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Emory Women Writers Resource Project

A Japanese Blossom, an electronic edition

by Onoto Watanna [Watanna, Onoto, 1879-1954]

date: 1906
source publisher: Harper & Brothers
collection: Genre Fiction

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XX

THE following day Mrs. Kurukawa yielded to the coaxing of the children and took them to hear one of the famous story-tellers of Tokio. There is not a child, I believe, of any nationality, who does not love a "story." In Japan story-telling is an actual profession, possessing its own halls and houses of entertainment. But the audience is not made up of children. People of all ages attend, though the story-teller is not as popular to-day as he once was. With eagerness, then, the little Kurukawa children, after hanging their clogs among others, entered the hall. | | 183 page image : 183     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM They were led into a square little booth or box. In a few minutes a waitress from an adjoining tea-house sold them refreshments.

The hall was dimly lighted by candles. As black cloths were draped about the stage the place had a gloomy appearance. Presently the story-teller entered and seated himself on the raised dais. So horrible and weird was his aspect that the little girls involuntarily clung to one another's hands and looked at their mother apprehensively. His face and bald head were chalky white. Seen from the distance of their box his eyes were black chasms set into his white face. He appeared to have enormous teeth which protruded as long fangs beyond his lips. As he seated himself on the dais all the candles in the hail went out, seemingly of their own accord. Only | | 184 page image : 184     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM those upon the stage remained burning.

"Oh," said Marion, grasping Taro's hand in the darkness, "he looks like some horrible ghost!"

"Sh!" whispered the little Japanese boy. "He's going to tell a ghost-story."

"I thought," broke in Billy, "they told war-stories."

"Sh! I'll tell you what he says, if you be quiet."

"I don't want to hear," said Marion, covering her ears with her hands, for at that moment the deep and hollow voice of the story-teller fell upon the hushed audience. He was a pantomimist as well as a storyteller. As both Billy and Marion understood some Japanese he made his story clear even to them. As he proceeded with his tale the candles on the stage gradually flickered out, | | 185 page image : 185     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM until he was in darkness, save for a weird yellow glow surrounding him. Then it was that the thrilled audience thought they saw strange white shapes fluttering about him, first hovering over and covering the speaker, then wandering about the stage.

The tale he told was an old one known to all Japanese. It was the story of the faithless husband who swore to his young and dying wife that he would never marry again. Scarcely, however, had she been cold in her grave before he married a young and beautiful girl. For many nights the bride was visited by a wraith with warning to leave her husband. She would wake screaming with fright, but always her husband, lying there beside her, would reassure her. Finally the ghost set a day for the bride's departure, telling | | 186 page image : 186     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM her that if she did not go on that day a terrible fate would befall her. That night the husband set a guard of twelve watchmen in their chamber. When the ghostly visitor entered the room of armed men they fell dead at the feet of the spirit as it crossed the threshold and went straight to the bed where the frightened bride cowered close against her sleeping lord, for although he had sworn to keep the watch with the guards he had yielded to irresistible slumber. The following morning, waking early, he stretched his arms out to enfold his bride. The form he held was stiff and cold. Something wet and slimy touched him. As he put out a hand to caress her hair he saw the thing beside him, a trunk from which the head had been torn away.

As the story-teller finished the re- | | 187 page image : 187     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM cital there was a long interval of absolute silence in the hall. Then out of the darkness of the stage a white figure bore upon the vision. In the weird light that suddenly enwrapped the spectre the audience saw that it held aloft the head of a woman, the long, black hair floating away from the deathly face as though a wind were blowing through the hall.

A stir, a shiver seemed to pass at once over the whole audience. Then--almost an unknown thing in Japan--a child's shrill voice startled the silence. Mrs. Kurukawa reached out to catch Marion in her arms; the little girl had become almost paralyzed with fear. A moment later the candles were lighted. People looked at one another in the new light--everywhere faces were pale and lined with fear.

"Oh, let's go home," pleaded Marion, at which the mother arose.

| | 188 page image : 188     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM

"No, no!" protested Taro. "He'll tell war-tales now. We want to stay."

"Of course we do," cried Billy.

"That old cry-baby always spoils our fun."

A smiling waitress with candy beans assured them that the lights would not be turned out again, and so Marion leaned against her mother resignedly.

"I wasn't the only one afraid," she said, plaintively. "All of you were, even mother, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was," she answered, truthfully. "I didn't know I could feel quite so shivery over a mere ghost-story."

"Don't they ever tell pretty fairy-stories?" asked Marion.

"No," said Taro, disgustedly. "They would have no business then."

"Story-tellers' halls," said Billy, | | 189 page image : 189     A JAPANESE BLOSSOM didactically, "aren't for girls. Girls haven't the sense to enjoy tragedy."

They remained until five o'clock, listening to exaggerated accounts of the war. Graphic details were recounted of the battles. Many Japanese fed their imaginations at the story-teller's table after the hunger left by mere official accounts published in the newspapers.

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