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The Japanese Ghost Story of Okiku

Item # 53160 - One Hundred Kabuki Roles by Onoe Baiko - SaraYashiki - Sold for $100 - 10/21/2012
"Baiko Hyakushu no Uchi" (One Hundred Kabuki Roles by Onoe Baiko) The ill fated Okiku in the play, "Bancho Sarayashiki". Upper Inset: Late Ichikawa Kodanji is in the role of the villain Tetsuzan.

The artelino archive offers a database of more than 50,000 sold Japanese prints with detailed descriptions, large images and results. artelino clients with an active purchase history and authorized consignors of artelino have full access to our archive. Read the archive guide and test a trial version.
By Kunichika Toyohara 1835-1900

Ghost Stories are a popular subject of Japanese woodblock prints. The ghost story of Okiku, an unfortunate servant maid, is one of the best known and was transformed into a Kabuki play and numerous novels.

Bancho Sarayashiki

In the kabuki play Bancho Sarayashiki, Okiku is a maid at the mansion of the Japanese samurai Tessan Aoyama. The samurai wants to seduce the cute girl but she rejects his advances. Aoyama uses a trick. He hides one of ten valuable Dutch plates and threatens Okiku to make public that she had stolen the plate unless she agrees to become his mistress. In her desperation Okiku throws herself into the well and drowns.

Okiku's ghost comes out every night, counting from one to nine and then breaks out into a terrible howling and sobbing. Finally Aoyama goes insane by the daily apparitions at night.

Different Versions of the Ghost Story of Okiku

There are different versions of the ghost story of Okiku. What they all have in common is the description of her ghost coming out of the well and counting from one to nine and then breaking out into a heart-rendering sobbing.

In another version, Okiku really breaks a plate and is killed by her master and her corpse is thrown into the well.

In yet another version, it is the wife of Aoyama, who breaks the plate. To hide her guilt, she throws the broken plate into the well and accuses Okiku of having it stolen. In this version she is also killed by her master for punishment and thrown into the well.

There is also an alternate version for the end of the story. To stop the nightly sobbing, a friend of the family of Aoyama is hired. He is hiding at the well during the night and after Okiku had counted from one to nine, he is stepping forward shouting loudly "ten". From then on the ghost of Okiku was never seen again.

The Himeji Castle Version

One of the tourist attractions on Himeji Castle is Okiku's well. In the Himeji version, Okiku was a servant of Aoyama, a retainer who planned a plot against his lord. Okiku overheard the plot and reported it to her lover, a loyal warrior. The plot was averted.

When Aoyama found out that Okiku had been the cause for his failure, he decided to kill her. So he accused her of having stolen one of ten valuable dishes. She was tortured to death and thrown into the well.

Okiku's well on Himeji Castle is in competition with another location of the well, the garden of the Canadian embassy in Tokyo - established on land bought from the Aoyama family. Looks like there are at least as many locations of the well of the poor girl as there are different versions of her story.

All the variations of the ghost story of Okiku have an extremely wrongful and cruel treatment of a poor girl of the lower classes in common. But different from the ghost story of Yotsuya, revenge towards the tormenter is not the big Leitmotiv (apart from one variation of the story).

Shinkei Sanju-roku Kai Sen - 36 New Ghosts

Among the ukiyo-e artists designing ghost subjects, Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892) should be mentioned in first place. Yoshitoshi strongly believed in the existence of ghosts and was convinced that he had personally seen supernatural apparitions in his life.

The print of The Ghost of Okiku at the Dish Mansion was part of the series Shinkei Sanju-roku Kai Sen. It was Yoshitoshi's last series before his death (together with one One Hundred Aspects of the Moon) and was published from 1889 to 1892. The series can be found under different English translations like New Selection of 36 Apparitions or Thirty-six New Ghosts.

Towards the end of his life, the subjects of Yoshitoshi's prints were predominantly chosen from Japan's rich cultural tradition and history. It was an appeal of the artist to his countrymen not to give up their traditional values in exchange for the Western modernization that had begun in the Meiji period.

From the artelino Archive

Enjoy a few random examples of related art works sold in past auctions of artelino. Our archive offers a database of more than 50,000 sold Japanese prints and about 2,000 contemporary Chinese art prints with detailed descriptions, large images and results in USD. artelino clients with an active purchase history and authorized consignors have full access. Read the ARCHIVE GUIDE and test a trial version.

Item # 65761 - Ghost and the Villains - Kabuki - Sold for $300 - 7/2/2015
From the Series, "Odori Keiyo Gaidai Zukushi" (List of Titles of Dance Forms). Actors: Nakamura Ichizo, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII, Ichikawa Kodanji IV. The ghost of Okiku is haunting her murderer Tetsuzan and his assistant in the villa of Asayama in the play, "Minori yoshi kogane no kikuzuki".
By Kunisada Utagawa 1786-1865
Item # 55558 - Six Selected Actors - Sawamura Tossho in Dragon Kimono - Sold for $110 - 2/3/2013
From "Haiyu Rokka Sen" ("Six Selected Actors"). Kabuki actor Sawamura Tossho is in the role of Kanzesui no Okiku. He wears a kimono with dragon and peony patterns. He is holding a fashionable western style umbrella.
By Kunichika Toyohara 1835-1900
Item # 53160 - One Hundred Kabuki Roles by Onoe Baiko - SaraYashiki - Sold for $100 - 10/21/2012
"Baiko Hyakushu no Uchi" (One Hundred Kabuki Roles by Onoe Baiko) The ill fated Okiku in the play, "Bancho Sarayashiki". Upper Inset: Late Ichikawa Kodanji is in the role of the villain Tetsuzan.
By Kunichika Toyohara 1835-1900
Item # 52331 - Kabuki - Beauty in Distress - Sold for $80 - 4/29/2012
The beauty Koshimoto Okiku is about to be thrown into a well by two men in the kabuki play, "Bancho Sara Yashiki".
By Yoshitaki Utagawa 1841-1899
Item # 48079 - In a Temple Yard - Kabuki - Sold for $150 - 2/27/2011
Kabuki scene. Kinoshita Tokichiro (left: played by Ichikawa Danjuro) and his wife Okiku (Iwai Matsunosuke) are in a front yard of an old mountain temple.
By Kunichika Toyohara 1835-1900
Item # 43149 - Beauty in Distress - Kabuki - Sold for $80 - 12/20/2009
Servant Okiku (left: played by Ohtani Tomoemon) was about to be thrown into a well by the villain Tetsusan (Jitsukawa Enjaku) in the kabuki play "Bancho Sara Yashiki".
By Yoshitaki Utagawa 1841-1899
Item # 36832 - Ghost Lady - Kabuki - Sold for $100 - 9/17/2008
Ghost of Okiku is haunting her murderer at the well in which she was thrown into. A scene in the play, "Bancho Sara Yashiki".
By Yoshitaki Utagawa 1841-1899
Item # 34780 - Shamisen Player - Kabuki - Sold for $150 - 9/21/2008
Kabuki actor Onoe Kikugoro is in the role of onna tayu Okiku, who is playing shamisen.
By Kunisada Utagawa 1786-1865

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura

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