A Passional Karma, by Lafcadio Hearn
One of the never-failing attractions of the Tokyo stage is the
performance, by the famous Kikugoro and his company, of the
Botan-Doro, or "Peony-Lantern." This weird play, of which the
scenes are laid in the middle of the last century, is the
dramatization of a romance by the novelist Encho, written in
colloquial Japanese, and purely Japanese in local color, though
inspired by a Chinese tale. I went to see the play; and Kikugoro
made me familiar with a new variety of the pleasure of fear.
"Why not give English readers the ghostly part of the story?"—
asked a friend who guides me betimes through the mazes of Eastern
philosophy. "It would serve to explain some popular ideas of the
supernatural which Western people know very little about. And I
could help you with the translation."
I gladly accepted the suggestion; and we composed the following
summary of the more extraordinary portion of Encho's romance.
Here and there we found it necessary to condense the original
narrative; and we tried to keep close to the text only in the
conversational passages,—some of which happen to possess a
particular quality of psychological interest.
—This is the story of the Ghosts in the Romance of the Peony-
There once lived in the district of Ushigome, in Yedo, a hatamoto
(1) called Iijima Heizayemon, whose only daughter, Tsuyu, was
beautiful as her name, which signifies "Morning Dew." Iijima took
a second wife when his daughter was about sixteen; and, finding
that O-Tsuyu could not be happy with her mother-in-law, he had a
pretty villa built for the girl at Yanagijima, as a separate
residence, and gave her an excellent maidservant, called O-Yone,
to wait upon her.
O-Tsuyu lived happily enough in her new home until one day when
the family physician, Yamamoto Shijo, paid her a visit in company
with a young samurai named Hagiwara Shinzaburo, who resided in
the Nedzu quarter. Shinzaburo was an unusually handsome lad, and
very gentle; and the two young people fell in love with each
other at sight. Even before the brief visit was over, they
contrived,—unheard by the old doctor,—to pledge themselves to
each other for life. And, at parting, O-Tsuyu whispered to the
youth,—"Remember! If you do not come to see me again, I shall
Shinzaburo never forgot those words; and he was only too eager to
see more of O-Tsuyu. But etiquette forbade him to make the visit
alone: he was obliged to wait for some other chance to accompany
the doctor, who had promised to take him to the villa a second
time. Unfortunately the old man did not keep this promise. He had
perceived the sudden affection of O-Tsuyu; and he feared that her
father would hold him responsible for any serious results. Iijima
Heizayemon had a reputation for cutting off heads. And the more
Shijo thought about the possible consequences of his introduction
of Shinzaburo at the Iijima villa, the more he became afraid.
Therefore he purposely abstained from calling upon his young
Months passed; and O-Tsuyu, little imagining the true cause of
Shinzaburo's neglect, believed that her love had been scorned.
Then she pined away, and died. Soon afterwards, the faithful
servant O-Yone also died, through grief at the loss of her
mistress; and the two were buried side by side in the cemetery of
Shin-Banzui-In,—a temple which still stands in the neighborhood
of Dango-Zaka, where the famous chrysanthemum-shows are yearly
(1) The hatamoto were samurai forming the special military force
of the Shogun. The name literally signifies "Banner-Supporters."
These were the highest class of samurai,—not only as the
immediate vassals of the Shogun, but as a military aristocracy.
Shinzaburo knew nothing of what had happened; but his
disappointment and his anxiety had resulted in a prolonged
illness. He was slowly recovering, but still very weak, when he
unexpectedly received another visit from Yamamoto Shijo. The old
man made a number of plausible excuses for his apparent neglect.
Shinzaburo said to him:—"I have been sick ever since the
beginning of spring;—even now I cannot eat anything…. Was it
not rather unkind of you never to call? I thought that we were to
make another visit together to the house of the Lady Iijima; and
I wanted to take to her some little present as a return for our
kind reception. Of course I could not go by myself."
Shijo gravely responded,—"I am very sorry to tell you that the
young lady is dead!"
"Dead!" repeated Shinzaburo, turning white,—"did you say that
she is dead?"
The doctor remained silent for a moment, as if collecting
himself: then he resumed, in the quick light tone of a man
resolved not to take trouble seriously:—
"My great mistake was in having introduced you to her; for it
seems that she fell in love with you at once. I am afraid that
you must have said something to encourage this affection—when
you were in that little room together. At all events, I saw how
she felt towards you; and then I became uneasy,—fearing that her
father might come to hear of the matter, and lay the whole blame
upon me. So—to be quite frank with you,—I decided that it would
be better not to call upon you; and I purposely stayed away for a
long time. But, only a few days ago, happening to visit Iijima's
house, I heard, to my great surprise, that his daughter had died,
and that her servant O-Yone had also died. Then, remembering all
that had taken place, I knew that the young lady must have died
of love for you…. [Laughing] Ah, you are really a sinful
fellow! Yes, you are! [Laughing] Isn't it a sin to have been born
so handsome that the girls die for love of you? (1) [Seriously]
Well, we must leave the dead to the dead. It is no use to talk
further about the matter;—all that you now can do for her is to
repeat the Nembutsu (2)…. Good-bye."
And the old man retired hastily,—anxious to avoid further
converse about the painful event for which he felt himself to
have been unwittingly responsible.
(1) Perhaps this conversation may seem strange to the Western
reader; but it is true to life. The whole of the scene is
(2) The invocation Namu Amida Butsu! ("Hail to the Buddha
Amitabha!"),—repeated, as a prayer, for the sake of the dead.
Shinzaburo long remained stupefied with grief by the news of O-
Tsuyu's death. But as soon as he found himself again able to
think clearly, he inscribed the dead girl's name upon a mortuary
tablet, and placed the tablet in the Buddhist shrine of his
house, and set offerings before it, and recited prayers. Every
day thereafter he presented offerings, and repeated the Nembutsu;
and the memory of O-Tsuyu was never absent from his thought.
Nothing occurred to change the monotony of his solitude before
the time of the Bon,—the great Festival of the Dead,—which
begins upon the thirteenth day of the seventh month. Then he
decorated his house, and prepared everything for the festival;—
hanging out the lanterns that guide the returning spirits, and
setting the food of ghosts on the shoryodana, or Shelf of Souls.
And on the first evening of the Ban, after sun-down, he kindled a
small lamp before the tablet of O-Tsuyu, and lighted the
The night was clear, with a great moon,—and windless, and very
warm. Shinzaburo sought the coolness of his veranda. Clad only in
a light summer-robe, he sat there thinking, dreaming, sorrowing;
—sometimes fanning himself; sometimes making a little smoke to
drive the mosquitoes away. Everything was quiet. It was a
lonesome neighborhood, and there were few passers-by. He could
hear only the soft rushing of a neighboring stream, and the
shrilling of night-insects.
But all at once this stillness was broken by a sound of women's
geta (1) approaching—kara-kon, kara-kon;—and the sound drew
nearer and nearer, quickly, till it reached the live-hedge
surrounding the garden. Then Shinzaburö, feeling curious, stood
on tiptoe, so as to look Over the hedge; and he saw two women
passing. One, who was carrying a beautiful lantern decorated with
peony-flowers,(2) appeared to be a servant;—the other was a
slender girl of about seventeen, wearing a long-sleeved robe
embroidered with designs of autumn-blossoms. Almost at the same
instant both women turned their faces toward Shinzaburo;—and to
his utter astonishment, he recognized O-Tsuyu and her servant O-
They stopped immediately; and the girl cried out,—"Oh, how
strange!… Hagiwara Sama!"
Shinzaburo simultaneously called to the maid:—"O-Yone! Ah, you
are O-Yone!—I remember you very well."
"Hagiwara Sama!" exclaimed O-Yone in a tone of supreme amazement.
"Never could I have believed it possible!… Sir, we were told
that you had died."
"How extraordinary!" cried Shinzaburo. "Why, I was told that both
of you were dead!"
"Ah, what a hateful story!" returned O-Yone. "Why repeat such
unlucky words?… Who told you?"
"Please to come in," said Shinzaburo;—"here we can talk better.
The garden-gate is open."
So they entered, and exchanged greeting; and when Shinzaburo had
made them comfortable, he said:—
"I trust that you will pardon my discourtesy in not having called
upon you for so long a time. But Shijo, the doctor, about a month
ago, told me that you had both died."
"So it was he who told you?" exclaimed O-Yone. "It was very
wicked of him to say such a thing. Well, it was also Shijo who
told us that you were dead. I think that he wanted to deceive
you,—which was not a difficult thing to do, because you are so
confiding and trustful. Possibly my mistress betrayed her liking
for you in some words which found their way to her father's ears;
and, in that case, O-Kuni—the new wife—might have planned to
make the doctor tell you that we were dead, so as to bring about
a separation. Anyhow, when my mistress heard that you had died,
she wanted to cut off her hair immediately, and to become a nun.
But I was able to prevent her from cutting off her hair; and I
persuaded her at last to become a nun only in her heart.
Afterwards her father wished her to marry a certain young man;
and she refused. Then there was a great deal of trouble,—chiefly
caused by O-Kuni;—and we went away from the villa, and found a
very small house in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. There we are now just
barely able to live, by doing a little private work…. My
mistress has been constantly repeating the Nembutsu for your
sake. To-day, being the first day of the Bon, we went to visit
the temples; and we were on our way home—thus late—when this
strange meeting happened."
"Oh, how extraordinary!" cried Shinzaburo. "Can it be true?-or is
it only a dream? Here I, too, have been constantly reciting the
Nembutsu before a tablet with her name upon it! Look!" And he
showed them O-Tsuyu's tablet in its place upon the Shelf of
"We are more than grateful for your kind remembrance," returned
O-Yone, smiling…. "Now as for my mistress,"—she continued,
turning towards O-Tsuyu, who had all the while remained demure
and silent, half-hiding her face with her sleeve,—"as for my
mistress, she actually says that she would not mind being
disowned by her father for the time of seven existences,(3) or
even being killed by him, for your sake! Come! will you not allow
her to stay here to-night?"
Shinzaburo turned pale for joy. He answered in a voice trembling
with emotion:—"Please remain; but do not speak loud—because
there is a troublesome fellow living close by,—a ninsomi (4)
called Hakuodo Yusai, who tells peoples fortunes by looking at
their faces. He is inclined to be curious; and it is better that
he should not know."
The two women remained that night in the house of the young
samurai, and returned to their own home a little before daybreak.
And after that night they came every nighht for seven nights,—
whether the weather were foul or fair,—always at the same hour.
And Shinzaburo became more and more attached to the girl; and the
twain were fettered, each to each, by that bond of illusion which
is stronger than bands of iron.
1 Komageta in the original. The geta is a wooden sandal, or clog,
of which there are many varieties,—some decidedly elegant. The
komageta, or "pony-geta" is so-called because of the sonorous
hoof-like echo which it makes on hard ground.
2 The sort of lantern here referred to is no longer made; and its
shape can best be understood by a glance at the picture
accompanying this story. It was totally unlike the modern
domestic band-lantern, painted with the owner's crest; but it was
not altogether unlike some forms of lanterns still manufactured
for the Festival of the Dead, and called Bon-doro. The flowers
ornamenting it were not painted: they were artificial flowers of
crepe-silk, and were attached to the top of the lantern.
3 "For the time of seven existences,"—that is to say, for the
time of seven successive lives. In Japanese drama and romance it
is not uncommon to represent a father as disowning his child "for
the time of seven lives." Such a disowning is called shichi-sho
made no mando, a disinheritance for seven lives,—signifying that
in six future lives after the present the erring son or daughter
will continue to feel the parental displeasure.
4 The profession is not yet extinct. The ninsomi uses a kind of
magnifying glass (or magnifying-mirror sometimes), called
tengankyo or ninsomegane.
Now there was a man called Tomozo, who lived in a small cottage
adjoining Shinzaburo's residence, Tomozo and his wife O-Mine were
both employed by Shinzaburo as servants. Both seemed to be
devoted to their young master; and by his help they were able to
live in comparative comfort.
One night, at a very late hour, Tomozo heard the voice of a woman
in his master's apartment; and this made him uneasy. He feared
that Shinzaburo, being very gentle and affectionate, might be
made the dupe of some cunning wanton,—in which event the
domestics would be the first to suffer. He therefore resolved to
watch; and on the following night he stole on tiptoe to
Shinzaburo's dwelling, and looked through a chink in one of the
sliding shutters. By the glow of a night-lantern within the
sleeping-room, he was able to perceive that his master and a
strange woman were talking together under the mosquito-net. At
first he could not see the woman distinctly. Her back was turned
to him;—he only observed that she was very slim, and that she
appeared to be very young,—judging from the fashion of her dress
and hair.(1) Putting his ear to the chink, he could hear the
conversation plainly. The woman said:—
"And if I should be disowned by my father, would you then let me
come and live with you?"
"Most assuredly I would—nay, I should be
glad of the chance. But there is no reason to fear that you will
ever be disowned by your father; for you are his only daughter,
and he loves you very much. What I do fear is that some day we
shall be cruelly separated."
She responded softly:—
"Never, never could I even think of accepting any other man for
my husband. Even if our secret were to become known, and my
father were to kill me for what I have done, still—after death
itself—I could never cease to think of you. And I am now quite
sure that you yourself would not be able to live very long
without me."… Then clinging closely to him, with her lips at
his neck, she caressed him; and he returned her caresses.
Tomozo wondered as he listened,—because the language of the
woman was not the language of a common woman, but the language of
a lady of rank.(2) Then he determined at all hazards to get one
glimpse of her face; and he crept round the house, backwards and
forwards, peering through every crack and chink. And at last he
was able to see;—but therewith an icy trembling seized him; and
the hair of his head stood up.
For the face was the face of a woman long dead,—and the fingers
caressing were fingers of naked bone,—and of the body below the
waist there was not anything: it melted off into thinnest
trailing shadow. Where the eyes of the lover deluded saw youth
and grace and beauty, there appeared to the eyes of the watcher
horror only, and the emptiness of death. Simultaneously another
woman's figure, and a weirder, rose up from within the chamber,
and swiftly made toward the watcher, as if discerning his
presence. Then, in uttermost terror, he fled to the dwelling of
Hakuodo Yusai, and, knocking frantically at the doors, succeeded
in arousing him.
1 The color and form of the dress, and the style of wearing the
hair, are by Japanese custom regulated accord-big to the age of
2 The forms of speech used by the samurai, and other superior
classes, differed considerably from those of the popular idiom;
but these differences could not be effectively rendered into
Hakuodo Yusai, the ninsomi, was a very old man; but in his time
he had travelled much, and he had heard and seen so many things
that he could not be easily surprised. Yet the story of the
terrified Tomozo both alarmed and amazed him. He had read in
ancient Chinese books of love between the living and the dead;
but he had never believed it possible. Now, however, he felt
convinced that the statement of Tomozo was not a falsehood, and
that something very strange was really going on in the house of
Hagiwara. Should the truth prove to be what Tomozo imagined, then
the young samurai was a doomed man.
"If the woman be a ghost,"—said Yusai to the frightened servant,
"—if the woman be a ghost, your master must die very soon,—
unless something extraordinary can be done to save him. And if
the woman be a ghost, the signs of death will appear upon his
face. For the spirit of the living is yoki, and pure;—the spirit
of the dead is inki, and unclean: the one is Positive, the other
Negative. He whose bride is a ghost cannot live. Even though in
his blood there existed the force of a life of one hundred years,
that force must quickly perish…. Still, I shall do all that I
can to save Hagiwara Sama. And in the meantime, Tomozo, say
nothing to any other person,—not even to your wife,—about this
matter. At sunrise I shall call upon your master."
When questioned next morning by Yusai, Shinzaburo at first
attempted to deny that any women had been visiting the house; but
finding this artless policy of no avail, and perceiving that the
old man's purpose was altogether unselfish, he was finally
persuaded to acknowledge what had really occurred, and to give
his reasons for wishing to keep the matter a secret. As for the
lady Iijima, he intended, he said, to make her his wife as soon
"Oh, madness!" cried Yusai,—losing all patience in the intensity
of his alarm. "Know, sir, that the people who have been coming
here, night after night, are dead! Some frightful delusion is
upon you!… Why, the simple fact that you long supposed O-Tsuyu
to be dead, and repeated the Nembutsu for her, and made offerings
before her tablet, is itself the proof!… The lips of the dead
have touched you!—the hands of the dead have caressed you!…
Even at this moment I see in your face the signs of death—and
you will not believe!… Listen to me now, sir,—I beg of you,—
if you wish to save yourself: otherwise you have less than twenty
days to live. They told you—those people—that they were
residing in the district of Shitaya, in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. Did you
ever visit them at that place? No!—of course you did not! Then
go to-day,—as soon as you can,—to Yanaka-no-Sasaki, and try to
find their home!…"
And having uttered this counsel with the most vehement
earnestness, Hakuodo Yusai abruptly took his departure.
Shinzaburo, startled though not convinced, resolved after a
moment's reflection to follow the advice of the ninsomi, and to
go to Shitaya. It was yet early in the morning when he reached
the quarter of Yanaka-no-Sasaki, and began his search for the
dwelling of O-Tsuyu. He went through every street and side-
street, read all the names inscribed at the various entrances,
and made inquiries whenever an opportunity presented itself. But
he could not find anything resembling the little house mentioned
by O-Yone; and none of the people whom he questioned knew of any
house in the quarter inhabited by two single women. Feeling at
last certain that further research would be useless, he turned
homeward by the shortest way, which happened to lead through the
grounds of the temple Shin-Banzui-In.
Suddenly his attention was attracted by two new tombs, placed
side by side, at the rear of the temple. One was a common tomb,
such as might have been erected for a person of humble rank: the
other was a large and handsome monument; and hanging before it
was a beautiful peony-lantern, which had probably been left there
at the time of the Festival of the Dead. Shinzaburo remembered
that the peony-lantern carried by O-Yone was exactly similar; and
the coincidence impressed him as strange. He looked again at the
tombs; but the tombs explained nothing. Neither bore any personal
name,—only the Buddhist kaimyo, or posthumous appellation. Then
he determined to seek information at the temple. An acolyte
stated, in reply to his questions, that the large tomb had been
recently erected for the daughter of Iijima Heizayemon, the
hatamoto of Ushigome; and that the small tomb next to it was that
of her servant O-Yone, who had died of grief soon after the young
Immediately to Shinzaburö's memory there recurred, with another
and sinister meaning, the words of O-Yone:—"We went away, and
found a very small house in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. There we are now
just barely able to live—by doing a little private work…."
Here was indeed the very small house,—and in Yanaka-no-Sasaki.
But the little private work…?
Terror-stricken, the samurai hastened with all speed to the house
of Yusai, and begged for his counsel and assistance. But Yusai
declared himself unable to be of any aid in such a case. All that
he could do was to send Shinzaburo to the high-priest Ryoseki, of
Shin-Banzui-In, with a letter praying for immediate religious
The high-priest Ryoseki was a learned and a holy man. By
spiritual vision he was able to know the secret of any sorrow,
and the nature of the karma that had caused it. He heard unmoved
the story of Shinzaburo, and said to him:—
"A very great danger now threatens you, because of an error
committed in one of your former states of existence. The karma
that binds you to the dead is very strong; but if I tried to
explain its character, you would not be able to understand. I
shall therefore tell you only this,—that the dead person has no
desire to injure you out of hate, feels no enmity towards you:
she is influenced, on the contrary, by the most passionate
affection for you. Probably the girl has been in love with you
from a time long preceding your present life,—from a time of not
less than three or four past existences; and it would seem that,
although necessarily changing her form and condition at each
succeeding birth, she has not been able to cease from following
after you. Therefore it will not be an easy thing to escape from
her influence…. But now I am going to lend you this powerful
mamoni.(1) It is a pure gold image of that Buddha called the Sea-
Sounding Tathagata—Kai-On-Nyorai,—because his preaching of the
Law sounds through the world like the sound of the sea. And this
little image is especially a shiryo-yoke,(2)—which protects the
living from the dead. This you must wear, in its covering, next
to your body,—under the girdle…. Besides, I shall presently
perform in the temple, a segaki-service(3) for the repose of the
troubled spirit…. And here is a holy sutra, called Ubo-Darani-
Kyo, or "Treasure-Raining Sutra"(4) you must be careful to recite
it every night in your house—without fail…. Furthermore I
shall give you this package of o-fuda(5);—you must paste one of
them over every opening of your house,—no matter how small. If
you do this, the power of the holy texts will prevent the dead
from entering. But—whatever may happen—do not fail to recite
Shinzaburo humbly thanked the high-priest; and then, taking with
him the image, the sutra, and the bundle of sacred texts, he made
all haste to reach his home before the hour of sunset.
1 The Japanese word mamori has significations at least as
numerous as those attaching to our own term "amulet." It would be
impossible, in a mere footnote, even to suggest the variety of
Japanese religious objects to which the name is given. In this
instance, the mamori is a very small image, probably enclosed in
a miniature shrine of lacquer-work or metal, over which a silk
cover is drawn. Such little images were often worn by samurai on
the person. I was recently shown a miniature figure of Kwannon,
in an iron case, which had been carried by an officer through the
Satsuma war. He observed, with good reason, that it had probably
saved his life; for it had stopped a bullet of which the dent was
2 From shiryo, a ghost, and yokeru, to exclude. The Japanese
have, two kinds of ghosts proper in their folk-lore: the spirits
of the dead, shiryo; and the spirits of the living, ikiryo. A
house or a person may be haunted by an ikiryo as well as by a
3 A special service,—accompanying offerings of food, etc., to
those dead having no living relatives or friends to care for
them,—is thus termed. In this case, however, the service would
be of a particular and exceptional kind.
4 The name would be more correctly written Ubo-Darani-Kyo. It is
the Japanese pronunciation of the title of a very short sutra
translated out of Sanscrit into Chinese by the Indian priest
Amoghavajra, probably during the eighth century. The Chinese text
contains transliterations of some mysterious Sanscrit words,—
apparently talismanic words,—like those to be seen in Kern's
translation of the Saddharma-Pundarika, ch. xxvi.
5 O-fuda is the general name given to religious texts used as
charms or talismans. They are sometimes stamped or burned upon
wood, but more commonly written or printed upon narrow strips of
paper. O-fuda are pasted above house-entrances, on the walls of
rooms, upon tablets placed in household shrines, etc., etc. Some
kinds are worn about the person;—others are made into pellets,
and swallowed as spiritual medicine. The text of the larger o-
fuda is often accompanied by curious pictures or symbolic
With Yusai's advice and help, Shinzaburo was able before dark to
fix the holy texts over all the apertures of his dwelling. Then
the ninsomi returned to his own house,—leaving the youth alone.
Night came, warm and clear. Shinzaburo made fast the doors, bound
the precious amulet about his waist, entered his mosquito-net,
and by the glow of a night-lantern began to recite the Ubo-
Darani-Kyo. For a long time he chanted the words, comprehending
little of their meaning;—then he tried to obtain some rest. But
his mind was still too much disturbed by the strange events of
the day. Midnight passed; and no sleep came to him. At last he
heard the boom of the great temple-bell of Dentsu-In announcing
the eighth hour.(1)
It ceased; and Shinzaburo suddenly heard the sound of geta
approaching from the old direction,—but this time more slowly:
karan-koron, karan-koron! At once a cold sweat broke over his
forehead. Opening the sutra hastily, with trembling hand, he
began again to recite it aloud. The steps came nearer and
nearer,—reached the live hedge,—stopped! Then, strange to say,
Shinzaburo felt unable to remain under his mosquito-net:
something stronger even than his fear impelled him to look; and,
instead of continuing to recite the Ubo-Darani-Kyo, he foolishly
approached the shutters, and through a chink peered out into the
night. Before the house he saw O-Tsuyu standing, and O-Yone with
the peony-lantern; and both of them were gazing at the Buddhist
texts pasted above the entrance. Never before—not even in what
time she lived—had O-Tsuyu appeared so beautiful; and Shinzaburo
felt his heart drawn towards her with a power almost resistless.
But the terror of death and the terror of the unknown restrained;
and there went on within him such a struggle between his love and
his fear that he became as one suffering in the body the pains of
the Sho-netsu hell.(2)
Presently he heard the voice of the maid-servant, saying:—
"My dear mistress, there is no way to enter. The heart of
Hagiwara Sama must have changed. For the promise that he made
last night has been broken; and the doors have been made fast to
keep us out…. We cannot go in to-night…. It will be wiser for
you to make up your mind not to think any more about him, because
his feeling towards you has certainly changed. It is evident that
he does not want to see you. So it will be better not to give
yourself any more trouble for the sake of a man whose heart is so
But the girl answered, weeping:—
"Oh, to think that this could happen after the pledges which we
made to each other!… Often I was told that the heart of a man
changes as quickly as the sky of autumn;—yet surely the heart of
Hagiwara Sama cannot be so cruel that he should really intend to
exclude me in this way!… Dear Yone, please find some means of
taking me to him…. Unless you do, I will never, never go home
Thus she continued to plead, veiling her face with her long
sleeves,—and very beautiful she looked, and very touching; but
the fear of death was strong upon her lover.
O-Yone at last made answer,—"My dear young lady, why will you
trouble your mind about a man who seems to be so cruel?… Well,
let us see if there be no way to enter at the back of the house:
come with me!"
And taking O-Tsuyu by the hand, she led her away toward the rear
of the dwelling; and there the two disappeared as suddenly as the
light disappears when the flame of a lamp is blown out.
1 According to the old Japanese way of counting time, this
yatsudoki or eighth hour was the same as our two o'clock in the
morning. Each Japanese hour was equal to two European hours, so
that there were only six hours instead of our twelve; and these
six hours were counted backwards in the order,—9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4.
Thus the ninth hour corresponded to our midday, or midnight;
half-past nine to our one o'clock; eight to our two o'clock. Two
o'clock in the morning, also called "the Hour of the Ox," was the
Japanese hour of ghosts and goblins.
2 En-netsu or Sho-netsu (Sanscrit "Tapana") is the sixth of the
Eight Hot Hells of Japanese Buddhism. One day of life in this
hell is equal in duration to thousands (some say millions) of
Night after night the shadows came at the Hour of the Ox; and
nightly Shinzaburo heard the weeping of O-Tsuyu. Yet he believed
himself saved,—little imagining that his doom had already been
decided by the character of his dependents.
Tomozo had promised Yusai never to speak to any other person—not
even to O-Mine—of the strange events that were taking place. But
Tomozo was not long suffered by the haunters to rest in peace.
Night after night O-Yone entered into his dwelling, and roused
him from his sleep, and asked him to remove the o-fuda placed
over one very small window at the back of his master's house. And
Tomozo, out of fear, as often promised her to take away the o-
fuda before the next sundown; but never by day could he make up
his mind to remove it,—believing that evil was intended to
Shinzaburo. At last, in a night of storm, O-Yone startled him
from slumber with a cry of reproach, and stooped above his
pillow, and said to him: "Have a care how you trifle with us! If,
by to-morrow night, you do not take away that text, you shall
learn how I can hate!" And she made her face so frightful as she
spoke that Tomozo nearly died of terror.
O-Mine, the wife of Tomozo, had never till then known of these
visits: even to her husband they had seemed like bad dreams. But
on this particular night it chanced that, waking suddenly, she
heard the voice of a woman talking to Tomozo. Almost in the same
moment the talk-ing ceased; and when O-Mine looked about her, she
saw, by the light of the night-lamp, only her husband,—
shuddering and white with fear. The stranger was gone; the doors
were fast: it seemed impossible that anybody could have entered.
Nevertheless the jealousy of the wife had been aroused; and she
began to chide and to question Tomozo in such a manner that he
thought himself obliged to betray the secret, and to explain the
terrible dilemma in which he had been placed.
Then the passion of O-Mine yielded to wonder and alarm; but she
was a subtle woman, and she devised immediately a plan to save
her husband by the sacrifice of her master. And she gave
Tomozo a cunning counsel,—telling him to make conditions with
They came again on the following night at the Hour of the Ox; and
O-Mine hid herself on hearing the sound of their coming,—karan-
koron, karan-koron! But Tomozo went out to meet them in the dark,
and even found courage to say to them what his wife had told him
"It is true that I deserve your blame;—but I had no wish to
cause you anger. The reason that the o-fuda has not been taken
away is that my wife and I are able to live only by the help of
Hagiwara Sama, and that we cannot expose him to any danger
without bringing misfortune upon ourselves. But if we could
obtain the sum of a hundred ryo in gold, we should be able to
please you, because we should then need no help from anybody.
Therefore if you will give us a hundred ryo, I can take the o-
fuda away without being afraid of losing our only means of
When he had uttered these words, O-Yone and O-Tsuyu looked at
each other in silence for a moment. Then O-Yoné said:—
"Mistress, I told you that it was not right to trouble this man,
—as we have no just cause of ill will against him. But it is
certainly useless to fret yourself about Hagiwara Sama, because
his heart has changed towards you. Now once again, my dear young
lady, let me beg you not to think any more about him!"
But O-Tsuyu, weeping, made answer:—
"Dear Yone, whatever may happen, I cannot possibly keep myself
from thinking about him! You know that you can get a hundred ryo
to have the o-fuda taken off…. Only once more, I pray, dear
Yone!—only once more bring me face to face with Hagiwara Sama,
—I beseech you!" And hiding her face with her sleeve, she thus
continued to plead.
"Oh! why will you ask me to do these things?" responded O-Yone.
"You know very well that I have no money. But since you will
persist in this whim of yours, in spite of all that I can say, I
suppose that I must try to find the money somehow, and to bring
it here to-morrow night…." Then, turning to the faithless
Tomozo, she said:—"Tomozo, I must tell you that Hagiwara Sama
now wears upon his body a mamoni called by the name of Kai-On-
Nyorai, and that so long as he wears it we cannot approach him.
So you will have to get that mamori away from him, by some means
or other, as well as to remove the o-fuda."
Tomozo feebly made answer:—
"That also I can do, if you will promise to bring me the hundred
"Well, mistress," said O-Yone, "you will wait,—will you not,—
until to-morrow night?"
"Oh, dear Yone!" sobbed the other,—"have we to go back to-night
again without seeing Hagiwara Sama? Ah! it is cruel!"
And the shadow of the mistress, weeping, was led away by the
shadow of the maid.
Another day went, and another night came, and the dead came with
it. But this time no lamentation was heard without the house of
Hagiwara; for the faithless servant found his reward at the Hour
of the Ox, and removed the o-fuda. Moreover he had been able,
while his master was at the bath, to steal from its case the
golden mamori, and to substitute for it an image of copper; and
he had buried the Kai-On-Nyorai in a desolate field. So the
visitants found nothing to oppose their entering. Veiling their
faces with their sleeves they rose and passed, like a streaming
of vapor, into the little window from over which the holy text
had been torn away. But what happened thereafter within the house
Tomozo never knew.
The sun was high before he ventured again to approach his
master's dwelling, and to knock upon the sliding-doors. For the
first time in years he obtained no response; and the silence made
him afraid. Repeatedly he called, and received no answer. Then,
aided by O-Mine, he succeeded in effecting an entrance and making
his way alone to the sleeping-room, where he called again in
vain. He rolled back the rumbling shutters to admit the light;
but still within the house there was no stir. At last he dared to
lift a corner of the mosquito-net. But no sooner had he looked
beneath than he fled from the house, with a cry of horror.
Shinzaburo was dead—hideously dead;—and his face was the face
of a man who had died in the uttermost agony of fear;—and lying
beside him in the bed were the bones of a woman! And the bones of
the arms, and the bones of the hands, clung fast about his neck.
Hakuodo Yusai, the fortune-teller, went to view the corpse at the
prayer of the faithless Tomozo. The old man was terrified and
astonished at the spectacle, but looked about him with a keen
eye. He soon perceived that the o-fuda had been taken from the
little window at the back of the house; and on searching the body
of Shinzaburo, he discovered that the golden mamori had been
taken from its wrapping, and a copper image of Fudo put in place
of it. He suspected Tomozo of the theft; but the whole occurrence
was so very extraordinary that he thought it prudent to consult
with the priest Ryoseki before taking further action. Therefore,
after having made a careful examination of the premises, he
betook himself to the temple Shin-Banzui-In, as quickly as his
aged limbs could bear him.
Ryoseki, without waiting to hear the purpose of the old man's
visit, at once invited him into a private apartment.
"You know that you are always welcome here," said Ryoseki.
"Please seat yourself at ease…. Well, I am sorry to tell you
that Hagiwara Sama is dead."
Yusai wonderingly exclaimed:—"Yes, he is dead;—but how did you
learn of it?"
The priest responded:—
"Hagiwara Sama was suffering from the results of an evil karma;
and his attendant was a bad man. What happened to Hagiwara Sama
was unavoidable;—his destiny had been determined from a time
long before his last birth. It will be better for you not to let
your mind be troubled by this event."
"I have heard that a priest of pure life may gain power to see
into the future for a hundred years; but truly this is the first
time in my existence that I have had proof of such power….
Still, there is another matter about which I am very anxious…."
"You mean," interrupted Ryoseki, "the stealing of the holy
mamori, the Kai-On-Nyorai. But you must not give yourself any
concern about that. The image has been buried in a field; and it
will be found there and returned to me during the eighth month of
the coming year. So please do not be anxious about it."
More and more amazed, the old ninsomi ventured to observe:—
"I have studied the In-Yo,(1) and the science of divination; and
I make my living by telling peoples' fortunes;—but I cannot
possibly understand how you know these things."
Ryoseki answered gravely:—
"Never mind how I happen to know them…. I now want to speak to
you about Hagiwara's funeral. The House of Hagiwara has its own
family-cemetery, of course; but to bury him there would not be
proper. He must be buried beside O-Tsuyu, the Lady Iijima; for
his karma-relation to her was a very deep one. And it is but
right that you should erect a tomb for him at your own cost,
because you have been indebted to him for many favors."
Thus it came to pass that Shinzaburo was buried beside O-Tsuyu,
in the cemetery of Shin-Banzui-In, in Yanaka-no-Sasaki.
—Here ends the story of the Ghosts in the Romance of the Peony-
1 The Male and Female principles of the universe, the Active and
Passive forces of Nature. Yusai refers here to the old Chinese
nature-philosophy,—better known to Western readers by the name
My friend asked me whether the story had interested me; and I
answered by telling him that I wanted to go to the cemetery of
Shin-Banzui-In,—so as to realize more definitely the local
color of the author's studies.
"I shall go with you at once," he said. "But what did you think
of the personages?"
"To Western thinking," I made answer, "Shinzaburo is a despicable
creature. I have been mentally comparing him with the true lovers
of our old ballad-literature. They were only too glad to follow a
dead sweetheart into the grave; and nevertheless, being
Christians, they believed that they had only one human life to
enjoy in this world. But Shinzaburo was a Buddhist,—with a
million lives behind him and a million lives before him; and he
was too selfish to give up even one miserable existence for the
sake of the girl that came back to him from the dead. Then he was
even more cowardly than selfish. Although a samurai by birth and
training, he had to beg a priest to save him from ghosts. In
every way he proved himself contemptible; and O-Tsuyu did quite
right in choking him to death."
"From the Japanese point of view, likewise," my friend responded,
"Shinzaburo is rather contemptible. But the use of this weak
character helped the author to develop incidents that could not
otherwise, perhaps, have been so effectively managed. To my
thinking, the only attractive character in the story is that of
O-Yone: type of the old-time loyal and loving servant,—
intelligent, shrewd, full of resource,—faithful not only unto
death, but beyond death…. Well, let us go to Shin-Banzui-In."
We found the temple uninteresting, and the cemetery an
abomination of desolation. Spaces once occupied by graves had
been turned into potato-patches. Between were tombs leaning at
all angles out of the perpendicular, tablets made illegible by
scurf, empty pedestals, shattered water-tanks, and statues of
Buddhas without heads or hands. Recent rains had soaked the black
soil,—leaving here and there small pools of slime about which
swarms of tiny frogs were hopping. Everything—excepting the
potato-patches—seemed to have been neglected for years. In a
shed just within the gate, we observed a woman cooking; and my
companion presumed to ask her if she knew anything about the
tombs described in the Romance of the Peony-Lantern.
"Ah! the tombs of O-Tsuyu and O-Yone?" she responded, smiling;—"
you will find them near the end of the first row at the back of
the temple—next to the statue of Jizo."
Surprises of this kind I had met with elsewhere in Japan.
We picked our way between the rain-pools and between the green
ridges of young potatoes,—whose roots were doubtless feeding on
the sub-stance of many another O-Tsuyu and O-Yone;—and we
reached at last two lichen-eaten tombs of which the inscriptions
seemed almost obliterated. Beside the larger tomb was a statue of
Jizo, with a broken nose.
"The characters are not easy to make out," said my friend—"but
wait!"…. He drew from his sleeve a sheet of soft white paper,
laid it over the inscription, and began to rub the paper with a
lump of clay. As he did so, the characters appeared in white on
the blackened surface.
"Eleventh day, third month—Rat, Elder Brother, Fire—Sixth year
of Horeki [A. D. 1756].'… This would seem to be the grave of
some innkeeper of Nedzu, named Kichibei. Let us see what is on
the other monument."
With a fresh sheet of paper he presently brought out the text of
a kaimyo, and read,—
"En-myo-In, Ho-yo-I-tei-ken-shi, Ho-ni':—'Nun-of-the-Law,
Illustrious, Pure-of-heart-and-will, Famed-in-the-Law,—
inhabiting the Mansion-of-the-Preaching-of-Wonder.'…. The grave
of some Buddhist nun."
"What utter humbug!" I exclaimed. "That woman was only making fun
"Now," my friend protested, "you are unjust to the, woman! You
came here because you wanted a sensation; and she tried her very
best to please you. You did not suppose that ghost-story was
true, did you?"