A-Yokai-A-Day: Okiku (The Dish Mansion at Bancho)

I’ve been having a great time watching the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear live while painting tonight’s ghost. I wish I could be there in person!

Okiku (The Dish Mansion at Bancho)

Today’s character comes from another very very famous kaidan ghost story called Bancho Sarayashiki, or “The Dish Mansion at Bancho.” Her name is Okiku, and she is one of the most famous ghosts in Japanese folklore. Her story has been adapted into puppet theater, kabuki, movies, ukiyo-e and every other imaginable art form. Her story takes place in the area of Bancho, in present-day Hyogo prefecture, but it has been adapted to other locations, and tweaked, and changed, so there are a number of different versions. The one I will tell you now is the more folkloric and traditional one.

A long time ago in the town of Bancho there was a beautiful woman named Okiku. Her master was a samurai named Aoyama, and he fell deeply in love with her. Every day her would ask her to be his mistress, but she always refused his advances, preferring the life of a servant girl to the life of a concubine.

Eventually, Aoyama makes his final advance on Okiku, but again she refuses, so Aoyama decided to trick her. He hid one of his family’s best dishes, which — as a servant — Okiku was supposed to be in charge of. When Okiku was counting the dishes later, she noticed that there were only nine instead of ten. She counted and counted again, but each time only came up nine. Okiku panicked, as losing one of these valuable objects would mean — quite literally — her life. She fell into despair.

She went to her master in tears to confess that she lost one of the dishes. All part of his plan of course, Aoyama told her that he would be gracious enough to overlook the problem if she finally agreed to be his lover. Okiku refused, and Aoyama grew enraged. He threw her down a well, and she died.

After her death, it is said that Okiku became an onryo — a vengeful Japanese ghost. She tormented her former master by counting and counting from one to nine and then shrieking a horrible scream. Aoyama was finally able to exorcise her ghost by having another servant wait until she reached number nine and then suddenly shout, “TEN!” After that, it is said that Okiku stopped haunting him.

The story doesn’t end there, because Japanese ghosts rarely find peace! Where she went next is unknown, but there are tales of Okiku all over Japan. It is said that she appears crawling out of a well and counts, ever searching for her missing tenth plate. Anyone who hears her count all the way up to nine will die. If you manage to escape and only hear up to eight, you may end up just with a debilitating disease. Either way, if you happen to hear a mysterious voice counting somewhere nearby, I suggest you get the hell out of there!

The Dish Mansion at Bancho


Okiku prints will be available on my Etsy store in just a couple of days! So check back soon!

7 thoughts on “A-Yokai-A-Day: Okiku (The Dish Mansion at Bancho)

  1. This is so awesome. I am in a troupe of amateur actors that performs Japanese Fairy Tales at anime conventions in Florida and this is one of the plays that we do. Actually, I’m excited since I play Okiku in our version. The writer made some artistic changes to the story but the main parts are the same. I’m particularly fond of the shriek I get to do, scaring the pants off half the audience. If you’re interested, I can link you to a youtube video of one of our performances of it.

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