Konnichiwa! Dia Duit! Wazzup! Straight Outta Kanto, much like yourself, loves a good scare. However, I like my scares safely in a movie, manga, or even a poorly written fan fiction creepypasta. However, sometimes, life can imitate media in ways no one could anticipate.

When Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso submitted a sculpture of his interpretation of the Ubume Yokai for a 2016 exhibition in Tokyo, little did he know how his work would one day inspire an international campaign of terror.

Momo NightmareFuel
The Image of Momo that would go onto spark fear and controversy.

While this sculpture initially received a lukewarm reception upon its unveiling, it will now be forever notorious as the “Momo Challenge Hoax“.

The “Momo Challenge” was a vile urban legend of unknown origins, targeted at children and pre-teens as a vulnerable demographic. Allegedly, “Momo” would appear on YouTube or other social media platforms and convince children to either kill themselves, their parents or both. If they didn’t? Momo would do it for them!

There’s been several permutations of this urban legend and it appeared on a cyclical basis every few months with reports from different parts of the world claiming to have fallen victim to this “curse”. The whole ordeal was widespread enough to garner media attention and parents’ frenzied anxiety. 

While Aiso was just creating a piece based on the folklore of his country, it’s interesting that Momo was powered by such a media fear frenzy in fear of children being targets. The inspiring folklore concerned ‘Ubume‘ as a yokai, represented as bird-like in features and the vengeful spirits of women who died either in childbirth or while pregnant.

Ubume Yokai which inspired Momo's design
Ubume Yokai which inspired Momo’s design

It’s not hard to see how Momo became the poster girl for such misinterpreted infamy. Her warped white face, bulging eyes and lank black hair are all tropes a J-Horror yurei these online communities latched on to. The grotesque breasts and bird legs, however, keep her just outside the purely derivative, traditional Ringu/JuOn aesthetic.

Momo’s reign of terror came to an abrupt end in 2019 when her creator finally came forward to clear the air, and his name. Aiso expressed his incredulous horror at what the internet at large had re-purposed his art for. He also confirmed that the statue had been disposed of due to the natural disintegration process occurring in the materials utilised in the project.

Reassuringly, Aiso issued a message to any concerned children, who still believed in Momo as a threat, that Momo was “dead” and any “curse” was lifted.

While this myth has been thoroughly debunked, Momo’s legacy lives on in the fan art, fan fiction, and (believe it or not) movies inspired by her face and the fear it instilled in those casually scrolling through their phones on a late-night trip to the toilet. (I speak from personal experience here.) From mere artwork, and against the artist’s will, Momo has evolved into a life of its own.

While Momo may no longer be coming to get you, something else on the internet may very well one day take her place. Humans seem to be incapable of not making the waking world world as terrifying as their nightmares.

Artist Keisuke Aiso with Momo mask
                                                                                Artist Keisuke Aiso with Momo mask

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More Urban Legends:

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