For some reason reading about the Red Cape reminded me of Cinderella. While researching the origins of this Showa Era story , I stumbled across so many versions that it’s virtually impossible to determine which is closest to the original. So I’ve put them all in here and you can decide which you like best.
But first some background. Allegedly, the story originated in Tokyo around January of 1940. However, in 1935, there were rumors of a man in a red cape appearing in a dark shoe closet in an Osaka elementary school basement. In Okubu (a section of Tokyo), people said there was a vampire called the Red Cape and the bodies of his victims were found lying around.
Alternatively, there was a socialist banker (seems like an oxymoron these days), who invented the story to create public alarm on the home-front during the war and was arrested. Finally, a story circulating Kobe during the 1970s and 80s said a man would wrap children in a red blanket and abduct them to a magical (?) land. For now, let’s stick with the Tokyo origin.
In Tokyo around that time, there was a case of sexual assault of a young girl and also a popular, yet unrelated, kamishibai (a story told out loud with large pictures) about a magical gentleman in a red cape who makes a shoe-shiner boy his apprentice. The idea is that these two widely-known stories got mixed up in popular culture. The kamishibai was even confiscated by the Osaka police at one point for creating a disturbance, much to the author’s dismay. Around this time, the Red Cape was described as abducting children and killing them, in some versions girls only.
Here’s an example gleaned from the Internet:
This crime is unsolved and the criminal has not been identified.
In 1935, a man knocked on the door of a small shop saying he was a servant from the main house. The husband got up and went out to see a man standing in the doorway holding a lantern from the main house, but whose head was covered in a red blanket. The man said a member of the main house had fallen suddenly ill and he was asked to come and fetch the husband. The husband hurried and left with the man.
The distance to the main house from the shop was 8 kilometers. The wife was worried about her husband, but put her children back to sleep and eventually nodded off herself. But, 2 or 3 hours later another knock came at the door. She went out and saw the same man in the red blanket. He said, “It doesn’t seem the sick person will live to the morning so I was asked to come and get you as well.”
Thinking her husband must be in distress, she left her children with a neighbor and left with the man. 1 or 2 hours later the knocker came asking for the children. It was the man in the red blanket again and his face could not be seen. “The parents have asked me to bring their children,” he said.
However, the neighbor said it was late at night and dangerous to expose the children to such a strong wind, and also they were sleeping soundly, so the man would have to wait until tomorrow. The man asked again, but the neighbor would not change his mind. So the man grudgingly left.
A few days later, the bodies of the husband and wife were found in the river. It was obvious the criminal had been the man in the red blanket. But he was never found.
Somehow, in the 1980s Red Cape moved into…the toilet! And instead of abducting children, he now attacks everyone. This change likely occurred due to stories like “Red paper or blue paper?” and Red Hanten. A chain letter email eventually started circulating in Japan about Red Cape:
Your life will depend on whether you believe this story is true or not. This event happened on February 9, 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War. The children of that time period admired the red capes the Japanese soldiers war. Eventually all the children had a red cape. But a boy living in Fukuoka prefecture, Chikushino city, Takao 3-4114 named Tsuyoshi Yajima did not have a cape. His family was poor and could not afford a cape. One day, Tsuyoshi went to use the toilet at his elementary school. The other children bullied him and trapped him in the stall and began to chant, “Do you want a red cape?” “Do you want a red cape?”
Eventually, Tsuyoshi couldn’t bear it and stabbed himself in the back with a box cutter he had in his pocket. The door was opened an hour later and Tsuyoshi was found dead with a red stain of blood on his back like a red cape.
Time has passed and now in this world 95 years later, Tusyoshi has returned. If you go to the toilet and you hear “Do you want a red cape?” “Do you want a red cape?” and you believe this story, you will be safe. But, if you don’t believe this story, you will be dressed in the same cape as Tsuyoshi. A blood-stained red, red cape. If you believe this story, you must prove it. Within the next 12 hours you must send this e-mail to 5 people. But you won’t do it. And that’s all right. If you don’t do it, you can meet me. There’s only one sad part. That is, I have to kill you. hahahaha, can you hear it? Can you hear my sad voice?? You can’t hear it can you. Oh well. If you couldn’t hear it, I’ll be sure you hear it next time you go to the toilet. Wait for me there. I’ll dress you in my cape. What color do you want? Red’s good, isn’t it? Red. The one with red red blood, soon to be your blood. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt when I kill you.
Some people have pointed out errors in this story, the soldiers didn’t wear red capes, a box cutter is anachronistic, etc… but I still think it’s a kind of fun letter.
And finally, another popular version of the Red Cape:
This is the legend of the Red Cape.
A woman goes to use the toilet and hears a voice asking, “Do you want to wear a red cape?”
If she says yes, her skin is torn from her back. The ghost is said to wear a red cape and to be extremely handsome.
It doesn’t really say what happens if you say no. There’s another similar version that asks if you want to wear a red cape or blue cape and the outcomes are the same as “Red paper or blue?” One web site said if you say you don’t want any cape at all, you’ll be safe. In summary, watch out for creepers in red capes abducting children to magical lands or hanging out in bathrooms (like we needed a story to tell us that).