Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Other Sources
To learn much more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost
This story takes place during the Kyoho era (1716-1736). A samurai named Hotsumi Kanji,a minor prefect in Kitakuni province, was making his prescribed annual trip to the capital at Edo one year when he stopped at an inn along the way.
From his room, he heard the most beautiful singing voice he had ever heard in his life. It was coming from one of the rooms of the inn, and belonged to a goze, one of the blind women who traveled the country making their living performing on the shamisen.
Thinking that a voice so beautiful must be attached to an equally beautiful body, Hotsumi resolved to have the woman. Discovering which room was hers, he hid in the dark, waiting for her to return. When the goze returned, Hotsumi sprang from his hiding place and ravished her, an act which the woman was not opposed to in the least.
The next morning, Hotsumi was shocked to discover that the woman with the beautiful voice was unspeakably ugly. Her hideous faced beamed at him with a look of pure joy, thinking that she had at last found love. But nothing could be further from the truth—Hotsumi quickly concocted a plan, and took the woman with him on his way to Edo. On a convenient mountain road, he pushed the ugly blind woman into a ravine, killing her. Thinking he had solved the problem quite nicely, Hotsumi continued on his business.
The following year, Hotsumi had completely forgotten about the incident. Again, the time came for his trip to Edo, and this time he stopped at a small mountain temple to spend the night. That night, the yurei of the goze appeared before him. She said to him:
“Have you already forgotten last Autumn? You played with me, and then tossed me away when you were finished. I have no eyes, but I see you now!”
She grabbed Hotsumi by his ankles and tore him from his bed. He struggled to break away from her, but his strength was nothing compared to her rage-fueled power. Hotsumi saw himself being dragged to the temple’s graveyard. The goze stopped before a certain grave, smiled slightly, then embraced Hotsumi and drove him into the earth with one strong pull.
The monks of the temple heard the commotion and ran to see what the matter was. They followed the trail to the graveyard, and after retrieving shovels they dug quickly into the earth. They soon found Hotsumi’s body, with the skeleton of a woman wrapped around it. By fate or bad luck Hotsumi had chosen the temple where the goze’s body was buried after it had been discovered down in the ravine. And she had come to claim him.
At last, a blood-thirsty tale of ghostly revenge for Halloween! This is one of those stories that pops up in several Edo-period kaidan collections, in a few variations. I created a kind of mix of the different versions, taking the pieces I like and assembling them together into a single story. For example, Mizuki Shigeru’s version in the Mujyara doesn’t have Hotsumi being drug into the grave, but just disappearing from the hotel. But I really like the grave bits so I left that in.
The title of the story is 瞽女の幽霊 (Goze no Yurei). “瞽女” (Goze) is one of those weirdly specific Edo period words that refers to a blind woman who played the shamisen and worked as an itinerant entertainer. If you were a blind woman in the Edo period, there were only a few jobs available to you, and goze was one of them. Either that or masseuse/assassin, or so the movies tell me.
Mizuki Shigeru’s art uses Utagawa Hideyoshi’s 瞽女の幽霊 (Goze no Yurei) as an inspiration. I don’t know if Hideyoshi was painting exactly this story, or just a painting of the “stock character” of a goze’s ghost. Mizuki Shigeru certainly elaborated on the scenery when creating his version—Hideyoshi’s is on a simple background, with the yurei walking in water.
In Japanese folklore, water has always been a pathway to the world of the dead. During the Obon Festival of the Dead yurei zoom across Japan’s rivers like a super expressway, coming home to meet their families then being sent back with lanterns floating out to sea. So Hideyoshi’s picture is more metaphysical than representational. The water is the world of the dead, not an actual river being crossed by the yurei.
For more Japanese ghost stories, check out: