We have reached 10 installations! As a special thank-you episode, we will let you read the transcriptions of Japanese well-known horror stories from folklore, Sarayashiki (皿屋敷 Manor/Mansion of the Plates).
Okiku, 10 Dishes of Treasure, and a Well
The story called “Sarayashiki” has many versions and variations. But the common things in all versions are the main character Okiku (お菊), the ten treasure plates, and the manor with a well. The mainstream versions in the modern time are Banchō Sarayashiki (番町皿屋敷 Edo - Tokyo version), and Banshū-Sarayashiki (播州皿屋敷 Himeji Castle – Hyōgo Prefecture Area version). Each version also has many variations, with subtle changes in the cause ranged from a harsh penalty, unfulfilled love, assassination attempts, a test of true love, and even a jealous mistress.
If you have not read or heard any of the versions, well, we will save the spoilers and let you read through it yourself!
Banchō Version: a Tale of Jealousy, Cruelty, and Revenge
This is a story from around 370 years ago. The place was Ushigome Gomonnai Go-Banchō in Edo; there was a wealthy manor with a very deep well. It was a place where the mistress of the Toyotomi family, Tenju’in, once lived. There, “Aoyama ‘Harima no Kami’ Shusen” lived with his mistress and many maids. Shusen worked as a Town crier to break arson and thievery, but that was all just work for appearance. He never cared for people, never actually helped or prevented any crimes: a cruel, cold-hearted man. Similarly, his mistress was also a cruel one who liked to bully others.
On the eve of one year, Shusen called all his servants and maids to gather at the manor and said to them:
“Once the new year begins, our manor is going to invite honored guests of Goroju*, so the manor will be opened. For that, we will be using these ten plates. These were given to our manor from Toshogu-sama, and are treasures of our household. Just by being looked at by those guests is such an honor, so all of you must value and protect these plates more than your very life!”
*御老中 Council of Elders
“My lord, what would happen to us if we lost them or broke them?”
The eldest of the maids, Oume, spoke up. Then, Shusen walked up to her with a cold stare and pointed a small blade at her face.
“What a foolish thing!”
He suddenly cut her face.
All the maids screamed in terror, Oume in pain.
They were terrified by the sight of Oume whose mouth was cut horizontally, blood flew around all over.
“Ah hahaha hahaha” the mistress laughed in sinister laughter.
“Why would you do such a thing!” asked the maid.
“Foolish thing! Councilor Sakai-sama has made a habit to come to this very manor every spring just to ensure that the plates are alright or whatnot. Should even one plate get even a scratch, how would I, Aoyama Shusen, ask for forgiveness without cutting my own stomach or worse? And you dare to even speak of such an impudent thing so easily! Correct that at once!”
“My lord, for a woman, her face is her very life, that was too much!”
“Right”, said the mistress, “if you have such a wound or scar on your face, maybe you cannot live anymore. Let's just put her out of her misery now, shall we?”
“That would be a good idea. Taste the glimpse of hell and go there!”
Oume let out her last breath and cry.
Shusen cut Oume with his katana. Oume, with her vengeful stare fixated upon Shusen, passed away.
“Take this eye-sore woman and dump her in the river. Heh heh.”
The maids looked at the lifeless form while shivering.
“Ah hahaha hahaha”
After the incident, Okiku spoke to Oine, who was crying alone.
“She was my sister…” Oine continued to cry.
“This manor is scary. The lord is so scary. If we make a mistake, we would be killed just like my sister.”
Okiku could only listen and cry together with Oine.
One day, Okiku was called by Shusen. Frightened, she tried to keep her fear in check. She spoke from the outside of his room.
“Kiku is here to serve, my lord.”
“Oh, you’re here? Come in. Don’t just stand around there.”
“What would you have me do?”
“This is the key to the storehouse, I want to you keep it.” Shusen tossed the key to Okiku as he spoke.
“In this household, including my very wife, there was none who hold my heart. Okiku, only you. You are a pure girl, cleaned from the very bottom of the heart. The storehouse contains the Nanjing plates. Make sure they are not stolen at all costs.”
“Y- yes, my lord. I will do as you ask!”
As Shusen said that, he gently hugged Okiku.
“N- no! my lord, we can’t… soon, the mistress will be here. If she saw us in this situation… ah!”
Shusen hugged Okiku more tightly and tasted her soft lips. This is the first time in her life she felt her heart swayed, her mind went blank, unable to think of anything else. The passionate hug continued, Okiku’s kimono exposed.
Then, the mistress, accompanied by Oine, passed through. Hearing such a strange voice, she opened the sliding door with force.
“Looks like you are having fun. Sorry for the interruption.”
The Mistress only spoke once, then left without anything or any other words.
“I- I beg your pardon!”
“No need to apologize,” Shusen said, and then left the room to go after his wife.
Okiku also tried to leave the room in hurry but was stopped by Oine who stood nearby.
“I cannot believe that you would do such a thing!”
“You misunderstood! Believe me Oine-chan! Shusen forced me to-“
“No matter which, it’s all the same! I can't forgive you!” said Oine, her stare turned fiery rage like an ogress.
Okiku passed the time, feeling both guilt and the strange sensation of warmth in her head.
Eventually, the new year began. The household was opened. On the second day, the rumors about Okiku and Shusen spread around the household like wildfire. Okiku was disdained and hated by all the other maids. The jobs she was given had gotten harder, and she was often bullied and blamed for things she did not do. Okiku only shed tears in the shadow.
“My lord… I… ah… Lord Shusen…ah”
But the mistress saw what happened the shadow. Since then, Okiku also received cold treatment from the mistress. But it did not stop there.