The Peony Lantern – Romance & Karma

April 24, 2009


This story is beautiful, full of vivid characters and has haunted me for many years. So now I present it here, it is not my work, it was written by Lafcadio Hearn, published 1899, in Japan in a book called: In Ghostly Japan

It is available in project Gutenberg at: and Many thanks to the people at Project Gutenberg -see end of file.

A Passional Karma

–This is the story of the Ghosts in the Romance of the Peony-Lantern:–


There once lived in the district of Ushigome, in Yedo, a hatamoto (1) called Iijima Heizayemon, whose only daughter, Tsuyu, was beautiful as her name, which signifies “Morning Dew.” Iijima took

a second wife when his daughter was about sixteen; and, findingthat O-Tsuyu could not be happy with her mother-in-law, he had apretty villa built for the girl at Yanagijima, as a separate

residence, and gave her an excellent maidservant, called O-Yone,to wait upon her.

O-Tsuyu lived happily enough in her new home until one day when

the family physician, Yamamoto Shijo, paid her a visit in company

with a young samurai named Hagiwara Shinzaburo, who resided in

the Nedzu quarter. Shinzaburo was an unusually handsome lad, and

very gentle; and the two young people fell in love with each

other at sight. Even before the brief visit was over, they

contrived,–unheard by the old doctor,–to pledge themselves to

each other for life. And, at parting, O-Tsuyu whispered to the

youth,–“Remember! If you do not come to see me again, I shall

certainly die!”

Shinzaburo never forgot those words; and he was only too eager to

see more of O-Tsuyu. But etiquette forbade him to make the visit

alone: he was obliged to wait for some other chance to accompany

the doctor, who had promised to take him to the villa a second

time. Unfortunately the old man did not keep this promise. He had

perceived the sudden affection of O-Tsuyu; and he feared that her

father would hold him responsible for any serious results. Iijima

Heizayemon had a reputation for cutting off heads. And the more

Shijo thought about the possible consequences of his introduction

of Shinzaburo at the Iijima villa, the more he became afraid.

Therefore he purposely abstained from calling upon his young


Months passed; and O-Tsuyu, little imagining the true cause of

Shinzaburo’s neglect, believed that her love had been scorned.

Then she pined away, and died. Soon afterwards, the faithful

servant O-Yone also died, through grief at the loss of her

mistress; and the two were buried side by side in the cemetery of

Shin-Banzui-In,–a temple which still stands in the neighborhood

of Dango-Zaka, where the famous chrysanthemum-shows are yearly


(1) The hatamoto were samurai forming the special military forceof the Shogun. The name literally signifies "Banner-Supporters."These were the highest class of samurai,--not only as theimmediate vassals of the Shogun, but as a military aristocracy.


Shinzaburo knew nothing of what had happened; but his

disappointment and his anxiety had resulted in a prolonged

illness. He was slowly recovering, but still very weak, when he

unexpectedly received another visit from Yamamoto Shijo. The old

man made a number of plausible excuses for his apparent neglect.

Shinzaburo said to him:–“I have been sick ever since the

beginning of spring;–even now I cannot eat anything…. Was it

not rather unkind of you never to call? I thought that we were to

make another visit together to the house of the Lady Iijima; and

I wanted to take to her some little present as a return for our

kind reception. Of course I could not go by myself.”

Shijo gravely responded,–“I am very sorry to tell you that the

young lady is dead!”

“Dead!” repeated Shinzaburo, turning white,–“did you say that

she is dead?”

The doctor remained silent for a moment, as if collecting

himself: then he resumed, in the quick light tone of a man

resolved not to take trouble seriously:–

“My great mistake was in having introduced you to her; for it

seems that she fell in love with you at once. I am afraid that

you must have said something to encourage this affection–when

you were in that little room together. At all events, I saw how

she felt towards you; and then I became uneasy,–fearing that her

father might come to hear of the matter, and lay the whole blame

upon me. So–to be quite frank with you,–I decided that it would

be better not to call upon you; and I purposely stayed away for a

long time. But, only a few days ago, happening to visit Iijima’s

house, I heard, to my great surprise, that his daughter had died,

and that her servant O-Yone had also died. Then, remembering all

that had taken place, I knew that the young lady must have died

of love for you…. [Laughing] Ah, you are really a sinful

fellow! Yes, you are! [Laughing] Isn’t it a sin to have been born

so handsome that the girls die for love of you? (1) [Seriously]

Well, we must leave the dead to the dead. It is no use to talk

further about the matter;–all that you now can do for her is to

repeat the Nembutsu (2)….  Good-bye.”

And the old man retired hastily,–anxious to avoid further

converse about the painful event for which he felt himself to

have been unwittingly responsible.

(1) Perhaps this conversation may seem strange to the Western reader; but it is true to life. The whole of the scene is characteristically Japanese.
(2) The invocation Namu Amida Butsu! ("Hail to the Buddha Amitabha!"),--repeated, as a prayer, for the sake of the dead.


Shinzaburo long remained stupefied with grief by the news of O-

Tsuyu’s death. But as soon as he found himself again able to

think clearly, he inscribed the dead girl’s name upon a mortuary

tablet, and placed the tablet in the Buddhist shrine of his

house, and set offerings before it, and recited prayers. Every

day thereafter he presented offerings, and repeated the Nembutsu;

and the memory of O-Tsuyu was never absent from his thought.

Nothing occurred to change the monotony of his solitude before

the time of the Bon,–the great Festival of the Dead,–which

begins upon the thirteenth day of the seventh month. Then he

decorated his house, and prepared everything for the festival;–

hanging out the lanterns that guide the returning spirits, and

setting the food of ghosts on the shoryodana, or Shelf of Souls.

And on the first evening of the Ban, after sun-down, he kindled a

small lamp before the tablet of O-Tsuyu, and lighted the


The night was clear, with a great moon,–and windless, and very

warm. Shinzaburo sought the coolness of his veranda. Clad only in

a light summer-robe, he sat there thinking, dreaming, sorrowing;

–sometimes fanning himself; sometimes making a little smoke to

drive the mosquitoes away. Everything was quiet. It was a

lonesome neighborhood, and there were few passers-by. He could

hear only the soft rushing of a neighboring stream, and the

shrilling of night-insects.

But all at once this stillness was broken by a sound of women’s

geta (1) approaching–kara-kon, kara-kon;–and the sound drew

nearer and nearer, quickly, till it reached the live-hedge

surrounding the garden. Then Shinzabur�, feeling curious, stood

on tiptoe, so as to look Over the hedge; and he saw two women

passing. One, who was carrying a beautiful lantern decorated with

peony-flowers,(2) appeared to be a servant;–the other was a

slender girl of about seventeen, wearing a long-sleeved robe

embroidered with designs of autumn-blossoms. Almost at the same

instant both women turned their faces toward Shinzaburo;–and to

his utter astonishment, he recognized O-Tsuyu and her servant O-


They stopped immediately; and the girl cried out,–“Oh, how

strange!… Hagiwara Sama!”

Shinzaburo simultaneously called to the maid:–“O-Yone! Ah, you

are O-Yone!–I remember you very well.”

“Hagiwara Sama!” exclaimed O-Yone in a tone of supreme amazement.

“Never could I have believed it possible!… Sir, we were told

that you had died.”

“How extraordinary!” cried Shinzaburo. “Why, I was told that both

of you were dead!”

“Ah, what a hateful story!” returned O-Yone. “Why repeat such

unlucky words?… Who told you?”

“Please to come in,” said Shinzaburo;–“here we can talk better.

The garden-gate is open.”

So they entered, and exchanged greeting; and when Shinzaburo had

made them comfortable, he said:–

“I trust that you will pardon my discourtesy in not having called

upon you for so long a time. But Shijo, the doctor, about a month

ago, told me that you had both died.”

“So it was he who told you?” exclaimed O-Yone. “It was very

wicked of him to say such a thing. Well, it was also Shijo who

told us that you were dead. I think that he wanted to deceive

you,–which was not a difficult thing to do, because you are so

confiding and trustful. Possibly my mistress betrayed her liking

for you in some words which found their way to her father’s ears;

and, in that case, O-Kuni–the new wife–might have planned to

make the doctor tell you that we were dead, so as to bring about

a separation. Anyhow, when my mistress heard that you had died,

she wanted to cut off her hair immediately, and to become a nun.

But I was able to prevent her from cutting off her hair; and I

persuaded her at last to become a nun only in her heart.

Afterwards her father wished her to marry a certain young man;

and she refused. Then there was a great deal of trouble,–chiefly

caused by O-Kuni;–and we went away from the villa, and found a

very small house in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. There we are now just

barely able to live, by doing a little private work…. My

mistress has been constantly repeating the Nembutsu for your

sake. To-day, being the first day of the Bon, we went to visit

the temples; and we were on our way home–thus late–when this

strange meeting happened.”

“Oh, how extraordinary!” cried Shinzaburo. “Can it be true?-or is

it only a dream? Here I, too, have been constantly reciting the

Nembutsu before a tablet with her name upon it! Look!” And he

showed them O-Tsuyu’s tablet in its place upon the Shelf of


“We are more than grateful for your kind remembrance,” returned

O-Yone, smiling…. “Now as for my mistress,”–she continued,

turning towards O-Tsuyu, who had all the while remained demure

and silent, half-hiding her face with her sleeve,–“as for my

mistress, she actually says that she would not mind being

disowned by her father for the time of seven existences,(3) or

even being killed by him, for your sake! Come! will you not allow

her to stay here to-night?”

Shinzaburo turned pale for joy. He answered in a voice trembling

with emotion:–“Please remain; but do not speak loud–because

there is a troublesome fellow living close by,–a ninsomi (4)

called Hakuodo Yusai, who tells peoples fortunes by looking at

their faces. He is inclined to be curious; and it is better that

he should not know.”

The two women remained that night in the house of the young

samurai, and returned to their own home a little before daybreak.

And after that night they came every nighht for seven nights,–

whether the weather were foul or fair,–always at the same hour.

And Shinzaburo became more and more attached to the girl; and the

twain were fettered, each to each, by that bond of illusion which

is stronger than bands of iron.

1 Komageta in the original. The geta is a wooden sandal, or clog,

of which there are many varieties,–some decidedly elegant. The

komageta, or “pony-geta” is so-called because of the sonorous

hoof-like echo which it makes on hard ground.

2 The sort of lantern here referred to is no longer made; and its

shape can best be understood by a glance at the picture

accompanying this story. It was totally unlike the modern

domestic band-lantern, painted with the owner’s crest; but it was

not altogether unlike some forms of lanterns still manufactured

for the Festival of the Dead, and called Bon-doro. The flowers

ornamenting it were not painted: they were artificial flowers of

crepe-silk, and were attached to the top of the lantern.

3 “For the time of seven existences,”–that is to say, for the

time of seven successive lives. In Japanese drama and romance it

is not uncommon to represent a father as disowning his child “for

the time of seven lives.” Such a disowning is called shichi-sho

made no mando, a disinheritance for seven lives,–signifying that

in six future lives after the present the erring son or daughter

will continue to feel the parental displeasure.

4 The profession is not yet extinct. The ninsomi uses a kind of

magnifying glass (or magnifying-mirror sometimes), called

tengankyo or ninsomegane.


Now there was a man called Tomozo, who lived in a small cottage

adjoining Shinzaburo’s residence, Tomozo and his wife O-Mine were

both employed by Shinzaburo as servants. Both seemed to be

devoted to their young master; and by his help they were able to

live in comparative comfort.

One night, at a very late hour, Tomozo heard the voice of a woman

in his master’s apartment; and this made him uneasy. He feared

that Shinzaburo, being very gentle and affectionate, might be

made the dupe of some cunning wanton,–in which event the

domestics would be the first to suffer. He therefore resolved to

watch; and on the following night he stole on tiptoe to

Shinzaburo’s dwelling, and looked through a chink in one of the

sliding shutters. By the glow of a night-lantern within the

sleeping-room, he was able to perceive that his master and a

strange woman were talking together under the mosquito-net. At

first he could not see the woman distinctly. Her back was turned

to him;–he only observed that she was very slim, and that she

appeared to be very young,–judging from the fashion of her dress

and hair.(1) Putting his ear to the chink, he could hear the

conversation plainly. The woman said:–

“And if I should be disowned by my father, would you then let me

come and live with you?”

Shinzaburo answered:–

“Most assuredly I would–nay, I should be

glad of the chance. But there is no reason to fear that you will

ever be disowned by your father; for you are his only daughter,

and he loves you very much. What I do fear is that some day we

shall be cruelly separated.”

She responded softly:–

“Never, never could I even think of accepting any other man for

my husband. Even if our secret were to become known, and my

father were to kill me for what I have done, still–after death

itself–I could never cease to think of you. And I am now quite

sure that you yourself would not be able to live very long

without me.”… Then clinging closely to him, with her lips at

his neck, she caressed him; and he returned her caresses.

Tomozo wondered as he listened,–because the language of the

woman was not the language of a common woman, but the language of

a lady of rank.(2) Then he determined at all hazards to get one

glimpse of her face; and he crept round the house, backwards and

forwards, peering through every crack and chink. And at last he

was able to see;–but therewith an icy trembling seized him; and

the hair of his head stood up.

For the face was the face of a woman long dead,–and the fingers

caressing were fingers of naked bone,–and of the body below the

waist there was not anything: it melted off into thinnest

trailing shadow. Where the eyes of the lover deluded saw youth

and grace and beauty, there appeared to the eyes of the watcher

horror only, and the emptiness of death. Simultaneously another

woman’s figure, and a weirder, rose up from within the chamber,

and swiftly made toward the watcher, as if discerning his

presence. Then, in uttermost terror, he fled to the dwelling of

Hakuodo Yusai, and, knocking frantically at the doors, succeeded

in arousing him.

1 The color and form of the dress, and the style of wearing the

hair, are by Japanese custom regulated accord-big to the age of

the woman.

2 The forms of speech used by the samurai, and other superior

classes, differed considerably from those of the popular idiom;

but these differences could not be effectively rendered into



Hakuodo Yusai, the ninsomi, was a very old man; but in his time

he had travelled much, and he had heard and seen so many things

that he could not be easily surprised. Yet the story of the

terrified Tomozo both alarmed and amazed him. He had read in

ancient Chinese books of love between the living and the dead;

but he had never believed it possible. Now, however, he felt

convinced that the statement of Tomozo was not a falsehood, and

that something very strange was really going on in the house of

Hagiwara. Should the truth prove to be what Tomozo imagined, then

the young samurai was a doomed man.

“If the woman be a ghost,”–said Yusai to the frightened servant,

“–if the woman be a ghost, your master must die very soon,–

unless something extraordinary can be done to save him. And if

the woman be a ghost, the signs of death will appear upon his

face. For the spirit of the living is yoki, and pure;–the spirit

of the dead is inki, and unclean: the one is Positive, the other

Negative. He whose bride is a ghost cannot live. Even though in

his blood there existed the force of a life of one hundred years,

that force must quickly perish…. Still, I shall do all that I

can to save Hagiwara Sama. And in the meantime, Tomozo, say

nothing to any other person,–not even to your wife,–about this

matter. At sunrise I shall call upon your master.”

When questioned next morning by Yusai, Shinzaburo at first

attempted to deny that any women had been visiting the house; but

finding this artless policy of no avail, and perceiving that the

old man’s purpose was altogether unselfish, he was finally

persuaded to acknowledge what had really occurred, and to give

his reasons for wishing to keep the matter a secret. As for the

lady Iijima, he intended, he said, to make her his wife as soon

as possible.

“Oh, madness!” cried Yusai,–losing all patience in the intensity

of his alarm. “Know, sir, that the people who have been coming

here, night after night, are dead! Some frightful delusion is

upon you!… Why, the simple fact that you long supposed O-Tsuyu

to be dead, and repeated the Nembutsu for her, and made offerings

before her tablet, is itself the proof!… The lips of the dead

have touched you!–the hands of the dead have caressed you!…

Even at this moment I see in your face the signs of death–and

you will not believe!… Listen to me now, sir,–I beg of you,–

if you wish to save yourself: otherwise you have less than twenty

days to live. They told you–those people–that they were

residing in the district of Shitaya, in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. Did you

ever visit them at that place? No!–of course you did not! Then

go to-day,–as soon as you can,–to Yanaka-no-Sasaki, and try to

find their home!…”

And having uttered this counsel with the most vehement

earnestness, Hakuodo Yusai abruptly took his departure.

Shinzaburo, startled though not convinced, resolved after a

moment’s reflection to follow the advice of the ninsomi, and to

go to Shitaya. It was yet early in the morning when he reached

the quarter of Yanaka-no-Sasaki, and began his search for the

dwelling of O-Tsuyu. He went through every street and side-

street, read all the names inscribed at the various entrances,

and made inquiries whenever an opportunity presented itself. But

he could not find anything resembling the little house mentioned

by O-Yone; and none of the people whom he questioned knew of any

house in the quarter inhabited by two single women. Feeling at

last certain that further research would be useless, he turned

homeward by the shortest way, which happened to lead through the

grounds of the temple Shin-Banzui-In.

Suddenly his attention was attracted by two new tombs, placed

side by side, at the rear of the temple. One was a common tomb,

such as might have been erected for a person of humble rank: the

other was a large and handsome monument; and hanging before it

was a beautiful peony-lantern, which had probably been left there

at the time of the Festival of the Dead. Shinzaburo remembered

that the peony-lantern carried by O-Yone was exactly similar; and

the coincidence impressed him as strange. He looked again at the

tombs; but the tombs explained nothing. Neither bore any personal

name,–only the Buddhist kaimyo, or posthumous appellation. Then

he determined to seek information at the temple. An acolyte

stated, in reply to his questions, that the large tomb had been

recently erected for the daughter of Iijima Heizayemon, the

hatamoto of Ushigome; and that the small tomb next to it was that

of her servant O-Yone, who had died of grief soon after the young

lady’s funeral.

Immediately to Shinzabur�’s memory there recurred, with another

and sinister meaning, the words of O-Yone:–“We went away, and

found a very small house in Yanaka-no-Sasaki. There we are now

just barely able to live–by doing a little private work….”

Here was indeed the very small house,–and in Yanaka-no-Sasaki.

But the little private work…?

Terror-stricken, the samurai hastened with all speed to the house

of Yusai, and begged for his counsel and assistance. But Yusai

declared himself unable to be of any aid in such a case. All that

he could do was to send Shinzaburo to the high-priest Ryoseki, of

Shin-Banzui-In, with a letter praying for immediate religious



The high-priest Ryoseki was a learned and a holy man. By

spiritual vision he was able to know the secret of any sorrow,

and the nature of the karma that had caused it. He heard unmoved

the story of Shinzaburo, and said to him:–

“A very great danger now threatens you, because of an error

committed in one of your former states of existence. The karma

that binds you to the dead is very strong; but if I tried to

explain its character, you would not be able to understand. I

shall therefore tell you only this,–that the dead person has no

desire to injure you out of hate, feels no enmity towards you:

she is influenced, on the contrary, by the most passionate

affection for you. Probably the girl has been in love with you

from a time long preceding your present life,–from a time of not

less than three or four past existences; and it would seem that,

although necessarily changing her form and condition at each

succeeding birth, she has not been able to cease from following

after you. Therefore it will not be an easy thing to escape from

her influence…. But now I am going to lend you this powerful

mamoni.(1) It is a pure gold image of that Buddha called the Sea-

Sounding Tathagata–Kai-On-Nyorai,–because his preaching of the

Law sounds through the world like the sound of the sea. And this

little image is especially a shiryo-yoke,(2)–which protects the

living from the dead. This you must wear, in its covering, next

to your body,–under the girdle…. Besides, I shall presently

perform in the temple, a segaki-service(3) for the repose of the

troubled spirit…. And here is a holy sutra, called Ubo-Darani-

Kyo, or “Treasure-Raining Sutra”(4) you must be careful to recite

it every night in your house–without fail…. Furthermore I

shall give you this package of o-fuda(5);–you must paste one of

them over every opening of your house,–no matter how small. If

you do this, the power of the holy texts will prevent the dead

from entering. But–whatever may happen–do not fail to recite

the sutra.”

Shinzaburo humbly thanked the high-priest; and then, taking with

him the image, the sutra, and the bundle of sacred texts, he made

all haste to reach his home before the hour of sunset.

1 The Japanese word mamori has significations at least as

numerous as those attaching to our own term “amulet.” It would be

impossible, in a mere footnote, even to suggest the variety of

Japanese religious objects to which the name is given. In this

instance, the mamori is a very small image, probably enclosed in

a miniature shrine of lacquer-work or metal, over which a silk

cover is drawn. Such little images were often worn by samurai on

the person. I was recently shown a miniature figure of Kwannon,

in an iron case, which had been carried by an officer through the

Satsuma war. He observed, with good reason, that it had probably

saved his life; for it had stopped a bullet of which the dent was

plainly visible.

2 From shiryo, a ghost, and yokeru, to exclude. The Japanese

have, two kinds of ghosts proper in their folk-lore: the spirits

of the dead, shiryo; and the spirits of the living, ikiryo. A

house or a person may be haunted by an ikiryo as well as by a


3 A special service,–accompanying offerings of food, etc., to

those dead having no living relatives or friends to care for

them,–is thus termed. In this case, however, the service would

be of a particular and exceptional kind.

4 The name would be more correctly written Ubo-Darani-Kyo. It is

the Japanese pronunciation of the title of a very short sutra

translated out of Sanscrit into Chinese by the Indian priest

Amoghavajra, probably during the eighth century. The Chinese text

contains transliterations of some mysterious Sanscrit words,–

apparently talismanic words,–like those to be seen in Kern’s

translation of the Saddharma-Pundarika, ch. xxvi.

5 O-fuda is the general name given to religious texts used as

charms or talismans. They are sometimes stamped or burned upon

wood, but more commonly written or printed upon narrow strips of

paper. O-fuda are pasted above house-entrances, on the walls of

rooms, upon tablets placed in household shrines, etc., etc. Some

kinds are worn about the person;–others are made into pellets,

and swallowed as spiritual medicine. The text of the larger o-

fuda is often accompanied by curious pictures or symbolic



With Yusai’s advice and help, Shinzaburo was able before dark to

fix the holy texts over all the apertures of his dwelling. Then

the ninsomi returned to his own house,–leaving the youth alone.

Night came, warm and clear. Shinzaburo made fast the doors, bound

the precious amulet about his waist, entered his mosquito-net,

and by the glow of a night-lantern began to recite the Ubo-

Darani-Kyo. For a long time he chanted the words, comprehending

little of their meaning;–then he tried to obtain some rest. But

his mind was still too much disturbed by the strange events of

the day. Midnight passed; and no sleep came to him. At last he

heard the boom of the great temple-bell of Dentsu-In announcing

the eighth hour.(1)

It ceased; and Shinzaburo suddenly heard the sound of geta

approaching from the old direction,–but this time more slowly:

karan-koron, karan-koron! At once a cold sweat broke over his

forehead. Opening the sutra hastily, with trembling hand, he

began again to recite it aloud. The steps came nearer and

nearer,–reached the live hedge,–stopped! Then, strange to say,

Shinzaburo felt unable to remain under his mosquito-net:

something stronger even than his fear impelled him to look; and,

instead of continuing to recite the Ubo-Darani-Kyo, he foolishly

approached the shutters, and through a chink peered out into the

night. Before the house he saw O-Tsuyu standing, and O-Yone with

the peony-lantern; and both of them were gazing at the Buddhist

texts pasted above the entrance. Never before–not even in what

time she lived–had O-Tsuyu appeared so beautiful; and Shinzaburo

felt his heart drawn towards her with a power almost resistless.

But the terror of death and the terror of the unknown restrained;

and there went on within him such a struggle between his love and

his fear that he became as one suffering in the body the pains of

the Sho-netsu hell.(2)

Presently he heard the voice of the maid-servant, saying:–

“My dear mistress, there is no way to enter. The heart of

Hagiwara Sama must have changed. For the promise that he made

last night has been broken; and the doors have been made fast to

keep us out…. We cannot go in to-night…. It will be wiser for

you to make up your mind not to think any more about him, because

his feeling towards you has certainly changed. It is evident that

he does not want to see you. So it will be better not to give

yourself any more trouble for the sake of a man whose heart is so


But the girl answered, weeping:–

“Oh, to think that this could happen after the pledges which we

made to each other!… Often I was told that the heart of a man

changes as quickly as the sky of autumn;–yet surely the heart of

Hagiwara Sama cannot be so cruel that he should really intend to

exclude me in this way!… Dear Yone, please find some means of

taking me to him…. Unless you do, I will never, never go home


Thus she continued to plead, veiling her face with her long

sleeves,–and very beautiful she looked, and very touching; but

the fear of death was strong upon her lover.

O-Yone at last made answer,–“My dear young lady, why will you

trouble your mind about a man who seems to be so cruel?… Well,

let us see if there be no way to enter at the back of the house:

come with me!”

And taking O-Tsuyu by the hand, she led her away toward the rear

of the dwelling; and there the two disappeared as suddenly as the

light disappears when the flame of a lamp is blown out.

1 According to the old Japanese way of counting time, this

yatsudoki or eighth hour was the same as our two o’clock in the

morning. Each Japanese hour was equal to two European hours, so

that there were only six hours instead of our twelve; and these

six hours were counted backwards in the order,–9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4.

Thus the ninth hour corresponded to our midday, or midnight;

half-past nine to our one o’clock; eight to our two o’clock. Two

o’clock in the morning, also called “the Hour of the Ox,” was the

Japanese hour of ghosts and goblins.

2 En-netsu or Sho-netsu (Sanscrit “Tapana”) is the sixth of the

Eight Hot Hells of Japanese Buddhism. One day of life in this

hell is equal in duration to thousands (some say millions) of

human years.


Night after night the shadows came at the Hour of the Ox; and

nightly Shinzaburo heard the weeping of O-Tsuyu. Yet he believed

himself saved,–little imagining that his doom had already been

decided by the character of his dependents.

Tomozo had promised Yusai never to speak to any other person–not

even to O-Mine–of the strange events that were taking place. But

Tomozo was not long suffered by the haunters to rest in peace.

Night after night O-Yone entered into his dwelling, and roused

him from his sleep, and asked him to remove the o-fuda placed

over one very small window at the back of his master’s house. And

Tomozo, out of fear, as often promised her to take away the o-

fuda before the next sundown; but never by day could he make up

his mind to remove it,–believing that evil was intended to

Shinzaburo. At last, in a night of storm, O-Yone startled him

from slumber with a cry of reproach, and stooped above his

pillow, and said to him: “Have a care how you trifle with us! If,

by to-morrow night, you do not take away that text, you shall

learn how I can hate!” And she made her face so frightful as she

spoke that Tomozo nearly died of terror.

O-Mine, the wife of Tomozo, had never till then known of these

visits: even to her husband they had seemed like bad dreams. But

on this particular night it chanced that, waking suddenly, she

heard the voice of a woman talking to Tomozo. Almost in the same

moment the talk-ing ceased; and when O-Mine looked about her, she

saw, by the light of the night-lamp, only her husband,–

shuddering and white with fear. The stranger was gone; the doors

were fast: it seemed impossible that anybody could have entered.

Nevertheless the jealousy of the wife had been aroused; and she

began to chide and to question Tomozo in such a manner that he

thought himself obliged to betray the secret, and to explain the

terrible dilemma in which he had been placed.

Then the passion of O-Mine yielded to wonder and alarm; but she

was a subtle woman, and she devised immediately a plan to save

her husband by the sacrifice of her master. And she gave

Tomozo a cunning counsel,–telling him to make conditions with

the dead.

They came again on the following night at the Hour of the Ox; and

O-Mine hid herself on hearing the sound of their coming,–karan-

koron, karan-koron! But Tomozo went out to meet them in the dark,

and even found courage to say to them what his wife had told him

to say:–

“It is true that I deserve your blame;–but I had no wish to

cause you anger. The reason that the o-fuda has not been taken

away is that my wife and I are able to live only by the help of

Hagiwara Sama, and that we cannot expose him to any danger

without bringing misfortune upon ourselves. But if we could

obtain the sum of a hundred ryo in gold, we should be able to

please you, because we should then need no help from anybody.

Therefore if you will give us a hundred ryo, I can take the o-

fuda away without being afraid of losing our only means of


When he had uttered these words, O-Yone and O-Tsuyu looked at

each other in silence for a moment. Then O-Yon� said:–

“Mistress, I told you that it was not right to trouble this man,

–as we have no just cause of ill will against him. But it is

certainly useless to fret yourself about Hagiwara Sama, because

his heart has changed towards you. Now once again, my dear young

lady, let me beg you not to think any more about him!”

But O-Tsuyu, weeping, made answer:–

“Dear Yone, whatever may happen, I cannot possibly keep myself

from thinking about him! You know that you can get a hundred ryo

to have the o-fuda taken off…. Only once more, I pray, dear

Yone!–only once more bring me face to face with Hagiwara Sama,

–I beseech you!” And hiding her face with her sleeve, she thus

continued to plead.

“Oh! why will you ask me to do these things?” responded O-Yone.

“You know very well that I have no money. But since you will

persist in this whim of yours, in spite of all that I can say, I

suppose that I must try to find the money somehow, and to bring

it here to-morrow night….” Then, turning to the faithless

Tomozo, she said:–“Tomozo, I must tell you that Hagiwara Sama

now wears upon his body a mamoni called by the name of Kai-On-

Nyorai, and that so long as he wears it we cannot approach him.

So you will have to get that mamori away from him, by some means

or other, as well as to remove the o-fuda.”

Tomozo feebly made answer:–

“That also I can do, if you will promise to bring me the hundred


“Well, mistress,” said O-Yone, “you will wait,–will you not,–

until to-morrow night?”

“Oh, dear Yone!” sobbed the other,–“have we to go back to-night

again without seeing Hagiwara Sama? Ah! it is cruel!”

And the shadow of the mistress, weeping, was led away by the

shadow of the maid.


Another day went, and another night came, and the dead came with

it. But this time no lamentation was heard without the house of

Hagiwara; for the faithless servant found his reward at the Hour

of the Ox, and removed the o-fuda. Moreover he had been able,

while his master was at the bath, to steal from its case the

golden mamori, and to substitute for it an image of copper; and

he had buried the Kai-On-Nyorai in a desolate field. So the

visitants found nothing to oppose their entering. Veiling their

faces with their sleeves they rose and passed, like a streaming

of vapor, into the little window from over which the holy text

had been torn away. But what happened thereafter within the house

Tomozo never knew.

The sun was high before he ventured again to approach his

master’s dwelling, and to knock upon the sliding-doors. For the

first time in years he obtained no response; and the silence made

him afraid. Repeatedly he called, and received no answer. Then,

aided by O-Mine, he succeeded in effecting an entrance and making

his way alone to the sleeping-room, where he called again in

vain. He rolled back the rumbling shutters to admit the light;

but still within the house there was no stir. At last he dared to

lift a corner of the mosquito-net. But no sooner had he looked

beneath than he fled from the house, with a cry of horror.

Shinzaburo was dead–hideously dead;–and his face was the face

of a man who had died in the uttermost agony of fear;–and lying

beside him in the bed were the bones of a woman! And the bones of

the arms, and the bones of the hands, clung fast about his neck.


Hakuodo Yusai, the fortune-teller, went to view the corpse at the

prayer of the faithless Tomozo. The old man was terrified and

astonished at the spectacle, but looked about him with a keen

eye. He soon perceived that the o-fuda had been taken from the

little window at the back of the house; and on searching the body

of Shinzaburo, he discovered that the golden mamori had been

taken from its wrapping, and a copper image of Fudo put in place

of it. He suspected Tomozo of the theft; but the whole occurrence

was so very extraordinary that he thought it prudent to consult

with the priest Ryoseki before taking further action. Therefore,

after having made a careful examination of the premises, he

betook himself to the temple Shin-Banzui-In, as quickly as his

aged limbs could bear him.

Ryoseki, without waiting to hear the purpose of the old man’s

visit, at once invited him into a private apartment.

“You know that you are always welcome here,” said Ryoseki.

“Please seat yourself at ease…. Well, I am sorry to tell you

that Hagiwara Sama is dead.”

Yusai wonderingly exclaimed:–“Yes, he is dead;–but how did you

learn of it?”

The priest responded:–

“Hagiwara Sama was suffering from the results of an evil karma;

and his attendant was a bad man. What happened to Hagiwara Sama

was unavoidable;–his destiny had been determined from a time

long before his last birth. It will be better for you not to let

your mind be troubled by this event.”

Yusai said:–

“I have heard that a priest of pure life may gain power to see

into the future for a hundred years; but truly this is the first

time in my existence that I have had proof of such power….

Still, there is another matter about which I am very anxious….”

“You mean,” interrupted Ryoseki, “the stealing of the holy

mamori, the Kai-On-Nyorai. But you must not give yourself any

concern about that. The image has been buried in a field; and it

will be found there and returned to me during the eighth month of

the coming year. So please do not be anxious about it.”

More and more amazed, the old ninsomi ventured to observe:–

“I have studied the In-Yo,(1) and the science of divination; and

I make my living by telling peoples’ fortunes;–but I cannot

possibly understand how you know these things.”

Ryoseki answered gravely:–

“Never mind how I happen to know them…. I now want to speak to

you about Hagiwara’s funeral. The House of Hagiwara has its own

family-cemetery, of course; but to bury him there would not be

proper. He must be buried beside O-Tsuyu, the Lady Iijima; for

his karma-relation to her was a very deep one. And it is but

right that you should erect a tomb for him at your own cost,

because you have been indebted to him for many favors.”

Thus it came to pass that Shinzaburo was buried beside O-Tsuyu,

in the cemetery of Shin-Banzui-In, in Yanaka-no-Sasaki.

–Here ends the story of the Ghosts in the Romance of the Peony-


1 The Male and Female principles of the universe, the Active and

Passive forces of Nature. Yusai refers here to the old Chinese

nature-philosophy,–better known to Western readers by the name



My friend asked me whether the story had interested me; and I

answered by telling him that I wanted to go to the cemetery of

Shin-Banzui-In,–so as to realize more definitely the local

color of the author’s studies.

“I shall go with you at once,” he said. “But what did you think

of the personages?”

“To Western thinking,” I made answer, “Shinzaburo is a despicable

creature. I have been mentally comparing him with the true lovers

of our old ballad-literature. They were only too glad to follow a

dead sweetheart into the grave; and nevertheless, being

Christians, they believed that they had only one human life to

enjoy in this world. But Shinzaburo was a Buddhist,–with a

million lives behind him and a million lives before him; and he

was too selfish to give up even one miserable existence for the

sake of the girl that came back to him from the dead. Then he was

even more cowardly than selfish. Although a samurai by birth and

training, he had to beg a priest to save him from ghosts. In

every way he proved himself contemptible; and O-Tsuyu did quite

right in choking him to death.”

“From the Japanese point of view, likewise,” my friend responded,

“Shinzaburo is rather contemptible. But the use of this weak

character helped the author to develop incidents that could not

otherwise, perhaps, have been so effectively managed. To my

thinking, the only attractive character in the story is that of

O-Yone: type of the old-time loyal and loving servant,–

intelligent, shrewd, full of resource,–faithful not only unto

death, but beyond death…. Well, let us go to Shin-Banzui-In.”

We found the temple uninteresting, and the cemetery an

abomination of desolation. Spaces once occupied by graves had

been turned into potato-patches. Between were tombs leaning at

all angles out of the perpendicular, tablets made illegible by

scurf, empty pedestals, shattered water-tanks, and statues of

Buddhas without heads or hands. Recent rains had soaked the black

soil,–leaving here and there small pools of slime about which

swarms of tiny frogs were hopping. Everything–excepting the

potato-patches–seemed to have been neglected for years. In a

shed just within the gate, we observed a woman cooking; and my

companion presumed to ask her if she knew anything about the

tombs described in the Romance of the Peony-Lantern.

“Ah! the tombs of O-Tsuyu and O-Yone?” she responded, smiling;–“

you will find them near the end of the first row at the back of

the temple–next to the statue of Jizo.”

Surprises of this kind I had met with elsewhere in Japan.

We picked our way between the rain-pools and between the green

ridges of young potatoes,–whose roots were doubtless feeding on

the sub-stance of many another O-Tsuyu and O-Yone;–and we

reached at last two lichen-eaten tombs of which the inscriptions

seemed almost obliterated. Beside the larger tomb was a statue of

Jizo, with a broken nose.

“The characters are not easy to make out,” said my friend–“but

wait!”…. He drew from his sleeve a sheet of soft white paper,

laid it over the inscription, and began to rub the paper with a

lump of clay. As he did so, the characters appeared in white on

the blackened surface.

“Eleventh day, third month–Rat, Elder Brother, Fire–Sixth year

of Horeki [A. D. 1756].’… This would seem to be the grave of

some innkeeper of Nedzu, named Kichibei. Let us see what is on

the other monument.”

With a fresh sheet of paper he presently brought out the text of

a kaimyo, and read,–

“En-myo-In, Ho-yo-I-tei-ken-shi, Ho-ni’:–‘Nun-of-the-Law,

Illustrious, Pure-of-heart-and-will, Famed-in-the-Law,–

inhabiting the Mansion-of-the-Preaching-of-Wonder.’…. The grave

of some Buddhist nun.”

“What utter humbug!” I exclaimed. “That woman was only making fun

of us.”

“Now,” my friend protested, “you are unjust to the, woman! You

came here because you wanted a sensation; and she tried her very

best to please you. You did not suppose that ghost-story was

true, did you?”

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Title: In Ghostly Japan

Author: Lafcadio Hearn, 1899


Produced by Liz Warren

Available in project Gutenberg at: and

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), George MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) and Neil Gaiman (1960 – ….), are the authors I most wish to  emulate one day.


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