The Demon at Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales, by Watson, Burton
- ISBN: 9780231152457 | 0231152450
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 12/15/2010
Secular Tales of Japan
The stories in book 25, which focus on warriors, particularly the Taira and Minamoto clans during the Heian period, are arranged in roughly chronological order, foreshadowing medieval gunki -mono (warrior tales). The story "How a Child of Fujiwara no Chikakatsu, Having Been Taken Hostage by a Thief, Was Released Through Words Spoken by Yorinobu" (25:11) belongs to a series (25:9--11) that reveals the wisdom of the military lord Minamoto no Yorinobu. The next story, "How Minamoto no Yorinobu's Son Yoriyoshi Shot Down a Horse Thief" (25:12), in addition to illustrating the ideal relationship between father and son, demonstrates one of the indispensable skills of the new class of warriors: communicating without words.
Book 26, tales of shukuho (retribution), gathers stories about strange and extraordinary events from a wide variety of sources, including the life of commoners in the provinces, and attributes the miraculous to karmic acts in a previous life. Book 27, tales of "ghosts or spirits" ( reikon ), includes stories about supernatural beings -- such as demons, foxes, wild boars, and mountain deities -- and explores the interaction between the human and supernatural worlds. The volume has been considered the first collection of Japanese kaidan (ghost stories), a popular genre in the Edo period (1600--1867). Two examples are "How the Demon of Agi Bridge in Omi Province Eats Somebody" (27:13), which describes the trickery employed by demons and suggests the extent to which commoners of the time feared ghosts, demons, and strange monsters, and "How Ki no Tosuke of Mino Province Meets Female Spirits and Dies" (27:21).
Book 28 consists of humorous tales, which encompass characters from every level of society and take place both inside and outside the capital. Two of these set s uwa are "How a Group of Nuns Went into the Mountains, Ate Some Mushrooms, and Danced" (28:28) and "How Fujiwara no Nobutada, Governor of Shinano, Took a Tumble at Misaka" (28:38). The latter, which is noted for its depiction of the zuryo (provincial governor) class, became so famous that it coined a saying ( kotowaza ): "Wherever the provincial governor stumbles, he snatches a handful of dirt." The setsuwa reveals the nature of the nobility who went from the capital to the provinces to try to gather as much wealth for themselves as possible. The provincial governor is the object of laughter, detestation as well as awe.
Book 29, tales of "evil acts" ( akugyo ), covers a wide variety of heinous deeds, particularly robbery and murder. Two examples are "How a Thief Climbed the Upper Story of Rashomon Gate and Came on a Corpse" (29:18) and "How a Man Was Traveling with His Wife to Tanba and Got Tied Up at Oeyama" (29:23), which have to do with a thief and a rapist, respectively. Both stories were used by the novelist Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892--1927) as the basis for his short story "Rashomon" and then by the film director Kurosawa Akira (1910--1998) in a film by the same name. The last part of book 29 contains stories about animals (such as tiger, dog, monkey, and hawk), which appear in this section because one of the "three evil paths" ( sankudo ) in the Buddhist cosmology, along with hell and the "sphere of hungry ghosts," was the "sphere of beasts" ( chikushodo ), while some of the stories are about the sin of killing animals.
Book 30 concentrates on tales about waka (classical poetry), some of which are drawn from Toshiyori 's Poetic Essentials ( Toshiyori zuino , ca. 1115), a poetry treatise by the noted waka poet Minamoto no Toshiyori (1055?--1129) that contains numerous anecdotes about waka . Many of these stories overlap with those in The Tales of Yamato ( Yamato monogatari , ca. 951), a poem-tale ( uta-monogatari ) collection of the Heian period. Unlike most setsuwa , these center on waka and, in this sense, bear resemblances to the uta-monogatari genre. The story "How a Poor Man Left His Wife and She Became the Wife of the Governor of Settsu" (30:5), which appears in a different form in Yamato monogatari (148), was rewritten by the novelist Tanizaki Jun'ichiro (1886--1965) as the novella Reed Cutter ( Ashikari ). Like a number of other stories in this book, this setsuwa deals with love and separation and shows the influence of the court tale tradition, but it differs in its concentration on the lowly position of the man.
How a Child of Fujiwara no Chikakatsu, Having Been Taken Hostage by a Thief, Was Released Through Words Spoken by Yorinobu (25:11)
Long ago, when Minamoto no Yorinobu, Lord of Kawachi, was acting as Lord of Kamitsuke and had lands in that region, he had a samurai named Hyo-no-jo Fujiwara no Chikakatsu, who had a son in the care of a nursemaid. He was a valiant warrior and shared with Yorinobu the management of the fief.
A thief broke into the house where Chikakatsu was staying, and though he was apprehended and bound hand and foot, he somehow managed to escape from his bonds, perhaps because proper precautions had not been taken. Chikakatsu's son was only five or six at the time, a very likable child, but as he was running away, he was seized as a hostage by the thief, who thrust him into a storeroom, made him lie down under his legs, drew his sword, and held it against the boy's abdomen.
At that time, his father, Chikakatsu, was in the office, when a man came running in and reported that the boy had been taken hostage by the thief. Chikakatsu, alarmed, rushed to the scene, only to find that the thief had in fact forced the boy into a storeroom and held his sword pressed against the boy's abdomen. Looking at them, his eyes went dim with fear, but there was nothing he could do. Although he would like to have said, "Just get him out of this!" as he looked at the huge sword pressing even now against the boy's abdomen, all he could say was, "Don't go near them! If you do, he'll kill him!" He knew that if the thief actually killed the boy, they could chop his bones into a hundred or a thousand pieces and it would make no difference. His retainers agreed. "Look out -- don't go near them! Watch them from a distance!" they said, and went to report to Lord Yorinobu on what had happened.
Before long, the tension and excitement of what had happened had spread to the place where Yorinobu, the one in command, was located. "What is going on here?" he demanded in alarm. Chikakatsu, weeping, replied, "It is just that my son, who was all alone at the time, has been taken hostage by a thief!"
Yorinobu laughed. "I understand how you feel," he said, "but is this a cause for weeping? Whether you're dealing with a god or a devil, you have to face the situation. Rather than weeping for your son, I'd say better to laugh at the affair! One little boy gets put to death -- what of that? That's what soldiers do. To think of themselves or their wives and family -- that is to betray themselves! They stand fearless -- no thought of self, no thought of family. And I stand with them!" So saying, he put on his sword and pushed Chikakatsu aside.
The thief, seeing that the Lord was present, did not bluster as he had when Chikakatsu first observed him, but behaved in a rather subdued manner, though he pressed closer and closer with his sword, as if to say, "One more from you, and you're done for!" Meanwhile, the child cried piteously.
The Lord, observing them, said, "You there -- are you holding this child a hostage so you can preserve your life? Or do you just intend to kill him? You fool -- say once for all what you're up to!"
The thief, speaking in an apologetic manner, replied, "What business would I have killing a child? I only seized him because I thought I could preserve my life that way."
"Then put your sword aside!" said the Lord. "That's what I'm telling you -- and you can't do other than obey! I'm not here to watch any killing. And what I say naturally goes. So put it aside, you fool!"
The thief seemed to ponder this for a moment. "Why not obey your illustrious command? I put my sword aside," he said, and he threw it away. The child leaped up, happy to make his escape, and the thief quickly followed him.
The Lord, after withdrawing a little, addressed his retainers and said, "Call that fellow over here!" The retainers seized the thief by the collar of his robe and dragged him into the courtyard, where they put him down. Chikakatsu demanded that he be put to death. But the Lord said, "This fool, pitiful as he is, should be forgiven for taking a hostage. Because he was poor, he turned to thieving, and he took the boy hostage because he thought it would spare him his life. There's nothing to hate about that! Furthermore, when I said spare the child, he listened and spared the child. Although he is a thief, he understands things. Let him go!"
"Is there anything you need? Speak up!" When the Lord asked him this, the thief only stood there weeping.
"Get some food for this fellow!" said the Lord. "He may do something bad again and end up killing somebody. And go in the stables and fetch one of the ordinary horses -- one of the stronger ones -- and fit it with one of the inferior saddles," he said. He also had him fitted with an inferior type of bow and quiver. When all these items had been supplied and he was fitted with a quiver and mounted on his horse, he was given a ten-day supply of rations, wrapped in a sack and fastened to his waist. "Now you're ready to go!" said the Lord, and with these words he galloped off.
The thief is believed to have undergone an awakening at these words of Yorinobu's and to have given up taking hostages. Thus we see that Yorinobu understood all the various needs of a warrior.
As for the boy who was taken hostage, later, when he grew up, he went to Mount Mitake, entered the priesthood, and eventually became an ajari . His name is said to have been Myoshu.
How Minamoto no Yorinobu's Son Yoriyoshi Shot Down a Horse Thief (25:12)
Long ago there was a warrior named Lord Minamoto no Yorinobu, the former governor of Kawachi Province. Having heard of a very fine horse in the eastern region, this Minamoto no Yorinobu sent someone to ask for the horse. The owner found it difficult to refuse, and so he allowed the horse to be taken to the capital.
Along the way, a horse thief caught sight of the animal and felt an intense desire to possess it. "I must arrange to steal it," he thought, and, keeping out of sight, he followed the horse. But the band of warriors who were escorting the horse never once let down their guard, and so the thief had no chance to steal it while they were on the road. Thus he followed the party until they reached the capital. Once in the capital, the horse was put away in the stables belonging to Minamoto no Yorinobu.
Meanwhile, someone reported to Yorinobu's son Yoriyoshi, "Today your father acquired a very fine horse from the eastern region." Yoriyoshi said to himself, "The horse will probably end up in the hands of somebody of no importance just because the person asked for it. Before that happens, I'd better take a look at it myself. If it's a really fine animal, I'll ask my father to give it to me!" With that thought in mind, he went to his father's house.
A very heavy rain was falling, but Yoriyoshi was so eager to see the horse that he did not allow that to deter him. When he arrived around nightfall, his father said, "Why has it been such a long time since I've seen you?" And then he said, "Ah -- I see. You've heard that I've acquired this horse. And you've come because you thought you'd ask for it."
Then, before Yoriyoshi knew quite how to respond to this, his father said, "They tell me the horse from the eastern region has arrived, but I haven't had a look at it yet. The person who sent it assures me it's a fine animal. It's already dark now, so we can't look at it tonight. We'll wait until tomorrow, and if it suits you, you can take it with you at once."
Yoriyoshi, spoken to in this manner before he had even asked for the horse, thought to himself, "Fine!" "In that case," he said, "I'll stay here tonight to help guard things, and we'll have a look at the horse tomorrow." Accordingly, he prepared to spend the night.
As the evening wore on, the two men chatted together. Then, when it grew late, the father retired to his room and went to bed, while Yoriyoshi lay down nearby to nap and act as a guard.
Meanwhile, the sound of the falling rain continued without stop. Around the middle of the night, the horse thief, taking advantage of the rain, stole in and made off with the horse. From the direction of the stables a voice was heard calling out, "That horse they brought here last evening -- a thief has stolen it and gotten away!"
Yorinobu was just barely able to catch the words. Not stopping to ask his son Yoriyoshi, who was still asleep, whether he had heard the cry, he leaped up and threw on his clothes. Tucking in the bottom of his robe and slinging a quiver and arrows over his shoulder, he ran to the stables. There he led out another horse, tossed a plain saddle on it, and, mounted on this, raced off in pursuit toward Barrier Hill. "The thief," Yorinobu thought to himself, "came from the east. Seeing what a fine horse it was, he hoped to steal it, but he couldn't do so along the way. And now, coming to the capital and taking advantage of the rain, he's made off with it!" This thought in mind, he pressed on his way.
But Yoriyoshi, too, had heard the cry. His thoughts following the same pattern as those of his father, he did not stop to speak to Yorinobu. Since he had not taken off his regular clothes but had slept in them, he got up and, dressed as he was, slung a quiver over his shoulder and, as his father had done, made for the stables. -- --, rode off alone in the direction of Barrier Hill in pursuit of the thief.
Yorinobu thought, "My son will surely follow in pursuit." And Yoriyoshi thought, "My father must have gone ahead of me in pursuit." Each galloping along so as not to fall behind, one by one they crossed the bed of the Kamo River. By this time, the rain had let up and the sky was clear. Galloping faster than ever in pursuit, they reached Barrier Hill.
The thief, meanwhile, mounted on the stolen horse, thought, "Now I can make my escape!" But in the area around Barrier Hill, there was a good deal of water, and he had to pick his way along slowly, splash-splashing through the water as he went.
When Yorinobu heard this, it was as though he had been given exact instructions where to shoot. And although it was pitch dark, and he didn't know whether his son was beside him or not, he said, "Now -- shoot there!" Before he had even finished speaking, the twang of a bow rang out. And then, just as a sound told him there had been a hit, he could hear a horse galloping, its stirrups making a clattering noise that indicated it was riderless.
Again Yorinobu spoke up. "The thief's been hit, and he's fallen off! Quick!" he shouted. "Go after the horse and bring it back!" Then, without waiting to see if anyone retrieved the horse, he started back for the capital. Yoriyoshi went after the horse and retrieved it.
When Yorinobu's underlings got word of what had happened, one or two of them came out on the road to join Yoriyoshi and Yorinobu. By the time they returned to their home in the capital, they made up a party of twenty or thirty men.
After Yorinobu got home, he did not say a word about who had done this or who had done that but, since it was still night, went back to bed as he had been before. Yoriyoshi, too, after he had turned over the stolen horse to the stable attendants, went back to bed.
When the night was over, Yorinobu got up and called to his son. He did not say anything about how it was lucky that the horse hadn't been stolen or that somebody had been a good shot. Instead he said, "Bring the horse here." When the horse had been brought out, Yoriyoshi could see just how fine it was and said, "Well, then, I'll take it!" and proceeded to make the horse his own. At some point during the night, however, the horse had been fitted with a splendid saddle. This, we may suppose, was Yoriyoshi's reward for having shot a thief in the night.
How strange are their ways! But this, it would seem, is how the warriors do things. This is the story that has been handed down.
How the Demon of Agi Bridge in Omi Province Eats Somebody (27:13)
Long ago, when a man named -- -- was governor of Omi Province, there were several young men in the governor's office who were noted for their high spirits. Years after, people still speak of how they played go or suguroku , went off on a thousand adventures, or ate and drank together. Or the time one of them said, "In this province we have a bridge called the Agi Bridge. In the old days people used it, but nowadays for some reason no one goes over it anymore." One of them started it, but the others took it up, chattering enthusiastically. Then the bravest of them spoke up, noting that in fact no one used the Agi Bridge. "But I'll go over it! Whatever fearful demon there may be, I'll go over it riding on the fleetest horse in headquarters!"
At that, all the others voiced hearty approval. "Splendid!" they shouted. "Go to it! That's the shortest way, but everyone seems to be taking the long way, true or not. Look at the spirit he has!" they cried encouragingly.
While all this excitement was going on, the governor, hearing of it, said, "What's this fuss about?" When they gathered around and told him, he replied, "What a stupid thing for him to do! But as far as the horse goes, he can take it any time." The young man replied, "It was a crazy idea, just a whim. I'm sorry." But those opposing his quitting cried, "What nonsense! He's lost his nerve!" and urged him to go on.
"Crossing the bridge is easy enough," said the young man. "But it looks as though I'm just trying to get a horse." "Hurry up -- it's getting late!" exclaimed the others. They put an easier saddle on the horse and then were ready. The young man had doubts, but it was he who had proposed the idea. The rear end of the horse was slathered with oil, the ropes holding the saddle were tightened, the whip was fitted to his hand with a ring, and the equipage was made as light as possible. He mounted the horse.
As the horse drew near the approach to the bridge, the young man felt fear gripping his heart, but he knew that it was too late to turn back. He noted with misgiving that the sun was nearing the line of mountains. Moreover, the spot was deserted, far from any village, with no sign of smoke rising from a house. Full of apprehension, he raced along toward the middle of the bridge when, far in the distance, he saw a figure.
That must be the demon, he thought, as he eyed it nervously. It wore a light-colored robe, a dark singlet, and red trousers. It covered its mouth and looked around in an indescribably pathetic manner. It was a woman. Her gaze conveyed a look of grief, as though, through no fault of her own, she had been abandoned. She was hanging onto the tall rail of the bridge, but when the young man looked at her, she assumed a look bashful but delighted.
At the sight of her, the young man was about to forget everything and invite her to come up and ride beside him, or perhaps to dismount. But he told himself, "There's no woman in a place like this -- this is a demon!" and, shutting his eyes, he sped past her.
The woman had expected to be spoken to, but when he rushed by without a word, she cried, "Ah! -- that gentleman -- he just passes me by. In a place like this, and he goes off without stopping! At least take me to a village!" But it was no use. The man, frightened out of his wits, whipped up the horse and flew past her, leaving her cries of "Heartless!" echoing all around.
"Just as I thought," said the man to himself, and he began intoning "Kannon, save me!" and whipping his horse to greater speed. The demon, running after, tried again and again to get a grip on the horse, but because of the oil spread on it, its hands kept slipping away.
As the man turned to look back, he could see the demon's face, vermillion in color and round like a sitting mat, and its single eye. It had three hands, with claws like knives five inches long. Its body was bluish-green in color, and its eye was amber. Its hair was in a tangle, like a bramble bush, and just looking at it turned one's heart cold, an unspeakable horror. But because he kept praying to Kannon as he raced along, the young man was able to reach safety in a place where other humans were about. At that time, the demon said, "Very well -- but sometime we'll meet again!" and with that vanished from sight.
The young man, groaning, feeling not himself at all, made his way back to the provincial headquarters in the gathering dusk. "What happened?" asked the others. But he was so faint from fear that he could not answer. As the others gathered around to reassure him, he calmed down a little.
The governor too, worried, asked what had happened, and he replied with a full account. "It was stupid to begin with -- and you almost lost your life!" declared the governor as he took charge of the horse. The young man, however, returned to his family with an air of triumph and, addressing his wife and family and the servants, told them all the fearful things that had happened.
From that time on, however, the family began to experience various strange occurrences. Consulting an On'yoji, or yin-yang master, about this, they were advised from that day on to exercise grave caution. Beginning that day, they shut their gate tight and observed utmost care.
The man had a younger brother, his only sibling, who was employed in the office of Michinoku Province. He, accompanied by their mother, was journeying to Omi Province and happened to arrive just when the family went into seclusion. When he knocked at the gate, he was told, "We are in strict seclusion. Please come another day. Meanwhile, you can put up somewhere else."
The younger brother said, "That's absurd! It's getting late, and even if I put up somewhere else, what about the things I've brought? In case the day was inauspicious, I planned it so I would arrive on a good day. And this elderly person with me, I'm afraid, has succumbed. So I have to announce that to you, too." The people in the house were greatly distressed at the news of the elderly parent, but they replied warily, "We are in strict seclusion." "Just quickly open the door!" was the tearful reply.
The older brother was in the parlor preparing to eat, but came to the door and, weeping copiously, spoke with the visitor. The younger brother in his black mourning garments was weeping, and the older brother was weeping, too. The wife of the latter, hiding behind the curtain, hearing the sound of weeping, wondered what was going on.
Suddenly the brothers rushed into each other's arms, making a great commotion. The wife, startled, cried out, "What's happening?" The older brother, holding the younger one down, shouted, "Quick -- bring me the sword that's under the pillow!" "Heavens -- are you crazy?" said his wife. "What's going on?" When she failed to bring it, he cried, "Just bring it! I'm going to kill him!"
But the younger brother, managing to get on top, held down his older brother, bit off his head, and -- dancing around with it, looking in the direction of the wife, and holding it up -- exclaimed, "What joy!" His face showed the triumph he felt at having avenged the "incident at the bridge." Then he vanished.
With that, the wife and all the other members of the household broke into tears, but there was nothing they could do about it.
A woman's wisdom is not worth counting on. They had lots of goods, horses, and so on when they looked, but they were no more than bare bones. "Anyone who would take part in a stupid contest like that is an utter fool!" All the people who heard what had happened blamed the man.
After that, there were various stories, and it appears that the demons were bested, as they are no longer heard of anymore.
How Ki no Tosuke of Mino Province Meets Female Spirits and Dies (27:21)
Long ago, there was a man named Fujiwara Takanori, a former official of Nagato. When he was serving as temporary governor of Shimosa Province, he was assigned by the k anpaku to oversee the affairs of the country estate of Namatsu in Mino Province. And attached to that estate was a man named Ki no Tosuke.
Among the various people on the estate, Takanori took particular notice of this Ki no Tosuke. Tosuke was summoned to the capital for extended service in the Higashi no Sanjo Palace. His period of service in the capital having ended, he had been dismissed and was on his way home to Mino and was crossing the Seta Bridge.
As he was doing so, he noted a woman standing and holding up the hem of her robe. Passing by on his horse, he thought this a little peculiar. "Where are you going, may I ask?" said the woman. "I'm going to Mino," replied Tosuke, dismounting from his horse. "I have a favor to ask," she said. "I wonder if you would oblige me?" "I would be delighted," he replied.
"Ah, how happy you make me!" she exclaimed. Then, pulling a small box from the breast of her robe and unwrapping the piece of silk around it, she said, "If you could take this to the village of Morokoshi no Sato in the district of Kataagata, the place by the bridge where they store the produce. At the west end of the bridge, there will be a woman waiting. Please give this to her."
Tosuke thought this rather strange, but he replied, "I will be happy to comply." Noting the woman's appearance, as though she were fearful that he would refuse, he found it difficult to deny her request. Accepting the box, he said, "This woman waiting by the bridge -- who is she? Where does she live? If she's not there, how will I find her? And who should I say sent the box?"
The woman replied, "Just go to the foot of the bridge. She will be waiting to receive it. There's no mistake -- she will be there. But for heaven's sake, do not ever try to open the box!" As she said this, Tosuke had the feeling that the others in his party did not see him standing there and talking to her; they only saw that he had gotten off his horse and was standing there, and they wondered what he was doing. After Tosuke had accepted the box, the woman went on her way.
Tosuke, having remounted his horse, journeyed on to Mino. But when he reached the approach to the bridge at Morokoshi no Sato, he forgot all about what he was supposed to do there and failed to deliver the box. Only when he reached home did he remember. "Well, I'll have to look for the party another time and hand it over then," he thought to himself as he put it away in what he thought was a safe place.
Tosuke's wife was of a very jealous nature, and she happened to come across the box by accident. "He must have bought it and brought it from Kyoto, intending to give it to some woman!" she thought. "And he's hidden it from me here!" When Tosuke had gone out, his wife got out the box and opened it. In it, she found several human eyes that had been gouged out and a number of penises with a little of the hair attached.
When the wife saw these things, she was greatly startled and frightened. As soon as Tosuke returned, with much misgiving she called him to look at them. "She warned me not to open the box!" he exclaimed. "Now you've done it!"
Quickly he wrapped the things up again the way they had been and, as the woman had told him, took the box to the foot of the bridge. There was a woman waiting there, as he had been told there would be. When Tosuke gave her the box, she said, "This box has been opened, hasn't it!" "Oh no, nothing of the sort!" protested Tosuke. But the woman, looking extremely displeased, said, "You've done a terrible thing!" Then, with an air of profound regret, she took the box and Tosuke went home.
After that Tosuke, complaining that he did not feel well, took to his bed. "She said not to look, but you had to open it!" he said to his wife, and shortly after, he died.
Thus we see that when a wife has profound feelings of jealousy and acts on the basis of imaginings, she brings bad luck on the husband. Because of jealousy, Tosuke died an unexpected and miserable death. Although they say that jealousy is just part of a woman's constant nature, still all who heard of this incident blamed the wife -- so the story goes.
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