A Japanese Ghost Story : Yotsuya Kaidan

2020年 01月10日

To start the year well and enjoy the cold winter evenings, why not get a little scared and plunge into the world of the Japanese yokais? One of the most famous stories is undoubtedly that of the ghost of Yotsuya, often known as Yotsuya Kaidan. The legend, inspired by two different facts of the Edo era, is created in the form of a Kabuki play, first staged in 1825, which immediately gained immense success among the people of Edo, the former name of Tokyo.

A tale that has many times been transformed, told, adapted, like most legends, there are many versions. Yet something remains unchanged in each of them, these are all stories of revenge, murder, ghosts, love and betrayal. Here we will introduce you to one of the most common versions.

Iemon, a disarmed samurai, hopes to raise his rank by marrying Oiwa, daughter of Yotsuya Samon. After begging the latter to allow him to marry his daughter and having suffered a violent refusal, the mad samurai kills Samon. A low-life criminal, Naosuke, witnesses the murder and offers to help Iemon hide the crime in exchange for his help. Indeed, the latter has his sights on Oiwa’s sister, Osode, already promised to another. They conspire together to accuse other bandits of the murder of the father and Naosuke pushes Osode’s fiancé from the top of a waterfall to get rid of him. The two men who managed to pass themselves off as heroes having nothing to do with the murders, each of them manage to marry the daughters.

Much later, married Iemon and Oiwa live together with their newborn child. They live in poverty, Iemon is not happy and Oiwa suffers that his father has not yet been avenged. The samurai begins to fall in love with a younger woman, Oume, the daughter of a rich doctor. At the same time, Naosuke who lives with Osode, is also tired of living in poverty. The story here differs in two different versions, in the one we see in the Kabuki play, Oume is madly in love with Iemon and her family poisons Oiwa in order to make marriage possible. In another version, it is Naosuke who sees in the marriage of Iemon and Oume a perfect opportunity to become rich and gives poison to the samurai so that he poisons his wife. The fact is that this poison, in each version, disfigures terribly the latter who ends up dying and taking her son's life with hers. Her body is dumped in the river by the samurai and Naosuke.

Soon after that, Iemon marries Oume but on their wedding day, the avenging ghost of Oiwa comes back to haunt the samurai and urges him, victim of hallucinations, to murder both his new wife and the father of the bride. The ghost is also harassing Naosuke and his wife. The latter is surprised by the visit of her former fiancé who, having survived the fall, accusing her of adultery. Distraught, she manages to push her two husbands to give her death, leaving a letter in which she confesses to Naosuke that she is in fact his younger sister, causing the latter’s suicide, who confesses his crimes to the former fiancé.


Iemon, who fled to the mountain, tries to fish but it is not fishes but the bodies of all those he killed that appear before him in the pond. Constantly harassed by the ghost of Oiwa, he sinks into madness until he meets the former fiancé of Osode, who will finally obtain his revenge by killing Iemon.


Oiwa appearing in a lantern by Hokusai

If the legend is very dark, such stories were usually created to keep people away from sin in Buddhist traditions. Today the tomb of Oiwa is found in the Myogo-ji temple in Tokyo, and the numerous accidents that occurred during the adaptations of the legend, usually pushes the actress to perform her role to pay tribute to her so as not to excite her anger.

The ghost of Yotsuya has been subject to many adaptations, it can be a good opportunity occasion to see a very beautiful representation of kabuki during your trip to Japan or to diversify your knowledge of cinema history by watching the film Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan of 1959 made by the one who is considered as the first master of Japanese horror films Nobuo Nakagawa, with blazing colours.

If we successfully managed to spook you, why not read a lighter Japanese talke such as the story of Momotaro of the Rabbit of Inaba?



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