The Noppera-bō (のっぺら坊) is a kind of faceless ghost in Japanese folklore.
The Noppera-bō appear at first as ordinary human beings, sometimes impersonating someone familiar to the victim, before causing their features to disappear, leaving a blank, smooth sheet of skin where their face should be.
It is not sure if Noppera-bo are really humans. Mujina, (a small furry animal capable of shapeshifting) and tanuki were often blamed for taking human form and perpetrating the featureless phantom attacks. Lafcadio Hearn used the animals' name as the title of his story about faceless monsters, probably resulting in the misused terminology.
Noppera-bo are known primarily for frightening humans, but are usually otherwise harmless.
Though most sightings of noppera-bo tend to be historical, reports within the 20th century have not been uncommon, both in Japan itself as well as locations where Japanese have emigrated, most notably the U.S. state of Hawaii and where the term "mujina" vice "noppera-bo" is most deeply ingrained. Among the most recent reports:
- On May 19, 1959, Honolulu Advertiser reporter Bob Krauss reported a sighting of a mujina at the Waialae Drive-In Theatre in Kahala. Krauss reported that the witness watched a woman combing her hair in the women's restroom, and when the witness came close enough, the mujina turned, revealing her featureless face. The witness was reported to have been admitted to the hospital for a nervous breakdown. Noted Hawaiian historian, folklorist and author Glen Grant, in a 1981 radio interview dismissed the story as rumor, only to be called by the witness herself, who gave more details on the event, including the previously unreported detail that the mujina in question had red hair. The drive-in no longer exists, having been torn down to make room for a subdivision.
- Grant has also reported on a number of other mujina sightings in Hawaii, from Ewa Beach to Hilo.
The Noppera-bō and the Koi Pond
This tale recounts a lazy fisherman who decided to fish in the imperial koi ponds near the Heiankyo palace. Despite being warned by his wife about the pond being sacred ground and near a graveyard, the fisherman went anyway. On his way to the pond, he is warned by another fisherman to not go there, but he again ignores the warning. Once at the spot, he is met by a beautiful young woman who pleads with him to not fish in the pond. He ignores her, and to his horror, she wipes her face off. Rushing home to hide, he is confronted by what seems to be his wife, who chastises him for his wickedness before wiping off her facial features as well.
The Mujina of the Akasaka Road
The most famous story recollection of the Noppera-bo comes from Lafcadio Hearn's book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. The story of a man who travelled along the Akasaka road to Edo, he came across a young woman in a remote location near Kunizaka hill, crying and forlorn. After attempting to console the young woman and offer assistance, she turned to face him, startling him with the blank countenance of a faceless ghost. Frightened, the man proceeded down the road for some time, until he came across a soba vendor. Stopping to relax, the man told the vendor of his tale, only to recoil in horror as the soba vendor stroked his face, becoming a noppera-bo himself.
There are other tales about noppera-bo, from a young woman rescued from bandits by a samurai on horseback whose face disappears; to stories of nobles heading out for a tryst with another, only to discover the courtesan is being impersonated by a noppera-bo.
- In the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy role-playing game system, a noppera-bo (also called mujina there) appear as monsters which can create the illusion of a face to appear harmless, and is strong enough to wield even two-handed swords in one hand. In the Fabled Lands role-playing series, it is even capable of stealing his victims' faces, which it hides in a secret lair.
- The Studio Ghibli film Pom Poko features a modern retelling of The Mujina of the Akasaka Road. In one scene, a police officer comes upon a beautiful young woman (who is actually a shapeshifting tanuki) crying on the side of the road. He attempts to console the young woman, but when she turns to him, she has a completely featureless face. The terrified officer runs to a police box to tell his fellow police officer what happened, but the officer, like the soba vendor, strokes his face and becomes a noppera-bo himself. The man then runs to a convenience store (the modern-day equivalent to the soba stand), and tries to tell the people in the store what happened, but everyone in the store then becomes a noppera-bo.
- The 2005 movie The Great Yokai War briefly features a noppera-bo who appears to the main character as his sister, before turning to reveal a featureless face.
- In Changeling: The Lost, the Noppera-Bo is a type of hobgoblin. They impersonate others to gain the trust of travelers, then lead them into frightening and dangerous situations. When discovered, they reveal their faceless true form for a final scare.
- In Yume Nikki, one of the effects the main character can gain allows her to transform into a Noppera-bo version of herself.