Chapter Ten. Of Ghosts and Goblins

1

THERE was a Buddha, according to the Hokkekyo who 'even assumed the shape of a goblin to preach to such as were to be converted by a goblin.' And in the same Sutra may be found this promise of the Teacher: 'While he is dwelling lonely in the wilderness, I will send thither goblins in great number to keep him company.' The appalling character of this promise is indeed somewhat modified by the assurance that gods also are to be sent. But if ever I become a holy man, I shall take heed not to dwell in the wilderness, because I have seen Japanese goblins, and I do not like them.

Kinjuro showed them to me last night. They had come to town for the matsuri of our own ujigami, or parish-temple; and, as there were many curious things to be seen at the night festival, we started for the temple after dark, Kinjuro carrying a paper lantern painted with my crest.

It had snowed heavily in the morning; but now the sky and the sharp still air were clear as diamond; and the crisp snow made a pleasant crunching sound under our feet as we walked; and it occurred to me to say: 'O Kinjuro, is there a God of Snow?'

'I cannot tell,' replied Kinjuro. 'There be many gods I do not know; and there is not any man who knows the names of all the gods. But there is the Yuki-Onna, the Woman of the Snow.'

'And what is the Yuki-Onna?'

'She is the White One that makes the Faces in the snow. She does not any harm, only makes afraid. By day she lifts only her head, and frightens those who journey alone. But at night she rises up sometimes, taller than the trees, and looks about a little while, and then falls back in a shower of snow.' [1]

'What is her face like?'

'It is all white, white. It is an enormous face. And it is a lonesome face.'

[The word Kinjuro used was samushii. Its common meaning is 'lonesome'; but he used it, I think, in the sense of 'weird.']

'Did you ever see her, Kinjuro?'

'Master, I never saw her. But my father told me that once when he was a child, he wanted to go to a neighbour's house through the snow to play with another little boy; and that on the way he saw a great white Face rise up from the snow and look lonesomely about, so that he cried for fear and ran back. Then his people all went out and looked; but there was only snow; and then they knew that he had seen the Yuki-Onna.'

'And in these days, Kinjuro, do people ever see her?'

'Yes. Those who make the pilgrimage to Yabumura, in the period called Dai-Kan, which is the Time of the Greatest Cold, [2] they sometimes see her.'

'What is there at Yabumura, Kinjuro?'

'There is the Yabu-jinja, which is an ancient and famous temple of Yabu- no-Tenno-San - the God of Colds, Kaze-no-Kami. It is high upon a hill, nearly nine ri from Matsue. And the great matsuri of that temple is held upon the tenth and eleventh days of the Second Month. And on those days strange things may be seen. For one who gets a very bad cold prays to the deity of Yabu-jinja to cure it, and takes a vow to make a pilgrimage naked to the temple at the time of the matsuri.'

'Naked?'

'Yes: the pilgrims wear only waraji, and a little cloth round their loins. And a great many men and women go naked through the snow to the temple, though the snow is deep at that time. And each man carries a bunch of gohei and a naked sword as gifts to the temple; and each woman carries a metal mirror. And at the temple, the priests receive them, performing curious rites. For the priests then, according to ancient custom, attire themselves like sick men, and lie down and groan, and drink, potions made of herbs, prepared after the Chinese manner.'

'But do not some of the pilgrims die of cold, Kinjuro?'

'No: our Izumo peasants are hardy. Besides, they run swiftly, so that they reach the temple all warm. And before returning they put on thick warm robes. But sometimes, upon the way, they see the Yuki-Onna.'

2

Each side of the street leading to the miya was illuminated with a line of paper lanterns bearing holy symbols; and the immense court of the temple had been transformed into a town of booths, and shops, and temporary theatres. In spite of the cold, the crowd was prodigious. There seemed to be all the usual attractions of a matsuri, and a number of unusual ones. Among the familiar lures, I missed at this festival only the maiden wearing an obi of living snakes; probably it had become too cold for the snakes. There were several fortune-tellers and jugglers; there were acrobats and dancers; there was a man making pictures out of sand; and there was a menagerie containing an emu from Australia, and a couple of enormous bats from the Loo Choo Islands - bats trained to do several things. I did reverence to the gods, and bought some extraordinary toys; and then we went to look for the goblins. They were domiciled in a large permanent structure, rented to showmen on special occasions.