Pediophobia: the fear of dolls. Pop culture has done a great job turning the age-old children’s toy into a potential vessel of evil (thank you Chucky and Annabelle), and while we rationally recognise that dolls aren’t going to come to life, it’s completely understandable that we simultaneously feel uneased by the stare of their cold, lifeless eyes. Will they turn their little heads to stare into your soul the moment you look away? Will they appear at random in a part of your home they aren’t supposed to be in? Will you wake up in the middle of the night to one holding a knife to your throat? We tell ourselves ‘no, that’s impossible’, but we still prefer being in a well-lit room with our grandmother’s antique china doll collection. But when it comes to Okiku, an allegedly haunted Japanese doll, her former family and current caretakers have no doubt that she’s taken on a life of her own.
According to the story of Okiku, the doll was purchased by a seventeen-year-old boy named Eikichi Suzuki during a visit to Sapporo for a marine exhibition in 1918. The doll was a gift from his travels for his two-year-old sister named Okiku (in some versions of the story she’s called Kikuko). When she was initially purchased, the doll had a hair style called ‘okappa’ (similar to a bob cut), which is popular on Japanese dolls. Okiku loved her new doll and it served as the little girl’s companion until she died suddenly from a cold-like illness at the age of three. Devastated by their loss, Okiku’s family put her favourite doll on the household altar where they prayed in memory of Okiku. Before long, the family noticed that the hair on Okiku’s doll had begun to grow, as if the hair was on the head of a human. The family concluded that the restless spirit of Okiku, who died so young, was now inside her beloved doll. The doll remained with Okiku’s family until 1938 when they moved to Iwamizawa in Hokkaido and gave the doll to the Mennenji Temple where she remains enshrined to this day. She is now referred to as Okiku after her former owner. Some believe the hair that continues to grow from her head is the hair of the child Okiku.
Okiku’s hair growing party trick didn’t stop when she found a new home in Mennenji Temple. Allegedly, her cropped hair grew nearly 10 inches (all the way down to her knees) during the beginning of her stay at the temple and continues to require trimming to stop it from growing out of control. The priest that cuts her hair was said to receive a message from Okiku in his dreams asking him to keep her hair trimmed.
A user named Azumi on Yahoo! Japan‘s ‘Paranormal, occult‘ forum says that a Japanese paranormal book discussing Okiku claims the temple refuses to allow the doll to be disassembled and analysed. However, I couldn’t locate an additional source to verify this. Others claim the temple allowed some of the trimmed hair to be tested, which determined that it was indeed the hair of a real child. And if Okiku’s story isn’t creepy enough, some visitors believe her mouth is slowly opening to reveal a set of human teeth. Whether or not any of this is true, Okiku continues to intrigue and frighten visitors to her shrine to this day with her personal twist on the forever eerie haunted doll trope.
Sources and Additional Reading
All About Japan – Japan’s 8 Creepiest Shrines & Temples
Grape – Okiku: The Haunted Japanese Doll that Grows Human Hair
Old City Ghosts – Okiku, the Japanese Haunted Doll that Puts Chucky to Shame
Wikipedia – Mannenji Temple