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KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Lafcadio Hearn) online

Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan


"And therefore you are lifted up with pride, and think to yourself: 'In all this world there is nothing superior to me!' Ah! I can very well guess what is in your heart: you are too much satisfied with your own person. That is why you let yourself be blown thus lightly about by every wind;-- that is why you never remain still,-- always, always thinking, 'In the whole world there is no one so fortunate as I.'

"But now try to think a little about your own personal history. It is worth recalling; for there is a vulgar side to it. How a vulgar side? Well, for a considerable time after you were born, you had no such reason for rejoicing in your form. You were then a mere cabbage-insect, a hairy worm; and you were so poor that you could not afford even one robe to cover your nakedness; and your appearance was altogether disgusting. Everybody in those days hated the sight of you. Indeed you had good reason to be ashamed of yourself; and so ashamed you were that you collected old twigs and rubbish to hide in, and you made a hiding-nest, and hung it to a branch,-- and then everybody cried out to you, 'Raincoat Insect!' (Mino-mushi.) [14] And during that period of your life, your sins were grievous. Among the tender green leaves of beautiful cherry-trees you and your fellows assembled, and there made ugliness extraordinary; and the expectant eyes of the people, who came from far away to admire the beauty of those cherry-trees, were hurt by the sight of you. And of things even more hateful than this you were guilty. You knew that poor, poor men and women had been cultivating daikon (2) in their fields,-- toiling under the hot sun till their hearts were filled with bitterness by reason of having to care for that daikon; and you persuaded your companions to go with you, and to gather upon the leaves of that daikon, and on the leaves of other vegetables planted by those poor people. Out of your greediness you ravaged those leaves, and gnawed them into all shapes of ugliness,-- caring nothing for the trouble of those poor folk... Yes, such a creature you were, and such were your doings.

"And now that you have a comely form, you despise your old comrades, the insects; and, whenever you happen to meet any of them, you pretend not to know them [literally, 'You make an I-don't-know face']. Now you want to have none but wealthy and exalted people for friends... Ah! You have forgotten the old times, have you?

"It is true that many people have forgotten your past, and are charmed by the sight of your present graceful shape and white wings, and write Chinese verses and Japanese verses about you. The high-born damsel, who could not bear even to look at you in your former shape, now gazes at you with delight, and wants you to perch upon her hairpin, and holds out her dainty fan in the hope that you will light upon it. But this reminds me that there is an ancient Chinese story about you, which is not pretty.

"In the time of the Emperor Genso, the Imperial Palace contained hundreds and thousands of beautiful ladies,-- so many, indeed, that it would have been difficult for any man to decide which among them was the loveliest. So all of those beautiful persons were assembled together in one place; and you were set free to fly among them; and it was decreed that the damsel upon whose hairpin you perched should be augustly summoned to the Imperial Chamber. In that time there could not be more than one Empress -- which was a good law; but, because of you, the Emperor Genso did great mischief in the land. For your mind is light and frivolous; and although among so many beautiful women there must have been some persons of pure heart, you would look for nothing but beauty, and so betook yourself to the person most beautiful in outward appearance. Therefore many of the female attendants ceased altogether to think about the right way of women, and began to study how to make themselves appear splendid in the eyes of men. And the end of it was that the Emperor Genso died a pitiful and painful death -- all because of your light and trifling mind. Indeed, your real character can easily be seen from your conduct in other matters. There are trees, for example,-- such as the evergreen-oak and the pine,-- whose leaves do not fade and fall, but remain always green;-- these are trees of firm heart, trees of solid character. But you say that they are stiff and formal; and you hate the sight of them, and never pay them a visit. Only to the cherry-tree, and the kaido [15], and the peony, and the yellow rose you go: those you like because they have showy flowers, and you try only to please them. Such conduct, let me assure you, is very unbecoming. Those trees certainly have handsome flowers; but hunger-satisfying fruits they have not; and they are grateful to those only who are fond of luxury and show. And that is just the reason why they are pleased by your fluttering wings and delicate shape;-- that is why they are kind to you.

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