A Japanese Folk Tale: Okiku

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The relief of the word “ten”

Okiku or “Banchou Sarayashiki” (The Dish Mansion at Banchou) is one of the most popular ghost stories in Japan and as expected, has several versions. Within all of them we settled for its folk version.

The story tells us of a beautiful girl serving a samurai called Aoyama Tessan, who constantly made advances towards her and every time was met with refusal.
Tired of her resistance, he plotted to make her accept him through a cruel plan where he accused her of losing one of the family treasures, a Delftware plate from a set of ten.
Haunted by the terrifying fate of such an offence -none other than death itself- Okiku desperately counted the plates time after time but to no avail as there was no tenth plate, no matter how many times she recounted them.
Under the guilt she confessed to Aoyama, in tears, and was received with an offer of him disregarding her wrongdoing if she gave in and became his lover. Okiku once again refused him, and this infuriated him to the point of throwing her down a well as punishment and killed her.

The story says that due to that unfair death, Okiku turned into a ghost who haunted her murderer. Counting up to nine, then shrieking loudly, agonizing, unable to find the missing plate.
It is told that her haunting was broken by an exorcist who shouted “ten”, just before her shriek after her usual count. Finally finishing the set and releasing her from the fixation on the missing plate.

Other versions involve the anger of a jealous wife, another one where she finds out a plot from her master against his lord and contributing to dismantling it, unfortunately all the versions have her die and return as a ghost.

The most romantic version is where Okiku is actually guilty of breaking the plate, hoping that her lover proves his devotion for her, but instead she is killed when confessing that it was intentional. When appearing as a ghost, the beauty and calm displayed on her face instead of ugly and vengeful feelings reaches out and touches his heart, leading him to commit suicide (seppuku) to join her in death.
Romantic?… Yes.
Right-minded?… Well, Love and Passion are complicated matters. We’ll just leave it at that.

★Stay inspired★

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