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Scary Well

The Story Behind the Horror Flick “Ringu”

The 1998 J-horror movie “Ringu” was lauded as the highest grossing horror film in Japan (12 billion yen!), the story is about a cursed videotape that kills those who watch it unless they show it to someone else. The dramatic scenes are packed with suspense and scary visual effects. The movie is based on a best-selling novel by Koji Suzuki, who is hailed for single-handedly raising the bar in horror films in Japan. In 2002, Ringu was made into a Hollywood movie entitled “The Ring,” which also became a hit.

Himeji Castle in autumnHimeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-jō)—built on a hilltop in Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture in 1333, it is composed of 83 buildings and was equipped with advanced defensive strategies for the feudal period. With a brilliant white exterior, it resembles a bird taking flight giving it nickname, the White Heron Castle. It is probably the largest, most visited castle in Japan. It’s been the setting for some of the biggest Hollywood movies like “The Last Samurai” starring Tom Cruise, and then some.

On the way down the castle’s impressive main keep is a well known as Okiku’s Well, the real-life inspiration for the novel “Ringu”.

The legend of “The Dish Mansion in Harima Province”

Ringu and Himeji Castle have the centuries old legend of “The Dish Mansion in Harima Province” (Banchō Sarayashiki) in common. There are several versions to the story, but the earliest known dramatized version is of the 1741 Bunraku puppet play Banshu Sarayashiki by Tamenaga Tarobei and Asada Itcho.

As the story goes…

There once was a court lady named Okiku who became a victim of a vile plot to take over the lordship of Himeji Castle. When the castle lord was sick and near death, his chief retainer, Tetsuzan hatched a plan to get rid of a rival heir hoping Okiku would help him. Tetsuzan tries to seduce Okiku and then puts blame on her for the theft of one of the treasured dish plates earmarked as a succession gift. When the plan doesn’t work, Tetsuzan forcibly suspends Okiku over a well occasionally pulling her up to torture her with a bokken, a wooden sword used in martial arts. Okiku remained resolved in her determination to stay true to herself. The frustrated Tetsuzan finally throws Okiku down the well. Not long enough, he hears a voice coming from the bottom of the well counting plates as Okiku’s spirit rises from the well’s mouth.

While peering down “Okiku’s Well”, and you suddenly hear a voice counting plates, you should shout “Ten!”. It is said that it is known to ease Okiku’s spirit and keep her from shrieking at losing a plate after she gets to nine.

Check out another version of Banchō Sarayashiki on this YouTube video.

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Read all about Japanese immersion learning and studying abroad. Check out our eZasshi archives for more articles!