Okiku - The Plate Counting Ghost

One of the most famous Japanese ghost stories is Bancho Sarayashiki (The Dish Mansion at Bansho) which is the tale of Okiku. While there are many different versions of the story, they all centre around the death of a servant who returns as an onryo (vengeful ghost) to haunt those who mistreated and killed her. Okiku was a beautiful servant who worked for the Samurai Aoyama Tessan at Himeji Castle. Tessan was an ambitious man with dreams of ruling the province and he was also in love with Okiku. Despite his many attempts to woo her, Okiku consistently refused to become his lover.

'The Mansion of the Plates' from the series 'One Hundred Ghost Stories' - Katsushika Hokusai, 1832.

He decided to trick her into believing that she had lost one of the ten precious Dutch plates that belonged to the lord. This was crime punishable by death and Okiku was terrified. Tessan offered to cover for her if she would be his mistress but again, she refused. Furious about being rejected, he tied her up with rope and beat her but she still would not agree to be with him. He then used his sword to kill her before throwing her down a well. Thereafter, each night would come a ghostly voice from the well, counting slowly from one to nine, and then starting again. On and on this would go, night after night. It is said that the local priest was called to recite sutras over the well, but to no avail. One night, despairing and at a loss for what else to do, the priest waited until the ghostly voice said 'nine' and then called out 'ten.' 'Finally' came the voice from the well and from that time no more counting was heard.

'Okiku' - Utagawa Yoshitoshi, 1890.

There are many different versions of this tale and Okiku's story was a common theme in kabuki plays and ukiyo-e art during the Edo period. In one version of the story, Okiku actually throws herself down the well after being accused of breaking the plate. In another, Tessan was plotting to poison the lord and when his actions were discovered he was ordered to commit ritual suicide. There is another version that has a more romantic undertone in which Tessan chooses to kill himself to join Okiku in death after realising the error of his ways.

Okiku being beaten before she is thrown in the well - Utagawa Yoshitaki, ca. 1870s.

Ghost of Okiku haunting her murderer at the well - Utagawa Yoshitaki, ca. 1870s.

Okiku - Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1845

'Banshu Sara Yashiki' - Toyohara Kunichika, 1892

'Himeji Castle' - Kawase Hasui, 1930.

Comments

  1. So glad Tessan got his come uppance. Rest in peace Okiku, the plates are fine.

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