The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

"Mujina" (1904)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

“Mujina” was written by Lafcadio Hearn and first appeared in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1904). Hearn (1850-1904) was an American translator and writer who moved to Japan in 1891 and, through his published work introduced many Americans to Japanese culture and literature.

In Tokyo there is a portion of the Akasaka Road which used to have a bad reputation after dark. “Belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset. All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.”1 The last man to see the Mujina, an evil supernatural creature which steals the faces from others, was an old merchant. Late one night he was hurrying along the road when he saw a woman crouched by the moat on one side of the road. The woman was alone and weeping, and the merchant, afraid that she was going to drown herself, stopped to offer her help. She was beautiful and well dressed, and despite his words she continued to weep, her hands across her face. He drew closer to her, imploring her to stop crying and asking how he could help her. When he drew close enough to touch her she turned around and dropped her hands and stroked her face, and the merchant saw that she had no face, neither eyes nor nose nor mouth. The merchant screamed and ran as he never had, up the road until he saw, far away, a lantern. He ran toward it and saw that it was a wandering buckwheat seller who had set up his stand along the side of the road. The merchant ran to the stand, crying out. The seller asked him what was wrong. The merchant gasped that he had seen a woman, but that he could not tell the seller what she showed him.

‘Hé! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?’ cried the soba man, stroking his own face–which therewith became like unto an Egg.... And simultaneously the light went out.2 

Hearn uses the same clear and unadorned style of the other stories in Kwaidan to retell a folktale which unexpectedly and joltingly becomes frightening. The final two lines of “Mujina” are as powerful as anything in Western horror literature.

Recommended Edition

Print: Lafcadio Hearn, Oriental Ghost Stories. Hertfordshire, UK: Wordsworth Editions, 2007.



1 Lafcadio Hearn, “Mujina,” in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Leipzig: B. Tauchnitz, 1907), 91.

2 Hearn, “Mujina,” 94.