There were many samurai legends, mostly dating from the 100s to the 1800s. Most japanese folklore involves kami (gods and revered spirits),yōkai (monster-spirits) (such as oni, kappa, and tengu), and yūrei (ghosts). The more popular ones are mentioned below.
47 Ronin Edit
In 1701 lord Asano of Ako was selected by the shogun to prepare a lavish welcome ceremony for another arriving Daimyo. Needing instruction on this delicate matter, Asano hired lord Kira to teach him about court pageantry. After the training was finished lord Kira insulted Asano, believing that he had been underpaid for his services. Asano, feeling deeply offended, attacked Kira with his sword, wounding his head and shoulder severely. The two were broken apart and brought before the Shogun. Although Asano had acted in true samurai spirit, he had committed a very grave crime ・drawing his sword in the Shogun (痴) palace ・punishable by death. That same afternoon he was ordered to perform seppuku.
A group of 47 of lord Asano (痴) Samurai vowed revenge. Now masterless, they devoted their lives to the avengement of lord Asano's death. For years they waited for their opportunity to strike. Finally, on 14 December 1702, the 47 ronin struck. After beheading Kira and placing his head on their master (痴) grave, turned themselves over to the Shogun. This solemn and highly symbolic act won the hearts of the masses. There was an outburst of public sympathy and admiration for the 47 ronin.
For a few months the Shogun pondered the question of their fate. Finally it was decided that although they had acted in the time-honored tradition of the Samurai, they had also broken the new laws of the Tokugawa. On this charge they were ordered to commit Seppuku. Upon their death the story of the 47 ronin achieved a level of folklore immortality that has been matched by few others in Japanese (痴) history.
Urashima Tarō Edit
One fine day a young fisherman named Urashima Tarō was fishing when he noticed a small turtle being tormented by some children. Tarō saved it and let it go back to the sea. The day after a huge turtle approached him and told him that the small turtle he had saved was the daughter of the Emperor of the Sea, who wanted to see him to thank him. The turtle magically gave Tarō gills and brought him to the bottom of the sea, to the Palace of the Dragon God (Ryūgū-jō). There he met the Emperor and the small turtle, who was now a lovely princess, Otohime.
Tarō stayed there with her for a few days, then he was caught by the desire to go back to his village and see his aging mother, so he asked her permission to leave. The princess said she was sorry to see him go, but wished him well and gave him a mysterious box which she told him never to open, for whatever reason. Tarō grabbed the box, jumped on the back of the same turtle that had brought him to the Palace, and soon was home.
But everything had changed. His home was gone, his mother had vanished, the people he knew were nowhere to be seen. He asked if anybody knew a man called Urashima Tarō. They answered that they had heard someone of that name had vanished at sea long ago. He discovered that 300 years had passed since the day he had left for the bottom of the sea. Struck by grief, he absent-mindedly opened the box the princess had given him. Out of it came a cloud of white smoke. He suddenly aged, his beard grew long and white, and his back bent. He was now a very old man. And from the sea came the sad, sweet voice of the princess: "I told you not to open that box. In it was your old age ..."
As always with folklore, there are many different versions of this extremely famous story. In one, for example, after he turned into an old man he took the body of a crane, in another he ate a magic pill that gave him the ability to breathe underwater. In another version, he is swept away by a storm before he can rescue the turtle. Also, there is a version in which he dies in the process of aging (his body turns into dust), as no one can live 300 years.
One day, a handsome visiting priest named Anjin fell in love with Kiyohime but after a time he overcame his passions and refrained from further meetings. Kiyo became furious at the sudden change of heart and pursued him in rage. The priest and Kiyohime met at the edge of the Hidaka river, where the priest asked a boatman to help him to cross the river, but told him not to let her cross with his boat. When Kiyo saw that Anjin was escaping her, she jumped into the river started to swim after him. While swimming in the torrent of the Hidaka river, she transformed into a large serpent because of her rage. When Anjin saw her coming after him in the form of a huge serpent, he ran into the temple called Dōjōji. He asked the priests of Dōjōji for help and they hid him under the bell of temple. However, the serpent smelled him hiding inside the bell and started to coil around it. It banged the bell loudly several times with its tail, then gave a great belch of fire that melted the bell, killing the priest.
Banchō Sarayashiki Edit
Once there was a beautiful servant named Okiku. She worked for the samurai Aoyama Tessan. Okiku often refused his amorous advances, so he tricked her into believing that she had carelessly lost one of the family's ten precious delft plates. Such a crime would normally result in her death. In a frenzy, she counted and recounted the nine plates many times. However, she could not find the tenth and went to Aoyama in guilty tears. The samurai offered to overlook the matter if she finally became his lover, but again she refused. Enraged, Aoyama threw her down a well to her death.
It is said that Okiku became a vengeful kami who tormented her murderer by counting to nine and then making a terrible shriek to represent the missing tenth plate – or perhaps she was tormented herself and still trying to find the tenth plate but crying out in agony when she never could. In some versions of the story, this torment continued until a neighbor shouted "ten" in a loud voice at the end of her count. Her ghost, finally relieved that someone had found the plate for her, haunted the samurai no more.
Ningyō Jōruri version Edit
Hosokawa Katsumoto, the lord of Himeji Castle, has fallen seriously ill. Katsumoto's heir, Tomonosuke, plans to give a set of 10 precious plates to the Shogun to ensure his succession. However, chief retainer Asayama Tetsuzan plots to take over. Tomonosuke's retainer, Funase Sampei Taketsune is engaged to marry a lady in waiting, Okiku. Tetsuzan plans to force Okiku to help him murder Tomonosuke.
Tetsuzan, through the help of a spy, steals one of the 10 plates, and plans to accuse Okiku of stealing the plate if she does not assist in the crime. Tetsuzan summons Okiku to bring the box containing the plates to his chamber. There, he attempts to seduce Okiku, although she refuses due to her love for Takatsune. Rejected, he then has Okiku count the plates, and finds only nine. He blames her for the theft, and swears to lie for her if she will be his mistress. Okiku again refuses, and Tetsuzan has her beaten with a wooden sword.
Tetsuzan then has her suspended over a well and, erotically enjoying her torture, has her lowered into the well several times, beating her himself when she is raised. He demands that she become his lover, and assist in the murder of Tomonosuke. She refuses again, and Tetsuzan slashes her with his sword, sending her body into the well.
While wiping clean his sword, the sound of a voice counting plates comes from the well. Tetsuzan realizes that it is the ghost of Okiku, but is entirely unmoved. The play ends with the ghost of Okiku rising from the well, and Tetsuzan staring at her contemptuously.
Okamoto Kido version Edit
In 1655, in Edo, a vassal of the Shogun Aoyama Harima has fallen in love with a young servant girl Okiku. Aoyama has promised to marry her, but has recently received an auspicious marriage proposal from an Aunt. Aoyama promises Okiku that he will honor their love, and refuse the proposal.
Okiku doubts, and tests him by breaking one of the 10 heirloom plates that are the treasure of the Aoyama household. The traditional punishment for breaking one of the plates is death, which is demanded by Aoyama's family.
At first, Aoyama is convinced that Okiku broke the plate by accident, and pardons her, but when Okiku reveals that she broke the plate as a love-test, Aoyama is enraged and kills her. He then throws her body down a well.
From then after, Okiku’s ghost is seen to enter the house and count the plates, one through nine. Encountering her in the garden, Aoyama sees that her ghostly face is not one of vengeance, but beautiful and calm. Taking strength from this, he commits seppuku and joins her in death.