Oiwa is one of the most famous Yurei and it is said she inspired Sadako from Ringu (which was based on a novel). There seem to be many different versions of her story and I haven’t been able to find many coherent versions in English.
My version is taken from Yurei Attack: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide by H. Yoda and Matt Alt. I really recommend it if you’re interested in Yurei. But on with the story.
Oiwa’s husband was named Iyemon and he was a dishonoured samurai. Their relationship was rather turbulent and after one particularly unpleasant row, Oiwa returned to her parental home. To add another dimension to the story, Oiwa’s father is aware that Iyemon stole money from his former employer. Iyemon attempts to talk the old man around, but when confronted with proof of his fraud he becomes enraged and stabs Oiwa’s father to death.
Oiwa has a sister Osode who is married to Yomoshichi, apparently happily. But there is another man on the scene by the name of Naosuke, who is the neighbourhood pedlar and a bit of a stalker. In the same night that Oiwa’s father is murdered, Naosuke decides the time has come to dispatch Yomoshichi.
Both women return to their respective homes and are confronted by the bodies of the murdered men, but somehow both Iyemon and Naosuke manage to convince them that this was the work of mysterious robbers. Both promise to avenge the dead men (that they killed) and life goes on. Iyemon and Oiwa get back together and Naosuke begins to work his charm on Osode.
Oiwa has a baby, but instead of being overjoyed Iyemon begins to grow distant and begins a flirtation with a neighbouring girl Ume. This cast of characters is beginning to rival George R Martin. Anyway, Iyemon wants rid of his wife and decides to bribe a masseuse to seduce his wife, intending to use this as reason to divorce her. What a guy!
Ume, being as lovely as her new paramour decides that Iyemon is taking too long and sends Oiwa a medicinal cream, which is actually a pretty nasty poison. Poor Oiwa, being trusting and not a big jerk, uses the cream and it has a terrible result; her hair falls out and her skin beings to fall off her face. The masseuse either feels sorry for her, or cannot bear to go through with the seduction because she’s no longer cover girl material and tells Oiwa everything.
Oiwa commits suicide, but not before swearing a terrible curse on those who had wronged her (a long list). Meanwhile a law-man comes poking around, suspicious about that bottle of poison Oiwa received and Iyemon, in a panic, murders him too. Hearing of the curse, he nails Oiwa’s body to a door (as you do) and tosses the body of the murdered law-man on top for good measure. He tosses the door into a river and hopes anyone who finds it will consider them a murder-suicide – though why they’d nail themselves to a door first obviously didn’t occur to rational Iyemon.
Now we shift forward a bit to Iyemon and Ume’s wedding night and this is where it gets good. Oiwa’s ghost appears in the wedding suite and in panic Iyemon lashes out wildly and accidentally stabs his new wife. He flees the room into the hall where Oiwa appears again and this time Iyemon cuts down Ume’s father by mistake. The rest of the household are understandably upset by this departure from the normal wedding night activities and chase him through the village. Iyemon (just for giggles apparently) throws Ume’s mother and a servant into a river and both drown.
Naosuke is having a slightly better time of it as Osode has finally agreed to do the deed with him, but they aren’t alone. Yomoshichi’s ghost appears, rather angry as you’d imagine and of course, Osode is tragically killed in Naosuke’s attempt to wrestle the spirit. Randomly it turns out that Osode was actually Naosuke’s long lost sister, though I don’t know how he figures this out. Naosuke kills himself. Soap operas have nothing on this.
Iyemon continues to be haunted by the disfigured corpse of his wife, she gives him no peace. By now he is on the run and on the verge of starving. He attempts to catch fish, but instead hooks the door, still bearing the corpses of his first wife and the law-man. He flees to a place called Snake Mountain where of course he lives happily ever after. Or not. He attempts suicide, but Oiwa won’t let him get off that easily and keeps halting the blade.
Finally Yomoshichi, apparently deciding that he likes murder, pops up and bumps off Iyemon. Because, why the hell shouldn’t he?
How do I recognise her?
Like many Japanese ghosts she is tall and thin with long black hair.
Oiwa is also said to sometimes manifest as a lantern. This is not unusual for a Yurei and in order to be sure that it is Oiwa you should look for the lantern with hair.
Where will I find her?
How do I get her attention?
There are stories of those who act out her story on stage being mysteriously injured shortly after. This even affects those on television.
Oiwa really doesn’t like men who wrong women or women who take other women’s husbands (or presumably those who play with poison) and is said to be as malevolent and powerful today as she was back then. So if you’re in Tokyo you may want to behave.
How do I escape?
Before beginning a performance it is said that you should visit her grave to pay your respects. You can also visit the Tamiya Shrine, located at Oiwa’s family home and a priest will perform a Shinto ritual to placate Oiwa.
Don’t cheat or steal someone else’s partner and you should be fine.
I can’t find any information on what happens to Iyemon and Oiwa’s baby, but presumably it doesn’t end well.