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.

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