The Ghost of Oiwa

'Yotsuya Kaidan' is the story of the ghost of Oiwa. Also knowns as 'The Lantern Ghost, it is one of Japan's most famous ghost stories. It tells the story of the vengeful spirit of a young woman betrayed by her husband. In the beginning of the story Oiwa is married to a samurai named Iemon, but she was very unhappy because her husband was a liar and a thief.

She decided to leave him and return to her family. On following her, Iemon ran into Oiwa's father and killed him. He lied and told Oiwa that her father had been murdered and he would avenge his death if she would return home with him, which she did. 

'The Lantern Ghost' - Hokusai, 1832.

Soon after, Oiwa had a child and became quite ill. Iemon grew tired of her and became very resentful. He was actually more interested in the beautiful granddaughter of the doctor who lived next door. The granddaughter soon fell in love with Iemon and wanted to marry him. Her father the doctor conspired with her and he prescribed a cream to treat Oiwa's sickness. In fact, it was a poison and when she used it her face became horribly disfigured. At this point Iemon's hatred for her grew even stronger and the doctor convinced him he should marry his granddaughter. 

'Ghost of Oiwa' - Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1836.

Having no good reason to divorce Oiwa, Iemon tried to set her up to be raped, but the would-be rapist found her too ugly and instead told her of her husband's plan. He also showed her a mirror and for the first time she saw her disfigured face. She was horrified by her own appearance and desperately tried to cover her face with her hair. As she moved her hair it began to fall out in bloody clumps. In a fit of madness, she grabbed a sword and stabbed herself to death, cursing Iemon until her last breath. 

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1847.

Iemon was overjoyed at the news of his wife's death, which made Oiwa's servant suspicious. Consequently, he was also murdered by Iemon who then nailed both his and Oiwa's bodies to doors and threw them in the river. He told everyone that they had been having an affair and so he was then able to marry again. At this point Oiwa's curse began. Lying in bed beside his new bride, Iemon rolled over to be confronted with the hideous disfigured face of his late wife's ghost. He grabbed his sword and waved it wildly towards the ghost of Oiwa, realising too late that he had actually murdered his new wife.

'An Actor as the Ghost of Oiwa' - Shunkosai Hokushu, 1826.

He ran next door to see his father in law the doctor and was approached by the servant's ghost. Again he used his sword to attack the ghost and instead found that he had murdered the doctor. Iemon fled his home but wherever he went Oiwa's ghost followed him. She called out to him in his dreams, her hideous face haunted him relentlessly and she even appeared in all the lanterns that lit his way. Eventually Iemon was driven completely insane and Oiwa finally had her revenge.

'Oiwake' - Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1852

The story of the ghost of Oiwa was a popular subject of plays during the Edo period and many ukiyo-e prints of the time depicted the actors playing Oiwa's husband being visited by her ghost. The print above shows the hideously deformed Oiwa squeezing blood from her hair, watched in horror by the actor playing her terrified husband.

Shunbaisai Hokuei, 1832
Utagawa Kunisada, 1861
'Actors as Iemon and Oiwa' - Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1848.

'Ghost of Oiwa' - Enjaku, 1865

Utagawa Kunisada, 1863

Utagawa Kunikazu, 1862


  1. This is very interesting! Love the Artstyle!

    1. I know! Japanese tales are always so interesting and I really do love the Ukiyo-e artstyle.

  2. In the popular kabuki theater versions there is a scene in which Iemon also sees Oiwa's face in a lantern and attacks it, as is depicted in illustrations above.


Post a Comment