Lafcadio Hearn, also known as Koizumi Yakumo, was a journalist best known for Kwaidan, his book of super-spooky Japanese ghost stories.
Hearn’s ghost story “Of a mirror and a bell” appears in Kwaidan and is a spooky tale of curses and regret.
“Of a mirror and a bell” is reproduced below…
OF A MIRROR AND A BELL, from Kwaidan
by Lafcadio Hearn
Eight centuries ago, the priests of Mugenyama, in the province of Totomi, wanted a big bell for their temple; and they asked the women of their parish to help them by contributing old bronze mirrors for bell-metal.
There was at that time a young woman, a farmer’s wife, living at Mugenyama, who presented her mirror to the temple, to be used for bell-metal. But afterwards she much regretted her mirror.
She remembered things that her mother had told her about it; and she remembered that it had belonged not only to her mother, but to her mother’s mother and grandmother; and she remembered some happy smiles which it had reflected.
Whenever she went to the temple, she saw her mirror lying in the courtyard, behind a railing, among hundreds of other mirrors heaped there together. She knew it by the Sho-Chiku-Bai in relief on the back of it: the three lucky emblems of Pine, Bamboo, and Plumflower, which delighted her baby-eyes when her mother first showed her the mirror.
She longed for some chance to steal the mirror, and hide it, that she might thereafter treasure it always. But the chance did not come; and she became very unhappy, feeling as if she had foolishly given away a part of her life.
She thought about the old saying that “a mirror is the soul of a woman”, and she feared that it was true in weirder ways than she had before imagined. But she did not dare to speak of her pain to anybody.
Now, when all the mirrors contributed for the Mugenyama bell had been sent to the foundry, the bell-founders discovered that there was one mirror among them which would not melt.
Again and again they tried to melt it; but it resisted all their efforts. Evidently the woman who had given that mirror to the temple must have regretted the giving. She had not presented her offering with all her heart; and therefore her selfish soul, remaining attached to the mirror, kept the mirror hard and cold in the midst of the furnace.
Of course, everybody heard of the matter, and everybody soon knew whose mirror it was that would not melt.
Because of this public exposure of her secret fault, the poor woman became very much ashamed and very angry. And as she could not bear the shame, she drowned herself, having written a farewell letter containing these words:
“When I am dead, it will not be difficult to melt the mirror and to cast the bell. But, to the person who breaks that bell by ringing it, great wealth will be given by the ghost of me.”
You must know that the last wish or promise of anybody who dies in anger, or performs suicide in anger, is generally supposed to possess a supernatural force.
After the dead woman’s mirror had been melted, and the bell had been successfully cast, people remembered the words of that letter. They felt sure that the spirit of the writer would give wealth to the breaker of the bell; and, as soon as the bell had been suspended in the court of the temple, they went in multitude to ring it.
With all their might and main they swung the ringing-beam; but the bell proved to be a good bell, and it bravely withstood their assaults. Nevertheless, the people were not easily discouraged.
Day after day, at all hours, they continued to ring the bell furiously, caring nothing whatever for the protests of the priests. So the ringing became an affliction; and the priests could not endure it; and they got rid of the bell by rolling it down the hill into a swamp. The swamp was deep, and swallowed it up, and that was the end of the bell.
Only its legend remains; and in that legend it is called the Mugen-Kane, or Bell of Mugen.