Three Tales of Okiku

To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Yoshitoshi_Ogiku

Night Stories of Takemata

Translated from Takemata Yawa; 1557

Around the time after the Kakitsu Revolt (1441), there lived a man named Odagaki Shumesuke, a chief retainer in a prestigious family in the Hatama country of Aoyama (Modern day Himeji city). Oda lived in a magnificent mansion in the mountains. In his household was a beautiful serving girl named Hanano, who was the object of many desires.

A young samurai named Kasadera Shinemon pursued Hanano, writing her love letter after love letter; but she always refused him.

One of the great treasures of the Odagaki family were five precious abalone drinking cups that they had received from the lord of the clan. One day Odagaki noticed that one was missing. He questioned Hanano about the missing cup, but she could only express her surprise. In a rage, Odagaki tortured Hanano, demanding the return of the priceless heirloom.

In truth, the cup had been hidden by Kasadera in revenge for Hanano’s repeated rejections. Kasadera eagerly joined in the persecution, beating Hanano severely while demanding return of the cup. Finally, while bound and hanging from a pine tree, Hanano died.

From then on, the terrible power of Hanano’s rage could be felt at the mansion every night, and the tree from which she died became known as the Hanging Pine.

 

Kunichika_100_Roles_Baiko_Okiku

The Plate Mansion of Ushigome

Translated from Tosei Chie Kagami; 1712

A samurai named Hattori lived in the Ushigome area of Edo. His wife was surpassingly jealous. One day the wife discovered that her husband’s mistress had broken one of the ten heirloom plates that the house had from Nanking, rendering them unsuitable for service to guests. The wife would not take money, but insisted that the mistress replace the broken plate. As the plates were quite old and rare, the wife knew this was an impossible demand.

Until the matter was settled, the wife had the mistress confined to a cell. She was given neither food nor drink, and the wife expected she would starve to death. However, on the fifth day the wife checked in and found the mistress still alive. Out of patience, the wife took matters into her own hand and strangled the mistress in her cell. She then paid to have her body taken from the house. To everyone’s surprise, the mistress suddenly revived insider her coffin and begged for release. Exasperated, the wife paid four strong men to strangle the mistress, and bury her body in an unmarked grave. With the deed done, the wife thought she was at last free of her rival.

But suddenly, the wife’s throat began to swell. She could no longer swallow food, and even had difficulty breathing. A doctor came to attend to her, but it was too late. The doctor could find no cause for her condition, and decided it must have been the onryō of the mistress coming for revenge. Later, it was found that the four men who had killed the mistress had died in the same way.

Hokusai_Sarayashiki

A Doubtful Record of the Plate Mansion

Translated from Sarayashiki Bengiroku; 1785

The Yoshida Mansion sits in the 5th ward of Ushigome-Gomon. The lot on which it was built was once the home to the palace of Lady Sen before she made her journey to Akasaka in Edo in 1626. After that, another building once stood in that lot which was burned down to the ground—the home of the minor lord Aoyama Harima.

In the house of Aoyama a young girl named Okiku worked as a maidservant. On the second day of the second year of Jōō (Jan 2nd, 1653), Okiku accidently broke one of the ten precious plates that were the heirloom of the Aoyama clan. Harima’s wife was furious, and said that since Okiku had broken one of the ten plates it was fair to cut off one of Okiku’s ten fingers in return. The middle finger on her right hand was chosen, and Okiku was confined to a cell until the punishment could be carried out.

During the night, Okiku managed to slip her bonds and escape from her cell. She ran outside and threw herself into an unused well, drowning at the bottom.

The next night, from the bottom of the well came a woman’s voice. “1 … 2 … “ Soon, the sound of her voice could be heard echoing throughout the mansion, counting the plates. Everyone was so terrified their hair stood up all over their bodies.

Harima’s wife was pregnant, and when she gave birth her child was missing the middle finger on its right hand. News of this made it back to the Imperial Court, and the cursed Aoyama family were forced to forfeit their territories and holdings.

The sound of the counting of the plates continued. The Imperial Court held special ceremonies to calm Okiku’s spirit, but all in vain. At last, they sent a holy man to the cleanse the spirit. That night, the holy man waited inside the house. He waited patiently as voice counted “ 8 … 9 …” and then he suddenly shouted “10!”

Okiku’s yūrei was heard to whisper “Oh, how glad I am” before she disappeared.

Translator’s Note

I just finished editing the Okiku chapter for my upcoming book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost and figured I would post these translations as a little preview! There is lots more about Okiku in the book itself.

Okiku is one of the most interesting yurei in Japan. She is a true folktale, with multiple versions spread across the country. Anywhere there is an old castle and a well, there is a legend of Okiku. She isn’t always named Okiku, and she isn’t always counting plates, but the same details are there.

Here are three translations of some different versions of the legends. I started with the oldest, so you can see how the tale has changed over time. Over the course of learning about her, Okiku changed from a yurei I thought was kind of boring, to one of my favorites. She is the most Japanese of Japan’s famous ghosts.

And I hope people aren’t getting too sick of my sales pitch, but if you can PLEASE preorder my book! I cannot emphasize enough how important preorders are going to be for my book’s overall success. If you enjoy my translations and articles on hyakumonogatari.com, the best way to support the site and show appreciation is to preorder a copy of my book! Thank you!!!

Tajima no Sorei – The Poltergeist of Tajima

Mizuki_Shigeru_Tajima_no_Sorei

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Taihei Hyakumonogatari, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

This is a tale of the Edo period, from Tajima province (modern day Hyogo prefecture).

A down-on-his luck ronin named Kido Gyobu wandered into Tajima one day. He had heard rumors that there was an obakeyashiki—a haunted house—in town that had lay abandoned and unoccupied for years. Kido was very proud of his courage, and vowed to stay at the house as a Test of Courage.

From outside the house was dilapidated and the garden was overgrown, but it was livable. Kido took his small belongings, which were just his traveling clothes, bedding, and the two swords that it was his right to wear, and went into the house where he would live. He wandered through, kicking up dust and disturbing cobwebs. The tatami-mat floors were old and bug-ridden. The paper in the windows torn and yellow. The cooking utensils rusting. But he found nothing to evoke the terror that was the reputation of the house. Kido put it down to rural superstition, and made a bed for himself in the main room. He spent his day without incident—cooked his food. Took his bath. Drank his sake and smoked his pipe. All which lead him to think that there was nothing to fear.

That night, when Kido had put out the candle and climbed into his futon, the house suddenly lurched and began to shake violently. All of Kido’s belongings were scattered about the room, and the entire house shook like it was in the grips of some monster. Kido assumed it must be a massive earthquake, but when he steadied himself enough to look out the window, he saw the rest of the village was as calm as a pool of still water. It was only inside the house that the world was being shaken to pieces.

With the coming of dawn, the house settled down and the shaking ended. Kido was not to be beaten so easily, and resolved to continue his stay in the house. The second night was identical to the first. The day passed without incident, but at night the house came to live and rattled Kido around like dice in a gambling cup.

Kido had enough of the house, and went to ask advice from a distant relation, a monk named Chisen, who lived in a temple in a nearby village. Chisen listened calmly to his story, and thought for a short while, and told Kido he would accompany him back to the house and stay the night with him.

The third night was a repeat of the first and second—a boring day and a lively night. With the house doing its best to dislodge Kido and Chisen or at least to smash them into something, Chisen sat calmly in the center of the main room as if meditating. He stared intently at the floor for hours as if searching for something, oblivious to the chaos around him. Suddenly, in one swift move Chisen drew Kido’s short sword—which he had tucked into his obi sash—and plunged it into a particular spot in the tatami-mat floor.

The instant Chisen plunged the stabbed into the floor, the house stopped shaking. Blood welled up from the spot Chinsen had stabbed, staining the tatami mats. But that was all. The house was silent. Leaving the sword standing upright in the floor, the exhausted Kido and Chisen settled down for some much needed sleep.

The next morning, they pulled out the knife and lifted up the tatami mat to see what Chisen had wounded. The found an odd memorial plague, reading “Eye-stabbing Sword Bear Memorial Tablet” (刃熊青眼霊位 ). Chisen’s had stabbed the sword directly into the kanji for “eye,” and that was where the blood was welling up from.

Leaving the house, the revealed this to the villagers who told them of an odd legend. Years ago, the man who lived in that house had killed a bear who wandered in from the forest one night. Fearing the wrath of the bear’s spirit, he had a memorial tablet created and a proper funeral given for the bear. But it was apparently in vain, for the bear’s spirit possessed the man and killed him, and had haunted the house ever since. Many strange things were seen in the house every night, and none had dared to stay there until Kido and Chisen.

Translator’s Note:

A definite twist to this Halloween yurei story, eh? I bet you didn’t see that ending coming! I certainly didn’t expect that when I started translating it.

This story originally comes from the Taihei Hyakumonogatari (太平百物語; 100 Stories of Peace and Tranquility). The Taihei Hyakumonogatari uses the title Tajimekuni no Yanari no Densho (但馬国の家鳴の伝承; Legend of the Crying House of Tajime), which Mizuki Shigeru changes to Tajime no Sorei (但馬の騒霊; The Poltergeist of Tajime).

Yanari is a term for a particular type of haunted house that shakes and groans without any visible cause. The kanji translates to家(house) + 鳴(cry), and Harry Potter fans would recognize the Shrieking Shack as a classic Yanari. There are Yanari legends from almost everywhere in Japan. They were popular during the Edo period, with newspapers reporting on local Yanari and particularly popular ones becoming flash tourist attractions as the curious tried desperately to glimpse actual supernatural phenomenon.

Most Edo period portrayals of Yanari show small oni and other yokai on the outside shaking the house. However, these yokai are completely invisible and only their effects can be seen.

Toriyama Sekien Yanari

Mizuki uses the term sorei, which uses the kanji 騒 (disruptive) +霊 (spirit). This is a rarely used term for poltergeist-style ghosts that rattle the doors and shake walls just like Western poltergeists. Thanks to the movie series, the term sorei has almost disappeared and most people just use the term “poltergeist” (ポルターガイスト) in modern Japanese.

And yes, to the unanswered question–the story ends there. It never goes on to say if Kido and Chisen were successful in banishing the spirit, or if stabbing the memorial tablet did the trick.  That part of the story is the most bizarre, as it runs counter to all other Japanese ghost stories.  Most ghosts WANT memorials and funerals and to be worshiped. This is the only one I know of where destroying the tablet ends the haunting.

All I can think of is this–that the bear spirit was not Buddhist, and resented the Buddhist memorial tablet and funeral. This makes sense in a way if you think of animal spirits as being more of the Shinto tradition than the Buddhist.  And after all, the haunting and hubbub didn’t happen until AFTER the funeral, soooo ….

Further Reading:

For more Japanese ghost and spirit animal stories, check out:

Onikuma – Demon Bear

Kimodameshi – The Test of Courage

The Cursed Mansion of Yoshioka Gondayu

The Long-tongued Old Woman

Yokai of the House

Kimodameshi – The Test of Courage

Translated and sourced from Japanese wikipedia and other sources

Are you brave enough? That is the question that will be answered by playing kimodameshi, the Japanese test of courage. You will have to walk a dark, lonely path to a haunted location and set down your token to prove that you had been there.

The Meaning of Kimodameshi

Kimodameshi (肝試し) is most often translated into English as Test of Courage, which is not literally accurate. The word kimo (肝) actually refers to the liver, while dameshi (試し) does in fact mean “test.” In Japan the liver is associated with courage—for example kimo ga suwaru, or to sit on your liver, means to be brave or self-assured. So a more literal translation of kimodameshi would be to “prove your guts.”

The History of Kimodameshi

Like most folkloric practices, the factual origin of kimodameshi is lost to legend. But there are two possible beginnings, both of which could be equally true.

In the closing years of the Heian Period, during the reign of Emperor Shirakawa (1073 to 1087), the book “O-kagami” (大鏡; “Great Mirror”) was written by an unknown author. In the book was a story of three sons of Fujiwara Kaneie. One night during the Hour of the Ox (around 3 A.M.), the sons dared each other to go to a nearby house that was known to be the home of an oni. Only the son who was the leader of the martial arts school was brave enough to take up the challenge, and as proof of his courage he used his sword to slice a chip from the lintel of the house which he brought back to show the others.

Whether the story of the sons of Fujiwara Kaneie is true or not is unknown, but it is also said that kimodameshi began as a way for those of the samurai class to condition their children against fear, and that the game served as a kind of training.

During the Edo period, the 100 candles game hyakumonogatari kaidankai—which this site is based on—was a form of storytelling kimodameshi. The earliest recording of this game comes from the kaidan-shu “Tonoigusa” (1660) where a group of samurai gather to test their courage by telling ghost stories one by one.

Modern Kimodameshi

There are no set rules to kimodameshi, and there are as many variations as there are people who play it. Kimodameshi can be played impromptu, with only a few friends egging each other on to go somewhere scary or haunted, or it can be an organized event with a preset course, often inside a prepared haunted house with actors playing the roles of spooks.

In its most pure version, a group chooses a destination, one guaranteed to inspire fear. Common examples are dark forests, grave yards, Shinto shrines, abandoned buildings, or known haunted and mysterious spaces called shinrei spots. Challengers can go alone or as a duo. They go to the chosen spot at night, to ensure maximum fear, and they either bring something back to prove that they had gone the distance, or leave some sort of token that can be recovered the next day.

Like all Japanese ghost traditions, kimodameshi traditionally takes place in the summer. In Japan, summer is when the land of the living is thought to intersect with the land of the dead, and it is the time when yokai and yurei come out to play. All organized haunted house kimodameshi will take place during the summertime. It isn’t unusual to see TV celebrities during the summer being filmed walking through a haunted house or to some famous location in a game of kimodameshi.

There are some legal issues with kimodameshi. When an abandoned building becomes a popular spot, the police have been known to set up stings to arrest trespassers. Some of the locations themselves are dangerous, such as long, dark tunnels on country roads where a car can come through at any time.

School Kimodameshi

Many Japanese people experience kimodameshi when they are young, in Elementary or Junior High School. The game is played when the children go on school camping trips, or sometimes at school during school festivals. When played with school children, the game is a set-up.

In order to keep them safe, and still provide a good scare, the location is scouted before hand and scary objects like skulls and horror-props are planted along the way. Teachers and other volunteers dress in ghost costumes and hide along the path to spring out at the children. All of the students are told a scary story about that particular location, then sent off in groups to prove their guts once the Sun has gone down.

Students can also create their own kimodameshi events at school during school festivals. They dress up in costumes and turn one of the classrooms into a haunted house for other students to enter and test their courage.

Tsugaru no Taiko – The Taiko of Tsugaru

Translated and adapted from Japanese Wikipedia and other sources

This is a story from the Edo period.

In Honjo, in Hirosagi-han fiefdom, a Daimyo of the house of Tsugaru had his mansion. Daimyo’s have two mansions, the kami-yashiki, where they live during their year of residence in Edo, and their shimo-yashiki in their native land. This mansion we are speaking of was the Daimyo’s kami-yashiki.

At this Daimyo’s kami-yashiki, there was a tall observation tower that was used for fire-spotting. Fire was the bitter enemy of Edo period Japan, and these towers were a common site. You are probably familiar with them from the roll of a fire tower in the tale of the 47 Ronin. Aside from being high enough to spot any sign of smoke or fire, they were equipped with a large shaped piece of wood, called a bangi, suspended by ropes from the roof. Whenever a fire was seen, the bangi would be loudly struck as an alarm to summon the fire brigade.

The mystery of the Tsugaru tower was that, when the alarm was raised, instead of the usual clack of a bangi the deep booming of a taiko drum would come from the tower.

The townsfolk’s explanation of the mystery varied. Some said that the tower had a bangi like all the others, but that when struck the bangi sounded exactly like a taiko drum. They said that the bangi had come from a tree that was used to make a taiko, or that the bangi itself had once been part of a taiko, but this was just idle talk.

There are some who say that the Taiko of Tsugaru was even less mysterious. They say that, instead of a bangi, the tower of Tsugaru simply had a large taiko drum. The reason for the drum, they said, was that because the fire tower was on a Daimyo’s kami-yashiki, the Daimyo’s didn’t want to use a bangi like everyone else. He just had to be different.

Like all of the Seven Wonders of Honjo, the Taiko of Tsugaru was incorporated into Rakugo performances. However, due to the story’s lack of true mystery, it is the wonder most often omitted.

Translator’s Note:
The Taiko of Tsugaru,  Tsugaru no Taiko (津軽の太鼓), is one of the Honjo Nana Fushigi (本所七不思議) meaning one of the Seven Wonders of Honjo.

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Translated and adapted from Japanese Wikipedia and other sources

This is a story from the Edo period.

In Honjo, in the Hiradoshinden-han fiefdom, in the house of Matsura, there stood a Daimyo’s mansion. More than a simple mansion, this was the Daimyo’s kami-yashiki, where the Daimyo lived during his year in residence in Edo by edict of the Shogun. The Daimyo’s shimo-yashiki was in his native land, but the Daimyo currently resided in Edo.

This kami-yashiki was bordered by a large wall, which ran parallel along the banks of what was then called the Great River, but what we now call the Sumida River of Tokyo. Planted in the Daimyo’s garden was a prodigious chinkapin tree whose leaves hung over the wall. The leaves from this tree never fell.

Now, chinkapin trees are evergreen, not deciduous, but even then at least a few of their leaves fall with the seasons. But not the tree in the Daimyo’s kami-yashiki. No one had ever seen so much as a single leaf fall from its branches.

The Daimyo’s gardener was a diligent fellow, but not even he could clean up every leaf that ever fell. This particular chikapin tree was truly a wonder. And what was the origin of this chikapin tree’s fantastic abilities? Well that is a mystery still to this day.

The Daimyo was unsettled by the tree—perhaps fearing some unknown fox power or mysterious spirits—and used his kami-yashiki as little as possible. But the fame of the tree spread until the mansion was no longer known as the Matsura house, but was locally called the Chinkapin Tree Mansion. The tree hanging over the wall near the banks of the Great River was considered an elegant scene and was popular for strolls.

When the stories of the Seven Wonders of Honjo became popular in Rakugo storytelling, the Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves was included in the ranks.

Neither the Daimyo’s mansion nor the famous chinkapin tree survive to the modern world. During the Meiji era, the territory was purchased by the Yasuda zaibatsu financial conglomerate who created a private garden called Yasuda Park. In the fifteenth year of Taisho, the Yasuda zaibatsu donated the garden as a public park. The park is now located in the Sumida ward, in the Honjo district. Like all of the Seven Wonders of Honjo, the old location of the Chinkapin Tree of Unfallen Leaves is marked with a sign and stone monument.

Translator’s Note:
The print is by Kobayashi Kiyochika and shows the Ochiba Naki Shii (落葉なき椎), one of the Honjo Nana Fushigi (本所七不思議) meaning one of the Seven Wonders of Honjo.

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