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.