Death comes at 9: The Legend of Okiku

March 23, 2021

Let’s talk about the number nine. Seems harmless, right? You’re so wrong.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13). The Friday the 13th movies do a lot to bring credibility to being a little nervous around the number 13.  Hotels, cruise ships, and even some hospitals will go out of their way to avoid the appearance of having a 13th room or floor. Just in case. But, horror movies aside, what exactly might happen and why you’re supposed to be afraid is all a little vague.

But if you want a serious number phobia, I suggest Enineaphobia. Enineaphobia (Greek) and nonaphobia (Latin) are the names attached to the fear of the number nine. What’s so bad about nine? In Japanese the number nine can be pronounced “ku.” This same pronunciation is also used with the Japanese word for agony or torture. They go together for a very good, very scary reason. Well, at least a very old folklore reason.

Don’t believe me? Ask Okiku.

Death Comes at 9: The Legend of Okiku

According to Japanese lore, there once was a beautiful young servant named Okiku.  What happens next can go several different ways depending on the version of the tale that has been passed down to you. No matter who plays to roll of the bad guy and how they carry out their nefarious plans, every version Okiku’s story involves the very best elements of intrigue: treasure, lust, and torture.  What more could you ask for?

As with all good stories, Okiku’s tale shows us that beauty has its price.  Okiku’s master sees her loveliness and begins to fancy himself in lust, err love, with her. In a bold, but decidedly bad move, Okiku spurns his advances.  We’re supposed to assume she is being noble and virtuous, but who knows? Maybe the guy just smelled bad and had gross feet. Either way her answer is “no” and her master does not like being turned down.

Okiku is then entrusted with 10 precious plates that are family heirlooms and highly valued by her master. And the plot thickens. A plate goes missing or is broken by the master. In one version a jealous wife sets Okiku up to take the blame, in another Okiku is actually responsible for the broken plate. In every case Okiku is ultimately accused of its loss. Okiku searches frantically for the plate, counting and recounting hoping that there has been a mistake.  She knows the loss of the plate is crime is punishable by death.

Still, Okiku is given a chance to save herself—as long as she accepts her master’s amorous intentions and agrees to become his lover. When that stubborn girl refuses him yet again, things get really ugly.

Okiku’s punishment is carried out by beating her, binding her, and dropping her head-first into a well. In some instances she is pulled back up multiple times to demand her submission. When she continues to refuse him he tortures her until she eventually dies.

Not cool.

Let the hauntings begin!

Okiku seriously does not like the number nine. She begins with haunting her own master and continues on to any other

Image by Be.Busta at YouTube

unfortunate soul who doesn’t meet her counting standards. Okiku continually walks through his house, counting and looking for the lost plate that will save her life. Her efforts may at first be quiet rustlings. A whispered word you can’t quite make out or a nagging sense that something is out of place. When her counting inevitably stops on nine Okiku begins to shriek. This Japanese-style banshee goes from tortured to torturer in the count of a few heartbeats.

If you are very, very lucky, she will let you finish her count. A neighbor or friend may pretend to find the missing object and yell “ten!” and life will go back to normal. If not, you’re in serious trouble. An exorcism might help. Or not. If the shrieking continues she is calling for your own death. In a word, “ku.”

Pain, agony, and torture await you.

See? All those people afraid of the bad luck that might be caused by the number 13 are amateurs.  If you want a deadly phobia, be very, very afraid of the number nine. Now, quick, go count your china. I’ll wait.

Interested in getting to know Okiku better?

Plan a visit to Himeji Castle in Hyōgo, Japan. Go listen at Okiku-Ido, or Okiku’s Well, and see if you can hear her counting.

Look into the history of the Chinese Windmill Butterfly that once infested old wells in Japan and see if you can tell why they were identified as okiku mushi or the “Okiku insect.”

Of course, you can also try these:

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