Cristy Burne

Author, editor, science writer


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Creative writing activity: Spooky writing stimuli from Kwaidan

The demons in Takeshita Demons originated in Japanese mythology and ghost stories from many years ago.

Many spooky Japanese stories appear in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a book published in 1903 by a Greek-born journalist named Lafcadio Hearn. A resident of Japan for nearly 15 years, Hearn translated the stories from old books or transcribed them after hearing the stories told.

The story starters below are taken from Kwaidan. A PDF of this creative writing activity is available.

 

What to do:

  • Read the story starters and see if you can guess what happens next.
  • Write your own end to the stories, or discuss your ideas in a group.

The story starters

1) Of a mirror and a bell

Eight centuries ago, the priests of Mugenyama wanted to make a big bronze bell for their temple. They did not have enough bronze to make the bell, so they asked people to donate their bronze mirrors to melt into bell-metal. One young woman donated her grandmother’s mirror to the temple, but she immediately regretted her actions. She remembered all the happy smiles her mirror had reflected, and longed for a chance to steal her mirror back… … …

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Read the complete story.

2) Mujina

Late one night an old merchant was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka hill, when he saw a woman crouching by the moat, all alone and weeping bitterly. Afraid that she might try to drown herself, he stopped to help. The woman was well dressed and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl.

“Young lady,” he said. “Do not cry. Please tell me what the trouble is and I will try to help.”

But she continued to cry, hiding her face from him with her long sleeves… … …

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Read the complete story.


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Japanese ghost stories: of a mirror and a bell

Born on Greek island in 1850, Lafcadio Hearn was quite the traveller, living in Ireland, the U.S., and the West Indies before settling in Japan.

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…
ENJOY!

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.

Of course, if she could have offered the priests a certain sum of money in place of the mirror, she could have asked them to give back her heirloom. But she had not the money necessary.

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.

Oooooooo! Spooky!


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Japanese ghost stories: the yokai without a face

Born on Greek island in 1850, Lafcadio Hearn was quite the traveller, living in Ireland, the U.S., and the West Indies before settling in Japan.

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 “Mujina” appears in Kwaidan and features a faceless yokai he calls a mujina, also known as a noppera-bō.

“Mujina” is reproduced below…
ENJOY! And…as you read it, just remember that similar mujina sightings have been more recently reported in Hawaii!

MUJINA, from Kwaidan
by Lafcadio Hearn

On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka, which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens; and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace.

Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas [rickshaws], this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset. All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.

The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:

One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family.

“O-jochu [young girl],” he exclaimed, approaching her, “O-jochu, do not cry like that!…Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be glad to help you.” (He really meant what he said; for he was a very kind man.)

But she continued to weep, hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves.

“O-jochu,” he said again, as gently as he could, “please, please listen to me!… This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you! — only tell me how I may be of some help to you!”

Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve.

He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded: “O-jochu! O-jochu! O-jochu!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochu! O-jochu!”

Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand; — and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,— and he screamed and ran away.

Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it.

It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, “Ah! — aa!! — aa!!!”…

“Kore! kore! [Here, here]” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”

“No — nobody hurt me,” panted the other, “only… Ah! — aa!”

“Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”

“Not robbers, not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman — by the moat; — and she showed me… Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”

“Ha! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face —which therewith became like unto an Egg

… And, simultaneously, the light went out.

Oooooooo! Spooky!

Interested in scary and strange Japanese mythology? You might also enjoy these posts:

Selective genetics or ghosts reborn? Legend of the Samurai crabs

Enma Daio, Datsue-ba, and one great reason to die with your clothes on

Japanese yokai memory game: test your memory, learn some Japanese and spook yourself out!

Do you love yokai and Japan? Check out these free resources. Have fun!

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