The following is a retelling of a story of Chinese origin from, “The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories,” by Lafcadio Hearn. The story tells of a Chinese scholar known as Tō no Busanshi who was a great scholar and a keen gardener. To him the acquisition and appliance of knowledge was the planting and cultivation of a garden that was his soul.
Indeed, he was renowned for his love of flowers of all kinds. He was especially fond of peonies which he cultivated himself spending many hours attending to their smallest needs with great love, skill and patience. Under his loving care and attention the peonies blossomed brightly and beautifully and their leaves dripped green. He would speak to them softly and affectionately whenever he was tending to them. In response they all appeared to gaze towards him, nodding and smiling and displaying their beauty, while appearing to lean towards his love. He thought he could hear them whispering but he could not quite understand what was being said.
One day there came to his house a very pretty girl who begged him to take her into his service in his household. She explained she had received a good literary education and loved learning but had become the victim of unfortunate circumstances that forced her to seek employment. Knowing he was a great and famous scholar she thought she would like to work in his household which was a shrine of knowledge and great learning. She told him she was a hard and diligent worker and asked if could employ her.
Surprised, Busanshi looked at her and thought there was something charming and familiar about her as if he had known her from somewhere else. It was something about the way she gazed and gently leaned towards him. He was more than a little flattered and also greatly impressed by her loveliness. Thinking that for her looks alone she would be an elegant and pleasing asset for his household he took her on as a maid servant. Indeed, she proved to be a great asset her beauty enlivened and brought delight to any room she entered. Her work and industry rate was exceptional and she was very obedient and attentive.
The Maid Servant
As well as her work she was adept and perfectly at home with the etiquette and cultivated demeanor one would expect from a lady of the highest circles. Her literary skills were excellent and she composed wonderful poetry which she expressed with great skill using the arts of calligraphy and painting. She impressed him so much he thought she must have been brought up in the court of some high ranking noble family or great lord. There was something that with all his great learning he could not describe which was so appealing about her. Something about her shining eyes, her smile and the way she leaned towards him. It was not long before Busanshi fell hopelessly in love with her and sought ways to please her.
On occasions he was visited by friends who were also also great scholars. He would send for her that she might entertain and impress them with her loveliness, intelligence and grace. All who beheld her were greatly impressed and further charmed by her gentle and amiable nature.
One day one of his friends, a great academic and teacher of morals and high principles, named Teki-Shin-Ketsu arrived at his door unexpectedly. Busanshi was thrilled to receive such a famous celebrity and called his maid servant to meet him expecting her charm and intelligence to impress the great man. However, unusually there was no reply and she did not appear smiling and radiant as she always had before. In fact, although he called again she did not appear at all.
Busanshi really wanted to impress his great friend with his charming and educated maid servant and was mildly irritated that she did not appear obediently and instantly as she usually did. Perturbed by her non-appearance he went seeking her out. With growing irritation he searched the entire house calling and looking in every room but could find her nowhere.
Greatly disappointed and very puzzled he was returning back to his esteemed guest when he caught a glimpse of her gliding quietly and effortlessly before him down the corridor. Calling to her he hurried after her. On hearing him she half turned to see him but flattened herself fearfully against the wall just like a spider in fear might.
The Peony Soul
As he caught up with her he was astounded to see her appearance change. As she flattened her back hard against the wall her entire body became flatter and flatter until there was nothing left that remained of her but a two dimensional image as if painted on the surface of the wall. This flat image slowly began to fade before his eyes until there was nothing else to be seen but a flat barely visible colored shadow. As he watched in fear and amazement he could still see the faded image of her pretty eyes and her beautiful lips which spoke to him in a whisper,
“Please, forgive your humble maid servant for not answering your call. As you now see I am not human but the soul of the peonies that you love so much and take so much good care of. Because of the greatness of your love and care I was able to manifest into human form so that I might repay your love and devotion.
I have treasured my time with you but now an enemy has come into your home. You and other humans consider him a great scholar and wise teacher of morality. I warn you he is a sly one – a being of no morals and evil to the core. He is my enemy searching for me and I dare not keep this form any longer. I must change back to my true shape and return to the peonies. That is where you shall find me and when the time is right join me. Tend well your peony soul with love and dedicated devotion!”
With that she simply faded into the wall leaving no trace of her form to his bewilderment and great sorrow. He still carried on tending his peonies lavishing great care and love upon them. Softly and lovingly he talked to them and more than ever they appeared to lean towards him. At times when he believed he had no more love to offer they attuned to his feeling and he knew they had always been his lover and would always remain that way and with dedication and devotion he continued with the cultivation of his peony soul.
Birds have always played and important part in human culture appearing in the legends, myths and fables of people all around the world. Presented here are five legendary and mythical birds from different parts of the world, each with their own folklore and fables attached.
The Legendary Alicanto Bird
In Chilean folklore and mythology the Alicanto is a strange, mythical, bird that inhabits a strange but very real place known as the Atacama Desert ( Desierto de Atacama) and other parts of Chile, South America. The desert is rich in minerals and ores and according to legend is home to a mythical bird called the Alicanto that is said to eat different ores of metal. Its wings are said to shine at night with beautiful metallic colors and its eyes radiate colorful lights. These wonderful illuminations are said to be caused by the different metals it has eaten. For example, if it eats gold it emits a golden light or if it eats silver its light is silvery and if it eats copper it may be reddish though its wings are often described as being a coppery green. Sometimes it may eat more than one kind of metal resulting in different colors being emitted. Because of the light it emits it does not have a shadow.
Because of the heavy nature of its diet the bird spends most of its time on the ground being too heavy to fly and considered flightless. When it has not eaten for a long time it becomes lighter and can run much faster. It lays two eggs whose shells are made from the metal it eats. According to folklore, miners and prospectors would secretly follow an Alicanto hoping it would lead them to a rich deposit of metal ore or a secret horde of treasure known as an entierros. These legendary hoards were said to have been hidden by indigenous people hiding their treasure from the Spanish. It was also said pirates and privateers such as Sir Francis Drake hid their treasure in the desert.
Hopeful miners or prospectors would follow the light of bird’s wings in the darkness. If the Alicanto became aware of them it turned off the light losing its follower in the thick darkness. If the follower was of bad character and not true of heart the bird would lead them over a cliff to death. One legend tells how a Chilean Silver Rush was sparked on 16 May, 1832 when a miner named Juan Godoy followed an Alicanto to rich outcrop of the precious ore. This event led to a rush to mine silver with many miners striking rich.
The Basan in Japanese Mythology and Folklore
In Japanese folklore and mythology the Basan is a chicken-like bird sometimes called Basabasa, or Inuhōō and also known as the “Fire Rooster”. It was said to have its home on the Japanese island of Shikoku in the mountains of Iyo Province which is now known as Ehime Prefecture. According to old depictions it looks like a large chicken with a large, intensely red comb. It is said to breathe ghost-fire from its beak which is not hot but a cold fire that glows.
They made their homes in bamboo covered mountain recesses but were known to occasionally materialize late at night in human settlements. The wings of the Basan are said to make a strange and unearthly rustling sound when flapped. If a human inside a house hears this noise and looks outside to investigate they will just get a glimpse of the bird as it disappears before their eyes.
The Firebird in Slavic and Russian Folktales
In Russian and Slavic folklore the Firebird is a beautiful, magical bird that is much desired but has a reputation of being both an omen of doom and a blessing for those who manage to find one of its feathers, or capture it. The Firebird is described in various ways but essentially as a bird with brilliant, glowing orange, red and yellow plumage giving it the appearance of fire, hence its name. The feather continues to glow even when one is lost making it a valuable prize for the finder emitting enough light to fill a large room. They are usually depicted in the form of a fiery bird of paradise of varying in size with the story and artist. It is an extremely beautiful bird and although not usually regarded as particularly friendly is not aggressive, or vicious, but is associated with danger. This is because of its role as a bringer of danger to whoever finds it and very often a bringer of doom to those who demand its capture.
The typical structure of a firebird story begins with the finding of a feather by the hero. All though initially pleased with the find the hero eventually begins to see it as the cause of all of his troubles. This is followed by a bullying king or tsar ordering the hero to undertake one, or more, difficult and dangerous quests in search of something rare and valuable.The hero often has the assistance of a magical animal helper such as a horse or wolf who guides him throughout. The final quest is usually for the Firebird which must be brought back alive to the tsar or king. On the quest the hero has a number of adventures and wins the love of a beautiful princess. On return with the Firebird the tsar or king dies and the hero becomes ruler and marries the beautiful princess obtaining his heart’s desire. In many ways it is a rite of passage for the hero who grows in wisdom and maturity throughout until he becomes strong and able enough to become the ruler.
The Boobrie in Scottish Folklore
In the legends and folklore of the west coast of Scotland the Boobrie is a shapeshifting entity that usually appears in avian form. It is also known to take on other forms such as that of a water horse or bull. The Boobrie was said to make a deep bull-like bellowing call described as being similar to that of a common bittern though these are infrequent visitors to the region. When it appears as a water horse it has the ability to gallop over the tops of lochs and rivers as if they were solid land. It was also known to manifest as a huge vampire-like insect in summer that sucks the blood of horses. However, its preferred form appears to be that of an oversized water bird such as a cormorant, great northern diver or the extinct flightless great auk. Although considered mostly aquatic it was known to take to the land sometimes concealing itself in tall patches of heather.
The Boobrie is considered to be a voracious predator. Otters are said to be its favorite food and although it eats these in great numbers it will raid ships carrying livestock having a liking for calves, lambs and sheep. Of course this made it an enemy of the local island farmers of the area. One legend from the Isle of Mull tells how a farmer and his son were ploughing a field beside Loch Freisa. They were using a team of four horses but ran into trouble when one lost a shoe and could not continue.Looking round they saw an unknown horse grazing peacefully close by. Wanting to get the ploughing finished they decided they would try the unknown horse in place of the one that lost its shoe. Hitching it up along side the other three they were heartened to see the unknown horse seemed to take to the task with ease and their ploughing progressed well.
The Anqa of Arabian Mythology
In Arabian mythology the Anqa is large, marvelous and mysterious female bird. It is said she flies far away only returning once in many ages but can be found at the place of the setting sun. She is also known as Anka, Anqa Mughrib or Anqa al-Mughrib. Mughrib, has several meanings such as “strange, foreign,” “distant” or “west sunset” signifying the mystery and fantastical attributes of the bird.
Zakariya al-Qazwini, in his book, “The Wonders of Creation” describes the Anqa as very beautiful with four pairs of wings, a long white neck. He claimed it possessed a small resemblance to every known living creature and they were related to birds that lived alone on Mount Qaf. He also claimed they were wise gaining wisdom and experience through their lifespan of 1700 years and mates when it reaches the age of 500 and an egg is produced. When the chick hatches it will stay in the nest for 125 years before it leaves. The Anqa is so large its diet consists of large fish and elephants and nothing else.
Presented here is a retelling of an old Japanese legend about butterflies and the human soul from Myths & Legends of Japan, by F. Hadland (Frederick Hadland) Davis and illustrated by Evelyn Paul. In this work it was titled the The White Butterfly.
The Butterfly Soul
In old Japan there was a belief that the souls of people alive or dead could take the form of a butterfly. Therefore any butterfly that entered a house was treated respectfully. It may be that people whose loved ones had departed this world looked for and welcomed the presence of a butterfly and silently prayed, “Oh, come butterfly and I shall sleep tonight, where the flowers sleep.”
A very old legend tells of a poor old man by the name of Takahama. His home was just behind the cemetery of the temple of Sōzanji and never seemed to go far from it. Sadly, it is a trait of human nature that sees people who do not behave in what is considered a normal way to have some degree of madness. He was by all accounts the most affable and amiable person you could wish to meet and all his neighbors greatly liked and respected him though they considered him a little mad. This madness appears to have come from the fact that he never took a wife or was known to have considered taking one. Furthermore, he was wrongly believed to have had no intimate relationship with a woman.
It so happened that one bright summer day the most affable Takahama fell sick. So sick that he sent for his sister-in-law to come and take care of him. She duly arrived bringing her son with her to bring what help and comfort they could in his final hours. While they kept vigil over him there fluttered into the room a beautiful white butterfly that rested gently on the sick man’s pillow. Fearful that it might disturb his final hours the young man attempted to carefully drive it out without harming it. Each time he drove it through the door it returned. This happened three times as if the butterfly was reluctant to leave the dying man.
At last the young man grew more forceful chasing it out the door and into the nearby cemetery where it fluttered over the tomb of a woman before mysteriously vanishing to where he did not know.
The young man was puzzled and intrigued. On examining the tomb he found an inscription with the name “Akiko” and a brief account of how she had died when she was 18 years old. This indicated her death had happened some 50 years earlier. The tomb was very well maintained with fresh flowers and water provided. Intrigued but unsure what he had found the young man returned to the house to find Takahama had passed away.
The young man told his mother about the butterfly and what he had seen in the cemetery. His mother sat down with tears in her eyes and told him,
“Not many people know but your uncle was once betrothed to Akiko. He was very much in love with her but just before the wedding day she died of consumption. Understandably, he was heartbroken and vowed that he would never marry or have any kind of a relationship with any other woman.
He stayed close to her grave and prayed over it daily, no matter if the sun was shining and the day was fair and pleasant, or burning hot. No matter how cold the rain or how thick the snow, or wild the wind, he would grit his teeth and pray, ‘Oh, come, butterfly, come!’
Maintaining her grave, keeping weeds at bay and ensuring there were alway fresh flowers all through the long lonely years he kept his vow. In his heart of hearts he kept clean and shining all the loving memories of his only love. As he lay dying he no longer had the strength to perform his labor of love and Akiko from beyond saw this and came to him. The white butterfly was her tender, loving soul that came to guide him to the Land of the Yellow Springs where they will be reunited once again.”
For Takahama his passing prayer may been words such as the following poem written by Yone Noguchim many, many years later. Just maybe the writer was thinking of the old man when he wrote,
Presented here is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Goddess of Mount Fuji, from Myths & Legends of Japan, by F. Hadland (Frederick Hadland) Davis and illustrated by Evelyn Paul.
When smallpox hit the village where Yosoji lived it struck down his mother. Fearing she would soon die he visited Kamo Yamakiko, the magician and begged for his help. Kamo Yamakiko asked Yosoji to describe the symptoms and after listening very carefully told him he must go to the south-west side of Mount Fuji where a stream flowed down its side. He explained that it was a long and difficult journey and told him,
“Follow the stream back to its source. There you will find a shrine to the God of Long Breath. You must fetch water from that place for your mother to drink. This is the only cure there is in the world for her.”
The Shrine on Mount Fuji
Therefore taking up a gourd Yosoji set off full of hope to find the shrine at the source of the stream. It was indeed a long and difficult journey but eventually he came to a place where three paths crossed and he had no idea which one to take. He was tired and hungry and despair washed over him. He thought about giving up but he thought of his mother lying ill and knew he was her only chance and became determined to continue. Nevertheless he still had no idea which way to go, As he pondered upon this problem he was surprised to see a lovely girl step out of the forest. She beckoned to him bidding him to follow and as he had no idea which way to go he followed her.
It was not too long before they reached a stream and she led him upwards to its source and just as the magician had said there was a shrine. As they reached the shrine the girl told Yosoji to drink and then fill the gourd. The water from the stream was cool, sparkling and refreshing and he drank deeply and then filled the gourd. The girl then led him back to the place they had met and said,
“You will need to fetch more water for your mother so meet me here in three days time and I will be you guide.”
After she bid him farewell he took the water back to his mother. The water helped his mother greatly and he also gave some to other people in his village which helped them too. He returned to the sacred shrine five more times for water and each time he met the girl. After his last visit he was pleased to see that his mother was now back to her normal self and the villagers had all improved marvelously.
Yosoji was made a hero of the village and was greatly praised by everyone for saving them. Being an honest lad he realized he owed all the thanks to the lovely girl who appeared and guided him to the shrine. Therefore, he went back to find and thank her.
The girl was not at her usual meeting place and after waiting some time he resolved to go on to the shrine. He was greatly disappointed to find she was not there either. Nevertheless, he still wanted to show his gratitude for helping him save his mother and the villagers. All he could think to do was to kneel by the shrine and offer a prayer straight from his heart hoping that it would find its way to her somehow. When he had finished he stood up and looked around and was surprised and delighted to find the girl standing before him smiling.
The Goddess of Mount Fuji
He thanked her for her help from the bottom of his heart in the most eloquent words he could find and begged her to tell him her name. The girl smiled sweetly but gave no reply but reaching out a branch of camellia appeared in her hand. She waved it in the air as if beckoning to some invisible spirit. In answer to her floral signal a small white cloud floated down from the peak of Mount Fuji and settling before her she lightly stepped upon it.
The cloud rose bearing her up and slowly moved up the flank of the mountain before disappearing at the top. Yosoji was awestruck for he realized that the girl was Sengen, the Goddess of Mount Fuji and he fell down upon his knees. In his face was rapture and in his eyes light for he knew in his heart that mixed with all the gratitude he felt was a deep love for the lovely girl. As he knelt the goddess looked down and dropped the branch of camellia so that it landed just before him. Quickly, she turned away her face reddening.
The following is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Love of the Snow-White Fox, from a compilation by Frank Rinder called, Old-World Japan: Legends of the Land of the Gods. The story is set in Old Japan in in the province of Izumo. In these times evil ninko foxes, who with ogre-like creatures called oni, haunted the night. Ninkos were invisible spirit-like foxes that possessed humans but could only be sensed after possession had taken place. Any wandering man, child or maiden who had the misfortune to cross their path at night became their prey. They robbed their poor victim of all they had, bewitched the maidens and carried off the little children. All who dwelt in Izumo feared the night.
There were also other foxes who were not evil. These were the rare snow-white Inari foxes that were good and kind. The Inari fox was the enemy of the oni and the ninko foxes. Both Inari and ninko foxes were a type of Kitsune which are supernatural spirits or yōkai in Japanese folklore and mythology.
The snow-white Inari foxes guarded the poor peasants, protected the little children and came to the aid of the poor, bewitched, maidens. They were the servants and messengers of Inari, the spirit-god of fertility, fecundity agriculture, rice, sake, tea, prosperity and success.
The Love of the Snow-White Fox
This story begins many, many centuries ago when there lived a most beautiful Inari. She was snow-white with intelligent and piercing eyes and was kind and good and loved by all the people who looked forward to her visits.
She would take turns in whom she visited. The people would eagerly listen out at night for the knocking of her snow-white tail against the window and jump to let her in. As soon as she was given entry she would play with the children and make a great fuss of everyone present. They would offer her a share of their humble fare which she would gratefully eat and then disappear into the darkness. The Ninko foxes hated her because she protected all those who were kind to her. There were also hunters who wanted the blood of the beautiful, snow-white Inari. Several times she had come close to death at their hands.
On fine summer afternoons she would meet up with other foxes and they would frisk and play together in the sunshine. One afternoon as she was playing with her friends two evil men caught sight of her and instantly wanted her blood. They had fast dogs and themselves were fleet of foot. They unloosed their dogs whose yelping warned the Inari of her peril. She bolted as fast as she could with the dogs and hunters hot on her trail. They expected her to make for the open plain but she took a different course. She led the hunters on a long and difficult chase through the forest. Just as her strength was giving out she came to the Temple of Inari Daim-yojin and dashed inside seeking refuge under its hallowed auspices.
Inside the temple was a young prince by the name of Yaschima. He was of the most noble house of Abe and he was deep in meditation. With her pursuers close behind and her strength failing fast she ran to the prince and took refuge in the long folds of his robes where she lay trembling in fear.
All though he was astonished Yaschima spoke kindly and softly to the snow-white fox promising he would protect her. She looked up at the prince with her bright, intelligent eyes and understood. The prince went to the temple door just as the two hunters approached. “Have you seen the white Inari?” they asked, “We believe we have one cornered in here and we want its blood.”
“I know nothing of a white Inari! I have been here meditating and have seen no white fox,” replied the prince. As they were about to leave one of the men glanced down and saw the white tip of the Inari’ s bushy tail. “Ha, you lie,” snarled the hunter, “stand aside so that we can kill it!”
The Prince steadfastly refused and stood firm but the hunters were determined and attacked him. In his defense the Prince drew his sword and as he struck out his elderly father appeared. Seeing his son beset by two assailants and despite his own age, he bravely rushed to his aid. Yaschima struck but he had not seen his father and the blow struck him instead, killing him. Shocked and angry the Prince struck two more mighty blows each one dispatching an assailant.
With the fight finished Yaschima was overcome with grief for the loss of his father by his own hand. As he grieved he became aware of sweet singing that filled the temple. As he turned, a beautiful maiden came slowly towards him and stood before him. Looking into his eyes with her own bright eyes she saw he was deeply troubled and said, “Speak your heart!”
Yaschima looked into those bright eyes and told her of the white Inari and the hunters who would have killed her. He told her of his father and of all the good things about him. With a broken heart and weeping he told her that it was by his hand that his father had died trying to help him. The maiden spoke low words of kindness and sympathy. As she spoke the soft light of her eyes washed over him and he began to feel comforted.
Yaschima had never met such a maiden before who was so so pure and true and beautiful. He fell deeply in love with her and begged her to be his bride. She replied, “I would be your bride for I deeply love you. I know you are brave and your heart is pure and I would bring you comfort for the loss of your father.” The two were soon wed. Although his father remained always in his heart and memory he knew that his lovely wife was with him now and he gave her all his love and attention.
The years passed and they were very happy together. With his Princess by his side the Prince ruled his people wisely and kindly. Every morning they went to the temple together to give thanks to the good god Inari for the joy and love they shared. The Princess gave her husband a beautiful baby son and they named him Seimei. They were very happy for a long time but there came a time when the Princess began to take herself off alone and sit and weep for hours on end. Deeply troubled by her sadness, Yaschima asked her what ailed her. She shook her head and sadly looked away, her bright eyes dim and full of tears. There came a day when she went to her husband and taking both his hands she looked into his eyes and said,
“My Prince, my husband and my friend our life has been very wonderful together. I have given you a fine son that you love very much and he will always be with you. I have heard the voice of my god Inari and he calls me daily. He tells me I must leave you but for you and our son I have no fear. Inari says he will guard you and our son as you guarded me when the hunters came to steal my blood. You should know that the snow-white fox you shielded and saved, though it cost you your father, was myself.”
One last time she looked deeply into his eyes and with no other word slowly faded before him and was gone. Yaschima, although devastated, gave thanks for the time they had enjoyed together and for his son Seimei. He brought him up to be good, kind and true and to be respectful of Inari. The people of the province loved the Prince and his son but the snow-white fox was never seen again but her presence remained clear and bright in the heart of Prince Yaschima and his son.
The concept of animism where objects are believed to have a soul, spirit or consciousness is found in many religions, past and present around the world. The following is a retelling of a story from The Romance of the Milky Way and Other Studies & Stories by Lafcadio Hearn that he called The Mirror Maid that features this idea.
The Mirror Maid
The story is set in Old Japan in the period of the Ashika Shōgunate. When the sacred Temple of Ogawachi-Myōjin, at Minami-Isé fell into a state of disrepair, Matsumura Hyōgo, the Shinto priest of the temple begged Lord Kitahataké who administered the district for funds for repairs. Unfortunately due to war and other difficult circumstances Lord Kitahataké could not provide such funds. Therefore, Matsumura went to Kyōto and appealed to the great daimyō Hosokawa who had influence with the Shōgun.
Lord Hosokawa was sympathetic he could not authorize the funds without the permission of the Shōgun but promised to bring the problem to his attention. He advised the state of the shrine would need to be investigated and an estimate of the expense and a plan of work would have to be provided. Therefore he warned that in might take considerable time and he advised Matsumura to remain in Kyōto while the matter was dealt with.
Matsumura rented a house and sent for his family and servants. The house was situated in the old Kyōgoku quarter of the city and was old, imposing and rather daunting. It had been unoccupied for some time and had a dark and inauspicious reputation. Situated on the northeast side of the garden was a well in which several preceding tenants of the house had been found dead in its water. Not surprisingly, an air of mystery and suspicion hung over the house and dark words were whispered about it. Matsumura took no notice of the reputation of the house and well. Being a Shinto priest he had no fear of evil spirits and so he soon became settled and comfortable in his new residence.
In the summer there came a time of drought and no rain fell on Kyōto and the surrounding area for months. The lakes, rivers and wells dried up and the land became as bare and as dry as a bone. The only well which still bore water in Kyōto and the surrounding area was the one situated in the garden of Matsumura which remained full to the brim.
The water was cold and clear with a hint of blue but it was good and plentiful and always available. People came from all parts of the city and surrounding area to beg for water. Matsumura allowed each and everyone to draw as much as they pleased. Many people came to draw water but still the well remained full to the brim.
One morning Matsumura had a shock. The corpse of a young servant who had been sent to draw water by his master from the far side of the city was found floating in the well. It was apparent he had been a fit and active young man and it was not thought likely he had slipped and fell into the water.
Although Matsumura searched diligently he could find no clue as to how the young man could accidentally have drowned. There was no sign of a struggle or reason to believe he had been deliberately murdered either. Furthermore, after speaking to his master and family he could find no reason for such a young man to commit suicide. His imagination exhausted he remembered the dark reputation of the house and began to suspect some unknown evil had manifest.
The Maid in the Well
Matsumura stood looking at the well wondering what to do. He thought perhaps he should have a fence built around it to stop people going near for their own protection. As he mulled over these thoughts he became aware of a sudden movement in the water which startled him. It was as if there was some living thing in the water moving around under water.
The movement stopped and as the ripples settled he became aware that there was the face of a young woman in the water. She appeared to be around nineteen or twenty years of age and was very beautiful and was engaged in the activity of coloring her lips red as was the practice of females in those times. At first he could only see her face in profile and she seemed unaware or unconcerned by him watching. Slowly she turned her head to face him and as she did she smiled at him looking deep into his eyes.
Matsumura was frozen to the spot and began to experience a strange shock that shot through his heart. He became dizzy as if intoxicated with wine and all he could see was that strange, smiling, face while all around was darkness. Very white and very beautiful was the face, as white and as beautiful as the moon.
It seemed to grow whiter and even more beautiful as he stared. He became aware with sudden alarm that he was being drawn down, lower and lower, into the darkness towards that face and those red lips. Desperately he tried to master himself and break the spell and with one last supreme effort he succeeded to close his eyes shutting out the vision.
When he opened his eyes again he found he was on his knees with his face close to the surface of the water. One more second and he would have suffered the same fate as the servant who had been drowned. He was glad to find the light had returned and went back to the house. Understanding the danger from the well he ordered that it be fenced in and no one should be allowed near.
A few days later the drought was broken by a massive thunderstorm. While lightning flashed and thunder roared rain fell in torrents on the parched city and land. For three days and three nights the rain fell hard and fast. The river rose higher than it had ever risen before and carried more force than it had ever carried before. All along its course bridges were overpowered and washed away and along its banks water burst across the land flooding fields and homes.
On the third night of the raging storm, at the Hour of the Ox, there came a knocking on Matsumura’s door and the voice of a woman could be heard outside begging to be let in.
The Appearance of Yayoi
The experience Matsumura had suffered by the well immediately came to his mind and he forbade his servants to answer the door. Instead he went himself to stand by the door and called out, “Who can it be who is out on a night like this and rapping at my door?”
A female voice answered, “I beg your pardon and ask for your forgiveness. My name isYayoi and I have something that is of great importance that I must say to Matsumura Hyōgo and no one else. Please, I beg of you to let me in that I may deliver my message .”
Matsumura opened the door a little and looked out. He saw the same beautiful female face that he had seen smiling up at him from the water in the well. Now she was not smiling but had a sad forlorn expression.
“You cannot come in,” he told her sternly, “You are not human, you are a creature from the well. Why do you drown and kill innocent people?”
To the surprise of Matsumura she answered in a musical voice like the tinkling of rare and precious jewels which he had never heard before. She said,
“This is exactly the matter that I wish to talk to you about for I have never wanted to harm humans. Long ago in the most ancient of days a an evil dragon became the Master of the Well which is why it was always full.Long ago I fell in the well. He was more powerful than I and he made me to his bidding, forcing me to lure people to their deaths in the well.
However, time does not stand still and things change according to the will of the gods. The Heavenly Ruler has ordained that the dragon must leave the well. He will dwell in the lake in the province of Shinshū known as Torii-no-Iké and will never again return to this city. He left for his new home tonight which is why I am now free to beg for your compassion your aid.
I ask that you have your servants search the well. They will now find it dry with the departure of the dragon despite the rain . At the bottom of the well you will find my body. I urge that you do this as soon as possible and you can be sure that for your compliance you shall enjoy my benevolence and reward.”
Withher last words she vanished before his eyes.
The storm finally died out just before dawn. As soon as it was light Matsumura ordered his servants to search the well which was dry just as Yayoi had said it would be. Although they searched they found no body. All they found were a few very old hair ornaments such as was used by women in ancient times and a mirror. The mirror was of curious style and shape but had become encrusted with grime and mud.
The absence of a body puzzled Matusmura to begin with but then he realized his error. He remembered that mirrors are weird things with weird properties and every mirror had a soul that was its own and the soul of a mirror was female.
Carefully he cleaned it up treating it with great care and reverence. When he had cleaned all the encrusted grime from it he saw that it was indeed a rare and beautifully made piece of very ancient origin. On its handle and back were beautiful designs and some lettering some of which he could not understand but he could make out some letters that appeared to spell out “third month, third day” appearing to relate to a date.
He realized that in years gone by the third month was the Month of Increase and called Yayoi. Then he remembered that the third day of the third month was the Festival that was still called Yayoi-no-sekku the creature from the well had called herself Yayoi. This led him to the conclusion that the ghostly creature from the well was actually the Soul of the Mirror.
With this concluded he treated the mirror with even more reverence and care having it carefully cleaned again and re-silvered so that it was like new. He ordered a case to be made using fine wood and quality craftsmanship to make and decorate it. Then he prepared a special room to keep it in and carefully carried it there and put it in its designated place of honour. That evening as he sat before the box contemplating upon the recent events Yayoi appeared before him.
The Soul of the Mirror
He was stunned that she looked even more beautiful than before but now there was a softness to her light like that of a summer moon. She greeted him courteously and respectfully and said in her sweet, musical voice,
“I have come to thank you for saving me from an eternity of sorrow and loneliness. I can confirm that you are indeed correct in thinking that I am some kind of spirit. Yes, I am the Spirit of the Mirror – its very soul as you have guessed.
During the rule of the Emperor Saimei many long centuries ago I was brought to this residence from Kudara. Here I dwelt until the rule of the Emperor Saga and was presented to the august Lady Kamo, Naishinnō of the Imperial Court. From that time I became an heirloom of the House of Fuji-wara until the time of the period of Hōgen. During the period of the great war I laid forgotten for many, many years.
In those days the Master of the Well was an evil dragon. He had once lived in a lake that once covered this whole area. A government order came for the lake to be filled in to make land for the building of houses. The dragon could not stop the lake being filled in and took up residence in this well.
After I had fallen in I was helpless against his power and he forced me to lure people to their deaths. Now that the great god has ordained he must take up residence in a far away lake I am free.
Nevertheless, I have one last favour to ask of you. With all my heart I beg that you offer me to the Shōgun, the Lord Yoshimasa. By descent he is related to my former possessors and it would be fitting I should return to him as he is their heir.
If you would do this great kindness for me – it is the last I shall ask – it will bring you great good fortune.
Now I have to give you a warning. This residence is in danger and you must evacuate the premises as soon as possible. Tomorrow this house will be totally destroyed.”
The Prediction Fulfilled
As soon as Yayoi had finished speaking she bowed and vanished. Matsumura heeded the warning and moved his family and servant to another house in a distant part of the city immediately. The next day a violent storm arose and lightning struck his former residence several times destroying it completely. The rain fell in torrents and washed away the remnants of the shattered building but Matsumura and his family were safe.
Soon after Matsumura asked for an audience with the Shōgun Yoshimasa and was fortunate to be granted one. This gave him the opportunity to present the mirror to the great lord and to give him a written account of the marvellous history of the august piece. The Shōgun was delighted with this ancient gift and was intrigued by its strange history. In gratitude he gave Matsumura many expensive presents and also allotted ample money for the refurbishment of the Temple of Ogawachi-Myōjin making the prediction of Yayoi, the Soul of the Mirror come true.
In Japanese folklore, Yuki-Onna or Snow Woman, is a yōkai, which is a kind of demon, spirit or supernatural monster. There are many different Japanese folktales and traditions that feature Yuki-Onna and accounts of them vary from region to region. Presented here is a retelling of a story called Yuki-Onna, from Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, by Lafcadio Hearn.
Mosaku and Minokichi were two woodcutters that lived in a village in Musashi Province. Mosaku was an old man and Minokichi was a lad of eighteen years of age and his apprentice. Everyday they would walk the five miles to the forest to find wood and on the way they were obliged to cross a river. The river was wide and in good weather could be swum but after heavy rains the current was too strong so they would use a ferry boat to cross to the other side. There had been several attempts to build a bridge but on each occasion as soon as the river rose its fast flowing current washed it away, therefore people who wanted to cross had to use the ferry.
One winter’s day and Mosaku and Minokichi had gone out as usual and used the ferry to cross the river. They spent the day gathering wood and as it was growing dark they realized a snow storm was approaching and made their way back the the river. Unfortunately when they arrived they found the ferryman had taken the boat to the other side of the river and gone home.
The Snow Storm
The snow storm hit them and as it was no weather to swim they took shelter in the ferryman’s hut nearby. It was small and cramped but as the snow came down theythought themselves lucky to have such shelter at all. Unfortunately there was no smoke hole or brazier to light a fire in, nevertheless locking the door they settled down to wait out the night covered only in their overcoats.
At first they were quite comfortable and expected the storm to pass over quickly. To begin with the heat from their bodies began to warm up the as the small hut and Mosaku fell asleep quickly. Minokichi could not sleep and lay listening to the howling wind outside. He could hear the snow crashing against the hut and the roaring of the river as it began to rise. The rickety hut began to creak and groan under the full force of the snowstorm and suddenly it grew very, very cold. The apprentice began to shiver and despite the cold he too fell asleep.
He was sharply awoken with a start by a snow hitting his face. Opening his eyes in surprise he saw the door had been forced open. Outside the snow had eased but was still falling and the ground had a thick white covering which glimmered strangely under the moon and stars.
The Snow Woman
In the snow-light he was shocked to see that there was someone else in the hut apart from his master and himself. He saw it was a woman who was dressed all in white and bending over Mosaku was blowing her breath upon him. It streamed over his face like bright white smoke. Seeing Minokichi stir the woman turned and began stooping over him, lower and lower and lower. He tried to cry out, but he couldn’t. He tried to move, but he couldn’t.
All he could do was watch in fear as her face drew nearer and nearer until it almost touched his and he could feel her cold breath. He saw she was very beautiful but he was afraid of her eyes. She stooped over him looking at him for awhile and then she smiled and whispered softly,
“You are young. You are so pretty! Minokichi, tonight I intended to do with you as I have done with your companion. Have no fear, I feel pity for you and I will not hurt you. You must never speak of what you have seen again, not to sun, moon, stars, not to anything. If you ever tell another person, even your own mother or another living being about what you have witnessed tonight I will immediately know. I will come for you and I will kill you. Do not say you have not been warned!”
For a few terrible moments she gazed into his eyes, then she straightened up, turned and walked out of the hut and into the snow and was gone.To his relief the spell that had held him transfixed was gone. He jumped up and looked quickly out of the door but could see no sign of her, not even her footprints and the snow was thick on the ground. He closed the door making sure it was secure wondering if he had been dreaming and the wind had blown the door open.
Turning to Mosaku, his master he was shocked to see that the old man had not moved through it all. He called to him but there was no answer, He touched his face and it was as cold as ice. He shook his body but it was stiff and lifeless and realized his master was dead. With nothing else he could do he settled down to wait out the night.
In the morning the storm was gone and the ferryman had crossed the river. On entering his hut he was surprised to see the unconscious figure of Minokichi and the body of his dead master. He promptly gave aid to Minokichi and managed to revive him but there was nothing he could do for Mosaku who was now frozen solid.
With care and over a period of time Minokichi recovered in full from his ordeal. The death of his master and his encounter with the Snow Woman had left profound mark on him. He spoke nothing of these to anyone not even his mother took care of him. Eventually he grew fit enough to resume woodcutting to make a living. Every morning he would walk to the river alone and cross over to the forest and collect bundle of sticks that he would take back and with the help of his mother sell.
Time passed in this way and some twelve months later one winter evening he was walking home with his bundle of sticks on his shoulder. He was walking fast wanting to get home when he caught up with a girl who was travelling in the same direction as he. She was very tall and very slim and also very pretty. As he was striding past, so as not to unduly alarm her, Minokichi called out a friendly greeting. She returned the greeting in a friendly way but Minokichi was struck by the sound of her voice which sounded very pleasant to listen to like that of a songbird. He slowed to her pace and walked beside her and as she seemed amenable to conversation he began chatting with her.
He told her his name and she told him her name was O-Yuki and that recently she had been bereaved of both her parents. She was on her way to Yedo where she had relatives and hoped they would help her find a place in a rich family as a servant.
He was absolutely intrigued by the girl and the more they talked and traveled together the more beautiful and entrancing she became to him. They chatted easily together of many things and laughed along together. As they walked along and at last he asked her if she was betrothed. She blushed and laughed but told him that she was absolutely free.
In return she asked if he was engaged or married and he told her that he too was free and only had his aging, widowed mother to support. Somewhere between them unspoken but in their minds were thoughts of an “honorable daughter-in-law”. Both silently considered and they walked on in silence. but there is an old saying,
“When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as the mouth.”
The more they walked together the more they liked each other. When they reached the village lived Minokichi politely asked O-Yuki if she would like to rest and take refreshment at his home for awhile and meet his mother.
O-Yuki blushed and after hesitating agreed. His mother made her very welcome and made her sit down and rest while she made her a hot meal. O-Yuki was so polite and agreeable that his mother asked her to stop the night and take a break from her long journey. The next morning as she was preparing to leave his mother came to her and persuaded her to stay for a few days saying she really enjoyed her company.Of course this pleased Minokichi greatly and it came to pass that O-Yuki never left and was gladly accepted into the household as “An honourable daughter-in-law.”
An Honourable Daughter-in-Law
Indeed, O-Yuki became something of the perfect daughter-in-law and when Minokichi’s mother died five years later her last words poured nothing but love and affection upon her son’s wife. O-Yuki gave her husband ten beautiful children all, slim tall and as handsome as she.
All of neighbors and local people saw O-Yuki as a wonder. Unlike the local women who grew old early through hard work and poverty she remained as young, fresh and beautiful as she been the first day she had met Minokichi even after giving birth to ten children.
Minokichi loved her dearly and one night after the children had gone to sleep he sat watching her sewing by the light of a lantern and said,
“Watching you sewing with the lantern light reminds me of a very strange experience I had when I was a young lad of eighteen. In all of my life I have never met anyone as beautiful as you and as white and perfect as you, except once and she was very much like you.”
Without looking up or taking her eyes from her work O-Yuki said,
“Oh … Tell me about her. Where did you meet her?”
Minokichi thought for a minute recollecting his memories of the experience. Then he told her everything that had happened the night Mosaku and he had taken shelter from the snow storm all those years ago. He told her all about the mysterious Snow Woman and how she had smiled and whispered to him and about how Mosaku had frozen to death that night and said,
“In all of my life, either awake or asleep have I ever seen a person as beautiful as you. However, this … Snow Woman … was not … could not have been human and I was terrified of her she was so white … pure … perfect … yet terrifying! Sometimes I think it was all a dream or a spirit of the snow.”
O-Yuki snarled and flinging away her sewing jumped to her feet. Stooping over him where he sat in shocked silence at her sudden change she lowered her face to his and shrieked,
“Do you not see that it was I … I … I! … It was I! I told you that I would find you and kill you if you ever said another word about what happened that night. If not for our children I would kill you here and now! Listen and remember! If you do not take good care of them. If they come to any harm through you – I will return and I will kill you. Do not say you have not been warned!”
As she shrieked her voice became thin and wailed like the wind as she slowly dissolved into a pure, white mist that spiraled up and around the roof beams and left through the smoke hole, shrieking into the night and was never seen again.
There was once a man named Taketori no Okina (the Old Man who Harvests Bamboo) who made his living by cutting bamboo. Although he was married he had no children although he and his wife would dearly have loved one. One day while walking through the bamboo forest he found something very strange. It was a shining stalk of bamboo and he stopped to have a closer look. After spending all his life cutting bamboo he had never seen a stalk of bamboo like it. Intrigued, he cut it open to see what was making it shine.
To his astonishment and joy there was a tiny baby girl no bigger than his thumb inside. In wonder and delight he hurried home to show his wife who was also pleased and delighted and they both fell in love with her. They named the baby girl, Kaguya-hime which means princess of bamboos scattering light. Together and with much love and devotion they raised the tiny girl as their own.
Ever since the day Taketori no Okina had found Kaguya-hime every time he cut a stalk of bamboo he found a small nugget of gold inside. Very soon he became very rich and his daughter grew very fast into an extraordinarily beautiful woman of more normal size. To begin with he and his wife had tried to keep the existence of Kaguya-hime secret from outsiders, but as is often the case with the extraordinary word spread of her beauty.
In every mountain there is a spirit and in every man there is a spirit of yearning. The mountain spirit yearns to help the man, while the man often yearns for what he does not need. A man who makes his living through daily sweat and toil such as a stonecutter can often become disenchanted with the everyday drudgery of existence and wish for a better life. The mountain spirit can grant a man anything that he can wish for and uses this power to benefit anyone deemed worthy enough to receive such a great gift. At any moment in time, at any place in the world, wherever a mountain and a man may be found existing together, is a place where this story may be enacted.
And in that place a man who made his living as a stonecutter goes every day to the the mountain where he chips away until he has cut a large slab of rock from the rock face. He then cuts it into different sizes. Sometimes he cuts it into paving slabs. Sometimes he cuts it into gravestones, and sometimes he cuts it up for different purposes.
Over the years he had grown very skilled and knowledgeable about his trade. People respected him for his hard work, skill, reliability and diligence and he had a good reputation and many customers.
He lived in a wooden hut at the bottom of the mountain. It was not much but supplied his basic need for shelter. For many years he worked hard at his trade which provided all his meager needs. He was happy and satisfied and asked for nothing else in life. But things were about to change! Continue reading →