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.
Insects and humans are a strange mix and yet in In Japanese folklore the human soul sometimes appears as a butterfly. Maybe it is something about the way they flutter from place to place or the fact that they have gone through metamorphosis to transform into a such a beautiful creature. When we look deeply into the populous and industrious colonies of ants many people see a microcosm of a human cities and society. Indeed, from above our cities often seem to be teeming with myriads of ant-like creatures.
In reality the idea of humans being insect-like in any way may seem absurd except in our dreams in which reality can be suspended, twisted and turned on its head and time has a completely different duration. In such dreams we may believe ourselves to have lived for years in a certain place but awake to be told that we have only been asleep for a few minutes. But what if when we return from the dream to the waking world we find evidence that there may indeed be some basis for the idea we actually existed in our dream – what then?
Presented here is a retelling of a Japanese folktale originally called, The Dream of Akinosuke, from a collection of tales, called Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn which has some strange things to say about ants, butterflies and dreaming humans.
THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKE
There once lived in the district of Toichi in the Yamato Province of old Japan a goshi named Miyata Akinosuke. These were feudal times and in such times goshi were a social class having certain privileges. They were soldiers and freehold farmers who owed their position and allegiance to an overlord. Akinosuke was just such a man and as a freeholder he had a very beautiful garden with an ancient and spreading cedar tree. He was very fond of his tree and during the hot, sultry days of summer he liked to recline and relax in the coolness of its shade.
One hot afternoon he was relaxing in the shade of his tree with two of his fellow goshi. They were having a very pleasant time drinking wine and conversing amicably on different topics and enjoying each other’s company. Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the warm sultry afternoon or maybe it was both, but Akinosuke grew very drowsy. He grew so sleepy that he asked his friends to excuse him while he took a brief nap. Teasing him they told him the wine had gone to his head, but agreed to excuse him and he lay down at the foot of his beautiful cedar tree and very soon he was dreaming a dream like no other.
In this dream he saw a great and grand procession of people coming over the crest of a nearby hill and he stood up to get a better view. It was indeed a very grand procession the likes of which he had never seen before. There were very many men and women all dressed in the finest of silks carry banners and flags and marching to the beat of a drum. There were so many in the distance it looked like a long line of ants coming over the hill.
At the heart of the procession was a carriage that was borne aloft proudly. Akinosuke watched and was surprised to see that it was making directly for his dwelling. As it drew nearer he could see that the carriage was richly decorated with silks of blue and gold and obviously carried someone who must have been very important indeed. The procession proceeded unerringly to his gate and stopped. The carriage door opened and a tall, thin man dressed in the most exquisite finery got out. In a mostly stately way he approached the surprised and bemused Akinosuke, who awestruck, bowed low while the visitor greeted him thus,
“Most honorable Miyata Akinosuke you see before you an envoy and servant of the King in Tokyo. I am commanded to greet you in the name of the King and put myself entirely at your service. He has commanded me to inform you that he seeks your presence at his palace and has tasked me to escort you into his esteemed presence. Therefore, please enter this most honorable of carriages that he has sent for this purpose and allow me to be your personal guide to his royal presence.”
With that the messenger stood aside holding the carriage door open, gesturing for the bewildered Akinosuke to step inside. He wanted to make some kind of fitting reply but was too astonished and overwhelmed. Instead, he meekly obeyed and stepped into the carriage and his guide sat down beside him. With a word of command the carriage proceeded to the King’s palace.
They traveled at surprising speed and within a short time were outside the palace gates. The envoy announced he would go and inform the King of Akinosuke’s arrival and he was to wait here until sent for. Presently two noblemen wearing the purple silks and caps of high rank arrived. They greeted him with all due respect and escorted him through a most beautiful garden, the vastness of which appeared to extend in all directions for many miles.
At last they entered the palace and Akinosuke was shown into a most splendid reception room with many ornate carvings and works of art upon the walls. He was seated in a place of honor while two servants brought him food and drink. After he had taken refreshment the two nobles in purple bowed low and speaking in turns said to him thus,
“It is our duty and pleasure to inform you that the reason you have been brought here is because the King, our most noble master, desires greatly that you become his son-in-law. It is his greatest wish that this will happen today. Therefore, you will marry his daughter the August Princess this day. When the time comes we will escort you to your wedding, but first we will provide you with appropriate apparel for such a splendid and important ceremony.”
Having finished their speech the two nobles went over to a great gilded chest and lifting the lid drew out various items of clothing. These were of the finest and richest silks and styled for royalty and were indeed most suitable for the bridegroom of a royal wedding. After he was dressed in the very finest of fashions befitting such a special occasion he was led into a hall where the King and his highest dignitaries and nobles awaited the arrival of Akinosuke.
Akinosuke saluted, bowed and knelt before the King who greeted him graciously and spoke to him thus,
“You have been informed that it is my desire that you will become my son-in-law and the husband of my only daughter – the August Princess. We shall now proceed with the wedding.”
With that he clapped his hands and the sound of joyful music filled the hall and a long line of beautiful ladies of the Royal court appeared. Solemnly they escorted Akinosuke to another hall where his bride awaited dressed most beautifully for her wedding.
The wedding hall was huge and richly decorated and despite its size it was barely big enough to seat all of the guests who swarmed everywhere. Everyone stopped and bowed as he entered escorted by the ladies of the court and he took his place kneeling on a cushion facing his bride. In her gorgeous silk wedding dress the color of the bluest summer sky she looked indeed the August Princess.
The marriage rites were performed with great ceremony and dignity and afterwards the newly married couple were escorted to a special suite of apartments especially prepared for them. The King and all the guests were overjoyed and Akinosuke and his wife radiating happiness received many wonderful presents and the blessings of everyone.
Although they had not met each other before or heard of one another in the past, Akinosuke and his wife were very happy together enjoying the company of each other. The days passed joyfully and presently Akinosuke was summoned to appear before the King. He feared he had done something wrong but instead the King spoke to him thus,
“The island of Rashi lies in the southwestern part of my realm and I have decided to appoint you the Governor of Raishu in my name. The people of the island are very loyal and peaceful but their laws have never been brought into alignment with the laws and customs of my realm. I am entrusting you with this task and with improving their lives and social condition as much as is possible. It is my desire that you rule them with kindness, justice and wisdom. All the preparations for the journey and your arrival have been made and you will leave in the morning.’
The Island of Raishu
The next morning Akinosuke and his wife left the palace with a great escort of nobles, palace officials and courtesans who accompanied them to the harbor. There he and his wife boarded one of the King’ s own ships to take them to Raishu and take up the governorship of the island. They had a good wind and fair weather and soon arrived safely in the harbor of the island to find the people had all come out and were lining the shores to welcome them.
After a warm reception from the people Akinosuke began his governorship and put his heart and soul into the task. In the first three years he reformed the laws to align with those of the King in Tokyo. He was lucky to have the help of wise counselors who knew the people very well. This helped him considerably and he never grew tired or bored with the task. When it was all complete he found he only had a few active duties to carry out and most of these were of a ceremonial nature.
The island was very fertile and grew all the crops the people needed and they also fished the seas. The weather always seemed to just right so there was never famine or starvation. The people were hard working and peaceful never broke any laws so there was little for him to do.
Akinosuke lived and ruled on the island for another twenty years making twenty three in total and in that time he was happy. He grew to love his wife and she him and they were very close and happy together. She bore him seven fine children – five strapping sons and two beautiful daughters.
In the beginning of the twenty fourth year of his governorship his beloved wife fell sick and died. Akinosuke was grief stricken but as tradition required he made sure she was buried with all the dignity and ceremony befitting her status. He had her buried on a beautiful hill with a fittingly splendid monument raised over her. Unfortunately and understandably her death had left him devastated and he no longer cared for himself or wanted to live.
After the customary period of mourning was complete a ship sailed in from Tokyo bearing a royal messenger from the King. The messenger hastened to Akinosuke to deliver a message of condolence directly from the King telling him thus,
“The King our lord and master sends his deep condolences to you and your children. You have worked hard and done a splendid job on Raishu but it is now time you returned to your own country. Have no fear for your seven children for they are also my grandsons and granddaughters and I will look after them.”
Akinosuke on hearing this order submissively prepared to leave the island. When all was made ready for his departure and all necessary rituals and ceremonies were completed he said goodbye to his children, councilors and officials and was escorted in a grand procession to the harbor where he took the ship for home.
The ship sailed out of the harbor into the blue sea and towards the blue sky of the horizon. Akinosuke turned to look at the island in a last farewell and watched as it’s shape turned to blue and then, grey and vanished forever from his sight – and at this point he woke up to find himself lying in the shade of the cedar tree in his very own garden. For a moment or two he was dazed and bewildered and rubbed his eyes. Looking around he saw his two friends sitting nearby drinking wine and chatting happily to each other and he cried out loud,
“How strange this is!!”
His two friends looked over to him and laughed when they heard him. “Ha!” laughed one, “Our friend, Akinosuke has been dreaming! Tell us your strange dream my friend.”
” I think the wine got the better of him,” teasedthe other, “but do tell us!”
Therefore, Akinosuke told them his strange dream and how he had spent over twenty three years living on the island of Raishu in the realm of the King of Tokyo. He told how he was married and of his children and finally how his beloved wife had died.
His two friends were astonished at his tale and insisted he had only been asleep for a few minutes at the most. One of them told him that while he had been asleep they had witnessed a very strange thing and he spoke thus,
“While you were asleep we saw a very strange thing happen.A small yellow butterfly appeared and fluttered and hovered over your face for a brief moment or two. We watched and saw it settle on the ground beside you as you lay close to the cedar tree. Almost immediately an exceptionally large ant rushed from a hole by the tree and seizing the butterfly ran back down the hole carrying it with him.
Just before you woke we saw the same yellow butterfly crawl out of the hole and flutter up to hover before your face before suddenly vanishing. I do not know where it went but it was gone.”
The second nodded in agreement and then he spoke,
“Maybe it was our friend Akinosuke’s soul. I thought perhaps it flew into his mouth but even if it was our friend’s soul it does not explain the dream.”
The Realm of the Ants
“Maybe the ants explain it,” said the first, ” they are peculiar beings and there is a large ant’s nest by the hole of the tree.”
Akinosuke jumped up and cried, “Let us investigate!” And rushed off to fetch a spade.
On his return he set about gently clearing the soil away to carefully reveal that the nest had been excavated and built in the most surprisingly complex way. The huge population of ants that lived there had turned the colony into a miniature world with some similarity to that of humans. There were tiny buildings made from straw, clay and stems that gave the nest the look of scaled-down versions of human towns and cities.
In the very center of the colony was a structure larger than all of the others which contained a swarm of small ants appearing to work around the body of one very large ant that had a black head and pale yellow wings.
” Look! There is the King in the palace of Tokyo that I saw in my dream! How amazing and extraordinary! If that is so, the island of Raisu should lie somewhere to the southwest – and there it is by that root … now can I find the green hill and the tomb of my beloved wife – Yes, there it is – how remarkable!”
Looking closely, Akinosuke saw the small hill in the nest and on top of the hill was a worn polished pebble very similar in shape to the monument he had placed over the body of his wife. Gently lifting up the pebble he was astonished to see covered in clay the dead body of a female ant.
Ants, Humans and the Butterfly Soul
There are some people who see parallels between ants and humans. Such philosophers see similarities in the two societies while comparing the differences. The cities humans build and live in are seen in parallel with the ant colonies and the two societies compared. In human cities the swarms of humans may all appear to be busy working for the greater good of their society. However, on closer inspection it is found that this is so only as far as it does not encroach upon their own selfish needs and desires which may be at odds with the well-being of their society and even their own butterfly soul.
Ants are seen to be regimented and industrious giving up or not possessing such selfish needs and desires working entirely for the good of their society. These same philosophers argue that humans with their selfishness damage the good of their society while the ants give up the wants of the self in favor of maintaining the good of their society and their butterfly soul – assuming ants have any kind of soul at all. Therefore, they claim ants are superior to humans and their society further evolved. Such philosophers are not renowned for their sense of humor, but personally I always think it one of the greatest of human attributes, though I am not sure ants have one. I wonder though, what do you think of these strange matters of ants, dreaming humans and the butterfly soul?
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.
This is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Star Lovers, from a collection by Grace Jones titled, Japanese Fairy Tales.
The Weaving Maiden
It is a love story from the old days of old Japan and tells of the Weaving Maiden who dwelt upon the shore of the Bright River of Heaven. Her duty was to weave the garments for all of the gods. She took her duty most seriously working tirelessly hour after hour weaving the white cloth for the garments of the gods. Ream upon ream of cloth lay piled all around her but she never stopped for rest or respite. Instead she spent all her time weaving. You see she was afraid. She was afraid because she had heard this saying,
“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow And eternal gloom Shall fall upon the Weaving Maiden When she leaves her loom.”
Therefore, she worked every hour, day and night making the clothing for the gods. In truth, they had clothes to spare. Conversely, in her efforts to clothe them she never took the time to ensure she was clad elegantly as befitted her own status. Instead she wore an old ill-fitting and worn tunic. She never bothered with the beautiful jewelry her father often lavished upon her either. Instead, she went bare of foot and allowed her hair to stream down over her shoulders and her back. When she was at work on the loom she just flung it casually over her one shoulder to keep it out of the way.
All her time was taken up with her work and she had never played with the other children of the gods among the stars. She had never interacted with them at all. She did not love or weep and she did not eat, she was not glad or sorry . She just sat at her loom and shuttle and wove and wove. She wove her very being into the cloth that she was weaving and it came out white.
At last her father noticed her industry and said, “ My daughter, you are working too hard.”
“But it is my duty, father,” she replied.
“Nonsense! You are too young to think of duty,” he replied.
“Father, why are you are displeased with me?”she asked.
“Daughter, are you wood, are you stone, or perhaps a pale flower all alone on the wayside?”he asked.
“Father, you know well I am none of these, therefore why do you ask?” she replied.
“Indeed, you are none of these, therefore, leave your loom and go out and live. Enjoy yourself and make friends and have fun. Be like others of your own age and live,” he answered.
“Why ever should I be like others!” she asked.
“What,you dare to question me your father? Leave your loom now!” he said sternly.
But she replied,
“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow And eternal gloom …
But her father cut her short saying angrily, “Do not throw that foolish saying at me. Age-long sorrow has no relevance to us, we are gods!”.
Taking her hand gently, but firmly, he covered over the loom and led her from the room. He gave her beautiful clothing and made sure her hair was groomed and styled and adorned with jewels and flowers and he gave her wonderful jewelry and gems. He made her look wonderfully beautiful and the first one to notice her was the Herd Boy of Heaven who looked after the flocks and herds along the banks of the Bright River.
The Herd Boy of Heaven
The Weaving Maiden was transformed beyond all recognition. Her lips were red and her eyes were like the stars she now played among. She sang and danced all day long and made many, many new friends. Instead of spending long hours at the loom alone she played with the children of the Gods.She danced lightly across the sky in shoes made of silver with the Herd Boy of Heaven and soon they were lovers. Their laughter resounded through the Heavens and the gods themselves joined in. For the first time in her life she was enjoying herself and having fun and she had someone she loved who loved her greatly and she was happy. In her happiness she said, “No longer will I spend long hours at the loom weaving the clothes of the gods and goddesses.”
She stopped worry about fulfilling her duty and stopped using her loom altogether.
“I have my life to live and will weave no more!” she said to herself and ran to the Herd Boy who held her in his arms, her eyes shining and her face smiling. From then on she lived her life as she thought she should. But the gods began to run out of new clothes and her father grew angry and said,
“Has my daughter gone mad? Everyone is laughing at her and who will weave the gods new clothes this spring?”
Three times he called his daughter to him and warned her. Three times she ignored him and the last time she said,
“But father, who was it who stopped me weaving? Who was it who clad me in fine clothes and jewels and sent me away from my loom? Father you are the one who opened the door and now neither mortal or god can shut it!”
“You think I cannot stop it? I will show you what I can do!” He called the magpies of the earth and they flocked to him from near and far. Spreading their wings from end to end they formed a fragile bridge spanning the Bright River. With no further discussion he banished the Herd Boy to the far side of the Bright River and he sadly stepped over the fragile bridge. She wept bitterly as she watched her love cross the frail bridge of magpies. Once he had stepped onto the other side of the Bright River the magpies quickly flew up dispersing to where they had come from. The Weaving Maiden was left standing on the opposite bank with her father unable to follow.
She stood upon the shore holding her arms out to her love on the opposite shore and crying. Throwing herself down on the river bank she sobbed her heart out while the Herd Boy sobbing disconsolately held out his arms to her. A long time she lay sobbing on the ground until she could cry no more.
At last she rose and returned to her loom and began working away again. After a while she stopped and gazed into space and said,
“Sorrow, sorrow, age-long sorrow And eternal gloom …”
Putting her head in her hands she wept. After a while she stopped, straightened her back and said,
“I will not return to what I was. Once I neither loved or wept. I was neither sorry of happy. Now, I know how to love, now I know how to weep, now I know what happiness is, now am I know sorrow. I will not go back to what I was!”
Taking up the shuttle she laboured diligently as the tears rolled down her face but she continued weaving the clothing of the gods. Sometimes the cloth came out grey as grief, at other times it came out rosy or gold as in pleasant dreams and the colours change according to her mood. This new style of clothing pleased the gods and her father was pleased for a change and said,
“I see I have my hardworking and diligent daughter back and you are happy and quiet.”
But she told him.
“I am not happy and it is the quiet of dark despair. I am but the most miserable one in Heaven!”
He looked on his daughter and seeing her heart was breaking he regretted what he had done and said,“Truly, I am sorry but what can I now do?”
“Bring back the Herd Boy of the Bright River – give me back my love!”
“I cannot. What has been done cannot be undone. He has been banished by a god and it can never be undone.” he told her regretfully.
“This was my fear, I knew it!” she said bitterly.
He thought for a while and then said,
“Yet, there is one thing I can do. On the seventh day of the seventh moon, from now until eternity, I will summon the magpies from all parts of the earth to the Bright River. They shall make a bridge with their wings and you may cross lightly over to the other side to be with your love for one day. Then you must return the same way.”
Thereafter, on the seventh day of the seventh moon the magpies of the earth arrive at the Bright River and make a frail bridge with their wings. Joyful the Weaving Maiden, with shining eyes, her heart fluttering and smiling happily treads lightly across the bridge into the arms of her waiting lover. To this day this tryst is kept except when the rains come and the river is too swollen and strong for the magpies to make their bridge. In such times the poor lovers must wait until the seventh day, of the seventh moon, comes around once again and pray for:
This work is a retelling of a kaiden, a traditional Japanese ghost story from a collection retold by Grace James titled, Japanese Fairy Tales, and called The Peony Lantern. There are also versions called Kaidan Botan Dōrō. In many ways it is passionate and romantic yet has more than a hint of horror involving necrophilia while hinting on the consequences of the karma of the two main characters.
The Peony Lantern
It is said that by the strong bond of illusion the living and the dead are bound together. Now, there was a young samurai who lived in Yedo. His name was Hagiwara and he had reached the most honorable rank of hatamoto. He was a very handsome man, very athletic and light on his feet and his good looks made him very popular with the ladies of Yedo. Some were very open about their affections, while others were more coy and secretive. For his part he gave little of his time and attention to love. Instead he preferred to join other young men in sports and joyous revelries. He would often be seen socializing and having fun with his favorite companions, very much the life and soul of the party.
The Festival of the New Year
When the Festival of the New Year came he was to be found in the company of laughing youths and happy maidens playing the game of battledore and shuttlecock in the streets. They had roamed far from their own neighborhood to the other side of town to a suburb of quiet streets and large houses that stood in grand gardens.
Hagiwara was good at the game and used his battledore with impressive skill and technique. However, the wind caught the shuttle after he had hit it taking it way over the heads of the other players and over a bamboo fence and into a garden. He ran after it but the others cried, “Leave, Hagiwara, let it stay! We have plenty more shuttlecocks to play with. Why waste time on that one?”
Hagiwara heard them but answered, “No my friends, that one was special. It was the color of a dove and gilded with gold. I will soon fetch it!”
“Let it stay!,” they cried, “we have a dozen here that are dove coloured and gilded with gold. Let it stay!”
Hagiwara stood staring at the garden. For some reason he felt a very strong need for that particular shuttlecock and did not know why. Ignoring his friends he quickly climbed the bamboo fence and jumped down into the garden. He had seen exactly where the shuttlecock landed and thought he would be able to retrieve it quickly, but when he went to the spot it was not there. For some reason he now considered that particular shuttlecock was his most valuable treasure. He searched up and down the garden, pushing aside bushes and plants, but all to no avail. His friends called him again and again but he ignored them and searched feverishly around the garden for the lost shuttlecock. Again his friends called, but he ignored them and continued searching. Eventually, they wandered off leaving him alone searching the garden.
He continued searching into the evening ignoring the glorious spectacle of the setting sun and as dusk fell gently he suddenly looked up. To his surprise there was a girl standing a few yards in front of him. Smiling, she motioned with her right hand while in the the palm of her left she held the shuttlecock he had been searching for. He moved eagerly towards her but she moved back still presenting the shuttlecock to him, but keeping it out of reach, luring him into him into following her. He followed her through the garden and up three stone steps that led into the house.
On one side of the first step a plum tree stood in white blossom and on the third step stood a most beautiful lady. She was dressed in celebration of the festival in a kimono of patterned turquoise with long ceremonial sleeves that swept the ground Underneath she wore garments of scarlet and gold and in her hair were pins of coral, tortoiseshell and gold.
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew
On seeing the the beautiful lady, Hagiwara immediately knelt before her in reverence and adoration touching his forehead to the ground as a sign of respect. The lady smiled down on him with shining eyes and then spoke softly, “Welcome, Hagiwara Sama, most noble samurai of the hatamoto. Please allow me to introduce myself and my handmaiden. My name is O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew and this is O’Yone my handmaiden. She it it is that has brought you to me and I thank her. Glad am I to see you and happy indeed is this hour!”
Gently raising him she led him into the house and into a room where ten mats were placed upon the floor. He was then entertained in the traditional manner as the Lady of the Morning Dew danced for him while her handmaiden beat upon a small scarlet and gold drum. They set the red rice for him to eat and sweet warm wine to drink as was the tradition and he ate all he was given. It was getting late when he had finished and after pleasant conversation he took his leave and as she showed him to the door the Lady of the Morning Dew whispered, “Most honourable Hagiwara, I would be most happy if you came again.”
Hagiwara was now in high spirits and flippantly laughed,“And what would it be if I did not return? What is it if I do not come back, what then?”
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew flinched and then stiffened and her face grew pale and drawn. She looked him directly in the eye and laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered, “It will be death. Death for you, death for me. That is the only way!”
Standing next to her O’Yone shuddered and hid her face in her hands.
Perplexed and very much disturbed, Hagiwara the samurai went off into the night wandering through the thick darkness of the sleeping city like a lost ghost, very very afraid.
He wandered long in the pitch black night searching for his home. It was not until the first grey streaks of dawn broke the darkness that he at last found himself standing before his own door. Tired and weary he went in and threw himself on his bed and then laughed,“Hah, and I have forgotten my shuttlecock!”
In the morning he sat alone thinking about all that had happened the day before. The morning passed and he sat through the afternoon thinking about it. Evening began to fall and suddenly he stood up saying, “Surely, it was all a joke played on me by two geisha girls. They will be laughing at me expecting me to turn up but I will show them. I will not let them make a fool of me!”
Therefore dressing in his best clothes he went out into the evening to find his friends. For the next week he spent his time sporting and partying and through all these entertainments he was the loudest, the happiest, the wittiest and the wildest, but he knew things were not right. At last he said,“Enough, I have had enough! I am sick and tired of all this charade!”
Leaving his friends he took to roaming the streets alone. He wandered from one end of Yedo by day and then back again at night. He sought out the hidden ways of the city, the lost courtyards, the back alleys and the forgotten paths that ran between the houses, searching, always searching, for what he did not know.
Yet, he could not find the house and garden of the Lady of the Morning Dew although his restless spirit searched and searched. Eventually finding himself outside his own home he went to bed and fell into a sickness. For three moons he ate and drank barely enough to keep himself alive and his body grew weak, pale and thin, like some hungry, restless, wraith. Three moons later during the hot rainy season he left his sickbed and wrapping himself in a light summer robe set out into the city despite the entreaties of his good and faithful servant
“Alas, my master has the fever and it is driving him mad!”wailed the servant.
Hagiwara took no notice and looking straight ahead set out with resolve saying,“Have faith! Have faith! All roads will take me to my true love’s house!”
Eventually he came to a quiet suburb of big houses with gardens and saw before him one with a bamboo fence. Smiling, Hagiwara quickly climbed the fence and jumped down saying,“Now we shall meet again!”
Hagiwara the samurai stood in shocked silence staring at it. An old man appeared and asked,“Lord, is there something I can do for you?”
However, he was shocked to find the garden was overgrown and unkempt. Moss had grown over the steps and the plum tree had lost its white blossom, its green leaves fluttered forlornly in the breeze. The house was dark, quiet and empty, its shutters closed and an air of melancholy hung over it.
The Lady Has Gone
“I see the white blossom has fallen from the plum tree. Can you tell me where the Lady of the Morning Dew has gone?” Hagiwara sadly replied.
“Alas, Lord, the Lady of the Morning Dew has fallen like the blossom of the plum tree. Six moons ago she was taken by a strange illness that could not be alleviated. She now lies dead in the graveyard on the hillside. Her faithful handmaiden, O’Yone, would not be parted from her and would not allow her mistress to wander through the land of the dead alone and so lies with her. It is for their sakes that I still come to this garden and do what I can, though being old now that is but little and now the grass grows over their graves.”
Devastated by the news Hagiwara went home. He wrote the name of O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, on a piece of white wood and then burned incense before it and placed offerings before it. He made sure he did everything necessary to pay the proper respects and ensure the well being of her spirit.
The Festival of Bon
The time of the returning souls arrived, the Festival of Bon, that honors the spirits of the dead. People carried lanterns and visited the graves of those deceased. They brought them presents of flowers and food to show they still cared. The days were hot and on first night of the festival Hagiwara unable to sleep walked alone in his garden. It was cooler than the blazing heat of the day and he was thankful for it. All was quiet and calm and he was enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was around the hour of the Ox, that he heard the sound of footsteps approach. It was too dark to see who it was but he could tell there were two different people that he thought were women by the sound of their footsteps. Stepping up to his rose hedge he peered into the darkness to catch sight of who it was approaching. In the darkness he could make out the figures of two slender women who walked along the lane hand in hand towards him. One held before them on a pole a peony lantern such as those the folk of Yedo used in their traditions to honour the dead and it cast an eerie light around them. As they approached the lantern was held up to reveal their faces and instantly he recognized them and gave a cry of surprise. The girl holding the peony lantern held it up to light his face
“Hagiwara Sama, it is you! We were told that you were dead. We have been praying daily for your soul for many moons!” she cried.
“O’Yone, is it really you?” he cried, “and is that truly your mistress, O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, you hold by the hand?”
“Indeed, Lord, is is she who holds my hand,” she replied as they entered the garden, but the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve so that it covered her face.
“How did I ever lose you?” he asked,“How could it have happened?”
“My Lord, we have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. We were not allowed to take anything with us and now we have nothing at all. My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”saidthe handmaiden.
Hagiwara the samurai gently drew his Lady’s sleeve away from her face but she turned away.
“Oh, Lord, do not look upon me, I am no longer fair,”she sobbed.Slowly he turned her around and looked into her face and the flame of love leapt in him and swept through him but he never said a word
As he gazed upon her the Lady of the Morning Dew shrank away saying,“Shall I stay, or shall I go?”
“Stay!” he replied without hesitation.
The Green Hill
Just before dawn Hagiwara fell into a deep slumber, eventually awakening to find himself alone. Quickly dressing he went out and went through the city of Yedo to the place of the Green Hill. He asked all he met if they knew where the house of the Lady of the Morning Dew was but no one could help him. He searched everywhere but found no sign or clue as to where it could be. In despair he turned to go home, lamenting bitterly that for the second time he had lost his love.
Miserably he made his way home. His path took him through the grounds of a temple situated on a green hill. Walking through he noticed two graves side by side. One was small and hardly noticeable but the other was larģe and grand marked by a solemn monument. In front of the monument was a peony lantern with a small bunch of peonies tied to. It was similar in fashion to many of those used throughout Yedo during the Festival of Bon in reverence of the dead.
Nevertheless, it caught his eye and he stood and stared. As if in a dream he heard the words of O’Yone, the handmaiden,
“We have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. … My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”
Then he smiled and understood and he went home. He was greeted by his servant who asked if he was alright. The samurai tried to reassure him that he was fine emphasizing that he had never been happier. However, the servant knew his master and knew something was wrong and said to himself,“My master has the mark of death upon him. If he dies what will happen to me who has served him since he was a child?”
The faithful servant of Hagiwara realized someone was visiting his master in the night and grew afraid. On the seventh night he spied on his master through a crack in the window shutters and his blood ran cold at what he saw. His master was in the embrace of a most fearful and terrifying being whose face was the horror of the grave. He was gazing lovingly into its eyes and smiling at the loathsome thing while all the time stroking and caressing its long dark hair with his hands.
Illusion and Death
Nevertheless, Hagiwara was happy. Every night the ladies with the peony lantern came to visit him. Every night for seven nights no matter how wild the weather they came to him in the hour of the Ox. Every night Hagiwara lay with the Lady of the Morning Dew. Thus, by the strong bond of illusion were the living and dead merged and bound to each other
Just before dawn the fearful thing from the grave and its companion left. The faithful servant, fearing for his master’s soul went to seek the advice of a holy man. After relating to him all that he had seen he asked,“ Can my master be saved?”
The holy man thought for a moment and then replied, “Can humans thwart the power of Karma? There is little hope but we will do what we can.”
With that he instructed the servant in all that he must do. When he got home his master was out and he hid in his clothes an emblem of the Tathagata and placed them ready for the next morning for him to wear. After this, above all the doors and windows he placed a sacred text. When his Hagiwara returned late in the evening he was surprised to find he had suddenly become weak and faint. His faithful servant carried him to bed and gently placed a light cover over him as he fell into a deep sleep.
The servant hid himself that he may spy on whatever might come to pass that night. With the arrival of the hour of the Ox he heard footsteps outside in the lane. They came nearer and nearer and then slowed down and stopped close to the house and he hears a despairing voice say,
Entry is Barred
“Oh, O’Yone, my faithful handmaiden, what is the meaning of this? The house is all in darkness. Where is my lord?”
“Come away, come away, mistress, let us go back. I fear his heart has changed towards you,”whispered O’Yone.
“I will not go. I will not leave until I have seen my love. You must get me in to see him!” whispered the Lady of the Morning Dew.
“My Lady, we cannot pass into the house – see the sacred writing over the door over the windows, we cannot enter,” warned the handmaiden.
The Lady wailed and then began sobbing pitifully, “Hagiwara, my lord, I have loved you through ten lifetimes!” and then footsteps were heard leaving as O’Yone led her weeping mistress away.
It was the same the next night. At the hour of the Ox, footsteps in the lane were heard and then a long pitiful wail followed by the sound footsteps disappearing back down the lane as the ghosts departed sobbing and crying.
The next day Hagiwara got up, dressed and went out into the city. While he was out a pickpocket stole the emblem of Tathagata but he did not notice. When night came he lay awake unable to sleep but his faithful servant, worn out with worry and lack of sleep dozed off. In the night a heavy rain fell and and washed the sacred text from over the round window of the bedroom
The hour of the Ox crept round and footsteps were heard in the lane and entering the garden. Hagiwara listened as they came nearer and nearer until they stopped just outside.
The Power of Karma
“Tonight is the last chance, O’Yone. You must get me inside to my lord, Hagiwara. Remember the love of ten lifetimes. The power of Karma is great but we must overcome it. There must be a way you can get me in to see him!”said the Lady mournfully.
Inside Hagiwara heard them and called out,“Come to me my beloved, I await you!”
“We cannot enter. You must let us in!” she cried.
Hagiwara tried to sit up but he could not move.“Come to me my beloved!”he called again.
“I cannot enter and I am cut in two. Alas, for the sins of our previous life!” wailed the Lady.
Then, O’Yone grasped the hand of her mistress and pointed at the round window,“See, Lady, the rain has washed away the text!”
Holding hands the two rose gently upwards and passed like a mist through the round window into the bedroom of the samurai as he called out, “Come to me my beloved!,”
“Verily Lord, verily, I come!”answered the Lady.
The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold. By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying, “I cannot bear it.”And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.
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.