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!!!

Kosodate Yūrei – The Child-Raising Yūrei

Kosodate_Yurei_Shigeru_Mizuki

Translated and Sources from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara, Nihon no Yūrei, Inga Monogatari, and Other Sources

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

Yūrei require a tether, something to connect them to the physical world, something strong enough to prevent them from moving on to the next world. Depending on the nature of this bond, a different type of yūrei can manifest. The bond of a mother to her child is one of the oldest and strongest of these tethers.

What Does Kosodate Yūrei Mean?

The kanji for the kosodate yūrei is descriptive. Kosodate (子育て) means child-raising. An alternate term substitutes amekai (飴買い) for the amekai yūrei meaning the candy-buying yūrei. Variations of the story can be found all over Japan, but most kosodate yūrei stories follow a consistent pattern.

The Legend of the Kododate Yūrei

Beisai_Kosodate_Yurei

There are multiple versions of the kosodate yūrei told all across Japan. Most of them follow an identical pattern. This version is told in Nihon no Yūrei by Ikeda Yasaburo as a personal recollection of a story that had been told to him:

“The name Tsukiji nowadays brings to mind a bustling fish market in Tokyo, but it was not always so. In the olden days, the area known as Tsukiji was packed with temples, mostly belonging to the Honkan-ji temple complex. The area was also covered in cemeteries.

Along the banks of the Sumida River that flows near Tsukiji, there were also stands selling fresh fish and the sweet sake for children known as amazake. In one story, late every night a woman clutching a child would come to a certain amazake dealer to buy the sweet sake from him, which she would then give to her child to drink. The sake dealer, sensing something mysterious about this woman, followed her from his stall one night and watched her as she made her way towards the main hall of the temple, where she disappeared like a blown-out candle. When she vanished, the sake dealer could hear the cry of a baby coming from somewhere in the cemetery. Tracking the sound to a freshly-dug grave, the sake dealer enlisted the help of some others to dig up the grave, and when opening the coffin discovered a crying baby nestled in the arms of its mother’s corpse.”

The legend has its origins in China, where it can be traced back to the book Yijian zhi (1198; Records of Anomalies), with the story of the mochikae onna, the rice cake-buying woman:

“One time, a woman who was pregnant died, and was buried in the ground. After that, a nearby rice-cake dealer began to have a strange customer come night after night, an odd woman carrying a baby. The woman always bought a rice cake for the baby. The dealer was suspicious, and stealthily tied a red string to the woman the next time she came in. After she left, he followed the red string and found that it led to a grave hidden under some bushes. After telling the bereaved family, they dug up the grave to find that the woman had given posthumous birth in her coffin. The bereaved family happily took the child to raise, and had the mother’s body cremated.”

Rokumonsen – Six Coins to Pay the River Crossing

Kosodate Yurei Painting

Another part of the kosodate yūrei legends are the use of rokumonsen, the six coins placed with dead bodies in order to pay the toll across the underworld River Sanzu. In many versions of this legend, the kosodate yūrei is using these coins. Often the story continues for five nights, until the body is dug up and the final coin is found resting in her dead hand.

Many other merchants receive even less. In several of the tales, the mother uses the tanuki trick of passing off leaves as coins, and the merchant is left with only a wallet of foliage after the true nature of the woman is discovered.

But coins or leaves, the loving mother rarely buys food for her child, no rice or nourishment, but often the small sweet candies or toys that a child would crave, caring more for the baby’s happiness than its welfare.

Kosadate Ame

Kosodate Ame

Kosodate yūrei remain a popular figure in Japanese folklore. To this day, a small shop in Kyoto still sells kosodate ame—child-rearing candy—and claims to be the very shop where the kosodate- yūrei came to buy candy.

Translator’s Note:

The kosodate yūrei is so similar to another type of ghost—the ubume—that they can almost be considered a different name for the same spirit. There are differences, however. The ubume is closely associated with blood, and with the Buddhist hell of Chi no Ike, the Lake of Blood, where women who died while pregnant were said to be consigned. Ubume also try to get someone to hold their baby, which kosodate yūrei never do.

Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost

yurei-amazon-cover

I am proud to announce that my book Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost is finally available for preorder! This book is the culmination of more than eight years of research, including work done for my MA thesis for the University of Sheffield. It is a deep dive into the history, folklore, religion, and culture behind Japanese ghosts—yūrei.

Windy_Japanese_Ghost

In other words, if you have ever wondered about the pale girl in the white kimono with the long black hair, dripping water—this will give you all the answers.

Click to preorder Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

What’s it about?

Unsurprisingly, Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost is about everything to do with yūrei. The book begins with Maruyama Ōkyo and his famous painting, The Ghost of Oyuki. Then we dive into the Edo period kaidan boom that set the stage for Ōkyo’s painting, and examine the influence of kabuki on yūrei and why they look the way they do. Next Lafcadio Hearn takes the stage with his Rule of the Dead, and we take a tour of the Japanese afterlife and the World Over There. We learn why Heian period Japanese aristocrats worried so much about their final thought, and hired zenchishiki to mid-wife them to death. Next we meet the San O-Yūrei—the Three Great Yūrei of Japan; Oiwa, Otsuyu, and Okiku. Then it is Obon, Japan’s festival of the dead, and finally we meet the warrior ghosts of Japan in noh theater and hear some Tales of Moonlight and Rain.

Yurei_Chapter_List

I modeled the book after Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, telling the stories of the people and history behind the various yūrei legends as well as the yūrei themselves. We will meet the painter Maruyama Ōkyo, the kabuki playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV, the Confucian scholar Hayashi Razan who invented the word kaidan, and the Buddhist priest Asai Ryōi who wrote one of the most famous Japanese ghost stories of all time, Botan Dōrō, called The Tale of the Peony Lantern. The book intertwines these stories with the story of the yūrei, showing how the concepts developed over time and how Japan changed to encompass new beliefs in the supernatural.

Are there Japanese ghost stories in Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost?

Of course! Although that is not the main focus. I like to say it is a book about Japanese ghost stories not a book of Japanese ghost stories. So this is far more than just a collection of tales. But you will get lots of my translations in here.

Ghost_of_Oyuki_Closeup

Are there pictures in Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost?

Absolutely! We are still working on the details for this, but I plan to pack the book with as many yūrei-e as I can!

Japanese_Ghost_Closeup

Will the book look cool?

Oh yes! The book itself is going to be amazing. My publisher, Chin Music Press, specializes in making cool physical books. They believe the best way to compete in the modern digital market is the make the physical book stand on its own as a piece of book art. Clothbound with an embossed cover— Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost is going to look tremendous on your book shelf.

Yurei_Galley_Copies

 

Please Preorder!!!

Yurei Amazon Cover

And now my pitch! If you are planning to buy my book at all I encourage you to preorder it. You’ll never have a better price on the book than right now, and you will have time to save  before you actually have to pay! Plus you will be doing me a huge favor.

In the modern publishing world, preorders are king. The amount of preorders indicates interest to publishers and retailers. Retailers use preorder numbers to determine how much they will order and market the book. The publisher uses retailer orders to determine how large the print run will be.

This is especially true of a first-time author such as myself. I’ve been translating and writing for free here on hyakumonogatari.com for more than six years. If you have been enjoying reading the site I would appreciate your support for my book! And I know you will love it!

Click to preorder Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

 

Yurei FAQ – Five Facts About Japanese Ghosts

Hokushū Shunkōsai Ghost of Oiwa

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

Yurei—Japanese Ghosts—follow certain rules; obey certain laws. They have a specific appearance and purpose. These rules supply authenticity, making them culturally relevant and recognizable. Also, these rules make them more horrifying than the constantly changing Western ghost, which can be played for laughs, romance, or fear at any given moment.

Each aspect of a yurei is bound by centuries of culture and tradition. There is a “why” behind everything, and the story of the individual aspects of the yurei can be as fascinating as the yurei stories themselves.

Click the title of each to be taken to the full story.

5. How Do You Say Ghost in Japanese?

yurei

A country as obsessed with ghosts as Japan is obviously going to have more than a single word. Just as in English, there are several words meaning “ghost,” but each with a different usage and feel.

4. What is the White Kimono Japanese Ghosts Wear?

dead body

Black hair. White face. White kimono. Whisper the word Japanese ghost to anyone, and that is the image that will appear in their head. For Americans, the image generally comes from Japanese horror films where white-kimonoed girls crawl from TV sets or rise from wells. But to Japanese people, the costume of a white kimono has a more somber feel. Most likely over their lives they will wrap more than one loved one in the traditional burial garment called a kyokatabira.

3. What is the Triangle Headband Japanese Ghosts Wear?

yureisankakuboshi

What are those odd, triangle-shaped hats or headbands worn by some Japanese ghosts? That is a difficult question to answer because, while there are several opinions, nobody really knows.

2. Why do Japanese Ghosts Not Have Feet?

Yurei_Japanese_Ghost

The gentle drops of falling rain. A lonely willow tree standing near a graveyard. And a Japanese ghost, called a yurei, waiting below. This is our image of a yurei, and when we imagine this picture of the yurei, it has no feet.

1. What’s the Difference Between Yurei and Yokai?

Yokai_or_Yurei

What is a yokai? What is a mononoke? What is a bakemono? Are yurei also yokai? These seemingly basic questions have no precise answers. Almost everyone has their own ideas, and they seldom agree with each other. Because folklore isn’t a science.

Two Tales From the Konjaku Monogatari

Konjaku Monogatari

Translated and Adapted from Konjaku Monogatari – Tales of Times Now Past

How Tosuke Ki’s Meeting with a Ghost-Woman in Mino Province Ended in His Death

Tosuke Ki was traveling to his estate in Mino province. While crossing the Seta Bridge, he encountered a woman in a kimono, who asked him to deliver a small box to a lady who sat at the bridge in Kara-village.

Tosuke agreed, and was warned not to open the box. On his trip, Tosuke forgot about the box, and instead brought it home to Mino and placed it in his storeroom.

His wife, jealous in nature, thought it was a gift from a lover, and opened the box secretly. The box was full of gouged-out eyes and penises. Tosuke, being alerted by his wife to the nature of the box, immediately went to Kara-village to deliver it.

When he met the Lady on the bridge, she was outraged that the box had been looked into, and Tosuke died as soon as he got home

So they say.

How a Man’s Wife Became a Vengeful Spirit and How Her Malignity was diverted by a Master of Divination

A man had abandoned his wife of many years for no particular reason. Perhaps he had simply gotten bored of her. In any case, he left his house to go adventuring, leaving the poor woman to waste away and die in their former home.

In death, however, the stubborn woman refused to leave, and her bones stayed together, and her long black hair only grew longer. At night, strange lights and sounds would come from the house, prompting neighbors to summon a Master of Divination, to help them. The Master told the villagers that she was waiting for her husband’s return, and that he must come and break her will.

As soon as possible, the husband was brought back to the village, and during the day, the husband entered the house and sits astride his wife’s body like a horse, and held onto her hair like reigns. At nightfall, the body came to life, and tried to buck the man off, but he held on tightly and they flew out the window and roughshod over the entire countryside. When dawn finally came, the husband still clung tightly, and the wife’s will was overthrown, and her bones disintegrated to dust, leaving the husband undamaged.

So they say.

Translator’s Note:

A couple of new stories for everyone. As you noticed, I haven’t posted anything new since my snow yōkai series of December. The reason for that is I have my edited manuscript for my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost back from my publisher, and I have been busy getting those edits made and doing final adjustments to the book. If all goes well, I will be able to announce a publication date soon! And don’t forget, you can still get copies of my limited edition chapbook The Ghost of Oyuki.

I am also busy making final edits to the next volume of Shigeru Mizuki’s  Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan. Drawn and Quarterly posted a preview recently, so take a look!

Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan

In the meantime, here are a couple of tales from the Konjaku Monogatari to tide you over. I’m especially fond of the first one, as it showed up in an issue of Mike Mignola’s brilliant Hellboy comic, which all lovers of the folklore and weird tales should have in their library!

So they say.

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