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The Kakemono Ghost Of Aki Province

The Kakemono Ghost Of Aki Province


DOWN the Inland Sea between Umedaichi and Kure (now a great naval port) and in the province of Aki, there is a small village called Yaiyama, in which lived a painter of some note, Abe Tenko. Abe Tenko taught more than he painted, and relied for his living mostly on the small means to which he had succeeded at his father's death and on the aspiring artists who boarded in the village for the purpose of taking daily lessons from him. The island and rock scenery in the neighbourhood afforded continual study, and Tenko was never short of pupils. Among them was one scarcely more than a boy, being only seventeen years of age. His name was Sawara Kameju, and a most promising pupil he was. He had been sent to Tenko over a year before, when scarce sixteen years of age, and, for the reason that Tenko had been a friend of his father, Sawara was taken under the roof of the artist and treated as if he had been his son.

Tenko had had a sister who went into the service of the Lord of Aki, by whom she had a daughter. Had the child been a son, it would have been adopted into the Aki family; but, being a daughter, it was, according to Japanese custom, sent back to its mother's family, with the result that Tenko took charge of the child, whose name was Kimi. The mother being dead, the child had lived with him for sixteen years. Our story opens with O Kimi grown into a pretty girl.

O Kimi was a most devoted adopted daughter to Tenko. She attended almost entirely to his household affairs, and Tenko looked upon her as if indeed she were his own daughter, instead of an illegitimate niece, trusting her in everything.

After the arrival of the young student O Kimi's heart gave her much trouble. She fell in love with him. Sawara admired O Kimi greatly; but of love he never said a word, being too much absorbed in his study. He looked upon Kimi as a sweet girl, taking his meals with her and enjoying her society. He would have fought for her, and he loved her; but he never gave himself time to think that she was not his sister, and that he might make love to her. So it came to pass at last that O Kimi one day, with the pains of love in her heart, availed herself of her guardian's absence at the temple, whither he had gone to paint something for the priests. O Kimi screwed up her courage and made love to Sawara. She told him that since he had come to the house her heart had known no peace. She loved him, and would like to marry him if he did not mind.

This simple and maidenlike request, accompanied by the offer of tea, was more than young Sawara was able to answer without acquiescence. After all, it did not much matter, thought he: 'Kimi is a most beautiful and charming girl, and I like her very much, and must marry some day.'

So Sawara told Kimi that he loved her and would be only too delighted to marry her when his studies were complete--say two or three years thence. Kimi was overjoyed, and on the return of the good Tenko from Korinji Temple informed her guardian of what had passed.

Sawara set to with renewed vigour, and worked diligently, improving very much in his style of painting; and after a year Tenko thought it would do him good to finish off his studies in Kyoto under an old friend of his own, a painter named Sumiyoshi Myokei. Thus it was that in the spring of the sixth year of Kioho--that is, in 1721--Sawara bade farewell to Tenko and his pretty niece O Kimi, and started forth to the capital. It was a sad parting. Sawara had grown to love Kimi very deeply, and he vowed that as soon as his name was made he would return and marry her.

In the olden days the Japanese were even more shockingly poor correspondents than they are now, and even lovers or engaged couples did not write to each other, as several of my tales may show.

After Sawara had been away for a year, it seemed that he should write and say at all events how he was getting on; but he did not do so. A second year passed, and still there was no news. In the meantime there had been several admirers of O Kimi's who had proposed to Tenko for her hand; but Tenko had invariably said that Kimi San was already engaged--until one day he heard from Myokei, the painter in Kyoto, who told him that Sawara was making splendid progress, and that he was most anxious that the youth should marry his daughter. He felt that he must ask his old friend Tenko first, and before speaking to Sawara.

Tenko, on the other hand, had an application from a rich merchant for O Kimi's hand. What was Tenko to do? Sawara showed no signs of returning; on the contrary, it seemed that Myokei was anxious to get him to marry into his family. That must be a good thing for Sawara, he thought. Myokei is a better teacher than I, and if Sawara marries his daughter he will take more interest than ever in my old pupil. Also, it is advisable that Kimi should marry that rich young merchant, if I can persuade her to do so; but it will be difficult, for she loves Sawara still. I am afraid he has forgotten her. A little strategy I will try, and tell her that Myokei has written to tell me that Sawara is going to marry his daughter; then, possibly, she may feel sufficiently vengeful to agree to marry the young merchant. Arguing thus to himself, he wrote to Myokei to say that he had his full consent to ask Sawara to be his son-in-law, and he wished him every success in the effort; and in the evening he spoke to Kimi.

'Kimi,' he said, 'to-day I have had news of Sawara through my friend Myokei.'

'Oh, do tell me what!' cried the excited Kimi. 'Is he coming back, and has he finished his education? How delighted I shall be to see him! We can be married in April, when the cherry blooms, and he can paint a picture of our first picnic.'

'I fear, Kimi, the news which I have does not talk of his coming back. On the contrary, I am asked by Myokei to allow Sawara to marry his daughter, and, as I think such a request could not have been made had Sawara been faithful to you, I have answered that I have no objection to the union. And now, as for yourself, I deeply regret to tell you this; but as your uncle and guardian I again wish to impress upon you the advisability of marrying Yorozuya, the young merchant, who is deeply in love with you and in every way a most desirable husband; indeed, I must insist upon it, for I think it most desirable.'

Poor O Kimi San broke into tears and deep sobs, and without answering a word went to her room, where Tenko thought it well to leave her alone for the night.

In the morning she had gone, none knew whither, there being no trace of her.

Up in Kyoto Sawara continued his studies, true and faithful to O Kimi. After receiving Tenko's letter approving of Myokei's asking Sawara to become his son-in-law, Myokei asked Sawara if he would so honour him. 'When you marry my daughter, we shall be a family of painters, and I think you will be one of the most celebrated ones that Japan ever had.'

'But, sir,' cried Sawara, 'I cannot do myself the honour of marrying your daughter, for I am already engaged--I have been for the last three years--to Kimi, Tenko's daughter. It is most strange that he should not have told you!'

There was nothing for Myokei to say to this; but there was much for Sawara to think about. Foolish, perhaps he then thought, were the ways of Japanese in not corresponding more freely. He wrote to Kimi twice, accordingly, but no answer came. Then Myokei fell ill of a chill and died: so Sawara returned to his village home in Aki, where he was welcomed by Tenko, who was now, without O Kimi, lonely in his old age.

When Sawara heard that Kimi had gone away leaving neither address nor letter he was very angry, for he had not been told the reason.

'An ungrateful and bad girl,' said he to Tenko, 'and I have been lucky indeed in not marrying her!'

'Yes, yes,' said Tenko: 'you have been lucky; but you must not be too angry. Women are queer things, and, as the saying goes, when you see water running up hill and hens laying square eggs you may expect to see a truly honest-minded woman. But come now--I want to tell you that, as I am growing old and feeble, I wish to make you the master of my house and property here. You must take my name and marry!'

Feeling disgusted at O Kimi's conduct, Sawara readily consented. A pretty young girl, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, was found--Kiku (the Chrysanthemum);--and she and Sawara lived happily with old Tenko, keeping his house and minding his estate. Sawara painted in his spare time. Little by little he became quite famous. One day the Lord of Aki sent for him and said it was his wish that Sawara should paint the seven beautiful scenes of the Islands of Kabakarijima (six, probably); the pictures were to be mounted on gold screens.

This was the first commission that Sawara had had from such a high official. He was very proud of it, and went off to the Upper and Lower Kabakari Islands, where he made rough sketches. He went also to the rocky islands of Shokokujima, and to the little uninhabited island of Daikokujima, where an adventure befell him.

Strolling along the shore, he met a girl, tanned by sun and wind. She wore only a red cotton cloth about her loins, and her hair fell upon her shoulders. She had been gathering shell-fish, and had a basket of them under her arm. Sawara thought it strange that he should meet a single woman in so wild a place, and more so still when she addressed him, saying, 'Surely you are Sawara Kameju--are you not?'

'Yes,' answered Sawara: 'I am; but it is very strange that you should know me. May I ask how you do so?'

'If you are Sawara, as I know you are, you should know me without asking, for I am no other than Kimi, to whom you were engaged!'

Sawara was astonished, and hardly knew what to say: so he asked her questions as to how she had come to this lonely island. O Kimi explained everything, and ended by saying, with a smile of happiness upon her face:

'And since, my dearest Sawara, I understand that what I was told is false, and that you did not marry Myokei's daughter, and that we have been faithful to each other, we can he married and happy after all. Oh, think how happy we shall be!'


'Alas, alas, my dearest Kimi, it cannot be! I was led to suppose that you had deserted our benefactor Tenko and given up all thought of me. Oh, the sadness of it 43. The Ghost of the 'Kakemono' all, the wickedness! I have been persuaded that you were faithless, and have been made to marry another!'

O Kimi made no answer, but began to run along the shore towards a little hut, which home she had made for herself. She ran fast, and Sawara ran after her, calling, Kimi, Kimi, stop and speak to me'; but Kimi did not stop. She gained her hut, and, seizing a knife, plunged it into her throat, and fell back bleeding to death. Sawara, greatly grieved, burst into tears. It was horrible to see the girl who might have been his bride lying dead at his feet all covered with blood, and having suffered so horrible a death at her own hands. Greatly impressed, he drew paper from his pocket and made a sketch of the body. Then he and his boatman buried O Kimi above the tide-mark near the primitive hut. Afterwards, at home, with a mournful heart, he painted a picture of the dead girl, and hung it in his room.

On the first night that it was hung Sawara had a dreadful dream. On awakening he found the figure on the kakemono seemed to be alive: the ghost of O Kimi stepped out of it and stood near his bed. Night after night the ghost appeared, until sleep and rest for Sawara were no longer possible. There was nothing to be done, thought he, but to send his wife back to her parents, which he did; and the kakemono he presented to the Korinji Temple, where the priests kept it with great care and daily prayed for the spirit of O Kimi San. After that Sawara saw the ghost no more.

The kakemono is called the Ghost Picture of Tenko II., and is said to be still kept in the Korinji Temple, where it was placed some 23o to 240 years ago.


^231:1 - The Kakemono Ghost Of Aki Province - About two hundred and fifty years ago a strange legend was attached to a kakemono which was painted by an artist celebrity, Sawara Kameju by name, and, owing to the reasons given in the story, the kakemono was handed over to the safe-keeping of the head priest of the Korinji Temple.

Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, by Richard Gordon Smith, [1918], at sacred-texts.com

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