Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ghost Stories: Oiwa and Iemon

This is one version of a very famous Japanese ghost story.

Over 300 years ago in the Edo Period of Japan, there lived a master-less samurai named Iemon. He and his wife, Oiwa, lived in Tokyo. Oiwa was happily expecting a baby, and loved her husband very much. Oiwa didn’t care that Iemon was poor, but he was depressed about his lack of prospects anyway.

A rich young woman named Oume fell in love with Iemon despite his poverty and marital status, and one day her grandfather came to Iemon. He told Iemon what a shame it was that he was already married, because his granddaughter loved him very much. The grandfather went on to say all the ways that he would ensure his granddaughter’s future husband’s wealth and success. Iemon listened intently.

After some time thinking about the grandfather’s visit, Iemon decided to free himself of Oiwa and their unborn child so that he could marry Oume. The easiest way to do this was to poison Oiwa. Oiwa, ignorant of Iemon’s plans, happily prepared for the arrival of their baby.

One evening Oiwa and Iemon sat down to dinner, and Oiwa noticed her husband was strangely quiet and listless. She encouraged him to eat, but he would not touch his food. He encouraged Oiwa to stop fretting and to eat, herself. She needed to be strong for the baby, after all. Oiwa finally gave up trying to tempt Iemon’s appetite and started to eat. It wasn’t long before she felt very sick.

Iemon watched her coldly as the poison did its work, not offering her any help or comfort. But Oiwa did not die right away. Her beautiful face became disfigured from the poison first. Then she slipped into unconsciousness. Iemon was too much of a coward to finish the job he started, so he put Oiwa’s lifeless body in bed. Eventually Oiwa woke from her coma, remembering nothing of the poisoning. She had lost her baby, and her face was ugly and terrible, but Oiwa lived.

Iemon was desperate. He played the part of the concerned husband, but he was looking for any way possible to rid himself of his wife. One evening he took Oiwa for a long walk. They made their way to a cliff, and Iemon looked around to see if anyone was nearby. No one was in sight.

Iemon pushed Oiwa off the ledge. Her broken body was recovered and Iemon gave her the best funeral he could afford, spending all of his money in a great show of marital devotion. Of course, Iemon knew his money troubles were only temporary now that Oiwa was gone.

Thinking his worries were over, Iemon planned his wedding to Oume. The night before the marriage was to take place, Iemon noticed his lamp was dimming. He looked at it curiously, as it seemed to be changing. The disfigured face of Oiwa suddenly replaced the lamp, growing larger and larger in the room. “Betrayal!” it hissed.

Iemon grabbed his katana and swung at the face, but Oiwa disappeared and the lamp fell to the floor, cut from its cord. Iemon thought he heard the faint laughter of a woman from outside. Shaken, Iemon stamped out the lamp’s candle that was now burning the rug. He soon convinced himself that the vision was simply the result of too much sake earlier in the evening, and went to bed.

The next day, Iemon had forgotten all about the specter from the night before. He and Oume were wed. When he lifted her veil, however, her beautiful young face was replaced with Oiwa’s horrible visage. “Betrayal!” she hissed.

Iemon once again defended himself with his sword, cutting Oiwa’s head off. When it landed on the floor, however, it had Oume’s face and not Oiwa’s. He heard the faint sound of laughter again.

Iemon ran to his tiny house, looking for a place to hide. There was a pounding at the door, and Oume’s grandfather demanded that he open it. When Iemon did so, Oiwa was standing there. “Betrayal!” she hissed.

Once again, Iemon tried to decapitate her, but when his sword finished its work, it was Oume’s grandfather that lay dead.

Iemon ran for the cliffs, Oiwa’s laughter following him. He stopped at the edge and looked down, perhaps changing his mind.

It didn’t matter. Passersby reported seeing a woman push Iemon off the cliff before she jumped after him, laughing all the way down.

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