A ubiquitous contemporary legend for Japanese children is that of the toilet ghost, Hanako-san. Hanako, or Toire no Hanako (Hanako of the Toilet) as she is known is Japan, is a somewhat modern ghost found in the girl’s bathroom on the third floor of almost every elementary school and can be summoned by knocking three times on the stall. She is the Bloody Mary of Japanese elementary schools.
She doesn’t have a distinct origin, but reports of her go back to the 1950s. Some legends say she was an abused child who was caught by her angry parent in the school’s bathroom, or she was a student who committed suicide in the girl’s bathroom, or she was a victim in a school which was burnt down during one of the WW2 bombing raids where she was playing hide and seek in the bathroom when the bombs struck. In most stories, though, it is agreed that she died (and thus now resides) in the 3rd stall of the 3rd floor bathroom. And she waits there, ready to be summoned by daring or curious children. Her appearance and behavior are as variable as her origin stories. She may wear an old-fashioned red dress, want to play, or drag victims into the underworld through the toilet. There are some stories where Hanako will protect children from other bathroom-based ghosts but often, when someone goes into the bathroom by herself and hears a voice asking if she wants to be friends, there are evil repercussions. If the answer is yes, Hanako’s ghost will come up beneath her and drag her down through the toilet. If reply is no, Hanako will simply cut her to pieces. Regardless of the particulars of the story, legend-tripping encounters abound where girls are challenged by their classmates to summon Hanako-san.
Hanako has appeared in numerous movies, anime series and television shows since the 1990s. The ghost has also been the focus of several manga series. In Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, however, this legendary female ghost has been recast as a boy who presides over the six other Wonders of the Kamome Academy Middle School. Similarities to the traditional ghost are indicated by the outdated school uniform worn by Hanako-kun and the location of the ghost: in the third stall of the bathroom on the third floor of the school. In this series, unlike the traditional legends, summoning the ghost offers a chance to have wishes granted. Yashiro Nene, a high school girl, summons Hanako-san to aid her in her romantic fantasies. She quickly discovers his gender, but the summoning results in the two teaming up to keep the school protected from malevolent spirits. At the beginning of the series, Nene appears shallow, insecure, and naïve, but her personality fortifies quickly. Even so, her innocence and basic decency remain consistent, as Hanako gradually helps Nene understand her insecurities and her superficial thoughts about romance and friendship. She quickly realizes that Hanako does not possess the ability to grant wishes nor is he bound to the school bathroom location. The supernatural emphasis of the story arc is supplemented by the genres of horror, science fiction, mystery, romance, humor, and includes numerous Japanese legendary ghosts.
Yen Press has been publishing the series digitally since 2017 and physically since January 2020. This review is focused on the first three print volumes. The art work is stylized with bold tones and little shading. The detailed and individualized characters are animated and appealing. Each volume begins with a vividly colored splash page and table of contents. The attractive manga include short vignettes that offer further details about specific characters on the reverse of the cover as well as translation notes at the end of each volume.
In Volume 1, Nene consumes, in an aborted attempt to gain the attention of her unrequited crush, a mermaid scale with an inadvertent curse of turning her into a fish and becoming enslaved by the mermaid. In a rescue attempt, Hanako swallows the second mermaid scale, and saves her from enslavement, which ultimately makes her his assistant in solving unusual hauntings and the balance between the spirit world and the human world, as indicated by the Seven Mysteries of the Kamome Academy. They are joined by several other students in their exploits, including the exorcist Kou and Nene’s friend Akane Aoi, who constantly tells Nene scary stories and urban legends. Their first exploit involves the mystery of the Misaki Stairs, which is continued in the second volume. This story arc intensifies the expanding character development of Nene, her awkward relationship with Hanako, and her loyalty to her friend Aoi, who has gone missing. Hanako’s real name is Yugi Amane and probably attended the school over 50 years previously. As one of the Seven Mysteries, Hanako has a duty to oversee all the supernaturals who exist in the school and maintain correct relations between the humans and the paranormal. The reader, along with Nene, realizes that there is a secret mystery surrounding the death of Hanako and the essential nature of this toilet ghost. Is he benevolent or evil? Another ongoing puzzle involves the Mokke, small endearing and mysterious spirits who look like rabbits, that support Hanako. They can only be seen by people with spiritual powers such as Kou and his older brother, Teru, also an exorcist. So why can Nene see them?
Volume 3 furthers the ambiguity surrounding the Seven Mysteries as Kou and Nene travel to the Four P.M. Bookstacks, where they encounter Hanako’s former teacher, sensei Tsuchigomori, who has been teaching at the same school since Hanako died.
“In this school’s library there’s a special storeroom you can only enter at four p.m. All the books there have someone’s name written on them. Each one contains a record of that person’s life at the school. What they did there? What they will do here? Past, present, and future—it’s all written in the book” (10-11).
This reviewer is anxiously awaiting Volume 4 to discover more about these characters and the mysterious academy. (I prefer to read print materials to those online so I will bide my time!)
Highly recommended for teens who enjoy ghost tales, mysteries, and strong characters. The anime series is also extremely popular and there are consumer products available for purchase.
Toilet-bound Hanako-Kun, vols. 1-3
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Japanese
Creator Highlights: Japanese