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Her hair grows
Japan's culture is rich. The people hold onto traditions and beliefs like a steel trap, never allowing anything to escape. As a result, we are often amazed and in awe by their rich folklore and superstitions which can be found around every corner, under every stone, and down any dark passage.
They have the Gashadokuro, giant skeleton creatures wandering the countryside in search of victims. The creepy Akaname which crawls out of the toilet to slobber up the filth in your bathroom, and the Jubokko, the blood-sucking trees hungry for humans.
And on the island of Hokkaido they have a small doll called Okiku who is inhabited by the spirit of its owner, and whose hair needs to be trimmed every few months because it actually grows. An absurd story, to be sure, but one that the monks of Mannenji temple swear by.
Mannenji temple is situated on Hokkaido and practices the Jodo Sect of Buddhism. The beautiful tranquillity of the temple is undisturbed by the sinister doll within its walls. She has raised no concerns during her long stay, and only requests a barber upon occasion.
Inside, they have built a small shrine. Decorated in flowers and golden embroidery, the small doll has been given a place of reverence. The monks perhaps do not love her, but they certainly respect the spirit of the girl. When asked, they will quickly tell you the tragic tale of Okiku.
In 1918 a teenage boy, Eikichi Suzuki, bought a beautiful doll for his sister, Okiku. The little doll had an uncanny resemblance to the girl, even her haircut (a pretty bob with a fringe) matched her perfectly. So the little girl called the doll also Okiku. They were twins.
This doll quickly became her favourite toy and no matter where she went, her little doll would come with her.
The doll apparently bore a striking resemblance to its owner.
But tragedy struck, and the young girl was killed by a terrible bout of yellow fever. The parents, completely devastated by the loss made a small shrine in her memory, placing the doll in its centre. They named it Okiku.
One day the mother was praying at the altar when she noticed something peculiar. The doll's hair was longer than it had been before! She quickly called her husband and he came to the same conclusion, Okiku's hair was growing. They realised that their daughter's spirit must have possessed the doll.
Although certainly peculiar, they decided to keep the doll and so keep their daughter close to them. A few years later the family decided to move to Japan proper, but they did not wish to take the doll with them, believing that their daughter would be happier to stay in a place she knew.
They took her to the monks of the Mannenji temple, where the small doll has resided ever since.
But the story doesn't end there. The monks claim that some time ago, one of their members had a dream about Okiku who asked him to please cut her hair, as she didn't like it to grow too long. Since then they have trimmed the beautiful black hair, but it still grows to this day.
Much like many of the folklore and superstition littered across the many islands of Japan, the story of Okiku is a mixture of horror and tragedy. Almost sweet in a way. It is difficult to find pure horror in her dull eyes when one remembers that she is really just a little girl whose life was cut a little too short.
And her hair that grew a little too long.
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