Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

By Lafcadio Hearn

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Title: Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

Author: Lafcadio Hearn

Illustrator: Keishū Takénouchi

Release Date: February, 1998 [eBook #1210]
[Most recently updated: January 30, 2022]

Language: English

Produced by: an anonymous Project Gutenberg volunteer


Stories and Studies of Strange Things

By Lafcadio Hearn

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

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









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. He 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 ours. 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
spiritual reality.

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 aæsthetic 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.”

_March_, 1904.

Most of the following _Kwaidan_, or Weird Tales, have been taken from
old Japanese books,—such as the _Yasō-Kidan_, _Bukkyō-Hyakkwa-Zenshō_,
_Kokon-Chomonshū_, _Tama-Sudaré_, and _Hyaku-Monogatari_. Some of the
stories may have had a Chinese origin: the very remarkable “Dream of
Akinosuké,” 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 Chōfu, Nishitama-gōri, 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.

L. H.

TŌKYŌ, JAPAN, January 20th, 1904.



More than seven hundred years ago, at Dan-no-ura, in the Straits of
Shimonoséki, was fought the last battle of the long contest between the
Heiké, or Taira clan, and the Genji, or Minamoto clan. There the Heiké
perished utterly, with their women and children, and their infant
emperor likewise—now remembered as Antoku Tennō. And that sea and shore
have been haunted for seven hundred years... Elsewhere I told you about
the strange crabs found there, called Heiké crabs, which have human
faces on their backs, and are said to be the spirits of the Heiké
warriors[1]. 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 Heiké 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 Akamagaséki[2]. 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 Heiké 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 Akamagaséki a blind man named Hōïchi,
who was famed for his skill in recitation and in playing upon the
_biwa_[3]. 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-hōshi_ he became famous chiefly by his recitations of the history
of the Heiké 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, Hōïchi 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 Hōïchi to the temple, to play and recite.
Afterwards, being much impressed by the wonderful skill of the lad, the
priest proposed that Hōïchi should make the temple his home; and this
offer was gratefully accepted. Hōïchi 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 Hōïchi 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 Hōïchi 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 Hōïchi 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:—


Hōïchi was too much startled, for the moment, to respond; and the voice
called again, in a tone of harsh command,—


“_Hai!_”(1) answered the blind man, frightened by the menace in the
voice,—“I am blind!—I cannot know who calls!”

“There is nothing to fear,” the stranger exclaimed, speaking more
gently. “I am stopping near this temple, and have been sent to you with
a message. My present lord, a person of exceedingly high rank, is now
staying in Akamagaséki, with many noble attendants. He wished to view
the scene of the battle of Dan-no-ura; and to-day he visited that
place. Having heard of your skill in reciting the story of the battle,
he now desires to hear your performance: so you will take your biwa and
come with me at once to the house where the august assembly is

In those times, the order of a samurai was not to be lightly disobeyed.
Hōïchi donned his sandals, took his biwa, and went away with the
stranger, who guided him deftly, but obliged him to walk very fast. The
hand that guided was iron; and the clank of the warrior’s stride proved
him fully armed,—probably some palace-guard on duty. Hōïchi’s first
alarm was over: he began to imagine himself in good luck;—for,
remembering the retainer’s assurance about a “person of exceedingly
high rank,” he thought that the lord who wished to hear the recitation
could not be less than a daimyō of the first class. Presently the
samurai halted; and Hōïchi became aware that they had arrived at a
large gateway;—and he wondered, for he could not remember any large
gate in that part of the town, except the main gate of the Amidaji.
“_Kaimon!_”[4] the samurai called,—and there was a sound of unbarring;
and the twain passed on. They traversed a space of garden, and halted
again before some entrance; and the retainer cried in a loud voice,
“Within there! I have brought Hōïchi.” Then came sounds of feet
hurrying, and screens sliding, and rain-doors opening, and voices of
women in converse. By the language of the women Hōïchi knew them to be
domestics in some noble household; but he could not imagine to what
place he had been conducted. Little time was allowed him for
conjecture. After he had been helped to mount several stone steps, upon
the last of which he was told to leave his sandals, a woman’s hand
guided him along interminable reaches of polished planking, and round
pillared angles too many to remember, and over widths amazing of matted
floor,—into the middle of some vast apartment. There he thought that
many great people were assembled: the sound of the rustling of silk was
like the sound of leaves in a forest. He heard also a great humming of
voices,—talking in undertones; and the speech was the speech of courts.

Hōïchi was told to put himself at ease, and he found a kneeling-cushion
ready for him. After having taken his place upon it, and tuned his
instrument, the voice of a woman—whom he divined to be the _Rōjo_, or
matron in charge of the female service—addressed him, saying,—

“It is now required that the history of the Heiké be recited, to the
accompaniment of the biwa.”

Now the entire recital would have required a time of many nights:
therefore Hōïchi ventured a question:—

“As the whole of the story is not soon told, what portion is it
augustly desired that I now recite?”

The woman’s voice made answer:—

“Recite the story of the battle at Dan-no-ura,—for the pity of it is
the most deep.”[5]

Then Hōïchi lifted up his voice, and chanted the chant of the fight on
the bitter sea,—wonderfully making his biwa to sound like the straining
of oars and the rushing of ships, the whirr and the hissing of arrows,
the shouting and trampling of men, the crashing of steel upon helmets,
the plunging of slain in the flood. And to left and right of him, in
the pauses of his playing, he could hear voices murmuring praise: “How
marvelous an artist!”—“Never in our own province was playing heard like
this!”—“Not in all the empire is there another singer like Hōïchi!”
Then fresh courage came to him, and he played and sang yet better than
before; and a hush of wonder deepened about him. But when at last he
came to tell the fate of the fair and helpless,—the piteous perishing
of the women and children,—and the death-leap of Nii-no-Ama, with the
imperial infant in her arms,—then all the listeners uttered together
one long, long shuddering cry of anguish; and thereafter they wept and
wailed so loudly and so wildly that the blind man was frightened by the
violence and grief that he had made. For much time the sobbing and the
wailing continued. But gradually the sounds of lamentation died away;
and again, in the great stillness that followed, Hōïchi heard the voice
of the woman whom he supposed to be the Rōjo.

She said:—

“Although we had been assured that you were a very skillful player upon
the biwa, and without an equal in recitative, we did not know that any
one could be so skillful as you have proved yourself to-night. Our lord
has been pleased to say that he intends to bestow upon you a fitting
reward. But he desires that you shall perform before him once every
night for the next six nights—after which time he will probably make
his august return-journey. To-morrow night, therefore, you are to come
here at the same hour. The retainer who to-night conducted you will be
sent for you... There is another matter about which I have been ordered
to inform you. It is required that you shall speak to no one of your
visits here, during the time of our lord’s august sojourn at
Akamagaséki. As he is traveling incognito,[6] he commands that no
mention of these things be made... You are now free to go back to your

After Hōïchi had duly expressed his thanks, a woman’s hand conducted
him to the entrance of the house, where the same retainer, who had
before guided him, was waiting to take him home. The retainer led him
to the verandah at the rear of the temple, and there bade him farewell.

It was almost dawn when Hōïchi returned; but his absence from the
temple had not been observed,—as the priest, coming back at a very late
hour, had supposed him asleep. During the day Hōïchi was able to take
some rest; and he said nothing about his strange adventure. In the
middle of the following night the samurai again came for him, and led
him to the august assembly, where he gave another recitation with the
same success that had attended his previous performance. But during
this second visit his absence from the temple was accidentally
discovered; and after his return in the morning he was summoned to the
presence of the priest, who said to him, in a tone of kindly reproach:—

“We have been very anxious about you, friend Hōïchi. To go out, blind
and alone, at so late an hour, is dangerous. Why did you go without
telling us? I could have ordered a servant to accompany you. And where
have you been?”

Hōïchi answered, evasively,—

“Pardon me kind friend! I had to attend to some private business; and I
could not arrange the matter at any other hour.”

The priest was surprised, rather than pained, by Hōïchi’s reticence: he
felt it to be unnatural, and suspected something wrong. He feared that
the blind lad had been bewitched or deluded by some evil spirits. He
did not ask any more questions; but he privately instructed the
men-servants of the temple to keep watch upon Hōïchi’s movements, and
to follow him in case that he should again leave the temple after dark.

On the very next night, Hōïchi was seen to leave the temple; and the
servants immediately lighted their lanterns, and followed after him.
But it was a rainy night, and very dark; and before the temple-folks
could get to the roadway, Hōïchi had disappeared. Evidently he had
walked very fast,—a strange thing, considering his blindness; for the
road was in a bad condition. The men hurried through the streets,
making inquiries at every house which Hōïchi was accustomed to visit;
but nobody could give them any news of him. At last, as they were
returning to the temple by way of the shore, they were startled by the
sound of a biwa, furiously played, in the cemetery of the Amidaji.
Except for some ghostly fires—such as usually flitted there on dark
nights—all was blackness in that direction. But the men at once
hastened to the cemetery; and there, by the help of their lanterns,
they discovered Hōïchi,—sitting alone in the rain before the memorial
tomb of Antoku Tennō, making his biwa resound, and loudly chanting the
chant of the battle of Dan-no-ura. And behind him, and about him, and
everywhere above the tombs, the fires of the dead were burning, like
candles. Never before had so great a host of _Oni-bi_ appeared in the
sight of mortal man...

“Hōïchi San!—Hōïchi San!” the servants cried,—“you are bewitched!...
Hōïchi San!”

But the blind man did not seem to hear. Strenuously he made his biwa to
rattle and ring and clang;—more and more wildly he chanted the chant of
the battle of Dan-no-ura. They caught hold of him;—they shouted into
his ear,—

“Hōïchi San!—Hōïchi San!—come home with us at once!”

Reprovingly he spoke to them:—

“To interrupt me in such a manner, before this august assembly, will
not be tolerated.”

Whereat, in spite of the weirdness of the thing, the servants could not
help laughing. Sure that he had been bewitched, they now seized him,
and pulled him up on his feet, and by main force hurried him back to
the temple,—where he was immediately relieved of his wet clothes, by
order of the priest. Then the priest insisted upon a full explanation
of his friend’s astonishing behavior.

Hōïchi long hesitated to speak. But at last, finding that his conduct
had really alarmed and angered the good priest, he decided to abandon
his reserve; and he related everything that had happened from the time
of first visit of the samurai.

The priest said:—

“Hōïchi, my poor friend, you are now in great danger! How unfortunate
that you did not tell me all this before! Your wonderful skill in music
has indeed brought you into strange trouble. By this time you must be
aware that you have not been visiting any house whatever, but have been
passing your nights in the cemetery, among the tombs of the Heiké;—and
it was before the memorial-tomb of Antoku Tennō that our people
to-night found you, sitting in the rain. All that you have been
imagining was illusion—except the calling of the dead. By once obeying
them, you have put yourself in their power. If you obey them again,
after what has already occurred, they will tear you in pieces. But they
would have destroyed you, sooner or later, in any event... Now I shall
not be able to remain with you to-night: I am called away to perform
another service. But, before I go, it will be necessary to protect your
body by writing holy texts upon it.”

Before sundown the priest and his acolyte stripped Hōïchi: then, with
their writing-brushes, they traced upon his breast and back, head and
face and neck, limbs and hands and feet,—even upon the soles of his
feet, and upon all parts of his body,—the text of the holy sûtra called
_Hannya-Shin-Kyō_.[7] When this had been done, the priest instructed
Hōïchi, saying:—

“To-night, as soon as I go away, you must seat yourself on the
verandah, and wait. You will be called. But, whatever may happen, do
not answer, and do not move. Say nothing and sit still—as if
meditating. If you stir, or make any noise, you will be torn asunder.
Do not get frightened; and do not think of calling for help—because no
help could save you. If you do exactly as I tell you, the danger will
pass, and you will have nothing more to fear.”

After dark the priest and the acolyte went away; and Hōïchi seated
himself on the verandah, according to the instructions given him. He
laid his biwa on the planking beside him, and, assuming the attitude of
meditation, remained quite still,—taking care not to cough, or to
breathe audibly. For hours he stayed thus.

Then, from the roadway, he heard the steps coming. They passed the
gate, crossed the garden, approached the verandah, stopped—directly in
front of him.

“Hōïchi!” the deep voice called. But the blind man held his breath, and
sat motionless.

“Hōïchi!” grimly called the voice a second time. Then a third


Hōïchi remained as still as a stone,—and the voice grumbled:—

“No answer!—that won’t do!... Must see where the fellow is.”...

There was a noise of heavy feet mounting upon the verandah. The feet
approached deliberately,—halted beside him. Then, for long
minutes,—during which Hōïchi felt his whole body shake to the beating
of his heart,—there was dead silence.

At last the gruff voice muttered close to him:—

“Here is the biwa; but of the biwa-player I see—only two ears!... So
that explains why he did not answer: he had no mouth to answer
with—there is nothing left of him but his ears... Now to my lord those
ears I will take—in proof that the august commands have been obeyed, so
far as was possible”...

At that instant Hōïchi felt his ears gripped by fingers of iron, and
torn off! Great as the pain was, he gave no cry. The heavy footfalls
receded along the verandah,—descended into the garden,—passed out to
the roadway,—ceased. From either side of his head, the blind man felt a
thick warm trickling; but he dared not lift his hands...

Before sunrise the priest came back. He hastened at once to the
verandah in the rear, stepped and slipped upon something clammy, and
uttered a cry of horror;—for he saw, by the light of his lantern, that
the clamminess was blood. But he perceived Hōïchi sitting there, in the
attitude of meditation—with the blood still oozing from his wounds.

“My poor Hōïchi!” cried the startled priest,—“what is this?... You have
been hurt?”

At the sound of his friend’s voice, the blind man felt safe. He burst
out sobbing, and tearfully told his adventure of the night.

“Poor, poor Hōïchi!” the priest exclaimed,—“all my fault!—my very
grievous fault!... Everywhere upon your body the holy texts had been
written—except upon your ears! I trusted my acolyte to do that part of
the work; and it was very, very wrong of me not to have made sure that
he had done it!... Well, the matter cannot now be helped;—we can only
try to heal your hurts as soon as possible... Cheer up, friend!—the
danger is now well over. You will never again be troubled by those

With the aid of a good doctor, Hōïchi soon recovered from his injuries.
The story of his strange adventure spread far and wide, and soon made
him famous. Many noble persons went to Akamagaséki to hear him recite;
and large presents of money were given to him,—so that he became a
wealthy man... But from the time of his adventure, he was known only by
the appellation of _Mimi-nashi-Hōïchi:_ “Hōïchi-the-Earless.”


There was a falconer and hunter, named Sonjō, who lived in the district
called Tamura-no-Gō, of the province of Mutsu. One day he went out
hunting, and could not find any game. But on his way home, at a place
called Akanuma, he perceived a pair of _oshidori_[1] (mandarin-ducks),
swimming together in a river that he was about to cross. To kill
_oshidori_ is not good; but Sonjō happened to be very hungry, and he
shot at the pair. His arrow pierced the male: the female escaped into
the rushes of the further shore, and disappeared. Sonjō took the dead
bird home, and cooked it.

That night he dreamed a dreary dream. It seemed to him that a beautiful
woman came into his room, and stood by his pillow, and began to weep.
So bitterly did she weep that Sonjō felt as if his heart were being
torn out while he listened. And the woman cried to him: “Why,—oh! why
did you kill him?—of what wrong was he guilty?... At Akanuma we were so
happy together,—and you killed him!... What harm did he ever do you? Do
you even know what you have done?—oh! do you know what a cruel, what a
wicked thing you have done?... Me too you have killed,—for I will not
live without my husband!... Only to tell you this I came.”... Then
again she wept aloud,—so bitterly that the voice of her crying pierced
into the marrow of the listener’s bones;—and she sobbed out the words
of this poem:—

    Hi kururéba
Sasoëshi mono wo—
    Akanuma no
Makomo no kuré no
Hitori-né zo uki!

[_“At the coming of twilight I invited him to return with me—! Now to
sleep alone in the shadow of the rushes of Akanuma—ah! what misery

And after having uttered these verses she exclaimed:—“Ah, you do not
know—you cannot know what you have done! But to-morrow, when you go to
Akanuma, you will see,—you will see...” So saying, and weeping very
piteously, she went away.

When Sonjō awoke in the morning, this dream remained so vivid in his
mind that he was greatly troubled. He remembered the words:—“But
to-morrow, when you go to Akanuma, you will see,—you will see.” And he
resolved to go there at once, that he might learn whether his dream was
anything more than a dream.

So he went to Akanuma; and there, when he came to the river-bank, he
saw the female _oshidori_ swimming alone. In the same moment the bird
perceived Sonjō; but, instead of trying to escape, she swam straight
towards him, looking at him the while in a strange fixed way. Then,
with her beak, she suddenly tore open her own body, and died before the
hunter’s eyes...

Sonjō shaved his head, and became a priest.


A long time ago, in the town of Niigata, in the province of Echizen,
there lived a man called Nagao Chōsei.

Nagao was the son of a physician, and was educated for his father’s
profession. At an early age he had been betrothed to a girl called
O-Tei, the daughter of one of his father’s friends; and both families
had agreed that the wedding should take place as soon as Nagao had
finished his studies. But the health of O-Tei proved to be weak; and in
her fifteenth year she was attacked by a fatal consumption. When she
became aware that she must die, she sent for Nagao to bid him farewell.

As he knelt at her bedside, she said to him:—

“Nagao-Sama, (1) my betrothed, we were promised to each other from the
time of our childhood; and we were to have been married at the end of
this year. But now I am going to die;—the gods know what is best for
us. If I were able to live for some years longer, I could only continue
to be a cause of trouble and grief for others. With this frail body, I
could not be a good wife; and therefore even to wish to live, for your
sake, would be a very selfish wish. I am quite resigned to die; and I
want you to promise that you will not grieve... Besides, I want to tell
you that I think we shall meet again.”...

“Indeed we shall meet again,” Nagao answered earnestly. “And in that
Pure Land (2) there will be no pain of separation.”

“Nay, nay!” she responded softly, “I meant not the Pure Land. I believe
that we are destined to meet again in this world,—although I shall be
buried to-morrow.”

Nagao looked at her wonderingly, and saw her smile at his wonder. She
continued, in her gentle, dreamy voice,—

“Yes, I mean in this world,—in your own present life, Nagao-Sama...
Providing, indeed, that you wish it. Only, for this thing to happen, I
must again be born a girl, and grow up to womanhood. So you would have
to wait. Fifteen—sixteen years: that is a long time... But, my promised
husband, you are now only nineteen years old.”...

Eager to soothe her dying moments, he answered tenderly:—

“To wait for you, my betrothed, were no less a joy than a duty. We are
pledged to each other for the time of seven existences.”

“But you doubt?” she questioned, watching his face.

“My dear one,” he answered, “I doubt whether I should be able to know
you in another body, under another name,—unless you can tell me of a
sign or token.”

“That I cannot do,” she said. “Only the Gods and the Buddhas know how
and where we shall meet. But I am sure—very, very sure—that, if you be
not unwilling to receive me, I shall be able to come back to you...
Remember these words of mine.”...

She ceased to speak; and her eyes closed. She was dead.

Nagao had been sincerely attached to O-Tei; and his grief was deep. He
had a mortuary tablet made, inscribed with her _zokumyō;_[1] and he
placed the tablet in his _butsudan_,[2] and every day set offerings
before it. He thought a great deal about the strange things that O-Tei
had said to him just before her death; and, in the hope of pleasing her
spirit, he wrote a solemn promise to wed her if she could ever return
to him in another body. This written promise he sealed with his seal,
and placed in the _butsudan_ beside the mortuary tablet of O-Tei.

Nevertheless, as Nagao was an only son, it was necessary that he should
marry. He soon found himself obliged to yield to the wishes of his
family, and to accept a wife of his father’s choosing. After his
marriage he continued to set offerings before the tablet of O-Tei; and
he never failed to remember her with affection. But by degrees her
image became dim in his memory,—like a dream that is hard to recall.
And the years went by.

During those years many misfortunes came upon him. He lost his parents
by death,—then his wife and his only child. So that he found himself
alone in the world. He abandoned his desolate home, and set out upon a
long journey in the hope of forgetting his sorrows.

One day, in the course of his travels, he arrived at Ikao,—a
mountain-village still famed for its thermal springs, and for the
beautiful scenery of its neighborhood. In the village-inn at which he
stopped, a young girl came to wait upon him; and, at the first sight of
her face, he felt his heart leap as it had never leaped before. So
strangely did she resemble O-Tei that he pinched himself to make sure
that he was not dreaming. As she went and came,—bringing fire and food,
or arranging the chamber of the guest,—her every attitude and motion
revived in him some gracious memory of the girl to whom he had been
pledged in his youth. He spoke to her; and she responded in a soft,
clear voice of which the sweetness saddened him with a sadness of other

Then, in great wonder, he questioned her, saying:—

“Elder Sister (3), so much do you look like a person whom I knew long
ago, that I was startled when you first entered this room. Pardon me,
therefore, for asking what is your native place, and what is your

Immediately,—and in the unforgotten voice of the dead,—she thus made

“My name is O-Tei; and you are Nagao Chōsei of Echigo, my promised
husband. Seventeen years ago, I died in Niigata: then you made in
writing a promise to marry me if ever I could come back to this world
in the body of a woman;—and you sealed that written promise with your
seal, and put it in the _butsudan_, beside the tablet inscribed with my
name. And therefore I came back.”...

As she uttered these last words, she fell unconscious.

Nagao married her; and the marriage was a happy one. But at no time
afterwards could she remember what she had told him in answer to his
question at Ikao: neither could she remember anything of her previous
existence. The recollection of the former birth,—mysteriously kindled
in the moment of that meeting,—had again become obscured, and so
thereafter remained.


Three hundred years ago, in the village called Asamimura, in the
district called Onsengōri, in the province of Iyō, there lived a good
man named Tokubei. This Tokubei was the richest person in the district,
and the _muraosa_, or headman, of the village. In most matters he was
fortunate; but he reached the age of forty without knowing the
happiness of becoming a father. Therefore he and his wife, in the
affliction of their childlessness, addressed many prayers to the
divinity Fudō Myō Ō, who had a famous temple, called Saihōji, in

At last their prayers were heard: the wife of Tokubei gave birth to a
daughter. The child was very pretty; and she received the name of
Tsuyu. As the mother’s milk was deficient, a milk-nurse, called O-Sodé,
was hired for the little one.

O-Tsuyu grew up to be a very beautiful girl; but at the age of fifteen
she fell sick, and the doctors thought that she was going to die. In
that time the nurse O-Sodé, who loved O-Tsuyu with a real mother’s
love, went to the temple Saihōji, and fervently prayed to Fudō-Sama on
behalf of the girl. Every day, for twenty-one days, she went to the
temple and prayed; and at the end of that time, O-Tsuyu suddenly and
completely recovered.

Then there was great rejoicing in the house of Tokubei; and he gave a
feast to all his friends in celebration of the happy event. But on the
night of the feast the nurse O-Sodé was suddenly taken ill; and on the
following morning, the doctor, who had been summoned to attend her,
announced that she was dying.

Then the family, in great sorrow, gathered about her bed, to bid her
farewell. But she said to them:—

“It is time that I should tell you something which you do not know. My
prayer has been heard. I besought Fudō-Sama that I might be permitted
to die in the place of O-Tsuyu; and this great favor has been granted
me. Therefore you must not grieve about my death... But I have one
request to make. I promised Fudō-Sama that I would have a cherry-tree
planted in the garden of Saihōji, for a thank-offering and a
commemoration. Now I shall not be able myself to plant the tree there:
so I must beg that you will fulfill that vow for me... Good-bye, dear
friends; and remember that I was happy to die for O-Tsuyu’s sake.”

After the funeral of O-Sodé, a young cherry-tree,—the finest that could
be found,—was planted in the garden of Saihōji by the parents of
O-Tsuyu. The tree grew and flourished; and on the sixteenth day of the
second month of the following year,—the anniversary of O-Sodé’s
death,—it blossomed in a wonderful way. So it continued to blossom for
two hundred and fifty-four years,—always upon the sixteenth day of the
second month;—and its flowers, pink and white, were like the nipples of
a woman’s breasts, bedewed with milk. And the people called it
_Ubazakura_, the Cherry-tree of the Milk-Nurse.


It had been ordered that the execution should take place in the garden
of the _yashiki_ (1). So the man was taken there, and made to kneel
down in a wide sanded space crossed by a line of _tobi-ishi_, or
stepping-stones, such as you may still see in Japanese
landscape-gardens. His arms were bound behind him. Retainers brought
water in buckets, and rice-bags filled with pebbles; and they packed
the rice-bags round the kneeling man,—so wedging him in that he could
not move. The master came, and observed the arrangements. He found them
satisfactory, and made no remarks.

Suddenly the condemned man cried out to him:—

“Honored Sir, the fault for which I have been doomed I did not
wittingly commit. It was only my very great stupidity which caused the
fault. Having been born stupid, by reason of my Karma, I could not
always help making mistakes. But to kill a man for being stupid is
wrong,—and that wrong will be repaid. So surely as you kill me, so
surely shall I be avenged;—out of the resentment that you provoke will
come the vengeance; and evil will be rendered for evil.”...

If any person be killed while feeling strong resentment, the ghost of
that person will be able to take vengeance upon the killer. This the
samurai knew. He replied very gently,—almost caressingly:—

“We shall allow you to frighten us as much as you please—after you are
dead. But it is difficult to believe that you mean what you say. Will
you try to give us some sign of your great resentment—after your head
has been cut off?”

“Assuredly I will,” answered the man.

“Very well,” said the samurai, drawing his long sword;—“I am now going
to cut off your head. Directly in front of you there is a
stepping-stone. After your head has been cut off, try to bite the
stepping-stone. If your angry ghost can help you to do that, some of us
may be frightened... Will you try to bite the stone?”

“I will bite it!” cried the man, in great anger,—“I will bite it!—I
will bite”—

There was a flash, a swish, a crunching thud: the bound body bowed over
the rice sacks,—two long blood-jets pumping from the shorn neck;—and
the head rolled upon the sand. Heavily toward the stepping-stone it
rolled: then, suddenly bounding, it caught the upper edge of the stone
between its teeth, clung desperately for a moment, and dropped inert.

None spoke; but the retainers stared in horror at their master. He
seemed to be quite unconcerned. He merely held out his sword to the
nearest attendant, who, with a wooden dipper, poured water over the
blade from haft to point, and then carefully wiped the steel several
times with sheets of soft paper... And thus ended the ceremonial part
of the incident.

For months thereafter, the retainers and the domestics lived in
ceaseless fear of ghostly visitation. None of them doubted that the
promised vengeance would come; and their constant terror caused them to
hear and to see much that did not exist. They became afraid of the
sound of the wind in the bamboos,—afraid even of the stirring of
shadows in the garden. At last, after taking counsel together, they
decided to petition their master to have a _Ségaki_-service (2)
performed on behalf of the vengeful spirit.

“Quite unnecessary,” the samurai said, when his chief retainer had
uttered the general wish... “I understand that the desire of a dying
man for revenge may be a cause for fear. But in this case there is
nothing to fear.”

The retainer looked at his master beseechingly, but hesitated to ask
the reason of the alarming confidence.

“Oh, the reason is simple enough,” declared the samurai, divining the
unspoken doubt. “Only the very last intention of the fellow could have
been dangerous; and when I challenged him to give me the sign, I
diverted his mind from the desire of revenge. He died with the set
purpose of biting the stepping-stone; and that purpose he was able to
accomplish, but nothing else. All the rest he must have forgotten... So
you need not feel any further anxiety about the matter.”

—And indeed the dead man gave no more trouble. Nothing at all happened.


Eight centuries ago, the priests of Mugenyama, in the province of
Tōtōmi (1), wanted a big bell for their temple; and they asked the
women of their parish to help them by contributing old bronze mirrors
for bell-metal.

[Even to-day, in the courts of certain Japanese temples, you may see
heaps of old bronze mirrors contributed for such a purpose. The largest
collection of this kind that I ever saw was in the court of a temple of
the Jōdo sect, at Hakata, in Kyūshū: the mirrors had been given for the
making of a bronze statue of Amida, thirty-three feet high.]

There was at that time a young woman, a farmer’s wife, living at
Mugenyama, who presented her mirror to the temple, to be used for
bell-metal. But afterwards she much regretted her mirror. She
remembered things that her mother had told her about it; and she
remembered that it had belonged, not only to her mother but to her
mother’s mother and grandmother; and she remembered some happy smiles
which it had reflected. Of course, if she could have offered the
priests a certain sum of money in place of the mirror, she could have
asked them to give back her heirloom. But she had not the money
necessary. Whenever she went to the temple, she saw her mirror lying in
the court-yard, behind a railing, among hundreds of other mirrors
heaped there together. She knew it by the _Shō-Chiku-Bai_ in relief on
the back of it,—those three fortunate emblems of Pine, Bamboo, and
Plumflower, which delighted her baby-eyes when her mother first showed
her the mirror. She longed for some chance to steal the mirror, and
hide it,—that she might thereafter treasure it always. But the chance
did not come; and she became very unhappy,—felt as if she had foolishly
given away a part of her life. She thought about the old saying that a
mirror is the Soul of a Woman—(a saying mystically expressed, by the
Chinese character for Soul, upon the backs of many bronze mirrors),—and
she feared that it was true in weirder ways than she had before
imagined. But she could not dare to speak of her pain to anybody.

Now, when all the mirrors contributed for the Mugenyama bell had been
sent to the foundry, the bell-founders discovered that there was one
mirror among them which would not melt. Again and again they tried to
melt it; but it resisted all their efforts. Evidently the woman who had
given that mirror to the temple must have regretted the giving. She had
not presented her offering with all her heart; and therefore her
selfish soul, remaining attached to the mirror, kept it hard and cold
in the midst of the furnace.

Of course everybody heard of the matter, and everybody soon knew whose
mirror it was that would not melt. And because of this public exposure
of her secret fault, the poor woman became very much ashamed and very
angry. And as she could not bear the shame, she drowned herself, after
having written a farewell letter containing these words:—

“When I am dead, it will not be difficult to melt the mirror and to
cast the bell. But, to the person who breaks that bell by ringing it,
great wealth will be given by the ghost of me.”

—You must know that the last wish or promise of anybody who dies in
anger, or performs suicide in anger, is generally supposed to possess a
supernatural force. After the dead woman’s mirror had been melted, and
the bell had been successfully cast, people remembered the words of
that letter. They felt sure that the spirit of the writer would give
wealth to the breaker of the bell; and, as soon as the bell had been
suspended in the court of the temple, they went in multitude to ring
it. With all their might and main they swung the ringing-beam; but the
bell proved to be a good bell, and it bravely withstood their assaults.
Nevertheless, the people were not easily discouraged. Day after day, at
all hours, they continued to ring the bell furiously,—caring nothing
whatever for the protests of the priests. So the ringing became an
affliction; and the priests could not endure it; and they got rid of
the bell by rolling it down the hill into a swamp. The swamp was deep,
and swallowed it up,—and that was the end of the bell. Only its legend
remains; and in that legend it is called the _Mugen-Kané_, or Bell of

Now there are queer old Japanese beliefs in the magical efficacy of a
certain mental operation implied, though not described, by the verb
_nazoraëru_. The word itself cannot be adequately rendered by any
English word; for it is used in relation to many kinds of mimetic
magic, as well as in relation to the performance of many religious acts
of faith. Common meanings of _nazoraëru_, according to dictionaries,
are “to imitate,” “to compare,” “to liken;” but the esoteric meaning is
_to substitute, in imagination, one object or action for another, so as
to bring about some magical or miraculous result_.

For example:—you cannot afford to build a Buddhist temple; but you can
easily lay a pebble before the image of the Buddha, with the same pious
feeling that would prompt you to build a temple if you were rich enough
to build one. The merit of so offering the pebble becomes equal, or
almost equal, to the merit of erecting a temple... You cannot read the
six thousand seven hundred and seventy-one volumes of the Buddhist
texts; but you can make a revolving library, containing them, turn
round, by pushing it like a windlass. And if you push with an earnest
wish that you could read the six thousand seven hundred and seventy-one
volumes, you will acquire the same merit as the reading of them would
enable you to gain... So much will perhaps suffice to explain the
religious meanings of _nazoraëru_.

The magical meanings could not all be explained without a great variety
of examples; but, for present purposes, the following will serve. If
you should make a little man of straw, for the same reason that Sister
Helen made a little man of wax,—and nail it, with nails not less than
five inches long, to some tree in a temple-grove at the Hour of the Ox
(2),—and if the person, imaginatively represented by that little straw
man, should die thereafter in atrocious agony,—that would illustrate
one signification of _nazoraëru_... Or, let us suppose that a robber
has entered your house during the night, and carried away your
valuables. If you can discover the footprints of that robber in your
garden, and then promptly burn a very large moxa on each of them, the
soles of the feet of the robber will become inflamed, and will allow
him no rest until he returns, of his own accord, to put himself at your
mercy. That is another kind of mimetic magic expressed by the term
_nazoraëru_. And a third kind is illustrated by various legends of the

After the bell had been rolled into the swamp, there was, of course, no
more chance of ringing it in such wise as to break it. But persons who
regretted this loss of opportunity would strike and break objects
imaginatively substituted for the bell,—thus hoping to please the
spirit of the owner of the mirror that had made so much trouble. One of
these persons was a woman called Umégaë,—famed in Japanese legend
because of her relation to Kajiwara Kagesue, a warrior of the Heiké
clan. While the pair were traveling together, Kajiwara one day found
himself in great straits for want of money; and Umégaë, remembering the
tradition of the Bell of Mugen, took a basin of bronze, and, mentally
representing it to be the bell, beat upon it until she broke it,—crying
out, at the same time, for three hundred pieces of gold. A guest of the
inn where the pair were stopping made inquiry as to the cause of the
banging and the crying, and, on learning the story of the trouble,
actually presented Umégaë with three hundred _ryō_ (3) in gold.
Afterwards a song was made about Umégaë’s basin of bronze; and that
song is sung by dancing girls even to this day:—

Umégaë no chōzubachi tataïté
O-kané ga déru naraba
Mina San mi-uké wo
Sōré tanomimasu

[“_If, by striking upon the wash-basin of Umégaë, I could make
honorable money come to me, then would I negotiate for the freedom of
all my girl-comrades._”]

After this happening, the fame of the Mugen-Kané became great; and many
people followed the example of Umégaë,—thereby hoping to emulate her
luck. Among these folk was a dissolute farmer who lived near Mugenyama,
on the bank of the Ōïgawa. Having wasted his substance in riotous
living, this farmer made for himself, out of the mud in his garden, a
clay-model of the Mugen-Kané; and he beat the clay-bell, and broke
it,—crying out the while for great wealth.

Then, out of the ground before him, rose up the figure of a white-robed
woman, with long loose-flowing hair, holding a covered jar. And the
woman said: “I have come to answer your fervent prayer as it deserves
to be answered. Take, therefore, this jar.” So saying, she put the jar
into his hands, and disappeared.

Into his house the happy man rushed, to tell his wife the good news. He
set down in front of her the covered jar,—which was heavy,—and they
opened it together. And they found that it was filled, up to the very
brim, with...

But no!—I really cannot tell you with what it was filled.


Once, when Musō Kokushi, a priest of the Zen sect, was journeying alone
through the province of Mino (1), he lost his way in a
mountain-district where there was nobody to direct him. For a long time
he wandered about helplessly; and he was beginning to despair of
finding shelter for the night, when he perceived, on the top of a hill
lighted by the last rays of the sun, one of those little hermitages,
called _anjitsu_, which are built for solitary priests. It seemed to be
in ruinous condition; but he hastened to it eagerly, and found that it
was inhabited by an aged priest, from whom he begged the favor of a
night’s lodging. This the old man harshly refused; but he directed Musō
to a certain hamlet, in the valley adjoining where lodging and food
could be obtained.

Musō found his way to the hamlet, which consisted of less than a dozen
farm-cottages; and he was kindly received at the dwelling of the
headman. Forty or fifty persons were assembled in the principal
apartment, at the moment of Musō’s arrival; but he was shown into a
small separate room, where he was promptly supplied with food and
bedding. Being very tired, he lay down to rest at an early hour; but a
little before midnight he was roused from sleep by a sound of loud
weeping in the next apartment. Presently the sliding-screens were
gently pushed apart; and a young man, carrying a lighted lantern,
entered the room, respectfully saluted him, and said:—

“Reverend Sir, it is my painful duty to tell you that I am now the
responsible head of this house. Yesterday I was only the eldest son.
But when you came here, tired as you were, we did not wish that you
should feel embarrassed in any way: therefore we did not tell you that
father had died only a few hours before. The people whom you saw in the
next room are the inhabitants of this village: they all assembled here
to pay their last respects to the dead; and now they are going to
another village, about three miles off,—for by our custom, no one of us
may remain in this village during the night after a death has taken
place. We make the proper offerings and prayers;—then we go away,
leaving the corpse alone. Strange things always happen in the house
where a corpse has thus been left: so we think that it will be better
for you to come away with us. We can find you good lodging in the other
village. But perhaps, as you are a priest, you have no fear of demons
or evil spirits; and, if you are not afraid of being left alone with
the body, you will be very welcome to the use of this poor house.
However, I must tell you that nobody, except a priest, would dare to
remain here tonight.”

Musō made answer:—

“For your kind intention and your generous hospitality, I am deeply
grateful. But I am sorry that you did not tell me of your father’s
death when I came;—for, though I was a little tired, I certainly was
not so tired that I should have found difficulty in doing my duty as a
priest. Had you told me, I could have performed the service before your
departure. As it is, I shall perform the service after you have gone
away; and I shall stay by the body until morning. I do not know what
you mean by your words about the danger of staying here alone; but I am
not afraid of ghosts or demons: therefore please to feel no anxiety on
my account.”

The young man appeared to be rejoiced by these assurances, and
expressed his gratitude in fitting words. Then the other members of the
family, and the folk assembled in the adjoining room, having been told
of the priest’s kind promises, came to thank him,—after which the
master of the house said:—

“Now, reverend Sir, much as we regret to leave you alone, we must bid
you farewell. By the rule of our village, none of us can stay here
after midnight. We beg, kind Sir, that you will take every care of your
honorable body, while we are unable to attend upon you. And if you
happen to hear or see anything strange during our absence, please tell
us of the matter when we return in the morning.”

All then left the house, except the priest, who went to the room where
the dead body was lying. The usual offerings had been set before the
corpse; and a small Buddhist lamp—_tōmyō_—was burning. The priest
recited the service, and performed the funeral ceremonies,—after which
he entered into meditation. So meditating he remained through several
silent hours; and there was no sound in the deserted village. But, when
the hush of the night was at its deepest, there noiselessly entered a
Shape, vague and vast; and in the same moment Musō found himself
without power to move or speak. He saw that Shape lift the corpse, as
with hands, devour it, more quickly than a cat devours a rat,—beginning
at the head, and eating everything: the hair and the bones and even the
shroud. And the monstrous Thing, having thus consumed the body, turned
to the offerings, and ate them also. Then it went away, as mysteriously
as it had come.

When the villagers returned next morning, they found the priest
awaiting them at the door of the headman’s dwelling. All in turn
saluted him; and when they had entered, and looked about the room, no
one expressed any surprise at the disappearance of the dead body and
the offerings. But the master of the house said to Musō:—

“Reverent Sir, you have probably seen unpleasant things during the
night: all of us were anxious about you. But now we are very happy to
find you alive and unharmed. Gladly we would have stayed with you, if
it had been possible. But the law of our village, as I told you last
evening, obliges us to quit our houses after a death has taken place,
and to leave the corpse alone. Whenever this law has been broken,
heretofore, some great misfortune has followed. Whenever it is obeyed,
we find that the corpse and the offerings disappear during our absence.
Perhaps you have seen the cause.”

Then Musō told of the dim and awful Shape that had entered the
death-chamber to devour the body and the offerings. No person seemed to
be surprised by his narration; and the master of the house observed:—

“What you have told us, reverend Sir, agrees with what has been said
about this matter from ancient time.”

Musō then inquired:—

“Does not the priest on the hill sometimes perform the funeral service
for your dead?”

“What priest?” the young man asked.

“The priest who yesterday evening directed me to this village,”
answered Musō. “I called at his _anjitsu_ on the hill yonder. He
refused me lodging, but told me the way here.”

The listeners looked at each other, as in astonishment; and, after a
moment of silence, the master of the house said:—

“Reverend Sir, there is no priest and there is no _anjitsu_ on the
hill. For the time of many generations there has not been any
resident-priest in this neighborhood.”

Musō said nothing more on the subject; for it was evident that his kind
hosts supposed him to have been deluded by some goblin. But after
having bidden them farewell, and obtained all necessary information as
to his road, he determined to look again for the hermitage on the hill,
and so to ascertain whether he had really been deceived. He found the
_anjitsu_ without any difficulty; and, this time, its aged occupant
invited him to enter. When he had done so, the hermit humbly bowed down
before him, exclaiming:—“Ah! I am ashamed!—I am very much ashamed!—I am
exceedingly ashamed!”

“You need not be ashamed for having refused me shelter,” said Musō.
“You directed me to the village yonder, where I was very kindly
treated; and I thank you for that favor.”

“I can give no man shelter,” the recluse made answer;—“and it is not
for the refusal that I am ashamed. I am ashamed only that you should
have seen me in my real shape,—for it was I who devoured the corpse and
the offerings last night before your eyes... Know, reverend Sir, that I
am a _jikininki_,[1]—an eater of human flesh. Have pity upon me, and
suffer me to confess the secret fault by which I became reduced to this

“A long, long time ago, I was a priest in this desolate region. There
was no other priest for many leagues around. So, in that time, the
bodies of the mountain-folk who died used to be brought here,—sometimes
from great distances,—in order that I might repeat over them the holy
service. But I repeated the service and performed the rites only as a
matter of business;—I thought only of the food and the clothes that my
sacred profession enabled me to gain. And because of this selfish
impiety I was reborn, immediately after my death, into the state of a
_jikininki_. Since then I have been obliged to feed upon the corpses of
the people who die in this district: every one of them I must devour in
the way that you saw last night... Now, reverend Sir, let me beseech
you to perform a Ségaki-service[2] for me: help me by your prayers, I
entreat you, so that I may be soon able to escape from this horrible
state of existence”...

No sooner had the hermit uttered this petition than he disappeared; and
the hermitage also disappeared at the same instant. And Musō Kokushi
found himself kneeling alone in the high grass, beside an ancient and
moss-grown tomb of the form called _go-rin-ishi_,[3] which seemed to be
the tomb of a priest.


On the Akasaka Road, in Tōkyō, there is a slope called
Kii-no-kuni-zaka,—which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do
not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side
of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high
green banks rising up to some place of gardens;—and on the other side
of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace.
Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas, this neighborhood was
very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of
their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset.

All because of a Mujina that used to walk there. (1)

The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyōbashi
quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told

One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka,
when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping
bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to
offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to
be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was
arranged like that of a young girl of good family. “O-jochū,”[1] he
exclaimed, approaching her,—“O-jochū, do not cry like that!... Tell me
what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be
glad to help you.” (He really meant what he said; for he was a very
kind man.) But she continued to weep,—hiding her face from him with one
of her long sleeves. “O-jochū,” he said again, as gently as he
could,—“please, please listen to me!... This is no place for a young
lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you!—only tell me how I may be of
some help to you!” Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and
continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve. He laid his hand lightly
upon her shoulder, and pleaded:—“O-jochū!—O-jochū!—O-jochū!... Listen
to me, just for one little moment!... O-jochū!—O-jochū!”... Then that
O-jochū turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face
with her hand;—and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or
mouth,—and he screamed and ran away. (2)

Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before
him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a
lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he
made for it. It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant
_soba_-seller,[2] who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any
light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and
he flung himself down at the feet of the _soba_-seller, crying out,

“_Koré! koré!_” (3) roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the
matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”

“No—nobody hurt me,” panted the other,—“only... _Ah!—aa!_”

“—Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”

“Not robbers,—not robbers,” gasped the terrified man... “I saw... I saw
a woman—by the moat;—and she showed me... _Ah!_ I cannot tell you what
she showed me!”...

“_Hé!_ (4) Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the
soba-man, stroking his own face—which therewith became like unto an
Egg... And, simultaneously, the light went out.


Nearly five hundred years ago there was a samurai, named Isogai
Héïdazaëmon Takétsura, in the service of the Lord Kikuji, of Kyūshū.
This Isogai had inherited, from many warlike ancestors, a natural
aptitude for military exercises, and extraordinary strength. While yet
a boy he had surpassed his teachers in the art of swordsmanship, in
archery, and in the use of the spear, and had displayed all the
capacities of a daring and skillful soldier. Afterwards, in the time of
the Eikyō[1] war, he so distinguished himself that high honors were
bestowed upon him. But when the house of Kikuji came to ruin, Isogai
found himself without a master. He might then easily have obtained
service under another daimyō; but as he had never sought distinction
for his own sake alone, and as his heart remained true to his former
lord, he preferred to give up the world. So he cut off his hair, and
became a traveling priest,—taking the Buddhist name of Kwairyō.

But always, under the _koromo_[2] of the priest, Kwairyō kept warm
within him the heart of the samurai. As in other years he had laughed
at peril, so now also he scorned danger; and in all weathers and all
seasons he journeyed to preach the good Law in places where no other
priest would have dared to go. For that age was an age of violence and
disorder; and upon the highways there was no security for the solitary
traveler, even if he happened to be a priest.

In the course of his first long journey, Kwairyō had occasion to visit
the province of Kai. (1) One evening, as he was traveling through the
mountains of that province, darkness overcame him in a very lonesome
district, leagues away from any village. So he resigned himself to pass
the night under the stars; and having found a suitable grassy spot, by
the roadside, he lay down there, and prepared to sleep. He had always
welcomed discomfort; and even a bare rock was for him a good bed, when
nothing better could be found, and the root of a pine-tree an excellent
pillow. His body was iron; and he never troubled himself about dews or
rain or frost or snow.

Scarcely had he lain down when a man came along the road, carrying an
axe and a great bundle of chopped wood. This woodcutter halted on
seeing Kwairyō lying down, and, after a moment of silent observation,
said to him in a tone of great surprise:—

“What kind of a man can you be, good Sir, that you dare to lie down
alone in such a place as this?... There are haunters about here,—many
of them. Are you not afraid of Hairy Things?”

“My friend,” cheerfully answered Kwairyō, “I am only a wandering
priest,—a ‘Cloud-and-Water-Guest,’ as folks call it:
_Unsui-no-ryokaku_. (2) And I am not in the least afraid of Hairy
Things,—if you mean goblin-foxes, or goblin-badgers, or any creatures
of that kind. As for lonesome places, I like them: they are suitable
for meditation. I am accustomed to sleeping in the open air: and I have
learned never to be anxious about my life.”

“You must be indeed a brave man, Sir Priest,” the peasant responded,
“to lie down here! This place has a bad name,—a very bad name. But, as
the proverb has it, _Kunshi ayayuki ni chikayorazu_ [‘The superior man
does not needlessly expose himself to peril’]; and I must assure you,
Sir, that it is very dangerous to sleep here. Therefore, although my
house is only a wretched thatched hut, let me beg of you to come home
with me at once. In the way of food, I have nothing to offer you; but
there is a roof at least, and you can sleep under it without risk.”

He spoke earnestly; and Kwairyō, liking the kindly tone of the man,
accepted this modest offer. The woodcutter guided him along a narrow
path, leading up from the main road through mountain-forest. It was a
rough and dangerous path,—sometimes skirting precipices,—sometimes
offering nothing but a network of slippery roots for the foot to rest
upon,—sometimes winding over or between masses of jagged rock. But at
last Kwairyō found himself upon a cleared space at the top of a hill,
with a full moon shining overhead; and he saw before him a small
thatched cottage, cheerfully lighted from within. The woodcutter led
him to a shed at the back of the house, whither water had been
conducted, through bamboo-pipes, from some neighboring stream; and the
two men washed their feet. Beyond the shed was a vegetable garden, and
a grove of cedars and bamboos; and beyond the trees appeared the
glimmer of a cascade, pouring from some loftier height, and swaying in
the moonshine like a long white robe.

As Kwairyō entered the cottage with his guide, he perceived four
persons—men and women—warming their hands at a little fire kindled in
the _ro_[3] of the principle apartment. They bowed low to the priest,
and greeted him in the most respectful manner. Kwairyō wondered that
persons so poor, and dwelling in such a solitude, should be aware of
the polite forms of greeting. “These are good people,” he thought to
himself; “and they must have been taught by some one well acquainted
with the rules of propriety.” Then turning to his host,—the _aruji_, or
house-master, as the others called him,—Kwairyō said:—

“From the kindness of your speech, and from the very polite welcome
given me by your household, I imagine that you have not always been a
woodcutter. Perhaps you formerly belonged to one of the upper classes?”

Smiling, the woodcutter answered:—

“Sir, you are not mistaken. Though now living as you find me, I was
once a person of some distinction. My story is the story of a ruined
life—ruined by my own fault. I used to be in the service of a daimyō;
and my rank in that service was not inconsiderable. But I loved women
and wine too well; and under the influence of passion I acted wickedly.
My selfishness brought about the ruin of our house, and caused the
death of many persons. Retribution followed me; and I long remained a
fugitive in the land. Now I often pray that I may be able to make some
atonement for the evil which I did, and to reestablish the ancestral
home. But I fear that I shall never find any way of so doing.
Nevertheless, I try to overcome the karma of my errors by sincere
repentance, and by helping, as far as I can, those who are

Kwairyō was pleased by this announcement of good resolve; and he said
to the _aruji:_—

“My friend, I have had occasion to observe that men, prone to folly in
their youth, may in after years become very earnest in right living. In
the holy sûtras it is written that those strongest in wrong-doing can
become, by power of good resolve, the strongest in right-doing. I do
not doubt that you have a good heart; and I hope that better fortune
will come to you. To-night I shall recite the sûtras for your sake, and
pray that you may obtain the force to overcome the karma of any past

With these assurances, Kwairyō bade the _aruji_ good-night; and his
host showed him to a very small side-room, where a bed had been made
ready. Then all went to sleep except the priest, who began to read the
sûtras by the light of a paper lantern. Until a late hour he continued
to read and pray: then he opened a little window in his little
sleeping-room, to take a last look at the landscape before lying down.
The night was beautiful: there was no cloud in the sky: there was no
wind; and the strong moonlight threw down sharp black shadows of
foliage, and glittered on the dews of the garden. Shrillings of
crickets and bell-insects (3) made a musical tumult; and the sound of
the neighboring cascade deepened with the night. Kwairyō felt thirsty
as he listened to the noise of the water; and, remembering the bamboo
aqueduct at the rear of the house, he thought that he could go there
and get a drink without disturbing the sleeping household. Very gently
he pushed apart the sliding-screens that separated his room from the
main apartment; and he saw, by the light of the lantern, five recumbent
bodies—without heads!

For one instant he stood bewildered,—imagining a crime. But in another
moment he perceived that there was no blood, and that the headless
necks did not look as if they had been cut. Then he thought to
himself:—“Either this is an illusion made by goblins, or I have been
lured into the dwelling of a Rokuro-Kubi... (4) In the book _Sōshinki_
(5) it is written that if one find the body of a Rokuro-Kubi without
its head, and remove the body to another place, the head will never be
able to join itself again to the neck. And the book further says that
when the head comes back and finds that its body has been moved, it
will strike itself upon the floor three times,—bounding like a
ball,—and will pant as in great fear, and presently die. Now, if these
be Rokuro-Kubi, they mean me no good;—so I shall be justified in
following the instructions of the book.”...

He seized the body of the aruji by the feet, pulled it to the window,
and pushed it out. Then he went to the back-door, which he found
barred; and he surmised that the heads had made their exit through the
smoke-hole in the roof, which had been left open. Gently unbarring the
door, he made his way to the garden, and proceeded with all possible
caution to the grove beyond it. He heard voices talking in the grove;
and he went in the direction of the voices,—stealing from shadow to
shadow, until he reached a good hiding-place. Then, from behind a
trunk, he caught sight of the heads,—all five of them,—flitting about,
and chatting as they flitted. They were eating worms and insects which
they found on the ground or among the trees. Presently the head of the
aruji stopped eating and said:—

“Ah, that traveling priest who came to-night!—how fat all his body is!
When we shall have eaten him, our bellies will be well filled... I was
foolish to talk to him as I did;—it only set him to reciting the sûtras
on behalf of my soul! To go near him while he is reciting would be
difficult; and we cannot touch him so long as he is praying. But as it
is now nearly morning, perhaps he has gone to sleep... Some one of you
go to the house and see what the fellow is doing.”

Another head—the head of a young woman—immediately rose up and flitted
to the house, lightly as a bat. After a few minutes it came back, and
cried out huskily, in a tone of great alarm:—

“That traveling priest is not in the house;—he is gone! But that is not
the worst of the matter. He has taken the body of our aruji; and I do
not know where he has put it.”

At this announcement the head of the aruji—distinctly visible in the
moonlight—assumed a frightful aspect: its eyes opened monstrously; its
hair stood up bristling; and its teeth gnashed. Then a cry burst from
its lips; and—weeping tears of rage—it exclaimed:—

“Since my body has been moved, to rejoin it is not possible! Then I
must die!... And all through the work of that priest! Before I die I
will get at that priest!—I will tear him!—I will devour him!... _And
there he is_—behind that tree!—hiding behind that tree! See him!—the
fat coward!”...

In the same moment the head of the aruji, followed by the other four
heads, sprang at Kwairyō. But the strong priest had already armed
himself by plucking up a young tree; and with that tree he struck the
heads as they came,—knocking them from him with tremendous blows. Four
of them fled away. But the head of the aruji, though battered again and
again, desperately continued to bound at the priest, and at last caught
him by the left sleeve of his robe. Kwairyō, however, as quickly
gripped the head by its topknot, and repeatedly struck it. It did not
release its hold; but it uttered a long moan, and thereafter ceased to
struggle. It was dead. But its teeth still held the sleeve; and, for
all his great strength, Kwairyō could not force open the jaws.

With the head still hanging to his sleeve he went back to the house,
and there caught sight of the other four Rokuro-Kubi squatting
together, with their bruised and bleeding heads reunited to their
bodies. But when they perceived him at the back-door all screamed, “The
priest! the priest!”—and fled, through the other doorway, out into the

Eastward the sky was brightening; day was about to dawn; and Kwairyō
knew that the power of the goblins was limited to the hours of
darkness. He looked at the head clinging to his sleeve,—its face all
fouled with blood and foam and clay; and he laughed aloud as he thought
to himself: “What a _miyagé!_[4]—the head of a goblin!” After which he
gathered together his few belongings, and leisurely descended the
mountain to continue his journey.

Right on he journeyed, until he came to Suwa in Shinano; (6) and into
the main street of Suwa he solemnly strode, with the head dangling at
his elbow. Then woman fainted, and children screamed and ran away; and
there was a great crowding and clamoring until the _torité_ (as the
police in those days were called) seized the priest, and took him to
jail. For they supposed the head to be the head of a murdered man who,
in the moment of being killed, had caught the murderer’s sleeve in his
teeth. As for Kwairyō, he only smiled and said nothing when they
questioned him. So, after having passed a night in prison, he was
brought before the magistrates of the district. Then he was ordered to
explain how he, a priest, had been found with the head of a man
fastened to his sleeve, and why he had dared thus shamelessly to parade
his crime in the sight of people.

Kwairyō laughed long and loudly at these questions; and then he said:—

“Sirs, I did not fasten the head to my sleeve: it fastened itself
there—much against my will. And I have not committed any crime. For
this is not the head of a man; it is the head of a goblin;—and, if I
caused the death of the goblin, I did not do so by any shedding of
blood, but simply by taking the precautions necessary to assure my own
safety.”... And he proceeded to relate the whole of the
adventure,—bursting into another hearty laugh as he told of his
encounter with the five heads.

But the magistrates did not laugh. They judged him to be a hardened
criminal, and his story an insult to their intelligence. Therefore,
without further questioning, they decided to order his immediate
execution,—all of them except one, a very old man. This aged officer
had made no remark during the trial; but, after having heard the
opinion of his colleagues, he rose up, and said:—

“Let us first examine the head carefully; for this, I think, has not
yet been done. If the priest has spoken truth, the head itself should
bear witness for him... Bring the head here!”

So the head, still holding in its teeth the _koromo_ that had been
stripped from Kwairyō’s shoulders, was put before the judges. The old
man turned it round and round, carefully examined it, and discovered,
on the nape of its neck, several strange red characters. He called the
attention of his colleagues to these, and also bade them observe that
the edges of the neck nowhere presented the appearance of having been
cut by any weapon. On the contrary, the line of leverance was smooth as
the line at which a falling leaf detaches itself from the stem... Then
said the elder:—

“I am quite sure that the priest told us nothing but the truth. This is
the head of a Rokuro-Kubi. In the book _Nan-hō-ï-butsu-shi_ it is
written that certain red characters can always be found upon the nape
of the neck of a real Rokuro-Kubi. There are the characters: you can
see for yourselves that they have not been painted. Moreover, it is
well known that such goblins have been dwelling in the mountains of the
province of Kai from very ancient time... But you, Sir,” he exclaimed,
turning to Kwairyō,—“what sort of sturdy priest may you be? Certainly
you have given proof of a courage that few priests possess; and you
have the air of a soldier rather than a priest. Perhaps you once
belonged to the samurai-class?”

“You have guessed rightly, Sir,” Kwairyō responded. “Before becoming a
priest, I long followed the profession of arms; and in those days I
never feared man or devil. My name then was Isogai Héïdazaëmon
Takétsura of Kyūshū: there may be some among you who remember it.”

At the mention of that name, a murmur of admiration filled the
court-room; for there were many present who remembered it. And Kwairyō
immediately found himself among friends instead of judges,—friends
anxious to prove their admiration by fraternal kindness. With honor
they escorted him to the residence of the daimyō, who welcomed him, and
feasted him, and made him a handsome present before allowing him to
depart. When Kwairyō left Suwa, he was as happy as any priest is
permitted to be in this transitory world. As for the head, he took it
with him,—jocosely insisting that he intended it for a _miyagé_.

And now it only remains to tell what became of the head.

A day or two after leaving Suwa, Kwairyō met with a robber, who stopped
him in a lonesome place, and bade him strip. Kwairyō at once removed
his _koromo_, and offered it to the robber, who then first perceived
what was hanging to the sleeve. Though brave, the highwayman was
startled: he dropped the garment, and sprang back. Then he cried
out:—“You!—what kind of a priest are you? Why, you are a worse man than
I am! It is true that I have killed people; but I never walked about
with anybody’s head fastened to my sleeve... Well, Sir priest, I
suppose we are of the same calling; and I must say that I admire
you!... Now that head would be of use to me: I could frighten people
with it. Will you sell it? You can have my robe in exchange for your
_koromo;_ and I will give you five _ryō_ for the head.”

Kwairyō answered:—

“I shall let you have the head and the robe if you insist; but I must
tell you that this is not the head of a man. It is a goblin’s head. So,
if you buy it, and have any trouble in consequence, please to remember
that you were not deceived by me.”

“What a nice priest you are!” exclaimed the robber. “You kill men, and
jest about it!... But I am really in earnest. Here is my robe; and here
is the money;—and let me have the head... What is the use of joking?”

“Take the thing,” said Kwairyō. “I was not joking. The only joke—if
there be any joke at all—is that you are fool enough to pay good money
for a goblin’s head.” And Kwairyō, loudly laughing, went upon his way.

Thus the robber got the head and the _koromo;_ and for some time he
played goblin-priest upon the highways. But, reaching the neighborhood
of Suwa, he there leaned the true story of the head; and he then became
afraid that the spirit of the Rokuro-Kubi might give him trouble. So he
made up his mind to take back the head to the place from which it had
come, and to bury it with its body. He found his way to the lonely
cottage in the mountains of Kai; but nobody was there, and he could not
discover the body. Therefore he buried the head by itself, in the grove
behind the cottage; and he had a tombstone set up over the grave; and
he caused a Ségaki-service to be performed on behalf of the spirit of
the Rokuro-Kubi. And that tombstone—known as the Tombstone of the
Rokuro-Kubi—may be seen (at least so the Japanese story-teller
declares) even unto this day.


A long time ago, in the province of Tamba (1), there lived a rich
merchant named Inamuraya Gensuké. He had a daughter called O-Sono. As
she was very clever and pretty, he thought it would be a pity to let
her grow up with only such teaching as the country-teachers could give
her: so he sent her, in care of some trusty attendants, to Kyōto, that
she might be trained in the polite accomplishments taught to the ladies
of the capital. After she had thus been educated, she was married to a
friend of her father’s family—a merchant named Nagaraya;—and she lived
happily with him for nearly four years. They had one child,—a boy. But
O-Sono fell ill and died, in the fourth year after her marriage.

On the night after the funeral of O-Sono, her little son said that his
mamma had come back, and was in the room upstairs. She had smiled at
him, but would not talk to him: so he became afraid, and ran away. Then
some of the family went upstairs to the room which had been O-Sono’s;
and they were startled to see, by the light of a small lamp which had
been kindled before a shrine in that room, the figure of the dead
mother. She appeared as if standing in front of a _tansu_, or chest of
drawers, that still contained her ornaments and her wearing-apparel.
Her head and shoulders could be very distinctly seen; but from the
waist downwards the figure thinned into invisibility;—it was like an
imperfect reflection of her, and transparent as a shadow on water.

Then the folk were afraid, and left the room. Below they consulted
together; and the mother of O-Sono’s husband said: “A woman is fond of
her small things; and O-Sono was much attached to her belongings.
Perhaps she has come back to look at them. Many dead persons will do
that,—unless the things be given to the parish-temple. If we present
O-Sono’s robes and girdles to the temple, her spirit will probably find

It was agreed that this should be done as soon as possible. So on the
following morning the drawers were emptied; and all of O-Sono’s
ornaments and dresses were taken to the temple. But she came back the
next night, and looked at the _tansu_ as before. And she came back also
on the night following, and the night after that, and every night;—and
the house became a house of fear.

The mother of O-Sono’s husband then went to the parish-temple, and told
the chief priest all that had happened, and asked for ghostly counsel.
The temple was a Zen temple; and the head-priest was a learned old man,
known as Daigen Oshō. He said: “There must be something about which she
is anxious, in or near that _tansu_.”—“But we emptied all the drawers,”
replied the woman;—“there is nothing in the _tansu_.”—“Well,” said
Daigen Oshō, “to-night I shall go to your house, and keep watch in that
room, and see what can be done. You must give orders that no person
shall enter the room while I am watching, unless I call.”

After sundown, Daigen Oshō went to the house, and found the room made
ready for him. He remained there alone, reading the sûtras; and nothing
appeared until after the Hour of the Rat.[1] Then the figure of O-Sono
suddenly outlined itself in front of the _tansu_. Her face had a
wistful look; and she kept her eyes fixed upon the _tansu_.

The priest uttered the holy formula prescribed in such cases, and then,
addressing the figure by the _kaimyō_[2] of O-Sono, said:—“I have come
here in order to help you. Perhaps in that _tansu_ there is something
about which you have reason to feel anxious. Shall I try to find it for
you?” The shadow appeared to give assent by a slight motion of the
head; and the priest, rising, opened the top drawer. It was empty.
Successively he opened the second, the third, and the fourth drawer;—he
searched carefully behind them and beneath them;—he carefully examined
the interior of the chest. He found nothing. But the figure remained
gazing as wistfully as before. “What can she want?” thought the priest.
Suddenly it occurred to him that there might be something hidden under
the paper with which the drawers were lined. He removed the lining of
the first drawer:—nothing! He removed the lining of the second and
third drawers:—still nothing. But under the lining of the lowermost
drawer he found—a letter. “Is this the thing about which you have been
troubled?” he asked. The shadow of the woman turned toward him,—her
faint gaze fixed upon the letter. “Shall I burn it for you?” he asked.
She bowed before him. “It shall be burned in the temple this very
morning,” he promised;—“and no one shall read it, except myself.” The
figure smiled and vanished.

Dawn was breaking as the priest descended the stairs, to find the
family waiting anxiously below. “Do not be anxious,” he said to them:
“She will not appear again.” And she never did.

The letter was burned. It was a love-letter written to O-Sono in the
time of her studies at Kyōto. But the priest alone knew what was in it;
and the secret died with him.


In a village of Musashi Province (1), there lived two woodcutters:
Mosaku and Minokichi. At the time of which I am speaking, Mosaku was an
old man; and Minokichi, his apprentice, was a lad of eighteen years.
Every day they went together to a forest situated about five miles from
their village. On the way to that forest there is a wide river to
cross; and there is a ferry-boat. Several times a bridge was built
where the ferry is; but the bridge was each time carried away by a
flood. No common bridge can resist the current there when the river

Mosaku and Minokichi were on their way home, one very cold evening,
when a great snowstorm overtook them. They reached the ferry; and they
found that the boatman had gone away, leaving his boat on the other
side of the river. It was no day for swimming; and the woodcutters took
shelter in the ferryman’s hut,—thinking themselves lucky to find any
shelter at all. There was no brazier in the hut, nor any place in which
to make a fire: it was only a two-mat[1] hut, with a single door, but
no window. Mosaku and Minokichi fastened the door, and lay down to
rest, with their straw rain-coats over them. At first they did not feel
very cold; and they thought that the storm would soon be over.

The old man almost immediately fell asleep; but the boy, Minokichi, lay
awake a long time, listening to the awful wind, and the continual
slashing of the snow against the door. The river was roaring; and the
hut swayed and creaked like a junk at sea. It was a terrible storm; and
the air was every moment becoming colder; and Minokichi shivered under
his rain-coat. But at last, in spite of the cold, he too fell asleep.

He was awakened by a showering of snow in his face. The door of the hut
had been forced open; and, by the snow-light (_yuki-akari_), he saw a
woman in the room,—a woman all in white. She was bending above Mosaku,
and blowing her breath upon him;—and her breath was like a bright white
smoke. Almost in the same moment she turned to Minokichi, and stooped
over him. He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter any
sound. The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her
face almost touched him; and he saw that she was very beautiful,—though
her eyes made him afraid. For a little time she continued to look at
him;—then she smiled, and she whispered:—“I intended to treat you like
the other man. But I cannot help feeling some pity for you,—because you
are so young... You are a pretty boy, Minokichi; and I will not hurt
you now. But, if you ever tell anybody—even your own mother—about what
you have seen this night, I shall know it; and then I will kill you...
Remember what I say!”


With these words, she turned from him, and passed through the doorway.
Then he found himself able to move; and he sprang up, and looked out.
But the woman was nowhere to be seen; and the snow was driving
furiously into the hut. Minokichi closed the door, and secured it by
fixing several billets of wood against it. He wondered if the wind had
blown it open;—he thought that he might have been only dreaming, and
might have mistaken the gleam of the snow-light in the doorway for the
figure of a white woman: but he could not be sure. He called to Mosaku,
and was frightened because the old man did not answer. He put out his
hand in the dark, and touched Mosaku’s face, and found that it was ice!
Mosaku was stark and dead...

By dawn the storm was over; and when the ferryman returned to his
station, a little after sunrise, he found Minokichi lying senseless
beside the frozen body of Mosaku. Minokichi was promptly cared for, and
soon came to himself; but he remained a long time ill from the effects
of the cold of that terrible night. He had been greatly frightened also
by the old man’s death; but he said nothing about the vision of the
woman in white. As soon as he got well again, he returned to his
calling,—going alone every morning to the forest, and coming back at
nightfall with his bundles of wood, which his mother helped him to

One evening, in the winter of the following year, as he was on his way
home, he overtook a girl who happened to be traveling by the same road.
She was a tall, slim girl, very good-looking; and she answered
Minokichi’s greeting in a voice as pleasant to the ear as the voice of
a song-bird. Then he walked beside her; and they began to talk. The
girl said that her name was O-Yuki;[2] that she had lately lost both of
her parents; and that she was going to Yedo (2), where she happened to
have some poor relations, who might help her to find a situation as a
servant. Minokichi soon felt charmed by this strange girl; and the more
that he looked at her, the handsomer she appeared to be. He asked her
whether she was yet betrothed; and she answered, laughingly, that she
was free. Then, in her turn, she asked Minokichi whether he was
married, or pledged to marry; and he told her that, although he had
only a widowed mother to support, the question of an “honorable
daughter-in-law” had not yet been considered, as he was very young...
After these confidences, they walked on for a long while without
speaking; but, as the proverb declares, _Ki ga aréba, mé mo kuchi hodo
ni mono wo iu:_ “When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as
the mouth.” By the time they reached the village, they had become very
much pleased with each other; and then Minokichi asked O-Yuki to rest
awhile at his house. After some shy hesitation, she went there with
him; and his mother made her welcome, and prepared a warm meal for her.
O-Yuki behaved so nicely that Minokichi’s mother took a sudden fancy to
her, and persuaded her to delay her journey to Yedo. And the natural
end of the matter was that Yuki never went to Yedo at all. She remained
in the house, as an “honorable daughter-in-law.”

O-Yuki proved a very good daughter-in-law. When Minokichi’s mother came
to die,—some five years later,—her last words were words of affection
and praise for the wife of her son. And O-Yuki bore Minokichi ten
children, boys and girls,—handsome children all of them, and very fair
of skin.

The country-folk thought O-Yuki a wonderful person, by nature different
from themselves. Most of the peasant-women age early; but O-Yuki, even
after having become the mother of ten children, looked as young and
fresh as on the day when she had first come to the village.

One night, after the children had gone to sleep, O-Yuki was sewing by
the light of a paper lamp; and Minokichi, watching her, said:—

“To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think
of a strange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen. I then
saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now—indeed, she was very
like you.”...

Without lifting her eyes from her work, O-Yuki responded:—

“Tell me about her... Where did you see her?”

Then Minokichi told her about the terrible night in the ferryman’s
hut,—and about the White Woman that had stooped above him, smiling and
whispering,—and about the silent death of old Mosaku. And he said:—

“Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as
beautiful as you. Of course, she was not a human being; and I was
afraid of her,—very much afraid,—but she was so white!... Indeed, I
have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of
the Snow.”...

O-Yuki flung down her sewing, and arose, and bowed above Minokichi
where he sat, and shrieked into his face:—

“It was I—I—I! Yuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you
if you ever said one word about it!... But for those children asleep
there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very,
very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of
you, I will treat you as you deserve!”...

Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of
wind;—then she melted into a bright white mist that spired to the
roof-beams, and shuddered away through the smoke-hole.... Never again
was she seen.


In the era of Bummei [1469-1486] there was a young samurai called
Tomotada in the service of Hatakéyama Yoshimuné, the Lord of Noto (1).
Tomotada was a native of Echizen (2); but at an early age he had been
taken, as page, into the palace of the daimyō of Noto, and had been
educated, under the supervision of that prince, for the profession of
arms. As he grew up, he proved himself both a good scholar and a good
soldier, and continued to enjoy the favor of his prince. Being gifted
with an amiable character, a winning address, and a very handsome
person, he was admired and much liked by his samurai-comrades.

When Tomotada was about twenty years old, he was sent upon a private
mission to Hosokawa Masamoto, the great daimyō of Kyōto, a kinsman of
Hatakéyama Yoshimuné. Having been ordered to journey through Echizen,
the youth requested and obtained permission to pay a visit, on the way,
to his widowed mother.

It was the coldest period of the year when he started; and, though
mounted upon a powerful horse, he found himself obliged to proceed
slowly. The road which he followed passed through a mountain-district
where the settlements were few and far between; and on the second day
of his journey, after a weary ride of hours, he was dismayed to find
that he could not reach his intended halting-place until late in the
night. He had reason to be anxious;—for a heavy snowstorm came on, with
an intensely cold wind; and the horse showed signs of exhaustion. But
in that trying moment, Tomotada unexpectedly perceived the thatched
room of a cottage on the summit of a near hill, where willow-trees were
growing. With difficulty he urged his tired animal to the dwelling; and
he loudly knocked upon the storm-doors, which had been closed against
the wind. An old woman opened them, and cried out compassionately at
the sight of the handsome stranger: “Ah, how pitiful!—a young gentleman
traveling alone in such weather!... Deign, young master, to enter.”

Tomotada dismounted, and after leading his horse to a shed in the rear,
entered the cottage, where he saw an old man and a girl warming
themselves by a fire of bamboo splints. They respectfully invited him
to approach the fire; and the old folks then proceeded to warm some
rice-wine, and to prepare food for the traveler, whom they ventured to
question in regard to his journey. Meanwhile the young girl disappeared
behind a screen. Tomotada had observed, with astonishment, that she was
extremely beautiful,—though her attire was of the most wretched kind,
and her long, loose hair in disorder. He wondered that so handsome a
girl should be living in such a miserable and lonesome place.

The old man said to him:—

“Honored Sir, the next village is far; and the snow is falling thickly.
The wind is piercing; and the road is very bad. Therefore, to proceed
further this night would probably be dangerous. Although this hovel is
unworthy of your presence, and although we have not any comfort to
offer, perhaps it were safer to remain to-night under this miserable
roof... We would take good care of your horse.”

Tomotada accepted this humble proposal,—secretly glad of the chance
thus afforded him to see more of the young girl. Presently a coarse but
ample meal was set before him; and the girl came from behind the
screen, to serve the wine. She was now reclad, in a rough but cleanly
robe of homespun; and her long, loose hair had been neatly combed and
smoothed. As she bent forward to fill his cup, Tomotada was amazed to
perceive that she was incomparably more beautiful than any woman whom
he had ever before seen; and there was a grace about her every motion
that astonished him. But the elders began to apologize for her, saying:
“Sir, our daughter, Aoyagi,[1] has been brought up here in the
mountains, almost alone; and she knows nothing of gentle service. We
pray that you will pardon her stupidity and her ignorance.” Tomotada
protested that he deemed himself lucky to be waited upon by so comely a
maiden. He could not turn his eyes away from her—though he saw that his
admiring gaze made her blush;—and he left the wine and food untasted
before him. The mother said: “Kind Sir, we very much hope that you will
try to eat and to drink a little,—though our peasant-fare is of the
worst,—as you must have been chilled by that piercing wind.” Then, to
please the old folks, Tomotada ate and drank as he could; but the charm
of the blushing girl still grew upon him. He talked with her, and found
that her speech was sweet as her face. Brought up in the mountains as
she might have been;—but, in that case, her parents must at some time
been persons of high degree; for she spoke and moved like a damsel of
rank. Suddenly he addressed her with a poem—which was also a
question—inspired by the delight in his heart:—

Hana ka toté koso,
    Hi wo kurasé,
Akénu ni otoru
Akané sasuran?”

[“_Being on my way to pay a visit, I found that which I took to be a
flower: therefore here I spend the day... Why, in the time before dawn,
the dawn-blush tint should glow—that, indeed, I know not._”][2]

Without a moment’s hesitation, she answered him in these verses:—

    “Izuru hi no
Honoméku iro wo
    Waga sodé ni
Tsutsumaba asu mo
Kimiya tomaran.”

[“_If with my sleeve I hid the faint fair color of the dawning
sun,—then, perhaps, in the morning my lord will remain._”][3]

Then Tomotada knew that she accepted his admiration; and he was
scarcely less surprised by the art with which she had uttered her
feelings in verse, than delighted by the assurance which the verses
conveyed. He was now certain that in all this world he could not hope
to meet, much less to win, a girl more beautiful and witty than this
rustic maid before him; and a voice in his heart seemed to cry out
urgently, “Take the luck that the gods have put in your way!” In short
he was bewitched—bewitched to such a degree that, without further
preliminary, he asked the old people to give him their daughter in
marriage,—telling them, at the same time, his name and lineage, and his
rank in the train of the Lord of Noto.

They bowed down before him, with many exclamations of grateful
astonishment. But, after some moments of apparent hesitation, the
father replied:—

“Honored master, you are a person of high position, and likely to rise
to still higher things. Too great is the favor that you deign to offer
us;—indeed, the depth of our gratitude therefor is not to be spoken or
measured. But this girl of ours, being a stupid country-girl of vulgar
birth, with no training or teaching of any sort, it would be improper
to let her become the wife of a noble samurai. Even to speak of such a
matter is not right... But, since you find the girl to your liking, and
have condescended to pardon her peasant-manners and to overlook her
great rudeness, we do gladly present her to you, for an humble
handmaid. Deign, therefore, to act hereafter in her regard according to
your august pleasure.”

Ere morning the storm had passed; and day broke through a cloudless
east. Even if the sleeve of Aoyagi hid from her lover’s eyes the
rose-blush of that dawn, he could no longer tarry. But neither could he
resign himself to part with the girl; and, when everything had been
prepared for his journey, he thus addressed her parents:—

“Though it may seem thankless to ask for more than I have already
received, I must again beg you to give me your daughter for wife. It
would be difficult for me to separate from her now; and as she is
willing to accompany me, if you permit, I can take her with me as she
is. If you will give her to me, I shall ever cherish you as parents...
And, in the meantime, please to accept this poor acknowledgment of your
kindest hospitality.”

So saying, he placed before his humble host a purse of gold _ryō_. But
the old man, after many prostrations, gently pushed back the gift, and

“Kind master, the gold would be of no use to us; and you will probably
have need of it during your long, cold journey. Here we buy nothing;
and we could not spend so much money upon ourselves, even if we
wished... As for the girl, we have already bestowed her as a free
gift;—she belongs to you: therefore it is not necessary to ask our
leave to take her away. Already she has told us that she hopes to
accompany you, and to remain your servant for as long as you may be
willing to endure her presence. We are only too happy to know that you
deign to accept her; and we pray that you will not trouble yourself on
our account. In this place we could not provide her with proper
clothing,—much less with a dowry. Moreover, being old, we should in any
event have to separate from her before long. Therefore it is very
fortunate that you should be willing to take her with you now.”

It was in vain that Tomotada tried to persuade the old people to accept
a present: he found that they cared nothing for money. But he saw that
they were really anxious to trust their daughter’s fate to his hands;
and he therefore decided to take her with him. So he placed her upon
his horse, and bade the old folks farewell for the time being, with
many sincere expressions of gratitude.

“Honored Sir,” the father made answer, “it is we, and not you, who have
reason for gratitude. We are sure that you will be kind to our girl;
and we have no fears for her sake.”...

[_Here, in the Japanese original, there is a queer break in the natural
course of the narration, which therefrom remains curiously
inconsistent. Nothing further is said about the mother of Tomotada, or
about the parents of Aoyagi, or about the daimyō of Noto. Evidently the
writer wearied of his work at this point, and hurried the story, very
carelessly, to its startling end. I am not able to supply his
omissions, or to repair his faults of construction; but I must venture
to put in a few explanatory details, without which the rest of the tale
would not hold together... It appears that Tomotada rashly took Aoyagi
with him to Kyōto, and so got into trouble; but we are not informed as
to where the couple lived afterwards._]

...Now a samurai was not allowed to marry without the consent of his
lord; and Tomotada could not expect to obtain this sanction before his
mission had been accomplished. He had reason, under such circumstances,
to fear that the beauty of Aoyagi might attract dangerous attention,
and that means might be devised of taking her away from him. In Kyōto
he therefore tried to keep her hidden from curious eyes. But a retainer
of Lord Hosokawa one day caught sight of Aoyagi, discovered her
relation to Tomotada, and reported the matter to the daimyō. Thereupon
the daimyō—a young prince, and fond of pretty faces—gave orders that
the girl should be brought to the place; and she was taken thither at
once, without ceremony.

Tomotada sorrowed unspeakably; but he knew himself powerless. He was
only an humble messenger in the service of a far-off daimyō; and for
the time being he was at the mercy of a much more powerful daimyō,
whose wishes were not to be questioned. Moreover Tomotada knew that he
had acted foolishly,—that he had brought about his own misfortune, by
entering into a clandestine relation which the code of the military
class condemned. There was now but one hope for him,—a desperate hope:
that Aoyagi might be able and willing to escape and to flee with him.
After long reflection, he resolved to try to send her a letter. The
attempt would be dangerous, of course: any writing sent to her might
find its way to the hands of the daimyō; and to send a love-letter to
any inmate of the place was an unpardonable offense. But he resolved to
dare the risk; and, in the form of a Chinese poem, he composed a letter
which he endeavored to have conveyed to her. The poem was written with
only twenty-eight characters. But with those twenty-eight characters he
was about to express all the depth of his passion, and to suggest all
the pain of his loss:—[4]

Kōshi ō-son gojin wo ou;
Ryokuju namida wo tarété rakin wo hitataru;
Komon hitotabi irité fukaki koto umi no gotoshi;
Koré yori shorō koré rojin

[_Closely, closely the youthful prince now follows after the gem-bright
The tears of the fair one, falling, have moistened all her robes.
But the august lord, having once become enamored of her—the depth of
his longing is like the depth of the sea.
Therefore it is only I that am left forlorn,—only I that am left to
wander along._]

On the evening of the day after this poem had been sent, Tomotada was
summoned to appear before the Lord Hosokawa. The youth at once
suspected that his confidence had been betrayed; and he could not hope,
if his letter had been seen by the daimyō, to escape the severest
penalty. “Now he will order my death,” thought Tomotada;—“but I do not
care to live unless Aoyagi be restored to me. Besides, if the
death-sentence be passed, I can at least try to kill Hosokawa.” He
slipped his swords into his girdle, and hastened to the palace.

On entering the presence-room he saw the Lord Hosokawa seated upon the
dais, surrounded by samurai of high rank, in caps and robes of
ceremony. All were silent as statues; and while Tomotada advanced to
make obeisance, the hush seemed to him sinister and heavy, like the
stillness before a storm. But Hosokawa suddenly descended from the
dais, and, while taking the youth by the arm, began to repeat the words
of the poem:—“_Kōshi ō-son gojin wo ou_.”... And Tomotada, looking up,
saw kindly tears in the prince’s eyes.

Then said Hosokawa:—

“Because you love each other so much, I have taken it upon myself to
authorize your marriage, in lieu of my kinsman, the Lord of Noto; and
your wedding shall now be celebrated before me. The guests are
assembled;—the gifts are ready.”

At a signal from the lord, the sliding-screens concealing a further
apartment were pushed open; and Tomotada saw there many dignitaries of
the court, assembled for the ceremony, and Aoyagi awaiting him in
brides’ apparel... Thus was she given back to him;—and the wedding was
joyous and splendid;—and precious gifts were made to the young couple
by the prince, and by the members of his household.

For five happy years, after that wedding, Tomotada and Aoyagi dwelt
together. But one morning Aoyagi, while talking with her husband about
some household matter, suddenly uttered a great cry of pain, and then
became very white and still. After a few moments she said, in a feeble
voice: “Pardon me for thus rudely crying out—but the pain was so
sudden!... My dear husband, our union must have been brought about
through some Karma-relation in a former state of existence; and that
happy relation, I think, will bring us again together in more than one
life to come. But for this present existence of ours, the relation is
now ended;—we are about to be separated. Repeat for me, I beseech you,
the _Nembutsu_-prayer,—because I am dying.”

“Oh! what strange wild fancies!” cried the startled husband,—“you are
only a little unwell, my dear one!... lie down for a while, and rest;
and the sickness will pass.”...

“No, no!” she responded—“I am dying!—I do not imagine it;—I know!...
And it were needless now, my dear husband, to hide the truth from you
any longer:—I am not a human being. The soul of a tree is my soul;—the
heart of a tree is my heart;—the sap of the willow is my life. And some
one, at this cruel moment, is cutting down my tree;—that is why I must
die!... Even to weep were now beyond my strength!—quickly, quickly
repeat the _Nembutsu_ for me... quickly!... Ah!...”

With another cry of pain she turned aside her beautiful head, and tried
to hide her face behind her sleeve. But almost in the same moment her
whole form appeared to collapse in the strangest way, and to sink down,
down, down—level with the floor. Tomotada had sprung to support
her;—but there was nothing to support! There lay on the matting only
the empty robes of the fair creature and the ornaments that she had
worn in her hair: the body had ceased to exist...

Tomotada shaved his head, took the Buddhist vows, and became an
itinerant priest. He traveled through all the provinces of the empire;
and, at holy places which he visited, he offered up prayers for the
soul of Aoyagi. Reaching Echizen, in the course of his pilgrimage, he
sought the home of the parents of his beloved. But when he arrived at
the lonely place among the hills, where their dwelling had been, he
found that the cottage had disappeared. There was nothing to mark even
the spot where it had stood, except the stumps of three willows—two old
trees and one young tree—that had been cut down long before his

Beside the stumps of those willow-trees he erected a memorial tomb,
inscribed with divers holy texts; and he there performed many Buddhist
services on behalf of the spirits of Aoyagi and of her parents.


Uso no yona,—
Saki ni keri!

In Wakégōri, a district of the province of Iyo (1), there is a very
ancient and famous cherry-tree, called _Jiu-roku-zakura_, or “the
Cherry-tree of the Sixteenth Day,” because it blooms every year upon
the sixteenth day of the first month (by the old lunar calendar),—and
only upon that day. Thus the time of its flowering is the Period of
Great Cold,—though the natural habit of a cherry-tree is to wait for
the spring season before venturing to blossom. But the
_Jiu-roku-zakura_ blossoms with a life that is not—or, at least, that
was not originally—its own. There is the ghost of a man in that tree.

He was a samurai of Iyo; and the tree grew in his garden; and it used
to flower at the usual time,—that is to say, about the end of March or
the beginning of April. He had played under that tree when he was a
child; and his parents and grandparents and ancestors had hung to its
blossoming branches, season after season for more than a hundred years,
bright strips of colored paper inscribed with poems of praise. He
himself became very old,—outliving all his children; and there was
nothing in the world left for him to love except that tree. And lo! in
the summer of a certain year, the tree withered and died!

Exceedingly the old man sorrowed for his tree. Then kind neighbors
found for him a young and beautiful cherry-tree, and planted it in his
garden,—hoping thus to comfort him. And he thanked them, and pretended
to be glad. But really his heart was full of pain; for he had loved the
old tree so well that nothing could have consoled him for the loss of

At last there came to him a happy thought: he remembered a way by which
the perishing tree might be saved. (It was the sixteenth day of the
first month.) Along he went into his garden, and bowed down before the
withered tree, and spoke to it, saying: “Now deign, I beseech you, once
more to bloom,—because I am going to die in your stead.” (For it is
believed that one can really give away one’s life to another person, or
to a creature or even to a tree, by the favor of the gods;—and thus to
transfer one’s life is expressed by the term _migawari ni tatsu_, “to
act as a substitute.”) Then under that tree he spread a white cloth,
and divers coverings, and sat down upon the coverings, and performed
_hara-kiri_ after the fashion of a samurai. And the ghost of him went
into the tree, and made it blossom in that same hour.

And every year it still blooms on the sixteenth day of the first month,
in the season of snow.


In the district called Toïchi of Yamato Province, (1) there used to
live a gōshi named Miyata Akinosuké... [Here I must tell you that in
Japanese feudal times there was a privileged class of
soldier-farmers,—free-holders,—corresponding to the class of yeomen in
England; and these were called gōshi.]

In Akinosuké’s garden there was a great and ancient cedar-tree, under
which he was wont to rest on sultry days. One very warm afternoon he
was sitting under this tree with two of his friends, fellow-gōshi,
chatting and drinking wine, when he felt all of a sudden very
drowsy,—so drowsy that he begged his friends to excuse him for taking a
nap in their presence. Then he lay down at the foot of the tree, and
dreamed this dream:—

He thought that as he was lying there in his garden, he saw a
procession, like the train of some great daimyō descending a hill near
by, and that he got up to look at it. A very grand procession it proved
to be,—more imposing than anything of the kind which he had ever seen
before; and it was advancing toward his dwelling. He observed in the
van of it a number of young men richly appareled, who were drawing a
great lacquered palace-carriage, or _gosho-guruma_, hung with bright
blue silk. When the procession arrived within a short distance of the
house it halted; and a richly dressed man—evidently a person of
rank—advanced from it, approached Akinosuké, bowed to him profoundly,
and then said:—

“Honored Sir, you see before you a _kérai_ [vassal] of the Kokuō of
Tokoyo.[1] My master, the King, commands me to greet you in his august
name, and to place myself wholly at your disposal. He also bids me
inform you that he augustly desires your presence at the palace. Be
therefore pleased immediately to enter this honorable carriage, which
he has sent for your conveyance.”

Upon hearing these words Akinosuké wanted to make some fitting reply;
but he was too much astonished and embarrassed for speech;—and in the
same moment his will seemed to melt away from him, so that he could
only do as the _kérai_ bade him. He entered the carriage; the _kérai_
took a place beside him, and made a signal; the drawers, seizing the
silken ropes, turned the great vehicle southward;—and the journey

In a very short time, to Akinosuké’s amazement, the carriage stopped in
front of a huge two-storied gateway (_rōmon_), of a Chinese style,
which he had never before seen. Here the _kérai_ dismounted, saying, “I
go to announce the honorable arrival,”—and he disappeared. After some
little waiting, Akinosuké saw two noble-looking men, wearing robes of
purple silk and high caps of the form indicating lofty rank, come from
the gateway. These, after having respectfully saluted him, helped him
to descend from the carriage, and led him through the great gate and
across a vast garden, to the entrance of a palace whose front appeared
to extend, west and east, to a distance of miles. Akinosuké was then
shown into a reception-room of wonderful size and splendor. His guides
conducted him to the place of honor, and respectfully seated themselves
apart; while serving-maids, in costume of ceremony, brought
refreshments. When Akinosuké had partaken of the refreshments, the two
purple-robed attendants bowed low before him, and addressed him in the
following words,—each speaking alternately, according to the etiquette
of courts:—

“It is now our honorable duty to inform you... as to the reason of your
having been summoned hither... Our master, the King, augustly desires
that you become his son-in-law;... and it is his wish and command that
you shall wed this very day... the August Princess, his
maiden-daughter... We shall soon conduct you to the presence-chamber...
where His Augustness even now is waiting to receive you... But it will
be necessary that we first invest you... with the appropriate garments
of ceremony.”[2]

Having thus spoken, the attendants rose together, and proceeded to an
alcove containing a great chest of gold lacquer. They opened the chest,
and took from it various robes and girdles of rich material, and a
_kamuri_, or regal headdress. With these they attired Akinosuké as
befitted a princely bridegroom; and he was then conducted to the
presence-room, where he saw the Kokuō of Tokoyo seated upon the
_daiza_,[3] wearing a high black cap of state, and robed in robes of
yellow silk. Before the _daiza_, to left and right, a multitude of
dignitaries sat in rank, motionless and splendid as images in a temple;
and Akinosuké, advancing into their midst, saluted the king with the
triple prostration of usage. The king greeted him with gracious words,
and then said:—

“You have already been informed as to the reason of your having been
summoned to Our presence. We have decided that you shall become the
adopted husband of Our only daughter;—and the wedding ceremony shall
now be performed.”

As the king finished speaking, a sound of joyful music was heard; and a
long train of beautiful court ladies advanced from behind a curtain to
conduct Akinosuké to the room in which his bride awaited him.

The room was immense; but it could scarcely contain the multitude of
guests assembled to witness the wedding ceremony. All bowed down before
Akinosuké as he took his place, facing the King’s daughter, on the
kneeling-cushion prepared for him. As a maiden of heaven the bride
appeared to be; and her robes were beautiful as a summer sky. And the
marriage was performed amid great rejoicing.

Afterwards the pair were conducted to a suite of apartments that had
been prepared for them in another portion of the palace; and there they
received the congratulations of many noble persons, and wedding gifts
beyond counting.

Some days later Akinosuké was again summoned to the throne-room. On
this occasion he was received even more graciously than before; and the
King said to him:—

“In the southwestern part of Our dominion there is an island called
Raishū. We have now appointed you Governor of that island. You will
find the people loyal and docile; but their laws have not yet been
brought into proper accord with the laws of Tokoyo; and their customs
have not been properly regulated. We entrust you with the duty of
improving their social condition as far as may be possible; and We
desire that you shall rule them with kindness and wisdom. All
preparations necessary for your journey to Raishū have already been

So Akinosuké and his bride departed from the palace of Tokoyo,
accompanied to the shore by a great escort of nobles and officials; and
they embarked upon a ship of state provided by the king. And with
favoring winds they safety sailed to Raishū, and found the good people
of that island assembled upon the beach to welcome them.

Akinosuké entered at once upon his new duties; and they did not prove
to be hard. During the first three years of his governorship he was
occupied chiefly with the framing and the enactment of laws; but he had
wise counselors to help him, and he never found the work unpleasant.
When it was all finished, he had no active duties to perform, beyond
attending the rites and ceremonies ordained by ancient custom. The
country was so healthy and so fertile that sickness and want were
unknown; and the people were so good that no laws were ever broken. And
Akinosuké dwelt and ruled in Raishū for twenty years more,—making in
all twenty-three years of sojourn, during which no shadow of sorrow
traversed his life.

But in the twenty-fourth year of his governorship, a great misfortune
came upon him; for his wife, who had borne him seven children,—five
boys and two girls,—fell sick and died. She was buried, with high pomp,
on the summit of a beautiful hill in the district of Hanryōkō; and a
monument, exceedingly splendid, was placed upon her grave. But
Akinosuké felt such grief at her death that he no longer cared to live.

Now when the legal period of mourning was over, there came to Raishū,
from the Tokoyo palace, a _shisha_, or royal messenger. The _shisha_
delivered to Akinosuké a message of condolence, and then said to him:—

“These are the words which our august master, the King of Tokoyo,
commands that I repeat to you: ‘We will now send you back to your own
people and country. As for the seven children, they are the grandsons
and granddaughters of the King, and shall be fitly cared for. Do not,
therefore, allow your mind to be troubled concerning them.’”

On receiving this mandate, Akinosuké submissively prepared for his
departure. When all his affairs had been settled, and the ceremony of
bidding farewell to his counselors and trusted officials had been
concluded, he was escorted with much honor to the port. There he
embarked upon the ship sent for him; and the ship sailed out into the
blue sea, under the blue sky; and the shape of the island of Raishū
itself turned blue, and then turned grey, and then vanished forever...
And Akinosuké suddenly awoke—under the cedar-tree in his own garden!

For a moment he was stupefied and dazed. But he perceived his two
friends still seated near him,—drinking and chatting merrily. He stared
at them in a bewildered way, and cried aloud,—

“How strange!”

“Akinosuké must have been dreaming,” one of them exclaimed, with a
laugh. “What did you see, Akinosuké, that was strange?”

Then Akinosuké told his dream,—that dream of three-and-twenty years’
sojourn in the realm of Tokoyo, in the island of Raishū;—and they were
astonished, because he had really slept for no more than a few minutes.

One gōshi said:—

“Indeed, you saw strange things. We also saw something strange while
you were napping. A little yellow butterfly was fluttering over your
face for a moment or two; and we watched it. Then it alighted on the
ground beside you, close to the tree; and almost as soon as it alighted
there, a big, big ant came out of a hole and seized it and pulled it
down into the hole. Just before you woke up, we saw that very butterfly
come out of the hole again, and flutter over your face as before. And
then it suddenly disappeared: we do not know where it went.”

“Perhaps it was Akinosuké’s soul,” the other gōshi said;—“certainly I
thought I saw it fly into his mouth... But, even if that butterfly
_was_ Akinosuké’s soul, the fact would not explain his dream.”

“The ants might explain it,” returned the first speaker. “Ants are
queer beings—possibly goblins... Anyhow, there is a big ant’s nest
under that cedar-tree.”...

“Let us look!” cried Akinosuké, greatly moved by this suggestion. And
he went for a spade.

The ground about and beneath the cedar-tree proved to have been
excavated, in a most surprising way, by a prodigious colony of ants.
The ants had furthermore built inside their excavations; and their tiny
constructions of straw, clay, and stems bore an odd resemblance to
miniature towns. In the middle of a structure considerably larger than
the rest there was a marvelous swarming of small ants around the body
of one very big ant, which had yellowish wings and a long black head.

“Why, there is the King of my dream!” cried Akinosuké; “and there is
the palace of Tokoyo!... How extraordinary!... Raishū ought to lie
somewhere southwest of it—to the left of that big root... Yes!—here it
is!... How very strange! Now I am sure that I can find the mountain of
Hanryōkō, and the grave of the princess.”...

In the wreck of the nest he searched and searched, and at last
discovered a tiny mound, on the top of which was fixed a water-worn
pebble, in shape resembling a Buddhist monument. Underneath it he
found—embedded in clay—the dead body of a female ant.


His name was Riki, signifying Strength; but the people called him
Riki-the-Simple, or Riki-the-Fool,—“Riki-Baka,”—because he had been
born into perpetual childhood. For the same reason they were kind to
him,—even when he set a house on fire by putting a lighted match to a
mosquito-curtain, and clapped his hands for joy to see the blaze. At
sixteen years he was a tall, strong lad; but in mind he remained always
at the happy age of two, and therefore continued to play with very
small children. The bigger children of the neighborhood, from four to
seven years old, did not care to play with him, because he could not
learn their songs and games. His favorite toy was a broomstick, which
he used as a hobby-horse; and for hours at a time he would ride on that
broomstick, up and down the slope in front of my house, with amazing
peals of laughter. But at last he became troublesome by reason of his
noise; and I had to tell him that he must find another playground. He
bowed submissively, and then went off,—sorrowfully trailing his
broomstick behind him. Gentle at all times, and perfectly harmless if
allowed no chance to play with fire, he seldom gave anybody cause for
complaint. His relation to the life of our street was scarcely more
than that of a dog or a chicken; and when he finally disappeared, I did
not miss him. Months and months passed by before anything happened to
remind me of Riki.

“What has become of Riki?” I then asked the old woodcutter who supplies
our neighborhood with fuel. I remembered that Riki had often helped him
to carry his bundles.

“Riki-Baka?” answered the old man. “Ah, Riki is dead—poor fellow!...
Yes, he died nearly a year ago, very suddenly; the doctors said that he
had some disease of the brain. And there is a strange story now about
that poor Riki.

“When Riki died, his mother wrote his name, ‘Riki-Baka,’ in the palm of
his left hand,—putting ‘Riki’ in the Chinese character, and ‘Baka’ in
_kana_ (1). And she repeated many prayers for him,—prayers that he
might be reborn into some more happy condition.

“Now, about three months ago, in the honorable residence of
Nanigashi-Sama (2), in Kojimachi (3), a boy was born with characters on
the palm of his left hand; and the characters were quite plain to

“So the people of that house knew that the birth must have happened in
answer to somebody’s prayer; and they caused inquiry to be made
everywhere. At last a vegetable-seller brought word to them that there
used to be a simple lad, called Riki-Baka, living in the Ushigomé
quarter, and that he had died during the last autumn; and they sent two
men-servants to look for the mother of Riki.

“Those servants found the mother of Riki, and told her what had
happened; and she was glad exceedingly—for that Nanigashi house is a
very rich and famous house. But the servants said that the family of
Nanigashi-Sama were very angry about the word ‘Baka’ on the child’s
hand. ‘And where is your Riki buried?’ the servants asked. ‘He is
buried in the cemetery of Zendōji,’ she told them. ‘Please to give us
some of the clay of his grave,’ they requested.

“So she went with them to the temple Zendōji, and showed them Riki’s
grave; and they took some of the grave-clay away with them, wrapped up
in a _furoshiki_[1]].... They gave Riki’s mother some money,—ten
yen.”... (4)

“But what did they want with that clay?” I inquired.

“Well,” the old man answered, “you know that it would not do to let the
child grow up with that name on his hand. And there is no other means
of removing characters that come in that way upon the body of a child:
_you must rub the skin with clay taken from the grave of the body of
the former birth_.”...


On the wooded hill behind the house Robert and I are looking for
fairy-rings. Robert is eight years old, comely, and very wise;—I am a
little more than seven,—and I reverence Robert. It is a glowing
glorious August day; and the warm air is filled with sharp sweet scents
of resin.

We do not find any fairy-rings; but we find a great many pine-cones in
the high grass... I tell Robert the old Welsh story of the man who went
to sleep, unawares, inside a fairy-ring, and so disappeared for seven
years, and would never eat or speak after his friends had delivered him
from the enchantment.

“They eat nothing but the points of needles, you know,” says Robert.

“Who?” I ask.

“Goblins,” Robert answers.

This revelation leaves me dumb with astonishment and awe... But Robert
suddenly cries out:—

“There is a Harper!—he is coming to the house!”

And down the hill we run to hear the harper... But what a harper! Not
like the hoary minstrels of the picture-books. A swarthy, sturdy,
unkempt vagabond, with black bold eyes under scowling black brows. More
like a bricklayer than a bard,—and his garments are corduroy!

“Wonder if he is going to sing in Welsh?” murmurs Robert.

I feel too much disappointed to make any remarks. The harper poses his
harp—a huge instrument—upon our doorstep, sets all the strong ringing
with a sweep of his grimy fingers, clears his throat with a sort of
angry growl, and begins,—

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
    Which I gaze on so fondly to-day...

The accent, the attitude, the voice, all fill me with repulsion
unutterable,—shock me with a new sensation of formidable vulgarity. I
want to cry out loud, “You have no right to sing that song!” For I have
heard it sung by the lips of the dearest and fairest being in my little
world;—and that this rude, coarse man should dare to sing it vexes me
like a mockery,—angers me like an insolence. But only for a moment!...
With the utterance of the syllables “to-day,” that deep, grim voice
suddenly breaks into a quivering tenderness indescribable;—then,
marvelously changing, it mellows into tones sonorous and rich as the
bass of a great organ,—while a sensation unlike anything ever felt
before takes me by the throat... What witchcraft has he learned? what
secret has he found—this scowling man of the road?... Oh! is there
anybody else in the whole world who can sing like that?... And the form
of the singer flickers and dims;—and the house, and the lawn, and all
visible shapes of things tremble and swim before me. Yet instinctively
I fear that man;—I almost hate him; and I feel myself flushing with
anger and shame because of his power to move me thus...

“He made you cry,” Robert compassionately observes, to my further
confusion,—as the harper strides away, richer by a gift of sixpence
taken without thanks... “But I think he must be a gipsy. Gipsies are
bad people—and they are wizards... Let us go back to the wood.”

We climb again to the pines, and there squat down upon the sun-flecked
grass, and look over town and sea. But we do not play as before: the
spell of the wizard is strong upon us both... “Perhaps he is a goblin,”
I venture at last, “or a fairy?” “No,” says Robert,—“only a gipsy. But
that is nearly as bad. They steal children, you know.”...

“What shall we do if he comes up here?” I gasp, in sudden terror at the
lonesomeness of our situation.

“Oh, he wouldn’t dare,” answers Robert—“not by daylight, you know.”...

[Only yesterday, near the village of Takata, I noticed a flower which
the Japanese call by nearly the same name as we do: _Himawari_, “The
Sunward-turning;”—and over the space of forty years there thrilled back
to me the voice of that wandering harper,—

As the Sunflower turns on her god, when he sets,
The same look that she turned when he rose.

Again I saw the sun-flecked shadows on that far Welsh hill; and Robert
for a moment again stood beside me, with his girl’s face and his curls
of gold. We were looking for fairy-rings... But all that existed of the
real Robert must long ago have suffered a sea-change into something
rich and strange... _Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay
down his life for his friend_....]


Blue vision of depth lost in height,—sea and sky interblending through
luminous haze. The day is of spring, and the hour morning.

Only sky and sea,—one azure enormity... In the fore, ripples are
catching a silvery light, and threads of foam are swirling. But a
little further off no motion is visible, nor anything save color: dim
warm blue of water widening away to melt into blue of air. Horizon
there is none: only distance soaring into space,—infinite concavity
hollowing before you, and hugely arching above you,—the color deepening
with the height. But far in the midway-blue there hangs a faint, faint
vision of palace towers, with high roofs horned and curved like
moons,—some shadowing of splendor strange and old, illumined by a
sunshine soft as memory.

...What I have thus been trying to describe is a kakémono,—that is to
say, a Japanese painting on silk, suspended to the wall of my
alcove;—and the name of it is SHINKIRŌ, which signifies “Mirage.” But
the shapes of the mirage are unmistakable. Those are the glimmering
portals of Hōrai the blest; and those are the moony roofs of the Palace
of the Dragon-King;—and the fashion of them (though limned by a
Japanese brush of to-day) is the fashion of things Chinese, twenty-one
hundred years ago...

Thus much is told of the place in the Chinese books of that time:—

In Hōrai there is neither death nor pain; and there is no winter. The
flowers in that place never fade, and the fruits never fail; and if a
man taste of those fruits even but once, he can never again feel thirst
or hunger. In Hōrai grow the enchanted plants _So-rin-shi_, and
_Riku-gō-aoi_, and _Ban-kon-tō_, which heal all manner of sickness;—and
there grows also the magical grass _Yō-shin-shi_, that quickens the
dead; and the magical grass is watered by a fairy water of which a
single drink confers perpetual youth. The people of Hōrai eat their
rice out of very, very small bowls; but the rice never diminishes
within those bowls,—however much of it be eaten,—until the eater
desires no more. And the people of Hōrai drink their wine out of very,
very small cups; but no man can empty one of those cups,—however
stoutly he may drink,—until there comes upon him the pleasant
drowsiness of intoxication.

All this and more is told in the legends of the time of the Shin
dynasty. But that the people who wrote down those legends ever saw
Hōrai, even in a mirage, is not believable. For really there are no
enchanted fruits which leave the eater forever satisfied,—nor any
magical grass which revives the dead,—nor any fountain of fairy
water,—nor any bowls which never lack rice,—nor any cups which never
lack wine. It is not true that sorrow and death never enter
Hōrai;—neither is it true that there is not any winter. The winter in
Hōrai is cold;—and winds then bite to the bone; and the heaping of snow
is monstrous on the roofs of the Dragon-King.

Nevertheless there are wonderful things in Hōrai; and the most
wonderful of all has not been mentioned by any Chinese writer. I mean
the atmosphere of Hōrai. It is an atmosphere peculiar to the place;
and, because of it, the sunshine in Hōrai is _whiter_ than any other
sunshine,—a milky light that never dazzles,—astonishingly clear, but
very soft. This atmosphere is not of our human period: it is enormously
old,—so old that I feel afraid when I try to think how old it is;—and
it is not a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. It is not made of air at
all, but of ghost,—the substance of quintillions of quintillions of
generations of souls blended into one immense translucency,—souls of
people who thought in ways never resembling our ways. Whatever mortal
man inhales that atmosphere, he takes into his blood the thrilling of
these spirits; and they change the sense within him,—reshaping his
notions of Space and Time,—so that he can see only as they used to see,
and feel only as they used to feel, and think only as they used to
think. Soft as sleep are these changes of sense; and Hōrai, discerned
across them, might thus be described:—

_—Because in Hōrai there is no knowledge of great evil, the hearts of
the people never grow old. And, by reason of being always young in
heart, the people of Hōrai smile from birth until death—except when the
Gods send sorrow among them; and faces then are veiled until the sorrow
goes away. All folk in Hōrai love and trust each other, as if all were
members of a single household;—and the speech of the women is like
birdsong, because the hearts of them are light as the souls of
birds;—and the swaying of the sleeves of the maidens at play seems a
flutter of wide, soft wings. In Hōrai nothing is hidden but grief,
because there is no reason for shame;—and nothing is locked away,
because there could not be any theft;—and by night as well as by day
all doors remain unbarred, because there is no reason for fear. And
because the people are fairies—though mortal—all things in Hōrai,
except the Palace of the Dragon-King, are small and quaint and
queer;—and these fairy-folk do really eat their rice out of very, very
small bowls, and drink their wine out of very, very small cups...._

—Much of this seeming would be due to the inhalation of that ghostly
atmosphere—but not all. For the spell wrought by the dead is only the
charm of an Ideal, the glamour of an ancient hope;—and something of
that hope has found fulfillment in many hearts,—in the simple beauty of
unselfish lives,—in the sweetness of Woman...

—Evil winds from the West are blowing over Hōrai; and the magical
atmosphere, alas! is shrinking away before them. It lingers now in
patches only, and bands,—like those long bright bands of cloud that
train across the landscapes of Japanese painters. Under these shreds of
the elfish vapor you still can find Hōrai—but not everywhere...
Remember that Hōrai is also called Shinkirō, which signifies
Mirage,—the Vision of the Intangible. And the Vision is fading,—never
again to appear save in pictures and poems and dreams...




Would that I could hope for the luck of that Chinese scholar known to
Japanese literature as “Rōsan”! For he was beloved by two
spirit-maidens, celestial sisters, who every ten days came to visit him
and to tell him stories about butterflies. Now there are marvelous
Chinese stories about butterflies—ghostly stories; and I want to know
them. But never shall I be able to read Chinese, nor even Japanese; and
the little Japanese poetry that I manage, with exceeding difficulty, to
translate, contains so many allusions to Chinese stories of butterflies
that I am tormented with the torment of Tantalus... And, of course, no
spirit-maidens will even deign to visit so skeptical a person as

I want to know, for example, the whole story of that Chinese maiden
whom the butterflies took to be a flower, and followed in multitude,—so
fragrant and so fair was she. Also I should like to know something more
concerning the butterflies of the Emperor Gensō, or Ming Hwang, who
made them choose his loves for him... He used to hold wine-parties in
his amazing garden; and ladies of exceeding beauty were in attendance;
and caged butterflies, set free among them, would fly to the fairest;
and then, upon that fairest the Imperial favor was bestowed. But after
Gensō Kōtei had seen Yōkihi (whom the Chinese call Yang-Kwei-Fei), he
would not suffer the butterflies to choose for him,—which was unlucky,
as Yokihi got him into serious trouble... Again, I should like to know
more about the experience of that Chinese scholar, celebrated in Japan
under the name Sōshū, who dreamed that he was a butterfly, and had all
the sensations of a butterfly in that dream. For his spirit had really
been wandering about in the shape of a butterfly; and, when he awoke,
the memories and the feelings of butterfly existence remained so vivid
in his mind that he could not act like a human being... Finally I
should like to know the text of a certain Chinese official recognition
of sundry butterflies as the spirits of an Emperor and of his

Most of the Japanese literature about butterflies, excepting some
poetry, appears to be of Chinese origin; and even that old national
aæsthetic feeling on the subject, which found such delightful
expression in Japanese art and song and custom, may have been first
developed under Chinese teaching. Chinese precedent doubtless explains
why Japanese poets and painters chose so often for their _geimyō_, or
professional appellations, such names as _Chōmu_ (“Butterfly-Dream),”
_Ichō_ (“Solitary Butterfly),” etc. And even to this day such _geimyō_
as _Chōhana_ (“Butterfly-Blossom”), _Chōkichi_ (“Butterfly-Luck”), or
_Chōnosuké_ (“Butterfly-Help”), are affected by dancing-girls. Besides
artistic names having reference to butterflies, there are still in use
real personal names (_yobina_) of this kind,—such as Kochō, or Chō,
meaning “Butterfly.” They are borne by women only, as a rule,—though
there are some strange exceptions... And here I may mention that, in
the province of Mutsu, there still exists the curious old custom of
calling the youngest daughter in a family _Tekona_,—which quaint word,
obsolete elsewhere, signifies in Mutsu dialect a butterfly. In classic
time this word signified also a beautiful woman...

It is possible also that some weird Japanese beliefs about butterflies
are of Chinese derivation; but these beliefs might be older than China
herself. The most interesting one, I think, is that the soul of a
_living_ person may wander about in the form of a butterfly. Some
pretty fancies have been evolved out of this belief,—such as the notion
that if a butterfly enters your guest-room and perches behind the
bamboo screen, the person whom you most love is coming to see you. That
a butterfly may be the spirit of somebody is not a reason for being
afraid of it. Nevertheless there are times when even butterflies can
inspire fear by appearing in prodigious numbers; and Japanese history
records such an event. When Taïra-no-Masakado was secretly preparing
for his famous revolt, there appeared in Kyōto so vast a swarm of
butterflies that the people were frightened,—thinking the apparition to
be a portent of coming evil... Perhaps those butterflies were supposed
to be the spirits of the thousands doomed to perish in battle, and
agitated on the eve of war by some mysterious premonition of death.

However, in Japanese belief, a butterfly may be the soul of a dead
person as well as of a living person. Indeed it is a custom of souls to
take butterfly-shape in order to announce the fact of their final
departure from the body; and for this reason any butterfly which enters
a house ought to be kindly treated.

To this belief, and to queer fancies connected with it, there are many
allusions in popular drama. For example, there is a well-known play
called _Tondé-déru-Kochō-no-Kanzashi;_ or, “The Flying Hairpin of
Kochō.” Kochō is a beautiful person who kills herself because of false
accusations and cruel treatment. Her would-be avenger long seeks in
vain for the author of the wrong. But at last the dead woman’s hairpin
turns into a butterfly, and serves as a guide to vengeance by hovering
above the place where the villain is hiding.

—Of course those big paper butterflies (_o-chō_ and _mé-chō_) which
figure at weddings must not be thought of as having any ghostly
signification. As emblems they only express the joy of living union,
and the hope that the newly married couple may pass through life
together as a pair of butterflies flit lightly through some pleasant
garden,—now hovering upward, now downward, but never widely separating.


A small selection of _hokku_ (1) on butterflies will help to illustrate
Japanese interest in the aæsthetic side of the subject. Some are
pictures only,—tiny color-sketches made with seventeen syllables; some
are nothing more than pretty fancies, or graceful suggestions;—but the
reader will find variety. Probably he will not care much for the verses
in themselves. The taste for Japanese poetry of the epigrammatic sort
is a taste that must be slowly acquired; and it is only by degrees,
after patient study, that the possibilities of such composition can be
fairly estimated. Hasty criticism has declared that to put forward any
serious claim on behalf of seventeen-syllable poems “would be absurd.”
But what, then, of Crashaw’s famous line upon the miracle at the
marriage feast in Cana?—

Nympha pudica Deum vidit, et erubuit.[1]

Only fourteen syllables—and immortality. Now with seventeen Japanese
syllables things quite as wonderful—indeed, much more wonderful—have
been done, not once or twice, but probably a thousand times... However,
there is nothing wonderful in the following _hokku_, which have been
selected for more than literary reasons:—

Haori sugata no
    Kochō kana!

[_Like a_ haori _being taken off—that is the shape of a butterfly!_]

    Torisashi no
Sao no jama suru
    Kochō kana!

[_Ah, the butterfly keeps getting in the way of the bird-catcher’s

    Tsurigané ni
Tomarité nemuru
    Kochō kana!

[_Perched upon the temple-bell, the butterfly sleeps:_]

    Néru-uchi mo
Asobu-yumé wo ya—
    Kusa no chō!

[_Even while sleeping, its dream is of play—ah, the butterfly of the

    Oki, oki yo!
Waga tomo ni sen,

[_Wake up! wake up!—I will make thee my comrade, thou sleeping

    Kago no tori
Chō wo urayamu
    Metsuki kana!

[_Ah, the sad expression in the eyes of that caged bird!—envying the

    Chō tondé—
Kazé naki hi to mo
    Miëzari ki!

[_Even though it did not appear to be a windy day_,[6] _the fluttering
of the butterflies—!_]

    Rakkwa éda ni
Kaëru to miréba—
    Kochō kana!

[_When I saw the fallen flower return to the branch—lo! it was only a

    Chiru-hana ni—
Karusa arasoü
    Kochō kana!

[_How the butterfly strives to compete in lightness with the falling

    Chōchō ya!
Onna no michi no
    Ato ya saki!

[_See that butterfly on the woman’s path,—now fluttering behind her,
now before!_]

    Chōchō ya!
Hana-nusubito wo

[_Ha! the butterfly!—it is following the person who stole the

    Aki no chō
Tomo nakéréba ya;
    Hito ni tsuku

[_Poor autumn butterfly!—when left without a comrade_ (of its own
race), _it follows after man_ (or “a person”)!]

    Owarété mo,
Isoganu furi no
    Chōcho kana!

[_Ah, the butterfly! Even when chased, it never has the air of being in
a hurry._]

    Chō wa mina
Jiu-shichi-hachi no
    Sugata kana!

[_As for butterflies, they all have the appearance of being about
seventeen or eighteen years old._[9]]

    Chō tobu ya—
Kono yo no urami
    Naki yō ni!

[_How the butterfly sports,—just as if there were no enmity_ (or
“envy”) _in this world!_]

    Chō tobu ya,
Kono yo ni nozomi
    Nai yō ni!

[_Ah, the butterfly!—it sports about as if it had nothing more to
desire in this present state of existence._]

    Nami no hana ni
Tomari kanétaru,
    Kochō kana!

[_Having found it difficult indeed to perch upon the_ (_foam_-)
_blossoms of the waves,—alas for the butterfly!_]

    Mutsumashi ya!—
    Nobé no chō.[10]

[_If_ (in our next existence) _we be born into the state of butterflies
upon the moor, then perchance we may be happy together!_]

    Nadéshiko ni
Chōchō shiroshi—
    Taré no kon?[11]

[_On the pink-flower there is a white butterfly: whose spirit, I

    Ichi-nichi no
Tsuma to miëkéri—
    Chō futatsu.

[_The one-day wife has at last appeared—a pair of butterflies!_]

    Kité wa maü,
Futari shidzuka no
    Kochō kana!

[_Approaching they dance; but when the two meet at last they are very
quiet, the butterflies!_]

    Chō wo oü

[_Would that I might always have the heart_ (desire) _of chasing

Besides these specimens of poetry about butterflies, I have one queer
example to offer of Japanese prose literature on the same topic. The
original, of which I have attempted only a free translation, can be
found in the curious old book _Mushi-Isamé_ (“Insect-Admonitions”); and
it assumes the form of a discourse to a butterfly. But it is really a
didactic allegory,—suggesting the moral significance of a social rise
and fall:—

“Now, under the sun of spring, the winds are gentle, and flowers pinkly
bloom, and grasses are soft, and the hearts of people are glad.
Butterflies everywhere flutter joyously: so many persons now compose
Chinese verses and Japanese verses about butterflies.

“And this season, O Butterfly, is indeed the season of your bright
prosperity: so comely you now are that in the whole world there is
nothing more comely. For that reason all other insects admire and envy
you;—there is not among them even one that does not envy you. Nor do
insects alone regard you with envy: men also both envy and admire you.
Sōshū of China, in a dream, assumed your shape;—Sakoku of Japan, after
dying, took your form, and therein made ghostly apparition. Nor is the
envy that you inspire shared only by insects and mankind: even things
without soul change their form into yours;—witness the barley-grass,
which turns into a butterfly.[13]

“And therefore you are lifted up with pride, and think to yourself: ‘In
all this world there is nothing superior to me!’ Ah! I can very well
guess what is in your heart: you are too much satisfied with your own
person. That is why you let yourself be blown thus lightly about by
every wind;—that is why you never remain still,—always, always
thinking, ‘In the whole world there is no one so fortunate as I.’

“But now try to think a little about your own personal history. It is
worth recalling; for there is a vulgar side to it. How a vulgar side?
Well, for a considerable time after you were born, you had no such
reason for rejoicing in your form. You were then a mere cabbage-insect,
a hairy worm; and you were so poor that you could not afford even one
robe to cover your nakedness; and your appearance was altogether
disgusting. Everybody in those days hated the sight of you. Indeed you
had good reason to be ashamed of yourself; and so ashamed you were that
you collected old twigs and rubbish to hide in, and you made a
hiding-nest, and hung it to a branch,—and then everybody cried out to
you, ‘Raincoat Insect!’ (_Mino-mushi_.)[14] And during that period of
your life, your sins were grievous. Among the tender green leaves of
beautiful cherry-trees you and your fellows assembled, and there made
ugliness extraordinary; and the expectant eyes of the people, who came
from far away to admire the beauty of those cherry-trees, were hurt by
the sight of you. And of things even more hateful than this you were
guilty. You knew that poor, poor men and women had been cultivating
_daikon_ (2) in their fields,—toiling under the hot sun till their
hearts were filled with bitterness by reason of having to care for that
_daikon;_ and you persuaded your companions to go with you, and to
gather upon the leaves of that _daikon_, and on the leaves of other
vegetables planted by those poor people. Out of your greediness you
ravaged those leaves, and gnawed them into all shapes of
ugliness,—caring nothing for the trouble of those poor folk... Yes,
such a creature you were, and such were your doings.

“And now that you have a comely form, you despise your old comrades,
the insects; and, whenever you happen to meet any of them, you pretend
not to know them [literally, ‘You make an I-don’t-know face’]. Now you
want to have none but wealthy and exalted people for friends... Ah! You
have forgotten the old times, have you?

“It is true that many people have forgotten your past, and are charmed
by the sight of your present graceful shape and white wings, and write
Chinese verses and Japanese verses about you. The high-born damsel, who
could not bear even to look at you in your former shape, now gazes at
you with delight, and wants you to perch upon her hairpin, and holds
out her dainty fan in the hope that you will light upon it. But this
reminds me that there is an ancient Chinese story about you, which is
not pretty.

“In the time of the Emperor Gensō, the Imperial Palace contained
hundreds and thousands of beautiful ladies,—so many, indeed, that it
would have been difficult for any man to decide which among them was
the loveliest. So all of those beautiful persons were assembled
together in one place; and you were set free to fly among them; and it
was decreed that the damsel upon whose hairpin you perched should be
augustly summoned to the Imperial Chamber. In that time there could not
be more than one Empress—which was a good law; but, because of you, the
Emperor Gensō did great mischief in the land. For your mind is light
and frivolous; and although among so many beautiful women there must
have been some persons of pure heart, you would look for nothing but
beauty, and so betook yourself to the person most beautiful in outward
appearance. Therefore many of the female attendants ceased altogether
to think about the right way of women, and began to study how to make
themselves appear splendid in the eyes of men. And the end of it was
that the Emperor Gensō died a pitiful and painful death—all because of
your light and trifling mind. Indeed, your real character can easily be
seen from your conduct in other matters. There are trees, for
example,—such as the evergreen-oak and the pine,—whose leaves do not
fade and fall, but remain always green;—these are trees of firm heart,
trees of solid character. But you say that they are stiff and formal;
and you hate the sight of them, and never pay them a visit. Only to the
cherry-tree, and the _kaido_[15], and the peony, and the yellow rose
you go: those you like because they have showy flowers, and you try
only to please them. Such conduct, let me assure you, is very
unbecoming. Those trees certainly have handsome flowers; but
hunger-satisfying fruits they have not; and they are grateful to those
only who are fond of luxury and show. And that is just the reason why
they are pleased by your fluttering wings and delicate shape;—that is
why they are kind to you.

“Now, in this spring season, while you sportively dance through the
gardens of the wealthy, or hover among the beautiful alleys of
cherry-trees in blossom, you say to yourself: ‘Nobody in the world has
such pleasure as I, or such excellent friends. And, in spite of all
that people may say, I most love the peony,—and the golden yellow rose
is my own darling, and I will obey her every least behest; for that is
my pride and my delight.’... So you say. But the opulent and elegant
season of flowers is very short: soon they will fade and fall. Then, in
the time of summer heat, there will be green leaves only; and presently
the winds of autumn will blow, when even the leaves themselves will
shower down like rain, _parari-parari_. And your fate will then be as
the fate of the unlucky in the proverb, _Tanomi ki no shita ni amé
furu_ [Even through the tree upon which I relied for shelter the rain
leaks down]. For you will seek out your old friend, the root-cutting
insect, the grub, and beg him to let you return into your old-time
hole;—but now having wings, you will not be able to enter the hole
because of them, and you will not be able to shelter your body anywhere
between heaven and earth, and all the moor-grass will then have
withered, and you will not have even one drop of dew with which to
moisten your tongue,—and there will be nothing left for you to do but
to lie down and die. All because of your light and frivolous heart—but,
ah! how lamentable an end!”...


Most of the Japanese stories about butterflies appear, as I have said,
to be of Chinese origin. But I have one which is probably indigenous;
and it seems to me worth telling for the benefit of persons who believe
there is no “romantic love” in the Far East.

Behind the cemetery of the temple of Sōzanji, in the suburbs of the
capital, there long stood a solitary cottage, occupied by an old man
named Takahama. He was liked in the neighborhood, by reason of his
amiable ways; but almost everybody supposed him to be a little mad.
Unless a man take the Buddhist vows, he is expected to marry, and to
bring up a family. But Takahama did not belong to the religious life;
and he could not be persuaded to marry. Neither had he ever been known
to enter into a love-relation with any woman. For more than fifty years
he had lived entirely alone.

One summer he fell sick, and knew that he had not long to live. He then
sent for his sister-in-law, a widow, and for her only son,—a lad of
about twenty years old, to whom he was much attached. Both promptly
came, and did whatever they could to soothe the old man’s last hours.

One sultry afternoon, while the widow and her son were watching at his
bedside, Takahama fell asleep. At the same moment a very large white
butterfly entered the room, and perched upon the sick man’s pillow. The
nephew drove it away with a fan; but it returned immediately to the
pillow, and was again driven away, only to come back a third time. Then
the nephew chased it into the garden, and across the garden, through an
open gate, into the cemetery of the neighboring temple. But it
continued to flutter before him as if unwilling to be driven further,
and acted so queerly that he began to wonder whether it was really a
butterfly, or a _ma_[16]. He again chased it, and followed it far into
the cemetery, until he saw it fly against a tomb,—a woman’s tomb. There
it unaccountably disappeared; and he searched for it in vain. He then
examined the monument. It bore the personal name “Akiko,” (3) together
with an unfamiliar family name, and an inscription stating that Akiko
had died at the age of eighteen. Apparently the tomb had been erected
about fifty years previously: moss had begun to gather upon it. But it
had been well cared for: there were fresh flowers before it; and the
water-tank had recently been filled.

On returning to the sick room, the young man was shocked by the
announcement that his uncle had ceased to breathe. Death had come to
the sleeper painlessly; and the dead face smiled.

The young man told his mother of what he had seen in the cemetery.

“Ah!” exclaimed the widow, “then it must have been Akiko!”...

“But who was Akiko, mother?” the nephew asked.

The widow answered:—

“When your good uncle was young he was betrothed to a charming girl
called Akiko, the daughter of a neighbor. Akiko died of consumption,
only a little before the day appointed for the wedding; and her
promised husband sorrowed greatly. After Akiko had been buried, he made
a vow never to marry; and he built this little house beside the
cemetery, so that he might be always near her grave. All this happened
more than fifty years ago. And every day of those fifty years—winter
and summer alike—your uncle went to the cemetery, and prayed at the
grave, and swept the tomb, and set offerings before it. But he did not
like to have any mention made of the matter; and he never spoke of
it... So, at last, Akiko came for him: the white butterfly was her


I had almost forgotten to mention an ancient Japanese dance, called the
Butterfly Dance (_Kochō-Mai_), which used to be performed in the
Imperial Palace, by dancers costumed as butterflies. Whether it is
danced occasionally nowadays I do not know. It is said to be very
difficult to learn. Six dancers are required for the proper performance
of it; and they must move in particular figures,—obeying traditional
rules for every step, pose, or gesture,—and circling about each other
very slowly to the sound of hand-drums and great drums, small flutes
and great flutes, and pandean pipes of a form unknown to Western Pan.

[Illustration] BUTTERFLY DANCE


With a view to self-protection I have been reading Dr. Howard’s book,
“Mosquitoes.” I am persecuted by mosquitoes. There are several species
in my neighborhood; but only one of them is a serious torment,—a tiny
needly thing, all silver-speckled and silver-streaked. The puncture of
it is sharp as an electric burn; and the mere hum of it has a
lancinating quality of tone which foretells the quality of the pain
about to come,—much in the same way that a particular smell suggests a
particular taste. I find that this mosquito much resembles the creature
which Dr. Howard calls _Stegomyia fasciata_, or _Culex fasciatus:_ and
that its habits are the same as those of the _Stegomyia_. For example,
it is diurnal rather than nocturnal and becomes most troublesome in the
afternoon. And I have discovered that it comes from the Buddhist
cemetery,—a very old cemetery,—in the rear of my garden.

Dr. Howard’s book declares that, in order to rid a neighborhood of
mosquitoes, it is only necessary to pour a little petroleum, or
kerosene oil, into the stagnant water where they breed. Once a week the
oil should be used, “at the rate of once ounce for every fifteen square
feet of water-surface, and a proportionate quantity for any less
surface.” ...But please to consider the conditions in _my_

I have said that my tormentors come from the Buddhist cemetery. Before
nearly every tomb in that old cemetery there is a water-receptacle, or
cistern, called _mizutamé_. In the majority of cases this _mizutamé_ is
simply an oblong cavity chiseled in the broad pedestal supporting the
monument; but before tombs of a costly kind, having no pedestal-tank, a
larger separate tank is placed, cut out of a single block of stone, and
decorated with a family crest, or with symbolic carvings. In front of a
tomb of the humblest class, having no _mizutamé_, water is placed in
cups or other vessels,—for the dead must have water. Flowers also must
be offered to them; and before every tomb you will find a pair of
bamboo cups, or other flower-vessels; and these, of course, contain
water. There is a well in the cemetery to supply water for the graves.
Whenever the tombs are visited by relatives and friends of the dead,
fresh water is poured into the tanks and cups. But as an old cemetery
of this kind contains thousands of _mizutamé_, and tens of thousands of
flower-vessels the water in all of these cannot be renewed every day.
It becomes stagnant and populous. The deeper tanks seldom get dry;—the
rainfall at Tōkyō being heavy enough to keep them partly filled during
nine months out of the twelve.

Well, it is in these tanks and flower-vessels that mine enemies are
born: they rise by millions from the water of the dead;—and, according
to Buddhist doctrine, some of them may be reincarnations of those very
dead, condemned by the error of former lives to the condition of
_Jiki-ketsu-gaki_, or blood-drinking pretas.... Anyhow the malevolence
of the _Culex fasciatus_ would justify the suspicion that some wicked
human soul had been compressed into that wailing speck of a body....

Now, to return to the subject of kerosene-oil, you can exterminate the
mosquitoes of any locality by covering with a film of kerosene all
stagnant water surfaces therein. The larvae die on rising to breathe;
and the adult females perish when they approach the water to launch
their rafts of eggs. And I read, in Dr. Howard’s book, that the actual
cost of freeing from mosquitoes one American town of fifty thousand
inhabitants, does not exceed three hundred dollars!...

I wonder what would be said if the city-government of Tōkyō—which is
aggressively scientific and progressive—were suddenly to command that
all water-surfaces in the Buddhist cemeteries should be covered, at
regular intervals, with a film of kerosene oil! How could the religion
which prohibits the taking of any life—even of invisible life—yield to
such a mandate? Would filial piety even dream of consenting to obey
such an order? And then to think of the cost, in labor and time, of
putting kerosene oil, every seven days, into the millions of
_mizutamé_, and the tens of millions of bamboo flower-cups, in the
Tōkyō graveyards!... Impossible! To free the city from mosquitoes it
would be necessary to demolish the ancient graveyards;—and that would
signify the ruin of the Buddhist temples attached to them;—and that
would mean the disparition of so many charming gardens, with their
lotus-ponds and Sanscrit-lettered monuments and humpy bridges and holy
groves and weirdly-smiling Buddhas! So the extermination of the _Culex
fasciatus_ would involve the destruction of the poetry of the ancestral
cult,—surely too great a price to pay!...

Besides, I should like, when my time comes, to be laid away in some
Buddhist graveyard of the ancient kind,—so that my ghostly company
should be ancient, caring nothing for the fashions and the changes and
the disintegrations of Meiji (1). That old cemetery behind my garden
would be a suitable place. Everything there is beautiful with a beauty
of exceeding and startling queerness; each tree and stone has been
shaped by some old, old ideal which no longer exists in any living
brain; even the shadows are not of this time and sun, but of a world
forgotten, that never knew steam or electricity or magnetism
or—kerosene oil! Also in the boom of the big bell there is a quaintness
of tone which wakens feelings, so strangely far-away from all the
nineteenth-century part of me, that the faint blind stirrings of them
make me afraid,—deliciously afraid. Never do I hear that billowing peal
but I become aware of a striving and a fluttering in the abyssal part
of my ghost,—a sensation as of memories struggling to reach the light
beyond the obscurations of a million million deaths and births. I hope
to remain within hearing of that bell... And, considering the
possibility of being doomed to the state of a _Jiki-ketsu-gaki_, I want
to have my chance of being reborn in some bamboo flower-cup, or
_mizutamé_, whence I might issue softly, singing my thin and pungent
song, to bite some people that I know.



This morning sky, after the night’s tempest, is a pure and dazzling
blue. The air—the delicious air!—is full of sweet resinous odors, shed
from the countless pine-boughs broken and strewn by the gale. In the
neighboring bamboo-grove I hear the flute-call of the bird that praises
the Sûtra of the Lotos; and the land is very still by reason of the
south wind. Now the summer, long delayed, is truly with us: butterflies
of queer Japanese colors are flickering about; semi (1) are wheezing;
wasps are humming; gnats are dancing in the sun; and the ants are busy
repairing their damaged habitations... I bethink me of a Japanese

    Yuku é naki:
Ari no sumai ya!
    Go-getsu amé.

[_Now the poor creature has nowhere to go!... Alas for the dwellings of
the ants in this rain of the fifth month!_]

But those big black ants in my garden do not seem to need any sympathy.
They have weathered the storm in some unimaginable way, while great
trees were being uprooted, and houses blown to fragments, and roads
washed out of existence. Yet, before the typhoon, they took no other
visible precaution than to block up the gates of their subterranean
town. And the spectacle of their triumphant toil to-day impels me to
attempt an essay on Ants.

I should have liked to preface my disquisitions with something from the
old Japanese literature,—something emotional or metaphysical. But all
that my Japanese friends were able to find for me on the
subject,—excepting some verses of little worth,—was Chinese. This
Chinese material consisted chiefly of strange stories; and one of them
seems to me worth quoting,—_faute de mieux_.

In the province of Taishū, in China, there was a pious man who, every
day, during many years, fervently worshiped a certain goddess. One
morning, while he was engaged in his devotions, a beautiful woman,
wearing a yellow robe, came into his chamber and stood before him. He,
greatly surprised, asked her what she wanted, and why she had entered
unannounced. She answered: “I am not a woman: I am the goddess whom you
have so long and so faithfully worshiped; and I have now come to prove
to you that your devotion has not been in vain... Are you acquainted
with the language of Ants?” The worshiper replied: “I am only a
low-born and ignorant person,—not a scholar; and even of the language
of superior men I know nothing.” At these words the goddess smiled, and
drew from her bosom a little box, shaped like an incense box. She
opened the box, dipped a finger into it, and took therefrom some kind
of ointment with which she anointed the ears of the man. “Now,” she
said to him, “try to find some Ants, and when you find any, stoop down,
and listen carefully to their talk. You will be able to understand it;
and you will hear of something to your advantage... Only remember that
you must not frighten or vex the Ants.” Then the goddess vanished away.

The man immediately went out to look for some Ants. He had scarcely
crossed the threshold of his door when he perceived two Ants upon a
stone supporting one of the house-pillars. He stooped over them, and
listened; and he was astonished to find that he could hear them
talking, and could understand what they said. “Let us try to find a
warmer place,” proposed one of the Ants. “Why a warmer place?” asked
the other;—“what is the matter with this place?” “It is too damp and
cold below,” said the first Ant; “there is a big treasure buried here;
and the sunshine cannot warm the ground about it.” Then the two Ants
went away together, and the listener ran for a spade.

By digging in the neighborhood of the pillar, he soon found a number of
large jars full of gold coin. The discovery of this treasure made him a
very rich man.

Afterwards he often tried to listen to the conversation of Ants. But he
was never again able to hear them speak. The ointment of the goddess
had opened his ears to their mysterious language for only a single day.

Now I, like that Chinese devotee, must confess myself a very ignorant
person, and naturally unable to hear the conversation of Ants. But the
Fairy of Science sometimes touches my ears and eyes with her wand; and
then, for a little time, I am able to hear things inaudible, and to
perceive things imperceptible.


For the same reason that it is considered wicked, in sundry circles, to
speak of a non-Christian people having produced a civilization
ethically superior to our own, certain persons will not be pleased by
what I am going to say about ants. But there are men, incomparably
wiser than I can ever hope to be, who think about insects and
civilizations independently of the blessings of Christianity; and I
find encouragement in the new _Cambridge Natural History_, which
contains the following remarks by Professor David Sharp, concerning

“Observation has revealed the most remarkable phenomena in the lives of
these insects. Indeed we can scarcely avoid the conclusion that they
have acquired, in many respects, the art of living together in
societies more perfectly than our own species has; and that they have
anticipated us in the acquisition of some of the industries and arts
that greatly facilitate social life.”

I suppose that a few well-informed persons will dispute this plain
statement by a trained specialist. The contemporary man of science is
not apt to become sentimental about ants or bees; but he will not
hesitate to acknowledge that, in regard to social evolution, these
insects appear to have advanced “beyond man.” Mr. Herbert Spencer, whom
nobody will charge with romantic tendencies, goes considerably further
than Professor Sharp; showing us that ants are, in a very real sense,
_ethically_ as well as economically in advance of humanity,—their lives
being entirely devoted to altruistic ends. Indeed, Professor Sharp
somewhat needlessly qualifies his praise of the ant with this cautious

“The competence of the ant is not like that of man. It is devoted to
the welfare of the species rather than to that of the individual, which
is, as it were, sacrificed or specialized for the benefit of the

—The obvious implication,—that any social state, in which the
improvement of the individual is sacrificed to the common welfare,
leaves much to be desired,—is probably correct, from the actual human
standpoint. For man is yet imperfectly evolved; and human society has
much to gain from his further individualization. But in regard to
social insects the implied criticism is open to question. “The
improvement of the individual,” says Herbert Spencer, “consists in the
better fitting of him for social cooperation; and this, being conducive
to social prosperity, is conducive to the maintenance of the race.” In
other words, the value of the individual can be _only_ in relation to
the society; and this granted, whether the sacrifice of the individual
for the sake of that society be good or evil must depend upon what the
society might gain or lose through a further individualization of its
members... But as we shall presently see, the conditions of ant-society
that most deserve our attention are the ethical conditions; and these
are beyond human criticism, since they realize that ideal of moral
evolution described by Mr. Spencer as “a state in which egoism and
altruism are so conciliated that the one merges into the other.” That
is to say, a state in which the only possible pleasure is the pleasure
of unselfish action. Or, again to quote Mr. Spencer, the activities of
the insect-society are “activities which postpone individual well-being
so completely to the well-being of the community that individual life
appears to be attended to only just so far as is necessary to make
possible due attention to social life,... the individual taking only
just such food and just such rest as are needful to maintain its


I hope my reader is aware that ants practise horticulture and
agriculture; that they are skillful in the cultivation of mushrooms;
that they have domesticated (according to present knowledge) five
hundred and eighty-four different kinds of animals; that they make
tunnels through solid rock; that they know how to provide against
atmospheric changes which might endanger the health of their children;
and that, for insects, their longevity is exceptional,—members of the
more highly evolved species living for a considerable number of years.

But it is not especially of these matters that I wish to speak. What I
want to talk about is the awful propriety, the terrible morality, of
the ant[1]. Our most appalling ideals of conduct fall short of the
ethics of the ant,—as progress is reckoned in time,—by nothing less
than millions of years!... When I say “the ant,” I mean the highest
type of ant,—not, of course, the entire ant-family. About two thousand
species of ants are already known; and these exhibit, in their social
organizations, widely varying degrees of evolution. Certain social
phenomena of the greatest biological importance, and of no less
importance in their strange relation to the subject of ethics, can be
studied to advantage only in the existence of the most highly evolved
societies of ants.

After all that has been written of late years about the probable value
of relative experience in the long life of the ant, I suppose that few
persons would venture to deny individual character to the ant. The
intelligence of the little creature in meeting and overcoming
difficulties of a totally new kind, and in adapting itself to
conditions entirely foreign to its experience, proves a considerable
power of independent thinking. But this at least is certain: that the
ant has no individuality capable of being exercised in a purely selfish
direction;—I am using the word “selfish” in its ordinary acceptation. A
greedy ant, a sensual ant, an ant capable of any one of the seven
deadly sins, or even of a small venial sin, is unimaginable. Equally
unimaginable, of course, a romantic ant, an ideological ant, a poetical
ant, or an ant inclined to metaphysical speculations. No human mind
could attain to the absolute matter-of-fact quality of the ant-mind;—no
human being, as now constituted, could cultivate a mental habit so
impeccably practical as that of the ant. But this superlatively
practical mind is incapable of moral error. It would be difficult,
perhaps, to prove that the ant has no religious ideas. But it is
certain that such ideas could not be of any use to it. The being
incapable of moral weakness is beyond the need of “spiritual guidance.”

Only in a vague way can we conceive the character of ant-society, and
the nature of ant-morality; and to do even this we must try to imagine
some yet impossible state of human society and human morals. Let us,
then, imagine a world full of people incessantly and furiously
working,—all of whom seem to be women. No one of these women could be
persuaded or deluded into taking a single atom of food more than is
needful to maintain her strength; and no one of them ever sleeps a
second longer than is necessary to keep her nervous system in good
working-order. And all of them are so peculiarly constituted that the
least unnecessary indulgence would result in some derangement of

The work daily performed by these female laborers comprises
road-making, bridge-building, timber-cutting, architectural
construction of numberless kinds, horticulture and agriculture, the
feeding and sheltering of a hundred varieties of domestic animals, the
manufacture of sundry chemical products, the storage and conservation
of countless food-stuffs, and the care of the children of the race. All
this labor is done for the commonwealth—no citizen of which is capable
even of thinking about “property,” except as a _res publica;_—and the
sole object of the commonwealth is the nurture and training of its
young,—nearly all of whom are girls. The period of infancy is long: the
children remain for a great while, not only helpless, but shapeless,
and withal so delicate that they must be very carefully guarded against
the least change of temperature. Fortunately their nurses understand
the laws of health: each thoroughly knows all that she ought to know in
regard to ventilation, disinfection, drainage, moisture, and the danger
of germs,—germs being as visible, perhaps, to her myopic sight as they
become to our own eyes under the microscope. Indeed, all matters of
hygiene are so well comprehended that no nurse ever makes a mistake
about the sanitary conditions of her neighborhood.

In spite of this perpetual labor no worker remains unkempt: each is
scrupulously neat, making her toilet many times a day. But as every
worker is born with the most beautiful of combs and brushes attached to
her wrists, no time is wasted in the toilet-room. Besides keeping
themselves strictly clean, the workers must also keep their houses and
gardens in faultless order, for the sake of the children. Nothing less
than an earthquake, an eruption, an inundation, or a desperate war, is
allowed to interrupt the daily routine of dusting, sweeping, scrubbing,
and disinfecting.


Now for stranger facts:—

This world of incessant toil is a more than Vestal world. It is true
that males can sometimes be perceived in it; but they appear only at
particular seasons, and they have nothing whatever to do with the
workers or with the work. None of them would presume to address a
worker,—except, perhaps, under extraordinary circumstances of common
peril. And no worker would think of talking to a male;—for males, in
this queer world, are inferior beings, equally incapable of fighting or
working, and tolerated only as necessary evils. One special class of
females,—the Mothers-Elect of the race,—do condescend to consort with
males, during a very brief period, at particular seasons. But the
Mothers-Elect do not work; and they _must_ accept husbands. A worker
could not even dream of keeping company with a male,—not merely because
such association would signify the most frivolous waste of time, nor
yet because the worker necessarily regards all males with unspeakable
contempt; but because the worker is incapable of wedlock. Some workers,
indeed, are capable of parthenogenesis, and give birth to children who
never had fathers. As a general rule, however, the worker is truly
feminine by her moral instincts only: she has all the tenderness, the
patience, and the foresight that we call “maternal;” but her sex has
disappeared, like the sex of the Dragon-Maiden in the Buddhist legend.

For defense against creatures of prey, or enemies of the state, the
workers are provided with weapons; and they are furthermore protected
by a large military force. The warriors are so much bigger than the
workers (in some communities, at least) that it is difficult, at first
sight, to believe them of the same race. Soldiers one hundred times
larger than the workers whom they guard are not uncommon. But all these
soldiers are Amazons,—or, more correctly speaking, semi-females. They
can work sturdily; but being built for fighting and for heavy pulling
chiefly, their usefulness is restricted to those directions in which
force, rather than skill, is required.

[Why females, rather than males, should have been evolutionally
specialized into soldiery and laborers may not be nearly so simple a
question as it appears. I am very sure of not being able to answer it.
But natural economy may have decided the matter. In many forms of life,
the female greatly exceeds the male in bulk and in energy;—perhaps, in
this case, the larger reserve of life-force possessed originally by the
complete female could be more rapidly and effectively utilized for the
development of a special fighting-caste. All energies which, in the
fertile female, would be expended in the giving of life seem here to
have been diverted to the evolution of aggressive power, or

Of the true females,—the Mothers-Elect,—there are very few indeed; and
these are treated like queens. So constantly and so reverentially are
they waited upon that they can seldom have any wishes to express. They
are relieved from every care of existence,—except the duty of bearing
offspring. Night and day they are cared for in every possible manner.
They alone are superabundantly and richly fed:—for the sake of the
offspring they must eat and drink and repose right royally; and their
physiological specialization allows of such indulgence _ad libitum_.
They seldom go out, and never unless attended by a powerful escort; as
they cannot be permitted to incur unnecessary fatigue or danger.
Probably they have no great desire to go out. Around them revolves the
whole activity of the race: all its intelligence and toil and thrift
are directed solely toward the well-being of these Mothers and of their

But last and least of the race rank the husbands of these Mothers,—the
necessary Evils,—the males. They appear only at a particular season, as
I have already observed; and their lives are very short. Some cannot
even boast of noble descent, though destined to royal wedlock; for they
are not royal offspring, but virgin-born,—parthenogenetic
children,—and, for that reason especially, inferior beings, the chance
results of some mysterious atavism. But of any sort of males the
commonwealth tolerates but few,—barely enough to serve as husbands for
the Mothers-Elect, and these few perish almost as soon as their duty
has been done. The meaning of Nature’s law, in this extraordinary
world, is identical with Ruskin’s teaching that life without effort is
crime; and since the males are useless as workers or fighters, their
existence is of only momentary importance. They are not, indeed,
sacrificed,—like the Aztec victim chosen for the festival of
Tezcatlipoca, and allowed a honeymoon of twenty days before his heart
was torn out. But they are scarcely less unfortunate in their high
fortune. Imagine youths brought up in the knowledge that they are
destined to become royal bridegrooms for a single night,—that after
their bridal they will have no moral right to live,—that marriage, for
each and all of them, will signify certain death,—and that they cannot
even hope to be lamented by their young widows, who will survive them
for a time of many generations...!


But all the foregoing is no more than a proem to the real “Romance of
the Insect-World.”

—By far the most startling discovery in relation to this astonishing
civilization is that of the suppression of sex. In certain advanced
forms of ant-life sex totally disappears in the majority of
individuals;—in nearly all the higher ant-societies sex-life appears to
exist only to the extent absolutely needed for the continuance of the
species. But the biological fact in itself is much less startling than
the ethical suggestion which it offers;—_for this practical
suppression, or regulation, of sex-faculty appears to be voluntary!_
Voluntary, at least, so far as the species is concerned. It is now
believed that these wonderful creatures have learned how to develop, or
to arrest the development, of sex in their young,—by some particular
mode of nutrition. They have succeeded in placing under perfect control
what is commonly supposed to be the most powerful and unmanageable of
instincts. And this rigid restraint of sex-life to within the limits
necessary to provide against extinction is but one (though the most
amazing) of many vital economies effected by the race. Every capacity
for egoistic pleasure—in the common meaning of the word “egoistic”—has
been equally repressed through physiological modification. No
indulgence of any natural appetite is possible except to that degree in
which such indulgence can directly or indirectly benefit the
species;—even the indispensable requirements of food and sleep being
satisfied only to the exact extent necessary for the maintenance of
healthy activity. The individual can exist, act, think, only for the
communal good; and the commune triumphantly refuses, in so far as
cosmic law permits, to let itself be ruled either by Love or Hunger.

Most of us have been brought up in the belief that without some kind of
religious creed—some hope of future reward or fear of future
punishment—no civilization could exist. We have been taught to think
that in the absence of laws based upon moral ideas, and in the absence
of an effective police to enforce such laws, nearly everybody would
seek only his or her personal advantage, to the disadvantage of
everybody else. The strong would then destroy the weak; pity and
sympathy would disappear; and the whole social fabric would fall to
pieces... These teachings confess the existing imperfection of human
nature; and they contain obvious truth. But those who first proclaimed
that truth, thousands and thousands of years ago, never imagined a form
of social existence in which selfishness would be _naturally_
impossible. It remained for irreligious Nature to furnish us with proof
positive that there can exist a society in which the pleasure of active
beneficence makes needless the idea of duty,—a society in which
instinctive morality can dispense with ethical codes of every sort,—a
society of which every member is born so absolutely unselfish, and so
energetically good, that moral training could signify, even for its
youngest, neither more nor less than waste of precious time.

To the Evolutionist such facts necessarily suggest that the value of
our moral idealism is but temporary; and that something better than
virtue, better than kindness, better than self-denial,—in the present
human meaning of those terms,—might, under certain conditions,
eventually replace them. He finds himself obliged to face the question
whether a world without moral notions might not be morally better than
a world in which conduct is regulated by such notions. He must even ask
himself whether the existence of religious commandments, moral laws,
and ethical standards among ourselves does not prove us still in a very
primitive stage of social evolution. And these questions naturally lead
up to another: Will humanity ever be able, on this planet, to reach an
ethical condition beyond all its ideals,—a condition in which
everything that we now call evil will have been atrophied out of
existence, and everything that we call virtue have been transmuted into
instinct;—a state of altruism in which ethical concepts and codes will
have become as useless as they would be, even now, in the societies of
the higher ants.

The giants of modern thought have given some attention to this
question; and the greatest among them has answered it—partly in the
affirmative. Herbert Spencer has expressed his belief that humanity
will arrive at some state of civilization ethically comparable with
that of the ant:—

“If we have, in lower orders of creatures, cases in which the nature is
constitutionally so modified that altruistic activities have become one
with egoistic activities, there is an irresistible implication that a
parallel identification will, under parallel conditions, take place
among human beings. Social insects furnish us with instances completely
to the point,—and instances showing us, indeed, to what a marvelous
degree the life of the individual may be absorbed in subserving the
lives of other individuals... Neither the ant nor the bee can be
supposed to have a sense of duty, in the acceptation we give to that
word; nor can it be supposed that it is continually undergoing
self-sacrifice, in the ordinary acceptation of that word... [The facts]
show us that it is within the possibilities of organization to produce
a nature which shall be just as energetic in the pursuit of altruistic
ends, as is in other cases shown in the pursuit of egoistic ends;—and
they show that, in such cases, these altruistic ends are pursued in
pursuing ends which, on their other face, are egoistic. For the
satisfaction of the needs of the organization, these actions, conducive
to the welfare of others, _must_ be carried on...

“So far from its being true that there must go on, throughout all the
future, a condition in which self-regard is to be continually subjected
by the regard for others, it will, contrari-wise, be the case that a
regard for others will eventually become so large a source of pleasure
as to overgrow the pleasure which is derivable from direct egoistic
gratification... Eventually, then, there will come also a state in
which egoism and altruism are so conciliated that the one merges in the


Of course the foregoing prediction does not imply that human nature
will ever undergo such physiological change as would be represented by
structural specializations comparable to those by which the various
castes of insect societies are differentiated. We are not bidden to
imagine a future state of humanity in which the active majority would
consist of semi-female workers and Amazons toiling for an inactive
minority of selected Mothers. Even in his chapter, “Human Population in
the Future,” Mr. Spencer has attempted no detailed statement of the
physical modifications inevitable to the production of higher moral
types,—though his general statement in regard to a perfected nervous
system, and a great diminution of human fertility, suggests that such
moral evolution would signify a very considerable amount of physical
change. If it be legitimate to believe in a future humanity to which
the pleasure of mutual beneficence will represent the whole joy of
life, would it not also be legitimate to imagine other transformations,
physical and moral, which the facts of insect-biology have proved to be
within the range of evolutional possibility?... I do not know. I most
worshipfully reverence Herbert Spencer as the greatest philosopher who
has yet appeared in this world; and I should be very sorry to write
down anything contrary to his teaching, in such wise that the reader
could imagine it to have been inspired by Synthetic Philosophy. For the
ensuing reflections, I alone am responsible; and if I err, let the sin
be upon my own head.

I suppose that the moral transformations predicted by Mr. Spencer,
could be effected only with the aid of physiological change, and at a
terrible cost. Those ethical conditions manifested by insect-societies
can have been reached only through effort desperately sustained for
millions of years against the most atrocious necessities. Necessities
equally merciless may have to be met and mastered eventually by the
human race. Mr. Spencer has shown that the time of the greatest
possible human suffering is yet to come, and that it will be
concomitant with the period of the greatest possible pressure of
population. Among other results of that long stress, I understand that
there will be a vast increase in human intelligence and sympathy; and
that this increase of intelligence will be effected at the cost of
human fertility. But this decline in reproductive power will not, we
are told, be sufficient to assure the very highest of social
conditions: it will only relieve that pressure of population which has
been the main cause of human suffering. The state of perfect social
equilibrium will be approached, but never quite reached, by mankind—

_Unless there be discovered some means of solving economic problems,
just as social insects have solved them, by the suppression of

Supposing that such a discovery were made, and that the human race
should decide to arrest the development of sex in the majority of its
young,—so as to effect a transferrence of those forces, now demanded by
sex-life to the development of higher activities,—might not the result
be an eventual state of polymorphism, like that of ants? And, in such
event, might not the Coming Race be indeed represented in its higher
types,—through feminine rather than masculine evolution,—by a majority
of beings of neither sex?

Considering how many persons, even now, through merely unselfish (not
to speak of religious) motives, sentence themselves to celibacy, it
should not appear improbable that a more highly evolved humanity would
cheerfully sacrifice a large proportion of its sex-life for the common
weal, particularly in view of certain advantages to be gained. Not the
least of such advantages—always supposing that mankind were able to
control sex-life after the natural manner of the ants—would be a
prodigious increase of longevity. The higher types of a humanity
superior to sex might be able to realize the dream of life for a
thousand years.

Already we find lives too short for the work we have to do; and with
the constantly accelerating progress of discovery, and the
never-ceasing expansion of knowledge, we shall certainly find more and
more reason to regret, as time goes on, the brevity of existence. That
Science will ever discover the Elixir of the Alchemists’ hope is
extremely unlikely. The Cosmic Powers will not allow us to cheat them.
For every advantage which they yield us the full price must be paid:
nothing for nothing is the everlasting law. Perhaps the price of long
life will prove to be the price that the ants have paid for it.
Perhaps, upon some elder planet, that price has already been paid, and
the power to produce offspring restricted to a caste morphologically
differentiated, in unimaginable ways, from the rest of the species...


But while the facts of insect-biology suggest so much in regard to the
future course of human evolution, do they not also suggest something of
largest significance concerning the relation of ethics to cosmic law?
Apparently, the highest evolution will not be permitted to creatures
capable of what human moral experience has in all areas condemned.
Apparently, the highest possible strength is the strength of
unselfishness; and power supreme never will be accorded to cruelty or
to lust. There may be no gods; but the forces that shape and dissolve
all forms of being would seem to be much more exacting than gods. To
prove a “dramatic tendency” in the ways of the stars is not possible;
but the cosmic process seems nevertheless to affirm the worth of every
human system of ethics fundamentally opposed to human egoism.



 [1] See my _Kottō_, for a description of these curious crabs.

 [2] Or, Shimonoséki. The town is also known by the name of Bakkan.

 [3] The _biwa_, a kind of four-stringed lute, is chiefly used in
 musical recitative. Formerly the professional minstrels who recited
 the _Heiké-Monogatari_, and other tragical histories, were called
 _biwa-hōshi_, or “lute-priests.” The origin of this appellation is not
 clear; but it is possible that it may have been suggested by the fact
 that “lute-priests” as well as blind shampooers, had their heads
 shaven, like Buddhist priests. The _biwa_ is played with a kind of
 plectrum, called _bachi_, usually made of horn.

(1) A response to show that one has heard and is listening attentively.

 [4] A respectful term, signifying the opening of a gate. It was used
 by samurai when calling to the guards on duty at a lord’s gate for

 [5] Or the phrase might be rendered, “for the pity of that part is the
 deepest.” The Japanese word for pity in the original text is

 [6] “Traveling incognito” is at least the meaning of the original
 phrase,—“making a disguised august-journey” (_shinobi no go-ryokō_).

 [7] The Smaller Pragña-Pâramitâ-Hridaya-Sûtra is thus called in
 Japanese. Both the smaller and larger sûtras called Pragña-Pâramitâ
 (“Transcendent Wisdom”) have been translated by the late Professor Max
 Müller, and can be found in volume xlix. of the _Sacred Books of the
 East_ (“Buddhist Mahayana Sûtras”).—Apropos of the magical use of the
 text, as described in this story, it is worth remarking that the
 subject of the sûtra is the Doctrine of the Emptiness of Forms,—that
 is to say, of the unreal character of all phenomena or noumena...
 “Form is emptiness; and emptiness is form. Emptiness is not different
 from form; form is not different from emptiness. What is form—that is
 emptiness. What is emptiness—that is form... Perception, name,
 concept, and knowledge, are also emptiness... There is no eye, ear,
 nose, tongue, body, and mind... But when the envelopment of
 consciousness has been annihilated, then he [_the seeker_] becomes
 free from all fear, and beyond the reach of change, enjoying final


 [1] From ancient time, in the Far East, these birds have been regarded
 as emblems of conjugal affection.

 [2] There is a pathetic double meaning in the third verse; for the
 syllables composing the proper name _Akanuma_ (“Red Marsh”) may also
 be read as _akanu-ma_, signifying “the time of our inseparable (or
 delightful) relation.” So the poem can also be thus rendered:—“When
 the day began to fail, I had invited him to accompany me...! Now,
 after the time of that happy relation, what misery for the one who
 must slumber alone in the shadow of the rushes!”—The _makomo_ is a
 short of large rush, used for making baskets.


(1) “-sama” is a polite suffix attached to personal names.

(2) A Buddhist term commonly used to signify a kind of heaven.

 [1] The Buddhist term _zokumyō_ (“profane name”) signifies the
 personal name, borne during life, in contradistinction to the _kaimyō_
 (“sila-name”) or _homyō_ (“Law-name”) given after death,—religious
 posthumous appellations inscribed upon the tomb, and upon the mortuary
 tablet in the parish-temple.—For some account of these, see my paper
 entitled, “The Literature of the Dead,” in _Exotics and

 [2] Buddhist household shrine.

(3) Direct translation of a Japanese form of address used toward young,
unmarried women.


(1) The spacious house and grounds of a wealthy person is thus called.

(2) A Buddhist service for the dead.


(1) Part of present-day Shizuoka Prefecture.

(2) The two-hour period between 1 AM and 3 AM.

(3) A monetary unit.


(1) The southern part of present-day Gifu Prefecture.

 [1] Literally, a man-eating goblin. The Japanese narrator gives also
 the Sanscrit term, “Râkshasa;” but this word is quite as vague as
 _jikininki_, since there are many kinds of Râkshasas. Apparently the
 word _jikininki_ signifies here one of the
 _Baramon-Rasetsu-Gaki_,—forming the twenty-sixth class of pretas
 enumerated in the old Buddhist books.

 [2] A _Ségaki_-service is a special Buddhist service performed on
 behalf of beings supposed to have entered into the condition of _gaki_
 (pretas), or hungry spirits. For a brief account of such a service,
 see my _Japanese Miscellany_.

 [3] Literally, “five-circle [or five-zone] stone.” A funeral monument
 consisting of five parts superimposed,—each of a different
 form,—symbolizing the five mystic elements: Ether, Air, Fire, Water,


(1) A kind of badger. Certain animals were thought to be able to
transform themselves and cause mischief for humans.

 [1] O-jochū (“honorable damsel”), a polite form of address used in
 speaking to a young lady whom one does not know.

(2) An apparition with a smooth, totally featureless face, called a
“nopperabo,” is a stock part of the Japanese pantheon of ghosts and

 [2] Soba is a preparation of buckwheat, somewhat resembling

(3) An exclamation of annoyed alarm.

(4) Well!


 [1] The period of Eikyō lasted from 1429 to 1441.

 [2] The upper robe of a Buddhist priest is thus called.

(1) Present-day Yamanashi Prefecture.

(2) A term for itinerant priests.

 [3] A sort of little fireplace, contrived in the floor of a room, is
 thus described. The _ro_ is usually a square shallow cavity, lined
 with metal and half-filled with ashes, in which charcoal is lighted.

(3) Direct translation of “suzumushi,” a kind of cricket with a
distinctive chirp like a tiny bell, whence the name.

(4) Now a rokuro-kubi is ordinarily conceived as a goblin whose neck
stretches out to great lengths, but which nevertheless always remains
attached to its body.

(5) A Chinese collection of stories on the supernatural.

 [4] A present made to friends or to the household on returning from a
 journey is thus called. Ordinarily, of course, the _miyagé_ consists
 of something produced in the locality to which the journey has been
 made: this is the point of Kwairyō’s jest.

(6) Present-day Nagano Prefecture.


(1) On the present-day map, Tamba corresponds roughly to the central
area of Kyōto Prefecture and part of Hyogo Prefecture.

 [1] The Hour of the Rat (_Né-no-Koku_), according to the old Japanese
 method of reckoning time, was the first hour. It corresponded to the
 time between our midnight and two o’clock in the morning; for the
 ancient Japanese hours were each equal to two modern hours.

 [2] _Kaimyō_, the posthumous Buddhist name, or religious name, given
 to the dead. Strictly speaking, the meaning of the word is sila-name.
 (See my paper entitled, “The Literature of the Dead” in _Exotics and


(1) An ancient province whose boundaries took in most of present-day
Tōkyō, and parts of Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures.

 [1] That is to say, with a floor-surface of about six feet square.

 [2] This name, signifying “Snow,” is not uncommon. On the subject of
 Japanese female names, see my paper in the volume entitled

(2) Also spelled Edo, the former name of Tōkyō.


(1) An ancient province corresponding to the northern part of
present-day Ishikawa Prefecture.

(2) An ancient province corresponding to the eastern part of
present-day Fukui Prefecture.

 [1] The name signifies “Green Willow;”—though rarely met with, it is
 still in use.

 [2] The poem may be read in two ways; several of the phrases having a
 double meaning. But the art of its construction would need
 considerable space to explain, and could scarcely interest the Western
 reader. The meaning which Tomotada desired to convey might be thus
 expressed:—“While journeying to visit my mother, I met with a being
 lovely as a flower; and for the sake of that lovely person, I am
 passing the day here... Fair one, wherefore that dawn-like blush
 before the hour of dawn?—can it mean that you love me?”

 [3] Another reading is possible; but this one gives the signification
 of the _answer_ intended.

 [4] So the Japanese story-teller would have us believe,—although the
 verses seem commonplace in translation. I have tried to give only
 their general meaning: an effective literal translation would require
 some scholarship.


(1) Present-day Ehime Prefecture.


(1) Present-day Nara Prefecture.

 [1] This name “Tokoyo” is indefinite. According to circumstances it
 may signify any unknown country,—or that undiscovered country from
 whose bourn no traveler returns,—or that Fairyland of far-eastern
 fable, the Realm of Hōrai. The term “Kokuō” means the ruler of a
 country,—therefore a king. The original phrase, _Tokoyo no Kokuō_,
 might be rendered here as “the Ruler of Hōrai,” or “the King of

 [2] The last phrase, according to old custom, had to be uttered by
 both attendants at the same time. All these ceremonial observances can
 still be studied on the Japanese stage.

 [3] This was the name given to the estrade, or dais, upon which a
 feudal prince or ruler sat in state. The term literally signifies
 “great seat.”


(1) Kana: the Japanese phonetic alphabet.

(2) “So-and-so”: appellation used by Hearn in place of the real name.

(3) A section of Tōkyō.

 [1] A square piece of cotton-goods, or other woven material, used as a
 wrapper in which to carry small packages.

(4) Ten yen is nothing now, but was a formidable sum then.



(1) Haiku.

 [1] “The modest nymph beheld her God, and blushed.” (Or, in a more
 familiar rendering: “The modest water saw its God, and blushed.”) In
 this line the double value of the word _nympha_—used by classical
 poets both in the meaning of fountain and in that of the divinity of a
 fountain, or spring—reminds one of that graceful playing with words
 which Japanese poets practice.

 [2] More usually written _nugi-kakéru_, which means either “to take
 off and hang up,” or “to begin to take off,”—as in the above poem.
 More loosely, but more effectively, the verses might thus be rendered:
 “Like a woman slipping off her haori—that is the appearance of a
 butterfly.” One must have seen the Japanese garment described, to
 appreciate the comparison. The haori is a silk upper-dress,—a kind of
 sleeved cloak,—worn by both sexes; but the poem suggests a woman’s
 _haori_, which is usually of richer color or material. The sleeves are
 wide; and the lining is usually of brightly-colored silk, often
 beautifully variegated. In taking off the haori, the brilliant lining
 is displayed,—and at such an instant the fluttering splendor might
 well be likened to the appearance of a butterfly in motion.

 [3] The bird-catcher’s pole is smeared with bird-lime; and the verses
 suggest that the insect is preventing the man from using his pole, by
 persistently getting in the way of it,—as the birds might take warning
 from seeing the butterfly limed. _Jama suru_ means “to hinder” or

 [4] Even while it is resting, the wings of the butterfly may be seen
 to quiver at moments,—as if the creature were dreaming of flight.

 [5] A little poem by Bashō, greatest of all Japanese composers of
 _hokku_. The verses are intended to suggest the joyous feeling of

 [6] Literally, “a windless day;” but two negatives in Japanese poetry
 do not necessarily imply an affirmative, as in English. The meaning
 is, that although there is no wind, the fluttering motion of the
 butterflies suggests, to the eyes at least, that a strong breeze is

 [7] Alluding to the Buddhist proverb: _Rakkwa éda ni kaërazu; ha-kyō
 futatabi terasazu_ (“The fallen flower returns not to the branch; the
 broken mirror never again reflects.”) So says the proverb—yet it
 seemed to me that I saw a fallen flower return to the branch... No: it
 was only a butterfly.

 [8] Alluding probably to the light fluttering motion of falling

 [9] That is to say, the grace of their motion makes one think of the
 grace of young girls, daintily costumed, in robes with long fluttering
 sleeves... And old Japanese proverb declares that even a devil is
 pretty at eighteen: _Oni mo jiu-hachi azami no hana:_ “Even a devil at
 eighteen, flower-of-the-thistle.”

 [10] Or perhaps the verses might be more effectively rendered thus:
 “Happy together, do you say? Yes—if we should be reborn as
 field-butterflies in some future life: then we might accord!” This
 poem was composed by the celebrated poet Issa, on the occasion of
 divorcing his wife.

 [11] Or, _Taré no tama?_

 [12] Literally, “Butterfly-pursuing heart I wish to have
 always;”—_i.e._, I would that I might always be able to find pleasure
 in simple things, like a happy child.

 [13] An old popular error,—probably imported from China.

 [14] A name suggested by the resemblance of the larva’s artificial
 covering to the _mino_, or straw-raincoat, worn by Japanese peasants.
 I am not sure whether the dictionary rendering, “basket-worm,” is
 quite correct;—but the larva commonly called _minomushi_ does really
 construct for itself something much like the covering of the

(2) A very large, white radish. “Daikon” literally means “big root.”

 [15] _Pyrus spectabilis_.

 [16] An evil spirit.

(3) A common female name.


(1) Meiji: The period in which Hearn wrote this book. It lasted from
1868 to 1912, and was a time when Japan plunged head-first into
Western-style modernization. By the “fashions and the changes and the
disintegrations of Meiji” Hearn is lamenting that this process of
modernization was destroying some of the good things in traditional
Japanese culture.


(1) Cicadas.

 [1] An interesting fact in this connection is that the Japanese word
 for ant, _ari_, is represented by an ideograph formed of the character
 for “insect” combined with the character signifying “moral rectitude,”
 “propriety” (_giri_). So the Chinese character actually means “The


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