Thriller Restaurant Series – Volume 32
The Returned Spirit
By Mochizuki Shinzaburo
Long ago there lived a husband and wife who lived happily together near a river in Okinawa. The wife was upbeat, but her work caused the couple some concern because she often worked late into the night weaving. It was said that since times long ago, when someone wove late into the night a death god could come and take their spirit.
The husband often worried about it and said to his wife, “Make sure not to weave too late into the night.”
One rainy day the husband was called out on some urgent business, so he headed to the neighboring village. By then night had fallen and the pouring rain caused the river to overflow, preventing his crossing. Because he couldn’t do anything about it, he watched and waited. The water gradually subsided and around midnight he began crossing the bridge only to hear a noise behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw two men approaching who were walking through the water, yet didn’t make a sound. What’s more, they wore the very clothing a corpse is dressed in after death.
“When you walk we can hear you splash, so are you a living human?” one asked with a voice that resounded ominously, as if from the depths of hell.
The husband thought. If he answered he was human, they might steal his soul. Instead, he answered, “I just died.”
“Well then, let me touch your head,” one said, menacingly.
Even though he was worried, the husband promptly stuck his head out from under his umbrella.
“Oh…it’s coarse. It is the head of a dead person. Well then, let me touch your leg.”
The husband stuck out the walking stick he was holding. The death gods felt it, inspecting it thoroughly.
“This is certainly a leg and skin.”
“Yes, it is the leg of a dead man.”
The husband let out a breath of relief and smoothed the fabric on his chest, for he was certain he had deceived them.
“We’re heading out to steal souls. Novice, how’d you like to come help?”
The situation has gotten out of control, he thought, but there was nothing he could do to stop it now. The husband followed the two death gods. They took him to his own house and stood before it. They could hear the pachun-cuchun, pachun-cuchun of someone weaving at the loom from within.
“It’s the middle of the night, yet someone is weaving. Should we invite ourselves in?”
The husband was trembling and shaking. Without delay, the death gods entered the house and soon came back bearing a bag filled with something, saying, “That went smoothly, the soul is ours.”
The husband gathered his courage and said, “Someone is weaving at the house next door. I’ll take care of this bag for you.”
The death gods left the bag bearing the soul with the husband and went to break into the neighboring house. Meanwhile, the husband rushed to the storage room, came out carrying another umbrella, climbed to the roof, and lied in wait. Before long, the two death gods came out of the neighboring house furious.
“I’m tired of his lies. There was nothing but a cat and a man in there.”
Up on the roof, the husband flapped the umbrellas opened and closed and mimicked a rooster cry, yelling “cock-a-doodle-doo, cock-a-doodle-doo.”
“Oh, it’s the break of dawn.”
Panicked, the death gods ran away. The husband rushed into his house, embraced his wife who was fallen over on the floor, and opened the bag, allowing the spirit to float out and watched it return to his wife’s body through her nose.
After a little while his wife started breathing. Since that night, the couple didn’t over-exert themselves and it’s said they lived a long life happily together.
This story reminds me of the good old horror stories which take place in the middle of the night featuring creatures ready to endanger the thing which we believe to be irrevocably ours. It also reminds me of Grimm’s Fairy Tales because, on one level the point of telling such a story, besides the sheer delight of feeling spooked, is to teach people a lesson. The lesson here seems to be that one should not overwork and instead maintain their presence as a daylight creature in order to please the humans one is mostly intimately attached to, as much as a person can feel devoted to their work and feel the urge to lose themselves in a cause or a life-mission of some kind. It feels very culturally appropriate to me, that this story was written with an intended audience of impressionable Japanese youth.