A Note from the Digitizer
On Japanese Pronunciation
Although simplified the following general rules will help the reader
unfamiliar with Japanese to come close enough to Japanese pronunciation.
There are five vowels: a (as in fAther) i (as in machIne) u (as in
fOOl) e (as in fEllow) and o (as in mOle). Although certain vowels become
nearly "silent" in some environments this phenomenon can be safely ignored
for the purpose at hand.
Consonants roughly approximate their corresponding sounds in English
except for r which is actually somewhere between r and l (this is why the
Japanese have trouble distinguishing between English r and l) and f which
is much closer to h.
The spelling "KWAIDAN" is based on premodern Japanese pronunciation; when
Hearn came to Japan the orthography reflecting this pronunciation was
still in use. In modern Japanese the word is pronounced KAIDAN.
There are many ellipses in the text. Hearn often used them in this book;
they do not represent omissions by the digitizer.
Author's original notes are in brackets those by the digitizer are in
parentheses. Diacritical marks in the original are absent from this
KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things
By Lafcadio Hearn
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE STORY OF MIMI-NASHI-HOICHI
THE STORY OF O-TEI
OF A MIRROR AND A BELL
A DEAD SECRET
THE STORY OF AOYAGI
THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKE
The publication of a new volume of Lafcadio Hearn's exquisite studies of
Japan happens by a delicate irony to fall in the very month when the
world is waiting with tense expectation for news of the latest exploits of
Japanese battleships. Whatever the outcome of the present struggle between
Russia and Japan its significance lies in the fact that a nation of the
East equipped with Western weapons and girding itself with Western energy
of will is deliberately measuring strength against one of the great powers
of the Occident. No one is wise enough to forecast the results of such a
conflict upon the civilization of the world. The best one can do is to
estimate as intelligently as possible the national characteristics of the
peoples engaged basing one's hopes and fears upon the psychology of the
two races rather than upon purely political and statistical studies of the
complicated questions involved in the present war. The Russian people have
had literary spokesmen who for more than a generation have fascinated the
European audience. The Japanese on the other hand have possessed no such
national and universally recognized figures as Turgenieff or Tolstoy. They
need an interpreter.
It may be doubted whether any oriental race has ever had an interpreter
gifted with more perfect insight and sympathy than Lafcadio Hearn has
brought to the translation of Japan into our occidental speech. His long
residence in that country his flexibility of mind poetic imagination and
wonderfully pellucid style have fitted him for the most delicate of
literary tasks. Hi has seen marvels and he has told of them in a marvelous
way. There is scarcely an aspect of contemporary Japanese life scarcely an
element in the social political and military questions involved in the
present conflict with Russia which is not made clear in one or another of
the books with which he has charmed American readers.
He characterizes Kwaidan as "stories and studies of strange things." A
hundred thoughts suggested by the book might be written down but most of
them would begin and end with this fact of strangeness. To read the very
names in the table of contents is like listening to a Buddhist bell struck
somewhere far away. Some of his tales are of the long ago and yet they
seem to illumine the very souls and minds of the little men who are at this
hour crowding the decks of Japan's armored cruisers. But many of the
stories are about women and children-- the lovely materials from which the
best fairy tales of the world have been woven. They too are strange these
Japanese maidens and wives and keen-eyed dark-haired girls and boys; they
are like us and yet not like us; and the sky and the hills and the flowers
are all different from our. Yet by a magic of which Mr. Hearn almost alone
among contemporary writers is the master in these delicate transparent
ghostly sketches of a world unreal to us there is a haunting sense of
In a penetrating and beautiful essay contributed to the "Atlantic Monthly"
in February 1903 by Paul Elmer More the secret of Mr. Hearn's magic is
said to lie in the fact that in his art is found "the meeting of three
ways." "To the religious instinct of India -- Buddhism in particular--
which history has engrafted on the aesthetic sense of Japan Mr. Hearn
brings the interpreting spirit of occidental science; and these three
traditions are fused by the peculiar sympathies of his mind into one rich
and novel compound-- a compound so rare as to have introduced into
literature a psychological sensation unknown before." Mr. More's essay
received the high praise of Mr. Hearn's recognition and gratitude and if
it were possible to reprint it here it would provide a most suggestive
introduction to these new stories of old Japan whose substance is as Mr.
More has said "so strangely mingled together out of the austere dreams of
India and the subtle beauty of Japan and the relentless science of Europe."
= = = = = = = *** = = = = = = =
Most of the following Kwaidan or Weird Tales have been taken from old
Japanese books-- such as the Yaso-Kidan Bukkyo-Hyakkwa-Zensho
Kokon-Chomonshu Tama-Sudare and Hyaku-Monogatari. Some of the stories may
have had a Chinese origin: the very remarkable "Dream of Akinosuke" for
example is certainly from a Chinese source. But the story-teller in every
case has so recolored and reshaped his borrowing as to naturalize it...
One queer tale "Yuki-Onna" was told me by a farmer of Chofu
Nishitama-gori in Musashi province as a legend of his native village.
Whether it has ever been written in Japanese I do not know; but the
extraordinary belief which it records used certainly to exist in most parts
of Japan and in many curious forms... The incident of "Riki-Baka" was a
personal experience; and I wrote it down almost exactly as it happened
changing only a family-name mentioned by the Japanese narrator.
Tokyo Japan January 20th 1904.
THE STORY OF MIMI-NASHI-HOICHI
More than seven hundred years ago at Dan-no-ura in the Straits of
Shimonoseki was fought the last battle of the long contest between the
Heike or Taira clan and the Genji or Minamoto clan. There the Heike
perished utterly with their women and children and their infant emperor
likewise -- now remembered as Antoku Tenno. And that sea and shore have
been haunted for seven hundred years... Elsewhere I told you about the
strange crabs found there called Heike crabs which have human faces on
their backs and are said to be the spirits of the Heike warriors . But
there are many strange things to be seen and heard along that coast. On
dark nights thousands of ghostly fires hover about the beach or flit above
the waves-- pale lights which the fishermen call Oni-bi or demon-fires;
and whenever the winds are up a sound of great shouting comes from that
sea like a clamor of battle.
In former years the Heike were much more restless than they now are. They
would rise about ships passing in the night and try to sink them; and at
all times they would watch for swimmers to pull them down. It was in order
to appease those dead that the Buddhist temple Amidaji was built at
Akamagaseki . A cemetery also was made close by near the beach; and
within it were set up monuments inscribed with the names of the drowned
emperor and of his great vassals; and Buddhist services were regularly
performed there on behalf of the spirits of them. After the temple had
been built and the tombs erected the Heike gave less trouble than before;
but they continued to do queer things at intervals-- proving that they had
not found the perfect peace.
Some centuries ago there lived at Akamagaseki a blind man named Hoichi
who was famed for his skill in recitation and in playing upon the biwa .
>From childhood he had been trained to recite and to play; and while yet a
lad he had surpassed his teachers. As a professional biwa-hoshi he became
famous chiefly by his recitations of the history of the Heike and the
Genji; and it is said that when he sang the song of the battle of
Dan-no-ura "even the goblins [kijin] could not refrain from tears."
At the outset of his career Hoichi was very poor; but he found a good
friend to help him. The priest of the Amidaji was fond of poetry and music;
and he often invited Hoichi to the temple to play and recite. Afterwards
being much impressed by the wonderful skill of the lad the priest proposed
that Hoichi should make the temple his home; and this offer was gratefully
accepted. Hoichi was given a room in the temple-building; and in return
for food and lodging he was required only to gratify the priest with a
musical performance on certain evenings when otherwise disengaged.
One summer night the priest was called away to perform a Buddhist service
at the house of a dead parishioner; and he went there with his acolyte
leaving Hoichi alone in the temple. It was a hot night; and the blind man
sought to cool himself on the verandah before his sleeping-room. The
verandah overlooked a small garden in the rear of the Amidaji. There
Hoichi waited for the priest's return and tried to relieve his solitude by
practicing upon his biwa. Midnight passed; and the priest did not appear.
But the atmosphere was still too warm for comfort within doors; and Hoichi
remained outside. At last he heard steps approaching from the back gate.
Somebody crossed the garden advanced to the verandah and halted directly
in front of him -- but it was not the priest. A deep voice called the blind
man's name -- abruptly and unceremoniously in the manner of a samurai
summoning an inferior:--