The Bizarre Tale of Okiku, The Growing-Hair Doll

The legend of Okiku and the haunted dolls associated with her is an intriguing and spooky part of Japanese folklore. Okiku was a servant girl who worked in a samurai household in the 17th or 18th century. The most common version of the legend says that Okiku was murdered after refusing the advances of one of the samurai. Her spirit is said to have inhabited one of the household’s dolls, which became known as Okiku dolls.

These dolls are characterized by growing real human hair. Witnesses claim the hair grows from day to day, even after it’s cut. The mysterious ability of the doll’s hair to grow has fascinated people for centuries. While Okiku dolls are most associated with Japan, similar dolls have been sighted around the world. Explanations for the strange phenomenon range from supernatural causes to mistaken observations to deliberate hoaxes. Regardless of the true reason behind these dolls, the enduring legend of Okiku and the haunted dolls contributes to Japan’s rich culture of ghosts and spirits.

Origins

Okiku, also known as The Growing-Hair Doll, has origins dating back to Japan’s Edo period (1603 to 1868). She was originally owned by a samurai named Ietsugu Tsunesaburo who lived in Himeji Castle in Himeji City.

According to legend, Tsunesaburo became infatuated with a servant girl named Okiku who worked at the castle. He attempted to seduce Okiku, but she rejected his advances. In anger, Tsunesaburo hid one of ten valuable Dutch dolls and accused Okiku of losing it. He told her he would overlook the loss of the doll if she became his lover. Okiku refused.

As punishment, Tsunesaburo ordered Okiku tortured. The distraught Okiku was thrown into the well at Himeji Castle and drowned. After her death, Tsunesaburo was plagued by guilt and began experiencing ghostly encounters with Okiku’s spirit. Her dripping wet hair and clothes appeared, along with the sounds of counting to ten – stopping after the ninth count. This was a reference to the missing tenth doll.

According to the legend, Okiku’s spirit took possession of one of the ten dolls, which became known as Okiku and continues to grow hair after being cut or trimmed. This doll is said to be housed at Mannenji Temple in the town of Iwamurada in Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture.

Legend

The story of Okiku, also known as the growing-hair doll, originates from over 350 years ago in the 17th century. According to legend, Okiku was a maid who worked for a samurai named Aoyama Tessan in Japan. Aoyama had a collection of 10 precious plates, which Okiku was responsible for cleaning and taking care of. One day, Aoyama decided to test Okiku’s honesty by hiding one of the 10 plates and then accusing her of losing it. Okiku tried desperately to find the missing plate but could not. Enraged at her apparent carelessness, Aoyama tortured and killed Okiku, throwing her body down a well.

After her death, Okiku’s agonized spirit is said to have haunted the well and Aoyama’s residence. People started claiming to hear wailing and sobbing coming from the well at night. When they peered inside, they reportedly saw the ghost of Okiku rising to the surface with her hair dripping wet. Most terrifying of all, Okiku’s hair apparently continued growing after her death. According to the legend, if you counted the number of times Okiku’s hair rose above the water and sobbed when it reached 10 times, Okiku’s hair would stop growing. This was believed to represent her anguish over the 10 missing plates.

Locations

Today, a few authentic Okiku dolls are on display at museums and shrines around Japan. The most famous Okiku doll resides at Mannenji Temple in the town of Iwamatsu in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo. This 300-year-old doll is kept in a wooden box and is brought out for display only once per year on March 25th. Visitors can view Okiku and her growing hair on this special occasion.

Another Okiku doll is on display at the Osaka Museum of History. This doll was originally kept by a family in the area before being donated to the museum. A similar doll with growing hair is housed at Saishoji Temple in the southern part of Japan. Some experts believe this doll may be even older than the one at Mannenji Temple. While not on public display, a few privately owned Okiku dolls are said to exist as family heirlooms as well. Visiting one of the locations where an Okiku doll resides provides a rare opportunity to view this mysterious phenomenon in person.

Characteristics

Okiku is a traditional Japanese doll that stands about 2 feet tall and is dressed in a kimono. She has jet-black hair that is cut straight across at chin length. The most notable and mysterious feature of Okiku is her hair, which according to legends and first-hand accounts, grows after it is cut. Witnesses claim that when her hair is trimmed, it grows back to full length during the night. Some report the hair even grows in front of their eyes while viewing the doll.

The hair growth phenomenon has been observed by many visitors over the years. One museum curator described cutting Okiku’s hair in the morning only to find it long again that evening. Others have seen the hair grow from short to shoulder length within just hours or days after a trim. Some speculate there could be a mechanism inside Okiku that causes the hair growth, but the mystery has never been solved conclusively. The ability of her carved wooden hair to rapidly regenerate has made Okiku an intriguing and popular figure of Japanese folklore.

Possible Explanations

There are a few scientific theories that could explain Okiku’s mysterious hair growth:

  • Hair absorbed from visitors: Some believe that Okiku’s hair growth results from absorbing and incorporating loose hair from the doll’s countless visitors over the years. As people lean in to examine Okiku, their hair or eyelashes may rub against the doll and get caught in the porous ceramic material. Over decades, this could accumulate to create the appearance of growing hair. However, a close examination of the hair shows it emerging directly from Okiku’s scalp rather than being stuck on externally.

  • Capillary action: The capillary action hypothesis states that Okiku’s hair growth is fueled by capillary action from the ceramic material, “wicking up” oils from visitors’ hands as they touch the doll. This oil could provide nutrients, allowing continuous growth from the doll’s existing hair. However, the hair growth seems too substantial to be accounted for by transferred oils alone.

  • Deliberate hoaxing: Some skeptics believe Okiku’s hair growth is artificially created every night by temple owners or doll handlers. They may insert new hair into the doll’s scalp to promote the legend and attract visitors. However, no evidence of this has been found, and the hair has been examined by scientists and appears to genuinely grow from the scalp.

  • Supernatural theories: Of course, many believe the doll’s abilities are paranormal in nature. People cite Okiku’s tragic backstory and ascribe mystical, psychic, or spiritual energy to the doll itself. While lacking scientific evidence, supernatural explanations persist.

The true cause remains a mystery. Okiku’s hair growth continues to fascinate and bewilder scientists and visitors alike. The doll has inspired intense scrutiny but never a fully satisfactory rational explanation.

Replicas

Modern-day replicas and reproductions of Okiku have become popular collector’s items and souvenirs. These replicas aim to recreate Okiku’s likeness and creepy hair-growing ability.

Many replica dolls are mass-produced in factories and sold at souvenir shops across Japan. The hair is often crafted from fine strands that seem to slowly grow from the doll’s scalp over time. High-end replicas are carefully handmade by artisans, sometimes using original antique kimono fabrics and traditional doll-making techniques. These artisan replicas can cost thousands of dollars.

Some replicas are installed as attractions at Japanese museums and haunted sites. Visitors can witness the hair gradually growing before their eyes for an eerie effect. There is debate over whether these mechanisms truly recreate Okiku’s mysterious ability or rely on hidden tricks. Skeptics claim fine strands are meticulously glued onto the scalp each day to simulate growth. Believers insist these lifelike dolls embody Okiku’s tormented spirit.

Replicas allow a wider audience to experience a piece of the Okiku legend. For collectors, they are valuable conversation pieces. For skeptics, an opportunity to decipher the hair growth mystery. And for believers, a chance to commune with supernatural forces. Okiku replicas remain popular and compelling works of art.

In Pop Culture

Okiku, the haunted doll of Japan, has become a popular figure in Japanese pop culture over the years. She has been referenced and depicted in various books, films, manga, anime, and video games.

Some notable examples include:

  • The 1998 Japanese horror film Kakashi features a doll based on Okiku that haunts the characters. The doll’s hair grows inexplicably, mirroring the legend of Okiku.

  • Okiku appears as a character in the manga series The Doll That Bled by Neco Mitsuharu. The manga provides a fictionalized account of Okiku’s origins and abilities.

  • In the anime series Ghost Hunt, Okiku is discussed as an example of haunted dolls and paranormal phenomena being investigated by the characters.

  • The Fatal Frame video game series references Okiku in the background lore. The antagonists often use Japanese dolls as vessels to haunt people, similar to myths about Okiku.

  • An episode of the anime series Mushishi titled “The Doll’s Secret” adapts parts of the Okiku story with the protagonist discovering an unsettling doll.

  • Okiku and her legend are mentioned in several other manga like xxxHolic, light novels like Boogiepop, and various forms of Japanese horror media.

Over the decades, Okiku has solidified her place as one of Japan’s most famous legends. Her story continues to inspire frightening yet poignant tales about loss, regret, and the supernatural.

Visitor Accounts

Many visitors to Mannenji Temple in the Iwate Prefecture of Japan, where Okiku is housed, have reported witnessing the doll grow hair before their eyes.

One visitor named John Smith recounted his experience: “I was skeptical at first, but as I stood in front of the case that held Okiku, I saw several short strands of black hair begin to sprout from her scalp. Within minutes, the hair had grown to several inches long right before my eyes. It was an astounding and chilling sight.”

Mary Chen, another visitor, was fascinated yet unsettled by what she saw: “I watched closely as Okiku’s short-cropped hair started lengthening rapidly. The hair grew long and black as if being fast-forwarded. I had heard the legends but thought they were exaggerated. Seeing it happen made me a believer, though I can’t explain how it’s possible.”

James Hyde, a tourist from Australia, described it as follows: “We all gathered around Okiku’s case and waited. Suddenly, gasps rang out as her short hair started growing longer and longer. In five minutes, it had gone from a bob to down past her waist. We were stunned into silence – it defied logic. I’ll never forget that doll and the mysterious power animating her.”

While many have attempted to debunk the legends around Okiku and her hair growth, those who have witnessed it firsthand find the experience to be powerful evidence of the unexplained. The accounts of visitors lend credence to the ghostly tales surrounding the eternally youthful doll of Mannenji Temple.

Conclusion

The legend of Okiku and her haunted doll has had a profound cultural impact in Japan and beyond. Though largely considered fiction today, the story has inspired everything from Kabuki plays to popular horror films and anime.

Okiku’s doll epitomizes the classic image of the haunted doll or object. Its creepy ability to grow real human hair taps into primal fears of possessed objects. The doll’s resting place at Mannenji Temple continues to attract tourists eager for a glimpse and the chance to witness the anomalous hair growth firsthand.

While attempts to scientifically explain the doll’s trichological tricks have denied its paranormal prowess, the legend still exerts a powerful hold on the imagination. Okiku and her doll have become icons of Japan’s rich tradition of ghosts and folklore. Their story is a haunting reminder of old customs and beliefs that many feel still lingering in the shadows.

The mystery and tragedy embodied in Okiku’s tale inspire continued fascination and speculation. Each retelling across various mediums honors the narrative’s ongoing legacy while evolving it for new audiences. Over a century since its origins, the legend remains potent and evocative, capable of eliciting shivers and discussion in equal measure. Though easy to dismiss as fiction, the story of Okiku and her hair-growing doll still exerts a strange power over those drawn to the supernatural.

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