surveillance camera, or a listening device… He got even more worried, and carefully searched through every inch of his room. Then, he found the source of the gaze.
In the thin gap between the dresser and the wall, a woman was staring right at him…
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Sukima-onna, or the Gap Woman, before. She’s a favourite of 2chan, and her popularity has spread to Western shores as well. At her most basic, Sukima-onna is a woman that peers out from the gaps in one’s room. Any gaps. It can be from between the dresser and wall, as in the above story, or it can be from underneath the bed, behind the curtain, in the drawers… absolutely anywhere. There’s no gap too small for her, and the only way to avoid her gaze is to make sure that every single little gap is covered. That means even the cracks in the floor, wall, or doors. Everything. You’ll need a lot of tape, if the idea of her gazing at you from every nook and cranny doesn’t drive you insane first.
Gaps were once thought to connect this world to the next, but where did she originally come from?
In modern times, Sukima-onna gained popularity when comedian Sakura Kinzo told her story to the masses on the daytime television show Waratte Iitomo. His version, called the “One Millimetre Ghost” or “One Millimetre Woman,” went as follows:
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A certain man didn’t show up to work one day. Worried, his colleague called him, but was unable to get in contact with him. A week passed without word from the man, and so his colleagues went to his apartment to find out what was going on.
When they got there, the man was inside. When they asked what was going on, the man informed his colleagues that he hadn’t taken a single step outside all week.
“It’s not healthy to stay inside for so long,” one of his colleagues told him.
“She gets lonely, so I can’t go out,” the man replied.
Confused, his colleagues asked him, “What are you talking about? There’s no woman here.”
Then, one of the workers pointed behind the dresser in the room. “She’s in there…”
When they looked, they found a woman in a red dress standing in the gap between the dresser and the wall. She was staring right at them.
The colleagues ran, and nobody ever found out what happened to the man after that.
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Yet Sukima-onna’s origins begin even earlier than this. Her story can be traced all the way back to Mimibukuro, written by Negishi Yasumori, a samurai who worked in a senior administrative position during the latter years of the Edo Period. Negishi collected anecdotes and strange stories from various people, including his colleagues and the elderly, over a period of 30 years. He then collected these stories into 10 different volumes of 100 stories each which he called Mimibukuro. One of the stories he collected is nearly word-for-word the story of Sukima-onna that we know today:
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A young man lived alone, and he could sense somebody looking upon him in his room. Of course, there was nobody in the room but him. He thought he was probably just imagining things, so he soon forgot about it.
However, starting from that day, the boy felt like someone was watching him; day in, day out. He lived on the second floor, so it was difficult to think that someone might be looking in from the outside. He started to think someone was hiding inside the room, so he began his search, but of course, it was all for nothing. He thought he was going insane.
One day, when he felt himself succumbing to such thoughts again, he finally found the source of the gaze. A woman was standing in the few millimetres between his dresser and the wall, and she was staring right at him.
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Sukima-onna has changed little over the years, a rare yokai that finds herself able to comfortably fit into any time period without major revisions.
She’s not without variations, however. Some tales also tell of Sukima-otoko, the Gap Man. Depending on the story, Sukima-otoko and Sukima-onna can be interchangeable, but one variation goes as follows:
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The ordinary places people live are full of innumerable gaps. In those gaps resides Sukima-otoko, and it’s said that if you happen to meet his gaze, he will drag you off to a different dimension. You will never be able to return home again.
In other cases, someone will suddenly approach you from behind and say, “Let’s play hide and seek.” You must hide, but when Sukima-otoko finds you, he will drag you off to another world.
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In stories exclusive to Sukima-otoko, it’s said the middle of his forehead, the area between his brows, has been smashed open. No reason has ever been given as to why.
In other versions, Sukima-onna likes to hide in different areas of the house:
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One hot summer’s day, a young man was watching TV at home alone. It was just past one in the morning and he suddenly felt thirsty, so he made his way into the dark kitchen. Light from the living room filtered in, so he was able to see well enough without turning the lights on.
He grabbed a can of beer from the fridge, closed the door… and then he saw it.
A woman, standing in the 10 cm gap between the fridge and the wall.
He screamed, and the woman disappeared. After that, the young man avoided using the kitchen at night. Just who was that woman?
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METHOD OF ATTACK AND ESCAPE
As we can see from the above Sukima-onna stories, she has various methods of attack. Sometimes it’s left up to the listener’s imagination what she does with her victims, but often she keeps them contained to their house, unable to leave her behind, or she takes them off to another dimension entirely. Colleagues or friends who visit the victim will find them fading away, unable to leave to buy food, and not having moved or exercised since the last time anyone saw them. Only a husk of a human remains, and unfortunately, if you happen to see Sukima-onna on your visit as well, she might transfer herself to you like a virus, and you’ll find your apartment haunted next.
So, how can you deal with her?
As is often the case with yokai in urban legends, you can’t. Not really. You can cover all the gaps in your house with packing tape, but it’s not a very practical way to live, nor is it guaranteed that you’ll seal every single crack. She can appear in the tiniest areas that the human eye might easily miss, and it ultimately amounts to putting a plaster on a knife wound. You might succeed in covering it, but it’s still festering away under the surface, threatening to break free and bleed all over the floor at any moment.
Some have suggested that you can lure Sukima-onna to another house, although no successful method has ever been given. Some versions of the tale mention that seeing her is enough for her to start haunting you, but if you think inviting your friends around to get her off your case will help, beware; she generally won’t move on until the person she’s haunting is already dead. Sorry.
A film titled Sukima-onna was released in 2014. In it, a young office worker named Koharu hears that something strange has happened to her estranged younger sister, Kyoko. She visits her apartment and finds all the gaps covered in packing tape, and her sister weak with exhaustion. Kyoko explains that she went to a certain house for a test of courage—a house that was supposed to be haunted by the evil spirit known as “Sukima-onna”—and now she’s fallen under her curse. Koharu visits the house to learn more in an attempt to help her sister and discovers someone new has moved in, and she’s being locked inside by Sukima-onna as well…
A light novel by Maruyama Hideto called Sukima-onna (Wide Width) was released in 2009. In the story, a Sukima-onna by the name of Harimi (using the kanji for “beautiful needle”) gets caught between the dresser and wall of a young man named Takumi. Harimi has a fondness for human food, and her overeating has led to her becoming “wide width,” or the size of a normal human being. The story examines the relationship between the two as they learn to co-exist in the same room and, in contrast to the horror the original legend might suggest, also comes with a happy ending.
Sukima-onna’s popularity continues to grow, and for a yokai that has been around since the Edo Period, she just seems to be hitting her stride. After all, the modern world is full of tiny gaps. You never know where she might be…