Chapter Nine. Of Souls

Kinjuro, the ancient gardener, whose head shines like an ivory ball, sat him down a moment on the edge of the ita-no-ma outside my study to smoke his pipe at the hibachi always left there for him. And as he smoked he found occasion to reprove the boy who assists him. What the boy had been doing I did not exactly know; but I heard Kinjuro bid him try to comport himself like a creature having more than one Soul. And because those words interested me I went out and sat down by Kinjuro.

'O Kinjuro,' I said, 'whether I myself have one or more Souls I am not sure. But it would much please me to learn how many Souls have you.'

'I-the-Selfish-One have only four Souls,' made answer Kinjuro, with conviction imperturbable.

'Four? re-echoed I, feeling doubtful of having understood 'Four,' he repeated. 'But that boy I think can have only one Soul, so much is he wanting in patience.'

'And in what manner,' I asked, 'came you to learn that you have four Souls?'

'There are wise men,' made he answer, while knocking the ashes out of his little silver pipe, 'there are wise men who know these things. And there is an ancient book which discourses of them. According to the age of a man, and the time of his birth, and the stars of heaven, may the number of his Souls be divined. But this is the knowledge of old men: the young folk of these times who learn the things of the West do not believe.'

'And tell me, O Kinjuro, do there now exist people having more Souls than you?'

'Assuredly. Some have five, some six, some seven, some eight Souls. But no one is by the gods permitted to have more Souls than nine.'

[Now this, as a universal statement, I could not believe, remembering a woman upon the other side of the world who possessed many generations of Souls, and knew how to use them all. She wore her Souls just as other women wear their dresses, and changed them several times a day; and the multitude of dresses in the wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth was as nothing to the multitude of this wonderful person's Souls. For which reason she never appeared the same upon two different occasions; and she changed her thought and her voice with her Souls. Sometimes she was of the South, and her eyes were brown; and again she was of the North, and her eyes were grey. Sometimes she was of the thirteenth, and sometimes of the eighteenth century; and people doubted their own senses when they saw these things; and they tried to find out the truth by begging photographs of her, and then comparing them. Now the photographers rejoiced to photograph her because she was more than fair; but presently they also were confounded by the discovery that she was never the same subject twice. So the men who most admired her could not presume to fall in love with her because that would have been absurd. She had altogether too many Souls. And some of you who read this I have written will bear witness to the verity thereof.]

'Concerning this Country of the Gods, O Kinjuro, that which you say may be true. But there are other countries having only gods made of gold; and in those countries matters are not so well arranged; and the inhabitants thereof are plagued with a plague of Souls. For while some have but half a Soul, or no Soul at all, others have Souls in multitude thrust upon them, for which neither nutriment nor employ can be found. And Souls thus situated torment exceedingly their owners. . . . .That is to say, Western Souls. . . . But tell me, I pray you, what is the use of having more than one or two Souls?'

'Master, if all had the same number and quality of Souls, all would surely be of one mind. But that people are different from each other is apparent; and the differences among them are because of the differences in the quality and the number of their Souls.'

'And it is better to have many Souls than a few?' 'It is better.'

'And the man having but one Soul is a being imperfect?'

'Very imperfect.'

'Yet a man very imperfect might have had an ancestor perfect?'

'That is true.'

'So that a man of to-day possessing but one Soul may have had an ancestor with nine Souls?'


'Then what has become of those other eight Souls which the ancestor possessed, but which the descendant is without?'

'Ah! that is the work of the gods. The gods alone fix the number of Souls for each of us. To the worthy are many given; to the unworthy few.'

'Not from the parents, then, do the Souls descend?'

'Nay! Most ancient the Souls are: innumerable, the years of them.'

'And this I desire to know: Can a man separate his Souls? Can he, for instance, have one Soul in Kyoto and one in Tokyo and one in Matsue, all at the same time?'

'He cannot; they remain always together.'

'How? One within the other - like the little lacquered boxes of an inro?'

'Nay: that none but the gods know.'

'And the Souls are never separated?'

'Sometimes they may be separated. But if the Souls of a man be separated, that man becomes mad. Mad people are those who have lost one of their Souls.'

'But after death what becomes of the Souls?'

'They remain still together. . . . When a man dies his Souls ascend to the roof of the house. And they stay upon the roof for the space of nine and forty days.'

'On what part of the roof?'

'On the yane-no-mune - upon the Ridge of the Roof they stay.'

'Can they be seen?'

'Nay: they are like the air is. To and fro upon the Ridge of the Roof they move, like a little wind.'

'Why do they not stay upon the roof for fifty days instead of forty-nine?'

'Seven weeks is the time allotted them before they must depart: seven weeks make the measure of forty-nine days. But why this should be, I cannot tell.'

I was not unaware of the ancient belief that the spirit of a dead man haunts for a time the roof of his dwelling, because it is referred to quite impressively in many Japanese dramas, among others in the play called Kagami-yama, which makes the people weep. But I had not before heard of triplex and quadruplex and other yet more highly complex Souls; and I questioned Kinjuro vainly in the hope of learning the authority for his beliefs. They were the beliefs of his fathers: that was all he knew. [1]

Like most Izumo folk, Kinjuro was a Buddhist as well as a Shintoist. As the former he belonged to the Zen-shu, as the latter to the Izumo-Taisha. Yet his ontology seemed to me not of either. Buddhism does not teach the doctrine of compound-multiple Souls. There are old Shinto books inaccessible to the multitude which speak of a doctrine very remotely akin to Kinjuro's; but Kinjuro had never seen them. Those books say that each of us has two souls - the Ara-tama or Rough Soul, which is vindictive; and the Nigi-tama, or Gentle Soul, which is all-forgiving. Furthermore, we are all possessed by the spirit of Oho-maga-tsu-hi-no- Kami, the 'Wondrous Deity of Exceeding Great Evils'; also by the spirit of Oho-naho-bi-no-Kami, the 'Wondrous Great Rectifying Deity,' a counteracting influence. These were not exactly the ideas of Kinjuro. But I remembered something Hirata wrote which reminded me of Kinjuro's words about a possible separation of souls. Hirata's teaching was that the ara-tama of a man may leave his body, assume his shape, and without his knowledge destroy a hated enemy. So I asked Kinjuro about it. He said he had never heard of a nigi-tama or an ara-tama; but he told me this:

'Master, when a man has been discovered by his wife to be secretly enamoured of another, it sometimes happens that the guilty woman is seized with a sickness that no physician can cure. For one of the Souls of the wife, moved exceedingly by anger, passes into the body of that woman to destroy her. But the wife also sickens, or loses her mind awhile, because of the absence of her Soul.

'And there is another and more wonderful thing known to us of Nippon, which you, being of the West, may never have heard. By the power of the gods, for a righteous purpose, sometimes a Soul may be withdrawn a little while from its body, and be made to utter its most secret thought. But no suffering to the body is then caused. And the wonder is wrought in this wise:

'A man loves a beautiful girl whom he is at liberty to marry; but he doubts whether he can hope to make her love him in return. He seeks the kannushi of a certain Shinto temple, [2] and tells of his doubt, and asks the aid of the gods to solve it. Then the priests demand, not his name, but his age and the year and day and hour of his birth, which they write down for the gods to know; and they bid the man return to the temple after the space of seven days.

'And during those seven days the priests offer prayer to the gods that the doubt may be solved; and one of them each morning bathes all his body in cold, pure water, and at each repast eats only food prepared with holy fire. And on the eighth day the man returns to the temple, and enters an inner chamber where the priests receive him.

'A ceremony is performed, and certain prayers are said, after which all wait in silence. And then, the priest who has performed the rites of purification suddenly begins to tremble violently in all his body, like one trembling with a great fever. And this is because, by the power of the gods, the Soul of the girl whose love is doubted has entered, all fearfully, into the body of that priest. She does not know; for at that time, wherever she may be, she is in a deep sleep from which nothing can arouse her. But her Soul, having been summoned into the body of the priest, can speak nothing save the truth; and It is made to tell all Its thought. And the priest speaks not with his own voice, but with the voice of the Soul; and he speaks in the person of the Soul, saying: "I love," or "I hate," according as the truth may be, and in the language of women. If there be hate, then the reason of the hate is spoken; but if the answer be of love, there is little to say. And then the trembling of the priest stops, for the Soul passes from him; and he falls forward upon his face like one dead, and long so - remains.

'Tell me, Kinjuro,' I asked, after all these queer things had been related to me, 'have you yourself ever known of a Soul being removed by the power of the gods, and placed in the heart of a priest?'

'Yes: I myself have known it.'

I remained silent and waited. The old man emptied his little pipe, threw it down beside the hibachi, folded his hands, and looked at the lotus- flowers for some time before he spoke again. Then he smiled and said:

'Master, I married when I was very young. For many years we had no children: then my wife at last gave me a son, and became a Buddha. But my son lived and grew up handsome and strong; and when the Revolution came, he joined the armies of the Son of Heaven; and he died the death of a man in the great war of the South, in Kyushu. I loved him; and I wept with joy when I heard that he had been able to die for our Sacred Emperor: since there is no more noble death for the son of a samurai. So they buried my boy far away from me in Kyushu, upon a hill near Kumamoto, which is a famous city with a strong garrison; and I went there to make his tomb beautiful. But his name is here also, in Ninomaru, graven on the monument to the men of Izumo who fell in the good fight for loyalty and honour in our emperor's holy cause; and when I see his name there, my heart laughs, and I speak to him, and then it seems as if he were walking beside me again, under the great pines. . . But all that is another matter.

'I sorrowed for my wife. All the years we had dwelt together no unkind word had ever been uttered between us. And when she died, I thought never to marry again. But after two more years had passed, my father and mother desired a daughter in the house, and they told me of their wish, and of a girl who was beautiful and of good family, though poor. The family were of our kindred, and the girl was their only support: she wove garments of silk and garments of cotton, and for this she received but little money. And because she was filial and comely, and our kindred not fortunate, my parents desired that I should marry her and help her people; for in those days we had a small income of rice. Then, being accustomed to obey my parents, I suffered them to do what they thought best. So the nakodo was summoned, and the arrangements for the wedding began.

'Twice I was able to see the girl in the house of her parents. And I thought myself fortunate the first time I looked upon her; for she was very comely and young. But the second time, I perceived she had been weeping, and that her eyes avoided mine. Then my heart sank; for I thought: She dislikes me; and they are forcing her to this thing. Then I resolved to question the gods; and I caused the marriage to be delayed; and I went to the temple of Yanagi-no-Inari-Sama, which is in the Street Zaimokucho.

'And when the trembling came upon him, the priest, speaking with the Soul of that maid, declared to me: "My heart hates you, and the sight of your face gives me sickness, because I love another, and because this marriage is forced upon me. Yet though my heart hates you, I must marry you because my parents are poor and old, and I alone cannot long continue to support them, for my work is killing me. But though I may strive to be a dutiful wife, there never will be gladness in your house because of me; for my heart hates you with a great and lasting hate; and the sound of your voice makes a sickness in my breast (koe kiite mo mune ga waruku naru); and only to see your face makes me wish that I were dead (kao miru to shinitaku naru)."

'Thus knowing the truth, I told it to my parents; and I wrote a letter of kind words to the maid, praying pardon for the pain I had unknowingly caused her; and I feigned long illness, that the marriage might be broken off without gossip; and we made a gift to that family; and the maid was glad. For she was enabled at a later time to marry the young man she loved. My parents never pressed me again to take a wife; and since their death I have lived alone. . . . O Master, look upon the extreme wickedness of that boy!'

Taking advantage of our conversation, Kinjuro's young assistant had improvised a rod and line with a bamboo stick and a bit of string; and had fastened to the end of the string a pellet of tobacco stolen from the old man's pouch. With this bait he had been fishing in the lotus pond; and a frog had swallowed it, and was now suspended high above the pebbles, sprawling in rotary motion, kicking in frantic spasms of disgust and despair. 'Kaji!' shouted the gardener.

The boy dropped his rod with a laugh, and ran to us unabashed; while the frog, having disgorged the tobacco, plopped back into the lotus pond. Evidently Kaji was not afraid of scoldings.

'Gosho ga waruil' declared the old man, shaking his ivory head. 'O Kaji, much I fear that your next birth will be bad! Do I buy tobacco for frogs? Master, said I not rightly this boy has but one Soul?'