Hear about Okiku in Episode 26 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Okiku by Tsukioka Yoshitaka.


Okiku (お菊)is a well known ghost in Japan. Known from the 1741 folktale by the name of Banchō Sarayashiki, she falls into the category of an Onryō (vengeful ghost)

Harima Province Version

Okiku was from Harima Province, working as a maid servant for the Samurai Aoyama Tessan. Tessan wanted to rule the province and plotted to poison the Lord using Okiku. However, word got out and so the plan was abandoned. The Lord sent a man called Danshiro to find out who had planned this assassination, and he discovered Okiku was to blame.

Danshiro said he would not tell anyone and cover up her act if she became his lover, as he has always held strong emotions for her. However, she refuses him.

Angry at being rejected, he frames Okiku by hiding one of set of ten plates, these being priceless heirlooms. He publicly blames her and so deals with her ‘crime’ by killing her and throwing her down a well.

Her ghost returned after that, counting every night from the well. Reaching nine she would begin again, as their was no tenth plate to count. Eventually the news reached the Lord of the area, who made Tessan commit ritual suicide and dissolved his families assets.1

Another source about this tale (though the authors of the book are the same; see footnotes below) states that this tale is set in Himeji Castle. Okiku rejects the advances of the high-ranking Samurai who then retalitates by hiding a pricelss plate. He then blames Okiku for losing it, and says he will forgive her if she becomes his. Again she rejects him and so he kills her and throws her down a well, leading to her ghost to return.2

Okiku by Hokusai.

Edo Verion

The tale which is set in Edo varies from the Harima version. There was a mansion owned by Lord Aoyama, who represented Harima Province. He comes to his house in Edo with ten heirloom plates, specifically Delftware from the Netherlands. Okiku was clumsy and accidently dropped one. Aoyama furious, cuts off her middle finger and locks her in the mansions dungeon.

She manages to escape and then throws herself to her death down a well. Again night after night, voices come from the well counting to nine and starting again. Lord Aoyama realises this is not normal and calls an abbot from a nearby temple.

The abbot unable to get the ghost to leave, in frustration one day just shouts ten, and so Okiku’s ghost says ‘finally!’ and leaves.

Okiku’s Plates

The temple of Chokyu-ji in Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture say they have in their possession a set of plates owned by Okiku. It is said her mother gave them to temple so priests could give her a kuyo (funeral rite) to release her daughter’s connection to the plates. They still have six of them to this day.1

Sarakazoe in the Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki.


Portrayed by several artists, Okiku was also depicted by Toriyama Sekien in his Konjaku Gazu Zoku Hyakki. In this he refers to Okiku as Sarakazoe (皿数え – Plate Counter).2

Okiku Bugs

In 1795 there was a large swarm of insects known as shako-ageha born in wells around Harima Province. People came to dub them Okiku Bugs as their cocoons hung down from silken strings, and people though it represented the torment of Okiku.1

External Links


1. Yoda, H & Alt, M. (2012) “Yurei Attack: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide” Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.

2. Yoda, H. and Alt, M. (2016) “Japandemonium: Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopaedia of Toriyama Sekien.”. New York: over Publications, Inc.

List of Supernatural Creatures

Abura akago * Aka Manto * Akaname * Akashita * Amefuri Kozo * Amikiri * Aōbozu * Aonyobo * Aosagi no hi * Buruburu * Chochin bi * Funa Yurei * Furaribi * Furutsubaki no rei * Gaikotsu * Ganbari Nyudo * Gagoze * Gensuke * Haka no hi * Hannya * Hashi-Hime * Hiderigami * Hikeshi baba * Hitodama * Hitotsume Kozō * Hiyoribo * Hone Onna * Hyōsube * Ikiryō * Inugami * Jorōgumo * Kamaitachi * Kamikiri * Kappa * Kasha * Katawa Guruma * Kawa Akago * Kawauso * Kitsunebi * Kejoro * Kodama * Kosenjo no hi * Kurozuka * Makurageishi * Mikoshi * Nekomata * Noderabō * Nopperabo * Nuppeppō * Nurarihyon * Nureonna * Nuribotoke * Nyūnai Suzume * Obariyon * Okiku * Ōmagatoki * Oni * Onmoraki * Osakabe * Otoroshi * Ouni * Rokurokubi * Sakabashira * Samebito * Sansei * Sarakozoe * Satori * Seta * Shirachigo * Shiranui * Shōkera * Shuten-dōji * Sōgenbi * Suiko * Takaonna * Tamamo-no-mae * Tanuki * Tenasobi * Tenjō-Kudari * Tengu * Tenome * Teratsutsuki * Tesso * Tōfu Kozō * Tsurubebi * Ubagabi * Ubume * Umibozū * Umizatō * Ushinotoki-mairi * Ushioni * Uwan * Waira * Wani * Wanyudo * Yamabiko * Yamauba * Yamawarawa * Yanari * Yukionna * Zenki and Goki

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