Thursday, October 1, 2009

In the wake of Lafcadio Hearn. Part 3


"Then we advance, picking our way very, very carefully between the stone-towers, toward the mouth of the inner grotto, and reach the statue of Jizo before it. A seated Jizo carven in granite, holding in one hand the mystic jewel by virtue of which all wishes may be fulfilled; in the other his shakujo, or pilgrim's staff. Before him (strange condescension of Shinto faith!) a little torii has been erected, and a pair of gohei! Evidently this gentle divinity has no enemies; at the feet of the lover of children's ghosts, both creeds unite in tender homage."


"I said feet. But this subterranean Jizo has only one foot. The carven lotus on which he reposes has been fractured and broken: two great petals are missing; and the right foot, which must have rested upon one of them, has been knocked off at the ankle. This, I learn upon inquiry, has been done by the waves. In times of great storm the billows rush into the cavern like raging Oni, and sweep all the little stone towers into shingle as they come, and dash the statues against the rocks. But always during the first still night after the tempest the work is reconstructed as before!"

"Hotoke ga shimpai shite: naki-naki tsumi naoshi-masu.' They make mourning, the hotoke; weeping, they pile up the stones again, they rebuild their towers of prayer."


"All about the black mouth of the inner grotto the bone-coloured rock bears some resemblance to a vast pair of yawning jaws. Downward from this sinister portal the cavern-floor slopes into a deeper and darker aperture. And within it, as one's eyes become accustomed to the gloom, a still larger vision of stone towers is disclosed; and beyond them, in a nook of the grotto, three other statues of Jizo smile, each one with a torii before it. Here I have the misfortune to upset first one stone- pile and then another, while trying to proceed. My kurumaya, almost simultaneously, ruins a third. To atone therefore, we must build six new towers, or double the number of those which we have cast down. And while we are thus busied, the boatwoman tells of two fishermen who remained in the cavern through all one night, and heard the humming of the viewless gathering, and sounds of speech, like the speech of children murmuring in multitude."


"Only at night do the shadowy children come to build their little stone- heaps at the feet of Jizo; and it is said that every night the stones are changed. When I ask why they do not work by day, when there is none to see them, I am answered: 'O-Hi-San [2] might see them; the dead exceedingly fear the Lady-Sun.'"


"To the question, 'Why do they come from the sea?' I can get no satisfactory answer. But doubtless in the quaint imagination of this people, as also in that of many another, there lingers still the
primitive idea of some communication, mysterious and awful, between the world of waters and the world of the dead. It is always over the sea, after the Feast of Souls, that the spirits pass murmuring back to their dim realm, in those elfish little ships of straw which are launched for them upon the sixteenth day of the seventh moon. Even when these are launched upon rivers, or when floating lanterns are set adrift upon lakes or canals to light the ghosts upon their way, or when a mother
bereaved drops into some running stream one hundred little prints of Jizo for the sake of her lost darling, the vague idea behind the pious act is that all waters flow to the sea and the sea itself unto the 'Nether-distant Land.'"



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