Gleaings in Buddha-Fields, by Lafcadio Hearn, , at sacred-texts.com
MANYEMON had coaxed the child indoors, and made her eat. She appeared to be about eleven years old, intelligent, and pathetically docile. Her name was Iné, which means "springing rice;" and her frail slimness made the name seem appropriate.
When she began, under Manyemon's gentle persuasion, to tell her story, I anticipated something queer from the accompanying change in her voice. She spoke in a high thin sweet tone, perfectly even,—a tone changeless and unemotional as the chanting of the little kettle over its charcoal bed. Not unfrequently in Japan one may hear a girl or a woman utter something touching or cruel or terrible in just such a steady, level, penetrating tone, but never anything indifferent. It always means that feeling is being kept under control.
"There were six of us at home," said Iné,—"mother and father and father's mother, who
was very old, and my brother and myself, and a little sister. Father was a hyôguya, a paper-hanger: he papered sliding-screens and also mounted kakemono. Mother was a hairdresser. My brother was apprenticed to a seal-cutter.
"Father and mother did well: mother made even more money than father. We had good clothes and good food; and we never had any real sorrow until father fell sick. "It was the middle of the hot season. Father had always been healthy: we did not think that his sickness was dangerous, and he did not think so himself. But the very next day he died. We were very much surprised. Mother tried to hide her heart, and to wait upon her customers as before. But she was not very strong, and the pain of father's death came too quickly. Eight days after father's funeral mother also died. It was so sudden that everybody wondered. Then the neighbors told us that we must make a ningyô-no-haka at once,—or else there would be another death in our house. My brother said they were right; but he put off doing what they told him. Perhaps he did not have money
enough, I do not know; but the haka was not made ... . . .
"What is a ningyô-no-haka?" I interrupted.
"I think," Manyemon made answer, "that You have seen many ningyô-no-haka without knowing what they were;—they look just like graves of children. It is believed that when two of a family die in the same year, a third also must soon die. There is a saying, Always three graves. So when two out of one family have been buried in the same year, a third grave is made next to the graves of those two, and in it is put a coffin containing only a little figure of straw,—wara-ningyô; and over that grave a small tombstone is set up, bearing a kaimyô. The priests of the temple to which the graveyard belongs write the kaimyô for these little gravestones. By making a ningyô-no-haka it is thought that a death may be prevented. . . . We listen for the rest, Iné."
[1. The posthumous Buddhist name of the person buried is chiseled upon the tomb or haka.]
The child resumed:—
"There were still four of us,—grandmother, brother, myself, and my little sister. My brother was nineteen years old. He had finished his apprenticeship just before father died: we thought that was like the pity of the gods for us. He had become the head of the house. He was very skillful in his business, and had many friends: therefore he could maintain us. He made thirteen yen the first month;—that is very good for a seal-cutter. One evening he came home sick: he said that his head hurt him. Mother had then been dead forty-seven days. That evening he could not eat. Next morning he was not able to get up;—he had a very hot fever: we nursed him as well as we could, and sat up at night to watch by him; but he did not get better. On the morning of the third day of his sickness we became frightened—because he began to talk to mother. It was the forty-ninth day after mother's death,—the day the Soul leaves the house;—and brother spoke as if mother was calling him:—'Yes, mother, yes!—in a little while I shall come!' Then he told us that mother was pulling him by the sleeve. He
would point with his hand and call to us:—'There she is!—there!—do you not see her?' We would tell him that we could not see anything. Then he would say, 'Ah! you did not look quick enough: she is hiding now;—she has gone down under the floor-mats.' All the morning he talked like that. At last grandmother stood up, and stamped her foot on the floor, and reproached mother,—speaking very loud. 'Taka!' she said, 'Taka, what you do is very wrong. When you were alive we all loved you. None of us ever spoke unkind words to you. Why do you now want to take the boy? You know that he is the only pillar of our house. You know that if you take him there will not be any one to care for the ancestors. You know that if you take him, you will destroy the family name! O Taka, it is cruel! it is shameful! it is wicked!' Grandmother was so angry that all her body trembled. Then she sat down and cried; and I and my little sister cried. But our brother said that mother was still pulling him by the sleeve. When the sun went down, he died.
"Grandmother wept, and stroked us, and
sang a little song that she made herself. I can remember it still:—
Oya no nai ko to
Hamabé no chidori:
"So the third grave was made,—but it was not a ningyô-no-haka;—and that was the end of our house. We lived with kindred until winter, when grandmother died. She died in the night,—when, nobody knew: in the morning she seemed to be sleeping, but she was dead. Then I and my little sister were separated. My sister was adopted by a tatamiya, a mat-maker,—one of father's friends. She is kindly treated: she even goes to school!"
[1. "Children without parents, like the seagulls of the coast. Evening after evening the sleeves are wrung." The word chidori—indiscriminately applied to many kinds of birds,—is here used for seagull. The cries of the seagull are thought to express melancholy and desolation: hence the comparison. The long sleeve of the Japanese robe is used to wipe the eyes as well as to hide the face in moments of grief. To "wring the sleeve"—that is, to wring the moisture from a tear-drenched sleeve—is a frequent expression in Japanese poetry.]
"Aa fushigi na koto da!—aa komatta ne?" murmured Manyemon. Then there was a moment or two of sympathetic silence. Iné prostrated herself in thanks, and rose to depart. As she slipped her feet under the thongs of her sandals, I moved toward the spot where she had been sitting, to ask the old man a question. She perceived my intention, and immediately made an indescribable sign to Manyemon, who responded by checking me just as I was going to sit down beside him.
"She wishes," he said, "that the master will honorably strike the matting first."
"But why?" I asked in surprise,—noticing only that under my unshod feet, the spot where the child had been kneeling felt comfortably warm.
"She believes that to sit down upon the place made warm by the body of another is to take into one's own life all the sorrow of that other person,—unless the place be stricken first."
Whereat I sat down without performing the rite; and we both laughed.
"Iné," said Manyemon, "the master takes
your sorrows upon him. He wants—(I cannot venture to render Manyemon's honorifics)—"to understand the pain of other people. You need not fear for him, Iné."