Banchō Sarayashiki, translated to ‘The Dish Mansion at Banchō’, has a strong legacy in Japan as a kaidan (Japanese ghost story) since 1741, it has been adapted in various ways (e.g. manga, novella, television series) and depicted in the ever enduring ukiyo-e. A bunraku play titled ‘Banchō Sarayashiki’ was performed at the Toyotakeza theatre in the 17th century, with kabuki versions following the success at likes of the Naka no Shibai theatre in Osaka, and these traditional practices solder the tale into national heritage. The tale features ‘Okiku’, who has become a folkloric icon as an onryō, associated to haunted wells where her body was dumped as a victim to an unfair and manipulated accusation – the well a clear connection to the disposal in Ringu as a trope.
The original tale recounts a beautiful maid, Okiku, serving as the maid to the samurai Aoyama Tessan whose interest in her is relentless – he’s enamoured with her stunning looks and takes every chance to court her. As she rejects him politely to conserve her modesty, Aoyama is frustrated at being spurned and hatches a devious scheme – he will hide one of the ten Delft plates she’s responsible for overseeing as immensely valuable heirlooms – a serious oversight of her duty deserving even her execution. Okiku notices there are only nine plates and counts for ten obsessively, guilty and shocked at her error to lose the tenth – there’s only 9.
Her master, Aoyama, discovers the scene and offers her clemency in exchange for her submitting as her lover- a proposal completely against her dignity he is atrociously trying to manipulate. She refuses firmly and the the samurai flies into a rage – he throws her into a well as a supposed punishment for losing the plate. After this dreadful event, the yurei of Okiku would crawl from the well every night to haunt Aoyama and count to nine softly until letting a horrendous shriek to represent the tenth missing plate which spelt her doom.
The subsequent outcome to this tale is contended and there’s no definitive ending – some depict an exorcism with screaming the tenth in tune with her, others portray her merely disappearing once the missing plate is discovered. The plot has other variants, too, changing all drastically as in the Edo and Harima versions, both much more intricate in the level of details whereas they’ve developed into a much deeper narrative. Banchō Sarayashiki is a tragic tale of a inappropriately pursued women who suffers manipulations to coerce her fate until an unjust death as a consequence of nothing she did – she is very much a rightful vengeful spirit to Japanese lore, a vexed spirit whose rage of injustice channels her into an onryō.