Long ago, at a small and out-of-the-way village called Kumedamura, about eight miles to the south-east of Sakai city, in Idsumo Province, there was made a tomb, the Fuezuka or Flute's Tomb, and to this day many people go thither to offer up prayer and to worship, bringing with them flowers and incense-sticks, which are deposited as offerings to the spirit of the man who was buried there. All the year round people flock to it. There is no season at which they pray more particularly than at another.
The Fuezuka tomb is situated on a large pond called Kumeda, some five miles in circumference, and all the places around this pond are known as of Kumeda Pond, from which the village of Kumeda took its name.
Whose tomb can it be that attracts such sympathy The tomb itself is a simple stone pillar, with nothing artistic to recommend it. Neither is the surrounding scenery interesting; it is flat and ugly until the mountains of Kiushu are reached. I must tell, as well as I can, the story of whose tomb it is.
Between 170 and 180 years ago there lived near the pond in the village of Kumedamura a blind masseuse called Yoichi. Yoichi was extremely popular in the neighbourhood, being very honest and kind, besides being quite a professor in the art of massage--a treatment necessary to almost every Japanese. It would be difficult indeed to find a village that had not its amma.
Yoichi was blind, and, like all men of his calling, carried an iron wand or stick, also a flute or 'fuezuka'--the stick to feel his way about with, and the flute to let people know he was ready for employment. So good an amma was Yoichi, he was nearly always employed, and, consequently, fairly well off, having a little house of his own and one servant, who cooked his food.
A little way from Yoichi's house was a small teahouse, placed upon the banks of the pond. One evening (April 5; cherry-blossom season), just at dusk, Yoichi was on his way home, having been at work all day. His road led him by the pond. There he heard a girl crying piteously. He stopped and listened for a few moments, and gathered from what he heard that the girl was about to drown herself. Just as she entered the lake Yoichi caught her by the dress and dragged her out.
'Who are you, and why in such trouble as to wish to die?' he asked. 'I am Asayo, the teahouse girl,' she answered. 'You know me quite well. You must know, also, that it is not possible for me to support myself out of the small pittance which is paid by my master. I have eaten nothing for two days now, and am tired of my life.'
'Come, come!' said the blind man. 'Dry your tears. I will take you to my house, and do what I can to help you. You are only twenty-five years of age, and I am told still a fair-looking girl. Perhaps you will marry! In any case, I will take care of you, and you must not think of killing yourself. Come with me now; and I will see that you are well fed, and that dry clothes are given you.' So Yoichi led Asayo to his home.
A few months found them wedded to each other. Were they happy? Well, they should have been, for Yoichi treated his wife with the greatest kindness; but she was unlike her husband. She was selfish, bad-tempered, and unfaithful. In the eyes of Japanese infidelity is the worst of sins. How much more, then, is it against the country's spirit when advantage is taken of a husband who is blind?
Some three months after they had been married, and in the heat of August, there came to the village a company of actors. Among them was Sawamura Tamataro, of some repute in Asakusa.
Asayo, who was very fond of a play, spent much of her time and her husband's money in going to the theatre. In less than two days she had fallen violently in love with Tamataro. She sent him money, hardly earned by her blind husband. She wrote to him love-letters, begged him to allow her to come and visit him, and generally disgraced her sex.
Things went from bad to worse. The secret meetings of Asayo and the actor scandalised the neighbourhood. As in most such cases, the husband knew nothing about them. Frequently, when he went home, the actor was in his house, but kept quiet, and Asayo let him out secretly, even going with him sometimes. Every one felt sorry for Yoichi; but none liked to tell him of his wife's infidelity.
One day Yoichi went to shampoo a customer, who told him of Asayo's conduct. Yoichi was incredulous. 'But yes: it is true,' said the son of his customer. 'Even now the actor Tamataro is with your wife. So soon as you left your house he slipped in. This he does every day, and many of us see it. We all feel sorry for you in your blindness, and should be glad to help you to punish her.'
Yoichi was deeply grieved, for he knew that his friends were in earnest; but, though blind, he would accept no assistance to convict his wife. He trudged home as fast as his blindness would permit, making as little noise as possible with his staff.
On reaching home Yoichi found the front door fastened from the inside. He went to the back, and found the same thing there. There was no way of getting in without breaking a door and making a noise. Yoichi was much excited now; for he knew that his guilty wife and her lover were inside, and he would have liked to kill them both. Great strength came to him, and he raised himself bit by hit until he reached the top of the roof. He intended to enter the house by letting himself down through the 'tem-mado' (chimney hole). Unfortunately, the straw rope he used in doing this was rotten, and gave way, precipitating him below, where he fell on the wooden block. He fractured his skull, and died instantly.
Asayo and the actor, hearing the noise, went to see what had happened, and were rather pleased to find poor Yoichi dead. They did not report the death until next day, when they said that Yoichi had fallen downstairs and thus killed himself. They buried him with indecent haste, and hardly with proper respect.
Yoichi having no children, his property, according to the Japanese law, went to his bad wife, and only a few months passed before Asayo and the actor were married. Apparently they were happy, though none in the village of Kumeda had any sympathy for them, all being disgusted at their behaviour to the poor blind shampooer Yoichi.
Months passed by without event of any interest in the village. No one bothered about Asayo and her husband; and they bothered about no one else, being sufficiently interested in themselves. The scandal-mongers had become tired, and, like all nine-day wonders, the history of the blind amma, Asayo, and Tamataro had passed into silence.
However, it does not do to be assured while the spirit of the injured dead goes unavenged.
Up in one of the western provinces, at a small village called Minato, lived one of Yoichi's friends, who was closely connected with him. This was Okuda Ichibei. He and Yoichi had been to school together. They had promised when Ichibei went up to the north-west always to remember each other, and to help each other in time of need, and when Yoichi had become blind Ichibei came down to Kumeda and helped to start Yoichi in his business of amma, which he did by giving him a house to live in--a house which had been bequeathed to Ichibei. Again fate decreed that it should be in Ichibei's power to help his friend. At that time news travelled very slowly, and Ichibei had not immediately heard of Yoichi's death or even of his marriage. Judge, then, of his surprise, one night on awaking, to find, standing near his pillow, the figure of a man whom by and by he recognised as Yoichi!
'Why, Yoichi! I am glad to see you,' he said; 'but how late at night you have arrived! Why did you not let me know you were coming? I should have been up to receive you, and there would have been a hot meal ready. But never mind. I will call a servant, and everything shall be ready as soon as possible. In the meantime be seated, and tell me about yourself, and how you travelled so far. To have come through the mountains and other wild country from Kumeda is hard enough at best; but for one who is blind it is wonderful.'
'I am no longer a living man,' answered the ghost of Yoichi (for such it was). 'I am indeed your friend Yoichi's spirit, and I shall wander about until I can be avenged for a great ill which has been done me. I have come to beg of you to help me, that my spirit may go to rest. If you listen I will tell my story, and you can then do as you think best.'
Ichibei was very much astonished (not to say a little nervous) to know that he was in the presence of a ghost; but he was a brave man, and Yoichi had been his friend. He was deeply grieved to hear of Yoichi's death, and realised that the restlessness of his spirit showed him to have been injured. Ichibei decided not only to listen to the story but also to revenge Yoichi, and said so.
The ghost then told all that had happened since he had been set up in the house at Kumedamura. He told of his success as a masseur; of how he had saved the life of Asayo, how he had taken her to his house and subsequently married her; of the arrival of the accursed acting company which contained the man who had ruined his life; of his own death and hasty burial; and of the marriage of Asayo and the actor. 'I must be avenged. Will you help me to rest in peace?' he said in conclusion. Ichibei promised. Then the spirit of Yoichi disappeared, and Ichibei slept again.
Next morning Ichibei thought he must have been dreaming; but he remembered the vision and the narrative so clearly that he perceived them to have been actual. Suddenly turning with the intention to get up, he caught sight of the shine of a metal flute close to his pillow. It was the flute of a blind amma. It was marked with Yoichi's name. Ichibei resolved to start for Kumedamura and ascertain locally all about Yoichi.
In those times, when there was no railway and a rickshaw only here and there, travel was slow. Ichibei took ten days to reach Kumedamura. He immediately went to the house of his friend Yoichi, and was there told the whole history again, but naturally in another way. Asayo said:
'Yes: he saved my life. We were married, and I helped my blind husband in everything. One day, alas, he mistook the staircase for a door, falling down and killing himself. Now I am married to his great friend, an actor called Tamataro, whom you see here.'
Ichibei knew that the ghost of Yoichi was not likely to tell him lies, and to ask for vengeance unjustly. Therefore he continued talking to Asayo and her husband, listening to their lies, and wondering what would be the fitting procedure.
Ten o'clock passed thus, and eleven. At twelve o'clock, when Asayo for the sixth or seventh time was assuring Ichibei that everything possible had been done for her blind husband, a wind storm suddenly arose, and in the midst of it was heard the sound of the amma's flute, just as Yoichi played it; it was so unmistakably his that Asayo screamed with fear.
At first distant, nearer and nearer approached the sound, until at last it seemed to be in the room itself. At that moment a cold puff of air came down the tem-mado, and the ghost of Yoichi was seen standing beneath it, a cold, white, glimmering and sad-faced wraith.
Tamataro and his wife tried to get up and run out of the house; but they found that their legs would not support them, so full were they of fear.
Tamataro seized a lamp and flung it at the ghost; but the ghost was not to be moved. The lamp passed through him, and broke, setting fire to the house, which burned instantly, the wind fanning the flames. Ichibei made his escape; but neither Asayo nor her husband could move, and the flames consumed them in the presence of Yoichi's ghost. Their cries were loud and piercing.
Ichibei had all the ashes swept up and placed in a tomb. He had buried in another grave the flute of the blind amma, and erected on the ground where the house had been a monument sacred to the memory of Yoichi.
It is known as FUEZUKA NO KWAIDAN (The flute ghost tomb).