The bunraku play Banshû sarayashiki was first staged in 1741, a ghost play (kaidan mono) about the spirit of
the maid Okiku haunting a well at Banshû in Harima province. The dramatization was apparently based on some historical figures.
Details of the story vary, but in one familiar adaptation Okiku commits suicide by drowning herself in a well after being unjustly accused
of breaking a precious plate, one of ten belonging to Aoyama Tessan, a hatamoto (shogunal retainer or bannerman). (Other versions
depict Okiku breaking one of the plates and being imprisioned by Aoyama, or being murdered by him after rejecting his amorous advances, but
all lead to her death.) Her specter then appears at the well each night, counting from one to nine, then letting out an anguished wail without
ever reaching the number "ten." Only when Mitsakuni Shônin, a family friend, calls out the final number to acknowledge her
innocence is Okiku's spirit appeased.
Okiku is shown among celestial clouds, her resplendent robes drawn in elaborate and colorful detail. She holds a sacred lotus (hasu) as
petals fall around her, a sign of the maid's transformation in Buddhist heaven.
Yoshitaki's print represents the culmination of late-period design featuring rich, saturated colors and extensive patterns, published the year before
the dawn of the Meiji period (1868-1912). Although the seeds had long been sown (arguably as early as the Tenpô Reforms of 1842-47), the final
decline of traditional kamigata-e would soon take hold, with fewer and fewer fine examples to be found as the new age progressed.
References: KNP-7, p. 141; IKB-I, no. 2-565