Translated from Nihon no Yurei Banashi
The Voice of the Dead Wife
Long ago, deep in the mountains of Shikoku, a husband and wife lived happily alone far away from the nearest village in a small house. In the autumn of one year, the wife of that happy couple fell suddenly ill and was confined to bed.
But, because the couple lived so very far away from the nearest doctor in the village, they had no medicine. The wife’s fever grew hotter every day, and the husband could do nothing but cool down her body with cool water.
The wife’s condition worsened every day. The husband never left his wife’s side, and tended to her every moment of every day. One day, seeing the pain on his wife’s face, the husband sought to comfort her agony.
“My love, we are the type of couple who can never be separated. No matter what happens, please say that you will never leave my side.”
“I am so happy you to hear you say that, my husband, because that is my feelings exactly. As it always has been, no matter what may occur in the future, I will never leave you.”
“Then let us make a promise,” the husband said, “no matter who is the first to die, we will not bury that person in a grave.”
“That is for the best,” answered the wife, “I know that I have not much life left in this body. Do not break the promise you make to me know. Do not put my body in a grave, but leave me here as I am so that I may always be by your side.”
With that said, the woman relaxed with a peaceful look on her face, and exhaled her last breath. As he had promised, the husband didn’t bury her, but left her as she had died, inside the house, lying in bed.
In this way, seven days passed. Nothing of note happened during those seven days, and the husband went about his business as usual. But on the night of the seventh day…
“Let’s go outside, shall we?”
The husband heard these words in a thin voice, but from where they came he could not say.
“Eh? Who said that? There is no one else here…”
The husband turned his eyes towards the mysterious voice, and saw nothing but the dead body of his wife.
“That’s strange…but there is no way I heard her voice! I must be imagining things.”
But even as he thought this, he didn’t really believe it. So he turned to his wife’s body and said:
“You say you want to go outside, but where do you want to go?”
Even so, he was shocked to get an answer:
“Yes, I am bored just lying here all day. The moon must be beautiful tonight. Let us go out and view it.”
“Its fine to say that,” the husband replied, still unsettled, “but you are dead.”
With that, the wife spoke no more.
Let’s Go Outside, Shall We?
After that, two or three days passed uneventfully. But on the evening of the fourth day, a traveling salesman lost his way passing over the mountains while making his way towards the village. Seeing the couple’s remote cottage, he knocked on the door.
“Hello? Would you be so kind as to let me stay just this night? I have lost my way, and find myself in trouble.”
“That is a tight spot,” said the husband, “but come in and make yourself at home.”
With that said, the traveling salesman went into the cottage. But the husband still had some errands to run outside, and said:
“Excuse me, but I must go out for a bit. Please wait for me here.”
The traveling salesman had been hoping for some company as well as a place to stay, and was a bit downhearted when the husband left him alone. Sitting in the cottage, he heard a small voice.
“Let’s go outside, shall we?”
The voice, however weak, was unmistakably a woman’s voice. The traveling salesman thought it was strange, but answered:
“Where do you want to go?”
“The moon must be beautiful tonight. Let us go outside to view it.”
“Indeed it must be beautiful. All right then, let us go outside.”
Just has he answered, a woman appeared wrapped in a long white kimono. She stood before him wavering, as if blowing in a breeze. And she said:
“Well then, shall we go?”
and she reached out a stark white hand to him. The traveling salesman looked closer at her and saw that she had no feet.
“Ah! A yurei!”
The traveling salesman was astonished and stepped back two or three feet. But he was no weakling, lacking in courage. Indeed he was a robust and brave man. He muttered to himself:
“OK now…this yurei must want to whisk me off to the land of the dead. Well she will not find such easy prey.”
With that, he sprang at the woman, grabbed her by the throat and threw her from the house. He stepped to the door to await her challenge, but there was nothing before his eyes. The woman had vanished.
After a bit, the husband returned from his errand.
The traveling salesman flew into his story of the mysterious encounter.
“That was a strange thing indeed! Hah! But maybe it was just the fog playing tricks on me after all!”
But instead of being entertained, the husband was furious:
“What have you done? I show you a little sympathy, let you stay at my home, and you throw my wife out the door? Then you go out with her! If you want to stay in my cottage, go find my wife and bring her back!”
The chastised travelling salesman slowly plodded out the door, and began his task of wandering the dark forest looking for the yurei he had so roughly handled. But even with the bright light of the moon to guide him, the wife was never seen again.
This story is sometimes told about a fleeing soldier running from the Heike wars. The legend comes from Shikoku, from Mt. Iya, and for a yurei story has very few variations. It has the nature of a love story, and is a tale of compassion.