The Writing of Tanuki

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

In Bushu, Tanma-gun, in the village of Bunkokuji, the village headman Heigo was once visited by a tanuki who had disguised itself as a Buddhist monk.  The tankuki claimed to be a monk from the Murasaki Otoku temple in Kyoto, and was under a vow of silence so could only communicate by written notes.

Bunkokuji was just a small, countryside village and the headman was honored to have such a holy guest, one who was so diligent in walking the eight-fold path of the Buddha.  He invited the monk to stay with him and be fed as a guest.

Now, the handwriting of this monk was most peculiar.  He freely mixed the styles of artful Chinese calligraphy and machine-printed Japanese with some strange flourishes that Heigo had never seen before.  There were many grammatical mistakes as well, and Heigo thought it looked like the sort of thing that a tanuki would write.

By the morning, the monk had disappeared, and outside his house Heigo found the body of a tanuki who had been torn apart by local dogs.  His suspicious were confirmed.

There are many such stories of tanuki writings that have been passed down through the years.

Poverty-stricken Yube and the Oil Seller

Translated from Nihon no Yurei Banashi

Drinking Oil

Long ago in a village in Banshu (Modern day Hyogo Prefecture), there was a man named Yube. So stricken with dire poverty was Yube that he had nothing to eat and nowhere to live.  In desperation, Yube went to the home of a wealthy dealer in oil and bowed his head on the floor and begged to borrow some money.   The Oil Seller loaned Yube the money, and set the conditions for repayment.   But when the promised day to repay the loan came, Yube’s circumstances had not improved and he had not the ability to return the money.

Yube begged the Oil Seller:

“Please, my lord. Just give me another six months to pay back the loan.”

After listening to Yube beg and plead and beg some more, the Oil Seller finally relented and gave Yube six more months.  But he enforced a harsh term for the additional time.

“All right, if you want more time so badly, then prove it!  Right here, before me, drink five cups of oil.  If you can’t do that, then you had better be able to pay me back this minute.”

Yube was shocked at the demand.  But as he lacked the money to repay the loan, there was nothing he could do but set down to drink the oil. The Oil Seller made sure the cups were filled full to the brim, and watched as Yube sucked down every last drop of the thick oil.   First one, then two, until finally all five cups were drained.   Just as Yube finished the last of the oil, he doubled over with in excruciating pain.   First his stomach ached, and then his chest tightened terribly.  Yube began to sway back and forth, howling in agony, before he dropped to the floor dead.

The Burning Grave

The news of the Oil Seller’s deed spread quickly through the town, and it wasn’t long before it was overheard by the local magistrate.   The magistrate hurried at once to the Oil Seller’s home, and began a thorough investigation into the matter.   When he learned enough to know that the rumors were true, he fixed a stern eye on the Oil Seller.

“Well now. You have killed a man, and no mistake.  To tell the truth, there is enough here for me to send you to the executioner to be beheaded. But I would save you that much.  Instead, you will cover the entire cost of Yube’s funeral, and see to it that his family never suffers for money again.   If you can’t promise me that, then I will see your head posted on the town gates.”

The magistrate said this with such conviction in his voice that the Oil Seller trembled in fear. The Oil Seller quickly agreed to the terms, and wasted no time in making the arrangements to give Yube a fine funeral.   When the day came, the Oil Seller laid flowers on Yube’s freshly-cut headstone and then bent down to light the lanterns next to the grave while the people of the village silent watched and prayed.

When the match was touched to the lanterns, something shocking happened.  The five cups of oil that Yube had drunk had seeped from his body into the surrounding soil, and the grave burst into flames, rising up into a fireball.  The villagers shouted in surprise.

“Ahhh!  It is a hi no tama (fireball)!  This is Yube’s curse, and he has turned into a hi no tama!  We have to get out of here!”

Everyone fled from the grave running as if their lives depended on it.   As for the Oil Seller, he would never live another comfortable day in his life; he flesh grew pale and his entire body was overcome with shaking. He ran faster than anyone.

Just as everyone fled the grave, another mysterious thing happened.  The hi no tama blinked out as quickly as it had appeared; Yube’s oily body was burned up.   That is to say, all of the oil in Yube’s body had burned up. Yube himself was left clean and pure again.  When the last of the fires disappeared, Yube’s body down in the grave let out a huge gasp as air rushed back into his lungs.

“Huh?  Where am I?  What am I doing down here?”

With the oil purged from his body, Yube had come back to life and began to dig himself out of his own grave.   Pulling himself clear, he began to walk through town, heading back to his house.

When Yube came walking through town he came on a huge, noisy bunch of men were gathered in the street.   They were making a tremendous ruckus, some shouting with joy and some with anger.

“Hey there!  What are you all doing?”

Yube tried to push his way into the crowd to get a look at what was going on.  Just then, someone noticed him.  Yube caused quite a fright,
as he was still dressed in his white burial kimono that he had been wearing at his funeral.

“Ahhhhh!!!  It is a yurei!!!”

At the site of Yube in his white kimono, the courage of the men fled from them, and soon all the men were fleeing along with it.   Yube looked at the ground where the men had been gathered, and was surprised to see that the streets were littered with money. For sure this wild crowd had gathered for illegal gambling, and they had all left their cash behind when they went running from Yube.

“Ho!  This will certainly provide for my needs!”

Yube gathered all the stray money from the streets, and carried it off to his house.  But if he expected a welcome home greeting, he was sorely disappointed.  To see their dead relative, whose funeral they had been to today, suddenly show up at their doorstep was too much of a shock for Yube’s family.

“Ahhh!  It is a yurei!  Yube must be lost and unable to make his way to the world over there!”

With that they slammed the door shut and held it tight.   No matter how many times Yube knocked and pleaded to be let in, they wouldn’t listen and just yelled at him to go away.   There was nothing for Yube to do, so sadly he left his house and wandered to a near-by temple.   There, he poured out his story to a sympathetic monk who listened patiently. The monk then returned with Yube to his house, and explained Yube’s return to life to the family, who finally let Yube come inside.  They called down everyone in the house to hear Yube’s tale, and after that went out into the streets of the village where everyone celebrated Yube’s return.

With all the money Yube collected from the gambling den, he was now the richest man in the village. He paid off his dept to the terrified Oil Seller, and proceeded to live happily ever after.

This is a very unusual yurei story.  Not only does the dead man return to life, but he also becomes rich and lives a happy life.  This kind of story is mainly told in the Kansai area of Japan.

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