Kwaidan Review

Sha Shewakar
  • 4/5

"The Black Hair"

"The Black hair" (黒髪, Kurokami) was adapted from "The Reconciliation", which appeared in Hearn's collection Shadowings (1900).

An impoverished swordsman in Kyoto divorces his wife, a weaver, and leaves her for a woman of a wealthy family to attain greater social status. However, despite his new wealthy status, the swordsman's second marriage proves to be unhappy. His new wife is shown to be callous and selfish. The swordsman regrets leaving his more devoted and patient ex-wife.

The second wife is furious when she realizes that the swordsman not only married her to obtain her family's wealth, but also still longs for his old life in Kyoto with his ex-wife. When he is told to go into the chambers to reconcile with her, the swordsman refuses, stating his intent to return home and reconcile with his ex-wife. He points out his foolish behavior and poverty as the reasons why he reacted the way he did. The swordsman informs the lady-in-waiting to tell his second wife that their marriage is over and she can return to her parents in shame.

After a few years, the swordsman returns to find his home, and his wife, largely unchanged. He reconciles with his ex-wife, who refuses to let him punish himself. She mentions that Kyoto has "changed" and that they only have "a moment" together, but does not elaborate further. She assures him that she understood that he only left her in order to bring income to their home. The two happily exchange wonderful stories about the past and the future until the swordsman falls asleep. He wakes up the following day only to discover that he had been sleeping next to his ex-wife's rotted corpse. Rapidly aging, he stumbles through the house, finding that it actually is in ruins and overgrown with weeds. He manages to escape, only to be attacked by his ex-wife’s black hair.

"The Woman of the Snow"

"The Woman of the Snow" (雪女, Yukionna) is an adaptation from Hearn's Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903).

Two woodcutters named Minokichi and Mosaku take refuge in a fisherman's hut during a snowstorm. Mosaku is killed by a Yuki-onna. When the Yukionna turns to Minokichi she remarks that he is a handsome boy and takes pity by sparing him because of his youth. The Yuki-onna warns him to never mention what happened or she will kill him.

Minokichi returns home and never mentions that night. One day while cutting wood he comes across Yuki, a beautiful young woman. She tells him that she is on her way to Edo, as she lost her family and has relatives there who can secure her a job as a lady-in-waiting. Minokichi offers to let her spend the night at his house with his mother. The mother takes a liking to Yuki and asks her to stay. She never leaves for Edo and Minokichi falls in love with her. The two marry and have children, living happily. The older women in the town are in awe over Yuki maintaining her youth even after having three children.

One night, Minokichi gives Yuki a set of sandals he has made. She is stitching a kimono in the candlelight. In the light, Minokichi recalls the Yuki-onna and see a resemblance between them. He tells her about the strange encounter. It is then that Yuki reveals herself to be the Yuki-onna and a snowstorm comes over the home. Despite the fact he broke his word, she refrains from killing him because of their children. Yuki then leaves Minokichi with the children, warning him to treat them well or she will return and kill him. She disappears into the snowstorm, leaving Minokichi heartbroken. Minokichi places her sandals outside in the snow, and after he goes back inside, they disappear as Yuki accepts them.

"Hoichi the Earless"

"Hoichi the Earless" (耳無し芳一の話, Miminashi Hōichi no Hanashi) is also adapted from Hearn's Kwaidan (though it incorporates aspects of The Tale of the Heike that are mentioned, but never translated, in Hearn's book).[citation needed]

Hoichi is a young blind musician who plays the biwa. His specialty is singing the chant of The Tale of the Heike about the Battle of Dan-no-ura fought between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the last phase of the Genpei War. Hoichi is an attendant at a temple and is looked after the others there. One night he hears a sound and decides to play his instrument in the garden courtyard. A spectral samurai appears and tells him that his lord wishes to have a performance at his house. The samurai leads Hoichi to mysterious and ancient court. Another attendant notices that he went missing for the night as his dinner was not touched. The samurai re-appears on the next night to take Hoichi and affirms that he has not told anyone. Afterwards, the priest asks Hoichi why he goes out at night but Hoichi won't tell him. One night, Hoichi leaves in a storm and his friends follow him and discover he has been going to a graveyard and reciting the Tale of Heike to the court of the dead Emperor. Hoichi informs the court that it takes many nights to chant the entire epic. They direct him to chant the final battle - the battle of Dan-no-ura. His friends drag him home as he refuses to leave before his performance is completed.

The priest tell Hoichi he is in great danger and that this was a vast illusion from the spirit of the dead. They tell Hoichi that if he obeys them again they will tear him to pieces. Concerned for Hoichi’s safety, a priest and his acolyte write the text of The Heart Sutra on his entire body including his face to make him invisible to the ghosts and instruct him to meditate. The samurai re-appears and calls out for Hoichi. Hoichi does not answer. Hoichi's ears are visible to the samurai as they forgot to write the text on his ears. The samurai, wanting to bring back as much of Hoichi as possible, rips his ears off to show his lord his commands have been obeyed.

The next morning, the priest and the attendants see a trail of blood leading from the temple. The priest and the acolyte realize their error and believe the ears were a trade for Hoichi's life. They believe the spirits will now leave him alone.

A local lord attend at the temple with a full retinue. They have heard the story of Hoichi the earless and wish to hear him play his biwa. He is brought to court of the lord. Hoichi says he will play to console the sorrowful spirits and allow them to rest.

The narrator indicates than many wealthy noble person would come to the temple with large gifts of money and Hoichi-the-earless became a wealthy person.

"In a Cup of Tea"

"In a Cup of Tea" (茶碗の中, Chawan no Naka) is adapted from Hearn's Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902).

Anticipating a visit from his publisher, a writer relates an old tale of an attendant of Lord Nakagawa Sadono named Sekinai. While Lord Nakagawa is his way to make a New Year's visit, he halts with his train at a tea-house in Hakusan. While the party is resting there, Sekinai sees the face of a strange man in a cup of tea. Despite being perturbed, he drinks the cup.

Later, while Sekinai is guarding his Lord, the man whose face appeared in the tea reappears, calling himself Heinai Shikibu. Sekinai runs to tell the other attendants, but they laugh and tell him he is seeing things. Later that night at his own residence, Sekinai is visited by three ghostly attendants of Heinai Shikibu. He duels them and is nearly defeated, but the author notes the tale ends before things are resolved and suggests that he could write a complete ending, but prefers to leave the ending to the reader's imagination.

The publisher soon arrives and asks the Madame for the author, who is nowhere to be found. They both flee the scene in terror when they discover the author trapped inside a large jar of water.