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Story behind Universal Studios Singapore Halloween Horror Nights 8: The Haunting of Oiwa!

As it draws closer to Halloween, it is the time for spooky tales. And today, I bring to you one of the legendary three onryo stories from Japan: Oiwa!
'The Haunting of Oiwa' is one of the iconic stories in Japanese folklore and is showcased at Halloween Horror Nights 8.

The main draw of this is based on the story of Yotsuya (otherwise known as Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan), and RWS advertises this as an experience where "visitors will step back in time to the chilling Edo-era of Japan in haunted house that is The Haunting of Oiwa and come face-to-face with Lady Oiwa who returns from the dead seeking revenge after being poisoned by her unfaithful husband".

But is this all? What's the true story behind Lady Oiwa? Is there even a true story?
Well, the famous retelling of the story into a kabuki play essentially incorporates aspects from different stories. The first concerns two servants murdering their masters, leading to them being executed; and the second story involved a samurai who nailed his cheating concubine and servant to a wooden board and throwing them into the Kanda River.

Merging these two together created the chilling tale of Oiwa which haunts us all till this very day.
The story is based in 17th century Edo Japan, centered around Tamiya Oiwa. The Tamiya Inari shrine in Yotsuya is said to be where Oiwa herself worshipped and is maintainted by the Tamiya family till this day. The shrine, also popularly known as Oiwa Shrine, is a 15 minute walk from Yotsuya station.
At the shrine, there is a signboard that suggests that the story of Oiwa 200 years after her death, is purely fictional and her relationship with Iemon was a happy and fruitful one. But well, I believe that there might be some truth to the popularized story, which goes like this...
Oiwa is the faithful and beautiful wife of Iemon, a ronin (samurai without a master). Her father, Samon, learned of his past misdeeds and wanted Iemon to leave his daughter. Iemon's servant/friend, Naosuke, also had his sights set on Oiwa's sister, Osode, who was already wed to another man, Yomoshichi. Hence, Iemon and Naosuke conspired to murder the two men, and swore to avenge their deaths if the two daughters married them.

However, after Oiwa gave birth, she grows sickly and never recovers. Times were hard and they had little money. Iemon is forced into lower work to support his family and grows to strongly resent his wife and their financial status. At this point in time, Oume, the granddaughter of a rich doctor falls in love with him, but felt that she could never compete with Oiwa's beauty. Her doting grandfather then conspired with Iemon, telling him that if he married Oume, he would inherit all their riches. He then prescribed Oiwa an ointment (poison) which Iemon gladly passed to his wife.

Upon using the ointment, sickly Oiwa became disfigured. Her eye droops and big chunks of her hair start to fall, resulting in her turning partially bald. This creates the usual depiction of Oiwa in art, such as in ukiyo-e, and also in movies and at HHN8.
Disgusted by Oiwa's mangled face and disappointed that his wife is still alive, Iemon then bribes a local man named Takuetsu to rape Oiwa so he would have a legitimate reason to divorce her. However, instead of going through with the devious plans, Takuetsu is frightened by Oiwa's looks and showed Oiwa her reflection instead. It is also believed that he revealed Iemon's plans to her then. This, combined with her disfigurement made Oiwa disheartened and furious.

She rushes to kill Takuetsu with a sword, but unfortunately, trips and cuts her own throat open instead. While bleeding profusely, she kills her infant son so he would not be raised by Iemon and become someone as vile as his father, then curses her husband's name with her dying breath.
Her faithful servant, Kohei, finds the body in the morning and becomes suspicious of Iemon after noticing that the latter seemed unreasonably elated over the death of his wife, but was quickly silenced. Iemon then nails the body of Oiwa and Kohei to a board and drops them into a river, claiming that the two were having an affair.

Released from his unfortunate marriage, Iemon then marries Oume. On their wedding night, he sees Oiwa's mangled face after removing the veil covering his wife's face.
In a fit of fear and anger, Iemon slashes the apparition with his sword, and successfully decapitating her. Unfortunately, she turns out to be Oume and a flustered Iemon rushes out to find his father-in-law. Outside his room, he sees a vision of Kohei and slashes out again, murdering his father-in-law as well. Now, frantic to cover up his crimes, Iemon sets out to purge the rest of the family, throwing his mother-in-law into a canal and drowning the servants. 

Meanwhile, the widowed Osode marries Naosuke. However, she refuses his numerous advances to consummate their marriage. This goes on until Yomoshichi shows up, alive, and accuses Osode of adultery. Shamed, the woman then begs them to kill her, which they do. After her death, Naosuke realizes through a note that Osode left him, that she was his younger sister. Ashamed of his deeds, he gave Yomoshichi damning evidence against Iemon, and commits suicide as well.

At around the same time, Iemon flees from the ghosts haunting him. In one instance, Oiwa's disfigured face is said to appear in paper lanterns that light his way. 
Having lost his mind and descended so deep into madness that he can't tell nightmares from reality anymore, Iemon escapes from his cabin in the mountains and runs into Yomoshichi, who slays him out of pity and vengeance.

Even until now, the story of Oiwa is well-known throughout Japan and it is customary for actors and directors to make a pilgrimage to Oiwa's grave to ask for her permission and blessing for their production before starting their filming.
If you're interested in the story of Oiwa and would like to get your fair share of scares for the upcoming Halloween, why not try HHN8? You'll get to experience Oiwa's vengeance first-hand at a perfectly made diorama of Edo Japan in the 17th century.
And you get to have a lot of chills from from Lady Oiwa as she stalks you from start to end of this haunted house. The thrilling experience from masks, sudden and close-up jump scares, and random eerie laughter will definitely leave your extremities tingling cold even after you experience the four other haunted house attractions at HHN8: Netflix's Stranger Things, Pagoda of Peril, Pontianak, and Killuminati!
Thank you for reading and look forward to the next Japanese horror tale I'll bring to y'all!

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