Illustration of Okiku in the well by Katsushika Hokusai, most known for making the The Great Wave off Kanagawa, painting. From the one hundred ghost tales series.
Illustration of Okiku in the well by Katsushika Hokusai, most known for making the The Great Wave off Kanagawa, painting. From the one hundred ghost tales series.

The tale of Banchō Sarayashiki (番町皿屋敷, The Dish Mansion at Banchō) is a  well known Japanese ghost story (kaidan). It was popularized in the kabuki theater tradition, and lives on in popular culture and folklore alike.

It is a tale of dying unjustly and the haunting of righting a wrong. The story always revolves around Okiku, a servant, who was killed by her master. Not to be confused with Okiku, the haunted doll. Since it has been adapted to many times on stage, this is how the folklore version usually goes.

The Story

There once was a servant Okiku. She worked for a samurai named Aoyama Tessan. She was a beautiful girl and constantly had to refuse his advances at her. He grew tired and angry at her refusals. So he tricked her.

The print depicts the ghost of Okiku appearing by the well in which her master, Aoyama Tessan, murdered her. From the Thirty-six Ghosts series by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 1890.
The print depicts the ghost of Okiku appearing by the well in which her master, Aoyama Tessan, murdered her. From the Thirty-six Ghosts series by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 1890.

The family had at that time, ten precious Delft plates. Very valuable and pretty. Loosing one of them would be a crime punished by death. And he tricked her, thinking she had lost one of them.

She counted, and recounted the nine plates, over and over again. But it was never enough. She could’t find the tenth plate. She went to her master, pleading for forgiveness. He said he would overlook the mistake she thought she had done, if she only became his lover. She refused, again. And Aoyama couldn’t take it.

Enraged, he threw her down a well. In some version, she threw herself down the well. In either cases, she died. Perhaps quickly, hitting the stone walls, perhaps slowly, drowning in the dark water.

It is said she became an onryō, a vengeful spirit. She tormented her murderer, every night, rising from the well, counting the plates, one by one. Only reaching nine, then making a terrible shriek when she again missed the tenth plate.

Read more about the Onryō 

Onryo English: Yūrei ゆふれい from Bakemono no e (化物之繪, c. 1700), Harry F. Bruning Collection of Japanese Books and Manuscripts, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Date circa 1700 Source https://archive.org/details/bakemonozukushie00 Author Brigham Young University

Onryō – the Vengeful Japanese Spirit

In many cultures, ghosts are put in different categories. Such is the case with Onryō (怨霊 onryō,) It basically means “vengeful spirit” or “wrathful spirit” in Japanese and is a mythological spirit of vengeance from Japanese folklore. They also have ghosts, called yurei, but these differ in the will of the ghost. As opposed to the yurei, these ghosts doesn’t just get over their revenge thoughts.

Some say that a Buddhist monk appeased the ghost by shouting ten to her, making her believe all of the plates are there, but then again. Some says she still haunts the castle.

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The Hauntings

The haunting of Okiku’s ghost have been widely reported on. All back in 1795 the old wells in Japan got a larvae infestation. It was later known as the “Okiku insect” (お菊虫, okiku mushi). They long thought that the infestation was a reincarnation of Okiku.

Most of the legends claim that the hauntings are in Edo (Tokyo). But there is a claim that the location of where it happened, is at Himeju Castle, one of the biggest sightseeing places in Japan. It is claimed in the Ningyo Joruri version of the play. One the spots to see is the Okiku-Ido, or the Okiku Well. What is even more creepy is that this exact well to this day has bars all over it. Keeping the tourist out. Or.. perhaps keeping something in?

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