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Okiku

Okikuお菊
おきく

TRANSLATION: a girls’ name meaning “chrysanthemum”

APPEARANCE: Okiku was the name of a servant girl who lost a precious plate, died a terrible death, and returned as a vengeful ghost. Along with Oiwa and Otsuyu, Okiku’s tale is one of the Nihon san dai kaidan—Japan’s Big Three Ghost Stories. Her story has been retold countless times in folk tales, puppet theater, kabuki, film, and manga. Though the general outline of her story remains the same, the names, locations, and surrounding details vary quite a bit from telling to telling. The most famous version of her story is called Banchō sarayashiki—”The Dish Manor at Banchō.” It takes place in Himeji, present-day Hyōgo Prefecture.

LEGENDS: Long ago, there was a woman named Okiku who worked as a dishwashing servant at Himeji Castle. Okiku was very beautiful, and it was not long before she caught the eye of one of her master’s retainers, a samurai named Aoyama. Aoyama tried many times to seduce Okiku, but each time she rejected his advances.

Eventually, Aoyama grew impatient with Okiku and decided to trick her into becoming his lover. In the castle there was a set of ten very expensive dishes. Aoyama hid one of the them, and then called for Okiku. He told her one of his master’s fine dishes was missing, and demanded to know where it was. Okiku became frightened. Losing one of her lord’s prized dishes was a crime punishable by death. She counted the dishes, “One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine…” She recounted them against and again. Each time she came up one short. Okiku was distraught.

Aoyama told Okiku that he would overlook her mistake, and tell his master that it wasn’t Okiku who lost the dish—but only if she would become his mistress. Though Okiku wanted to live, she once again refused Aoyama. This time the samurai became furious. He ordered his servants to beat Okiku with a wooden sword. Afterwards, he had her tied up and suspended over the castle well. He tortured Okiku, repeatedly dunking her into the well, only to pull her back out of the water and beat her himself. Aoyama demanded one last time that Okiku become his mistress. She refused. So Aoyama struck her violently with his sword and dropped her body down into the well.

Not long after, Okiku’s ghost was seen wandering the castle grounds. Night after night, she would rise from the well and enter her master’s house, searching for the missing dish. She would count the plates: “One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine…” After counting the ninth plate, she would let out a blood curdling scream that could be heard throughout the castle. She tormented Aoyama in this way, every night, robbing him of his rest. Those who heard part of Okiku’s counting became very sick. Those unlucky enough to hear her count all the way to nine died shortly after.

Finally, the lord of the castle decided that something had to be done about Okiku’s ghost. He called a priest, and asked him to pray for her and exercise her spirit. The priest waited in the garden all night, chanting suttras. One again, Okiku’s ghost rose out of the well. She began to count the dishes: “One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine…” As soon as Okiku counted the ninth dish, and before she could scream, the priest shouted out: “TEN!” Okiku’s ghost appeared relieved that someone had found the missing dish. From then on, she never haunted the castle again.

Kyōkotsu

Kyoukotsu狂骨
きょうこつ

TRANSLATION: crazy bones
HABITAT: wells
DIET: none; it is powered solely by vengeance

APPEARANCE: A kyōkotsu is a ghostly, skeletal spirit which rises out of wells to scare people. It is wrapped in a ragged shroud, with only its bleached skull and tangled hair emerging from its tattered clothes.

BEHAVIOR: Kyōkotsu are formed from bones which were improperly disposed of by being discarded down a well. The bones may come from a murder or a suicide victim, or someone who died after accidentally falling into a well. The lack of a proper burial—and the egregious disrespect shown by discarding bones in this manner—creates a powerful grudge in those bones. This transforms the deceased into a shiryō. Like other ghosts, they pass their grudge on to those they come in contact with. A kyōkotsu lies at the bottom of its well until it is disturbed, then it rises up to curse anyone unfortunate enough to be using the well.

ORIGIN: Kyōkotsu was invented by Toriyama Sekien for his book Konjaku hyakki shūi. In his description, he writes that this yōkai’s name is the origin of the word kyōkotsu, which means fury and violence. While there is a word in a local dialect of Kanagawa which does match this description, there is no evidence actually linking it to this yōkai. It is more likely that Toriyama Sekien—who was fond of wordplay—actually created this yōkai based on words in local dialects and just made up a false etymology to make the story more interesting.

Imori

Imori守宮
いもり

TRANSLATION: gecko
HABITAT: castle ruins, ancient battlegrounds
DIET: none

APPEARANCE: Imori are the ghosts of dead warriors transformed into geckos. They haunt the forgotten, overgrown ruins where they lost their lives, attacking and harassing trespassers.

This yokai’s name is somewhat confusing — it is written with the kanji for gecko, which is normally pronounced yamori; yet in this case the name is pronounced imori, which means newt. When written it implies that this is a gecko yokai, but when spoken it sounds like a newt yokai — and in actuality it refers to a gecko yokai.

LEGEND: Long ago, in Echizen province, lived a monk named Jingai Shuso. He was a monk of the Soto school, and was living in hermitage out in the mountains. He lived off of wild mountain plants and whatever charity the people from the local village would bring him, although he spent almost all of him time in secluded meditation. One day was reading in his hermitage near the ruins of Yu-no-o castle when suddenly a small man (about 5 or 6 inches tall) wearing a black hat and carrying a cane appeared and started talking to him. Being a good monk, Jingai did not let the stranger interrupt his studies, and just continued reading. This angered the man, who complained that the monk was ignoring him even though he was standing right there. Again, Jingai ignored the tiny man, who then became very angry. He hopped up on to his cane and flew at Jingai, who brushed him away with his fan. The tiny man fell to the ground and swore revenge on Jindai.

Shortly afterwards, 5 women about 5 or 6 inches tall came up to Jingai and complained about how he treated the old man. While they complained, all around them appeared 10,000 more tiny people, with sleeves rolled up and armed with canes. They swarmed upon Jingai and beat him with their canes. It was like an army of tiny, painful ants attacking him. In the distance, he could see their general: a tiny man decked in red and a lacquered samurai helmet. The tiny general called out: “Get out of here and never return, or else we will pop your eyes and slice off your ears and nose!” By now, some tiny men had climbed upon his shoulders, and they began to eat his ears and nose. Jingai brushed them off and ran away.

The monk ran away from the horde to a nearby gatehouse. When he arrived there, there were already thousands of tiny men all over, who knocked him down. The general said to him: “We heard you were rude to our friends. As a punishment, we will cut off your hands and feet!” Thousands of tiny katanas were drawn from their tiny sheathes, and Jingai was surrounded.

Jingai, now terrified, apologized to the little men for not considering their feelings, and asked them to spare him. The general told him that if he was truly sorry, he would let him go, and ordered his men to eject Jingai from the gatehouse. Jingai got the heck out of there.

The next day, reflecting on what had happened, Jingai investigated the direction he came from. He discovered a large hole in the ground that was swarming with geckos. Gathering some local villagers for help, he dug up the hole. It was over 3 meters deep, and full over over 20,000 geckos! Deep inside, he discovered a 12 inch long gecko, which he realized must have been the general.

The eldest villagers explained to Jingai that long ago an ally of Nitta Yoshisada built a castle near there, and it was destroyed in a battle. The the souls of the dead bushi (warriors) and the castle lord haunted the remains of the old castle well. Ever since, they had been causing all kinds of mischief in the area.

Jingai began chanting sutras to give the souls a proper burial, and as he finished chanting, the thousands of geckos were all destroyed. Jingai and the villagers took pity upon the dead beasts. They collected the bodies and burnt them on a funeral pyre, giving them a proper burial, and with the mountain of ashes built a grave for the imori.