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Posts Tagged ‘Japanese short stories’

A Woman and the Bell of Miidera

 

In the ancient monastery of Miidera there was a great bronze bell. It rang out every morning and evening, a clear, rich note, and its surface shone like sparkling dew. The priests would not allow any woman to strike it, because they thought that such an action would pollute and dull the metal, as well as bring calamity upon them.

When a certain pretty woman who lived in Kyoto heard this, she grew extremely inquisitive, and at last, unable to restrain her curiosity, she said: “I will go and see this wonderful bell of Miidera. I will make it send forth a soft note, and in its shining surface, bigger and brighter than a thousand mirrors, I will paint and powder my face and dress my hair.”

At length this vain and irreverent woman reached the belfry in which the great bell was suspended, at a time when all were absorbed in their sacred duties. She looked into the gleaming bell and saw her pretty eyes, flushed cheeks, and laughing dimples. Presently she stretched forth her little fingers, lightly touched the shining metal, and prayed that she might have as great and splendid a mirror for her own. When the bell felt this woman’s fingers, the bronze that she touched shrank, leaving a little hollow, and losing at the same time all its exquisite polish.

The same action produced an opposite effect. The woman was sucked into the hollow of the bell and she was fastened to the centre as a tongue. Great was the dismay and the people of Miidera thought it was a sign of great calamity that the bell was to be rung than struck. What is more the size of the bell had shrunk overnght! The bell of Miidera worked again but all noticed the sound was no longer the same. The priest thought the over-notes were ethereal, however expressing some great anguish with words accompanying, ‘Oh that hurts!’

compiled by Benny

(The last para is added by the complier. Source: F. Hadland Davis, Myths and Legends of Japan (London: George G. Harrap and Company, 1917

 

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At Asakusa, in Yedo, there lives a man called Danzayémon, the chief of the Etas. This man traces his pedigree back to Minamoto no Yoritomo, who founded the Shogunate in the year 1192 A.D. The whole of the Etas in Japan are under his jurisdiction; his subordinates are called Koyagashira, or “chiefs of the huts”; and they constitute the government of the Etas. In the “Legacy of Iyéyasu,” the 36th Law provides as follows:

‘All wandering mendicants, such as male sorcerers, female diviners, hermits, blind people, beggars, and tanners (Etas), require license to practise their trade and those who overstep the boundaries of their own classes are disobedient to existing laws’.

The occupation of the Etas is to kill and flay horses, oxen, and other beasts, to stretch drums and make shoes; and if they are very poor, they wander from house to house, working as cobblers, mending old shoes and leather, and so earn a scanty livelihood. Besides this, their daughters and young married women gain a trifle as wandering minstrels, called Torioi, playing on the shamisen, a sort of banjo, and singing ballads. They never marry out of their own fraternity, but remain apart, a despised and shunned race.

At execution by crucifixion it is the duty of the Etas to transfix the victims with spears; and, besides this, they have to perform all sorts of degrading offices about criminals, such as carrying sick prisoners from their cells to the hall of justice, and burying the bodies of those that have been executed. Thus their race is polluted and accursed, and they are hated accordingly.

Now this is how the Etas come to be under the jurisdiction of Danzayémon:

When Minamoto no Yoritomo was yet a child, his father, Minamoto no Yoshitomo, fought with Taira no Kiyomori, and was killed by treachery: so his family was ruined; and Yoshitomo’s concubine, whose name was Tokiwa, took her children and fled from the house, to save her own and their lives. But Kiyomori, desiring to destroy the family of Yoshitomo root and branch, ordered his retainers to divide themselves into bands, and seek out the children. At last they were found; but Tokiwa was so exceedingly beautiful that Kiyomori was inflamed with love for her, and desired her to become his own concubine. Then Tokiwa told Kiyomori that if he would spare her little ones she would share his couch; but that if he killed her children she would destroy herself rather than yield to his desire. When he heard this, Kiyomori, bewildered by the beauty of Tokiwa, spared the lives of her children, but banished them from the capital.

So Yoritomo was sent to Hirugakojima, in the province of Idzu; and when he grew up and became a man, he married the daughter of a peasant. After a while Yoritomo left the province, and went to the wars, leaving his wife pregnant; and in due time she was delivered of a male child, to the delight of her parents, who rejoiced that their daughter should bear seed to a nobleman; but she soon fell sick and died, and the old people took charge of the babe. And when they also died, the care of the child fell to his mother’s kinsmen, and he grew up to be a peasant.

Now Kiyomori, the enemy of Yoritomo, had been gathered to his fathers; and Yoritomo had avenged the death of his father by slaying Munémori, the son of Kiyomori; and there was peace throughout the land. And Yoritomo became the chief of all the noble houses in Japan, and first established the government of the country. When Yoritomo had thus raised himself to power, the son that his peasant wife had born to him could have claimed his rightful claim to the protection of his father. He would have been made lord over a province; but he took no thought of this, and remained a tiller of the earth, forfeiting a glorious inheritance; and his descendants after him lived as peasants in the same village, increasing in prosperity and in good repute among their neighbors.

But the princely line of Yoritomo came to an end in three generations, and the house of Hojo was all-powerful in the land.

Now it happened that the head of the house of Hojo heard that a descendant of Yoritomo was living as a peasant in the land, so he summoned him and said: “It is a hard thing to see the son of an illustrious house live and die a peasant. I will promote you to the rank of Samurai.”

Then the peasant answered: “My lord, if I become a Samurai, and the retainer of some noble, I shall not be so happy as when I was my own master. If I may not remain a husbandman, let me be a chief over men, however humble they may be.”

But my lord Hojo was angry at this, and thinking to punish the peasant for his insolence, said: “Since you wish to become a chief over men, no matter how humble, there is no means of gratifying your strange wish but by making you chief over the Etas of the whole country. So now see that you rule them well.”

When he heard this, the peasant was afraid; but because he had said that he wished to become a chief over men, however humble, he could not choose but become chief of the Etas, he and his children after him for ever; and Danzayémon, who rules the Etas at the present time, and lives at Asakusa, is his lineal descendant.

‘There is a tide in the affairs of men as the Bard would say. (There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune’ (Ac.4.sc3-Julius Caesar )

 

 

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In ancient days there lived in a remote part of Japan a man and his wife, and they were blessed with a little girl, who was the pet and idol of her parents. On one occasion the man was called away on business in distant Kyoto. Before he went he told his daughter that if she were good and dutiful to her mother he would bring her back a present she would prize very highly. Then the good man took his departure, mother and daughter watching him go.

At last he returned to his home, and after his wife and child had taken off his large hat and sandals he sat down upon the white mats and opened a bamboo basket, watching the eager gaze of his little child. He took out a wonderful doll and a lacquer box of cakes and put them into her outstretched hands. Once more he dived into his basket, and presented his wife with a metal mirror. Its convex surface shone brightly, while upon its back there was a design of pine trees and storks.

The good man’s wife had never seen a mirror before, and on gazing into it she was under the impression that another woman looked out upon her as she gazed with growing wonder. Her husband explained the mystery and bade her take great care of the mirror.

Not long after this happy homecoming and distribution of presents the woman became very ill. Just before she died she called to her little daughter, and said: “Dear child, when I am dead take every care of your father. You will miss me when I have left you. But take this mirror, and when you feel most lonely look into it and you will always see me.” Having said these words she passed away.

In due time the man married again, and his wife was not at all kind to her stepdaughter. But the little one, remembering her mother’s words, would retire to a corner and eagerly look into the mirror, where it seemed to her that she saw her dear mother’s face, not drawn in pain as she had seen it on her deathbed, but young and beautiful.

One day this child’s stepmother chanced to see her crouching in a corner over an object she could not quite see, murmuring to herself. This ignorant woman, who detested the child and believed that her stepdaughter detested her in return, fancied that this little one was performing some strange magical art–perhaps making an image and sticking pins into it. Full of these notions, the stepmother went to her husband and told him that his wicked child was doing her best to kill her by witchcraft.

When the master of the house had listened to this extraordinary recital he went straight to his daughter’s room. He took her by surprise, and immediately the girl saw him she slipped the mirror into her sleeve. For the first time her doting father grew angry, and he feared that there was, after all, truth in what his wife had told him, and he repeated her tale forthwith.

When his daughter had heard this unjust accusation she was amazed at her father’s words, and she told him that she loved him far too well ever to attempt or wish to kill his wife, who she knew was dear to him.

“What have you hidden in your sleeve?” said her father, only half convinced and still much puzzled.

“The mirror you gave my mother, and which she on her deathbed gave to me. Every time I look into its shining surface I see the face of my dear mother, young and beautiful. When my heart aches–and oh! it has ached so much lately–I take out the mirror, and mother’s face, with sweet, kind smile, brings me peace, and helps me to bear hard words and cross looks.”

Then the man understood and loved his child the more for her filial piety. Even the girl’s stepmother, when she knew what had really taken place, was ashamed and asked forgiveness. And this child, who believed she had seen her mother’s face in the mirror, forgave, and trouble forever departed from the home.

(Source: F  Hadland Davis- Myths and Legends of Japan/George G. Harrap&co,London 1912)

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