Sarayashiki (The Haunted Plate House) (皿屋敷)

Sarayashiki is a general term for Kaidan telling (Ghost Stories telling) famous for a woman's ghost named Okiku counting plates.

"Banshu Sarayashiki" (Sarayashiki in Banshu) whose stage is Himeji City of Harima Province (presently Hyogo Prefecture) and "Bancho (or Banmachi) Sarayashiki" whose stage is Bancho, Edo, are widely known. Similar stories also remain all over Japan: In two towns and one village of Kanra-gun, Gunma Prefecture; Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture; Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture; Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture; two towns and one village of Hata County, Kochi Prefecture; Kama City, Fukuoka Prefecture; the Island of Fukue, Goto-retto Island, Nagasaki Prefecture: and it is assumed that those stories were made with a mutual influence on each other.

Out of the well, Okiku's ghost narrates in a reproachful voice, 'One plate, two plate …' 'Nine plate, … one is missing …'; it is a typical way when she appears in Kaidan or a haunted house, and so on.

In the Edo period these stories were taken up as a theme of Joruri (a dramatic narrative chanted to a samisen accompaniment) and Kabuki.

Banshu Sarayashiki

The prototype of Sarayashiki is Banshu-Sarayashiki Jitsuroku (The Fact of The Haunted Plate House in Banshu) which has been handed down to Junisho-jinja Shrine (Himeji City) of Himeji City and is related to Himeji-jo Castle.

During the Eisho era (that is, before the present Himeji-jo Castle was built), Tetsuzan AOYAMA, a vassal of Norimoto KODERA, the ninth lord of Himeji-jo Castle, was plotting to take over his master's castle, however, a loyal subject named Motonobu KINUGASA sensed it and sent his mistress Okiku into Tetsuzan's house as a maid to spy on his plot. Then Motoharu found out that Aoyama was going to kill Norimoto by poisoning him during cherry-blossom viewing at Mt. Masuiyama (Hyogo Prefecture), so he stormed into the viewing, rescued Norimoto and hid him in Ieshima Island for attempting a comeback.

Tetsuzan, failing in the takeover, suspected that there had been a betrayer in his house and ordered his vassal Danshiro CHONOTSUBO to inquire into it. Soon Danshiro found out that the betrayer was Okiku. Then Danshiro, as he had been in love with Okiku, approached her to get her as his mistress. However, Okiku refused him. Danshiro, offended at her attitude, hid one of the ten poison-neutralizing plates of the family treasure which were committed to Okiku's management and worthless unless all the plates were completely reserved, on purpose to blame her, and he finally strangled her to death and dumped her body in an old unused well.

It says that since then, Okiku's voice counting plates was heard from the well night after night.

Before long, Tetsuzan and his followers were destroyed by Odera's vassals such as Motonobu KINUGASA, and Himeji-jo Castle was safely returned to Norimoto. It has been said that hearing about Okiku, Norimoto felt sorry for her death and enshrined her as 'Okiku-Daimyojin Shrine' in Junisho-jinja Shrine. It is also said that about three hundred years later, a plague of strange-shaped insects appeared in the castle town, and people said that Okiku returned in the form of the insects.

This story is considered to be a dramatized version of a historical fact, the antagonism between Odera and Aoyama.

In Himeji-jo Castle, 'Okiku-ido' (Okiku's well) still remains.

The following are the other variations of this story:
Okiku was a mistress of a loyal subject, Motonobu KINUGASA, and it was Kinugasa who destroyed Tetsuzan.

Okiku was a wife of a loyal subject, Sanpei FUNASE and Okiku's curses ruined Tetsuzan.

Tetsuzan was killed by a monster called 'Okiku Mushi' (Okiku Insect) that looked like Okiku at the end of her life.

The origin of Okiku Mushi is believed to be the larvae of swallow-tailed butterflies of which a plague occurred in 1795, and this brought Atrophaneura alcinous as the city butterfly of Himeji City (the crest of the Ikeda clan, the lord of Himeji Domain, is a swallow-tailed butterfly which dates back to the time of the Heike clans).

Bancho Sarayashiki

Bancho refers to both Ushigome-Gomon 内番町 (presently near Idabashi, Chiyoda Ward?) and one bancho to six bancho of present Chiyoda Ward. The latter, however, is also near an area regarded as a stage of "Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan" (Tokaido Yotsuya Ghost Stories).

A master who Okiku works for is Shuzen AOYAMA. There are some variations: As she broke a plate of the family treasure or had the plate broken by someone, she was killed and thrown into a well, or jumped into a well herself. It is also said that since Shuzen cut off one of Okiku's fingers when blaming her, his child, who was born later, had one finger missing.

What is referred to as Okiku's graveyards can be seen in some places in Tokyo Metropolis. There is also a tombstone, made of natural stone and engraved as Okiku's Tumulus, in the Akashicho Square near present Hiratsuka Station of the JR Tokaido Main Line. They say that originally there used to be her graveyard here but it was moved to neighboring Seiun-ji Temple after World War II.

The legend of Okiku in Amagasaki City

Okiku who worked in a residence of Genban KITA, a vassal of Aoyama Harima no Kami (the governor of Harima Province), was beaten and thrown into a well on the ground that a needle had been mixed in a meal. After that, a large number of insects that looked like Okiku at the end of her life appeared and cursed Genban's house to ruin.

"Bancho Sarayashiki" by Kido OKAMOTO

A drama written in 1916. It takes a form of a tragic love story not a ghost story.

A hatamoto (direct retainers of the bakufu, which is a form of Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) Harima AOYAMA and a chamber maid are in love with each other, but they cannot be together due to a difference of their status. Soon, an offer of marriage is brought to Harima. Trying to test his love, Okiku breaks one of the plates of the family treasure of the Aoyama family, but Harima overlooks Okiku's fault. However, someone surrounding her witnesses the moment Okiku breaks the plate on purpose. Learning this, Harima gets furious suspecting that she can't believe him that much, and kills Okiku with his sword. And as Harima's mind goes wild, the Aoyama family also goes to utter ruin.

In 1963, a movie "Teuchi" (capital punishment administered personally by one's master) was produced by Daiei Motion Picture Company starring Raizo ICHIKAWA (eighth) and Yukiko FUJI. It is, however, a film characteristic of more tragic love story which ends at a scene where Harima AOYAMA goes to seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) in the form of immediately following Okiku. It is on video and DVD.

"Sarayashiki" of rakugo (traditional comic storytelling)

Rakugo includes a story on the theme of Sarayashiki. Its title is "Okiku's Plates" or just "Sarayashiki".

Young folks in a neighborhood go to Bancho Sarayashiki to see Okiku's ghost. Before they leave, they are warned by a retired old man that they might die if they hear Okiku's voice count plates up to nine, so it's better to run off when they hear Okiku count them up to about six. Following the old man's suggestion, the young folks escape from Sarayashiki when they hear her counting up to six, but Okiku is such a beautiful woman that they go there the next day again without learning a lesson. In a few days a rumor spreads among people and spectators swell up to a hundred.

Once the number of people increases that much, they cannot escape at the time of counting the sixth plate even if they want to, so they have to hear her voice even counting up to nine. However, not only those who hear her do not die but also Okiku, when they listen carefully, continues to count the plates even after the ninth.
As Okiku counts up to 18 plates, she is going to enter the well saying, 'That's all.', so one of the spectators says, 'It's the rule that Okiku's plates consist of nine.'
When the spectator asks 'Why do you count 18 plates?', Okiku replies, "As tomorrow is a holiday, I counted even my duty for tomorrow.'

[Original Japanese]