Zenhachi’s Unhappy Grandson: A Story of Reincarnation from 19th Century Japan

 

 

Bakin

Portrait of Kyokutei Bakin, the author of Rabbit Garden Tales.

Rabbit Garden Tales is a collection of strange stories gathered by the Edo-era Japanese novelist Kyokutei Bakin. The collection includes “true” accounts of supernatural stories involving ghosts and monsters, but it also contains some more… I guess we could say “realistic” material, like that of an eight-year-old girl who gave birth in a village in what is now Ibaraki Prefecture.

Bakin himself had heard these stories from the Rabbit Garden Society, a group of eleven other writers he’d met with during some monthly meetings in 1825. The following story, a tale about reincarnation, was said to have happened in the fourth month of the second year of the Bunsei era, or April 1819 for those of us who don’t measure time in Japanese imperial reigns.

Zenhachi was a retired picture framer from Edo (Tokyo) who loved to travel. During one of his trips, while walking on a road away from Osaka, Zenhachi saw a teenage girl about 15 or 16-years-old in his path. The girl was traveling alone, and suddenly fainted and collapsed when she passed by Zenhachi.

The wandering picture framer helped the girl, and after she came to, asked her what she was doing all alone. The girl explained that she’d run away from an employer that morning, and was so exhausted from her escape that she couldn’t help but collapse. So Zenhachi accompanied the girl back to her house in what is now the city of Tsu, and her family was so grateful for Zenhachi’s help that they invited him to stay with them for a while.

When it came for Zenhachi to leave, the daughter was very upset. She said that she’d visit him in Edo next year, and wondered if Zenhachi could give her a memento so she could remember his kindness. Being such a nice guy, Zenhachi decided to give the girl an omamori (a religious amulet) dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of compassion and mercy.

Omamori

An omamori dedicated to Tenjin, the god of scholarship. 

The next April, Zenhachi finally returned to his own house in Edo. While he was away, Zenhachi’s daughter had given birth to a baby boy. On Zenhachi’s return, his family was celebrating the baby’s oshichiya, a naming ceremony that takes place seven nights after a child’s birth.

It should have been a happy occasion, but Zenhachi found that his daughter was very upset. Her baby had been crying nonstop the past week, and his left hand had been clenching onto something he refused to give up. To calm his new grandson, Zenhachi put the boy on his knee. Immediately, the baby stopped crying, and he unfolded his left hand.

To the shock of everyone there, the baby was holding an omamori. Not just any omamori, as Zenhachi quickly realized, but the splitting image of the Kannon omamori he’d given to the girl from Tsu. (Cue Twilight Zone music.) Puzzled, Zenhachi thought about the girl and then sent a letter asking about her to Tsu.

On June 14, Zenhachi got his response. Last May, not long after Zenhachi left Tsu, the girl had gotten sick and passed away. But how could his grandson have gotten the amulet then? Zenhachi figured that the girl had been reincarnated as his grandson, perhaps by an intervention from Kannon herself.

Be sure to check out more weird Japanese mysteries in my e-book, 20 Unsolved Mysteries of Japan, available on Amazon for Kindle.