Book review “Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari 巷説百物語”

巷説百物語 (角川文庫)
巷説百物語 (角川文庫)
Kousetsu is a rumor which people believe.
Hyaku Monogatari means one hundred stories.

“Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari is the first book of the Kousetsu series by Natsuhiko Kyogoku , while “Warau Iemon” was one volume of his another series, “rewritten classic stories in Japan.”
This book consists some short stories. The all of the stories are titled names of yokai.
Yokai is a class of preternatural creatures in Japanese folklore, like a monster or ghost.I will introduce the first story, “Azuki Arai.”

It is set in the Edo period.
Momosuke was a  writer. While he aspired to be a drama-writer, now he was writing riddle stories for children.
One day, on the way of his travel, he came across some strange people when he stopped at a small shack to take shelter from the rain.
There were some men and a woman in the shack. They too were taking cover from the rain.
One of them, a man who looks like an Ongyo— Ongyo is a person who wears Buddhist monk’s clothes and begs for money while scattering paper talisman. — suggests to play “Hyaku Monogatari” to kill time.
Hyaku Monogatari means one hundred stories. It is a game which was popular in Japan during the Edo-period. People in a room have to tell one hundred mystery, strange, ghost or monster stories. It was said that something mysterious would happen when all the stories were finished.
Momosuke was happy to hear the suggestion because he really loves mysterious ghost or monster stories, and he frequently traveled around Japan to collect them. His dream was to publish a hyaku monogatari book someday.
The woman began to tell her story. It was a story about a monster cat. She said that her sister, whose name was Oriku, met with the monster cat. It was the the day before her wedding. After seeing the cat, she became mad suddenly and shut herself up in a shack in a mountain. She refused to have a meal and died in the end.
It was a strange story.
Momosuke knows many monster stories, but this was the first time he had heard it.
When the story ended, they heard a strange sound from somewhere as though someone was washing rice or beans. Hearing the sound, some of the people in the shack said that it was the sound of a monster called “Azuki Arai.”
“Azuki Arai” means azuki beans washer. It’s a yokai.
There were many old tales about Azuki Arai in Japan. It’s said that it make the sound near a river, so that a person will become confused, and they will fall into the water. It’s also said that it sings, “Shall I wash azuki beans or eat a human?” while washing azuki beans.
Momosuke noticed that one man in the shack, whose name was Enkai, seemed to be uneasy while hearing the woman’s story. Moreover, Enkai overreacted to the word “azuki beans” sensitively.
Next, the middle aged man began to tell his story. Although it was a story about Azuki Arai, Momosuke didn’t know the story.
He was a master of a large wholesale store. There was an employee who had a special ability in the store. His name was Yasuke. He was a boy who had an interectual disability, but he had a strange ability. He could correctly add up the number of beans in a scoopful of azuki beans in an instant. The master was interested in his ability and gave him an important position in his shop, even although Yasuke couldn’t anything except for very easy job.
However, Yasuke was killed by someone and his body was discovered in a river.
From the  day, a strange incident began to happen in the store. People in the store heard someone’s voice singing, “Shall I wash azuki beans or eat a human?” It was Yasuke’s voice and azuki beans was scattered in the entrance.
After all, an employee, called Tatsugoro, confessed his crime to a magistrate. He was jealous of Yasuke and killed him secretly. He became half mad because he saw Yasuke washing beans.
When the second story ended, they heard the sound of azuki beans again.
Suddenly, Enkai, who was silently listening to the story, cried out.
He looked scared and paniced and rushed into the rain. After the rain stopped, he was found dead. He probably slipped in the rain and fell into the river.
It appears as though he was confused by the azuki beans washer.
The people agreed that this accident was due to the youkai.
The Ongyo rang a bell and prayed: “Ongyo, si-tatematsuru-”

However, afterwards, Momosuke found out the truth.
It was not monster’s evil doing but a human’s.
The man who looked like an Ongyo, was in fact an uncommon liar, whose nickname was “Komatakuguri-no Mataichi.” Komatakuguri means swindler. His job was to solve problems or negotiate a private settlement using his gift of the tongue and elocution. This time, his duty was to find a murderer.
The dead man in the river, Enkai’s real name was Tatsugoro.
He had raped a woman called Oriku who was going to marry with another man the next day. Oriku became mad because of her ordeal, shut herself up in a shack and died. He also killed her brother, Yasuke, because Yasuke saw him do it. Oriku and Yasuke’s father suspected him of the murders, but he had no evidence. So he requested the service of Mataichi.
The woman, Ogin and the middle aged man, Jihei who told the two ghost stories were his accomplices.Mataichi and his accomplices trapped Tatsugoro. They followed him who traveled and,lired him into the shack seizing the rain. the shack in which
It got down and this hut was the very hut in which they took shelter was the exact one in which Oriku had shut herself up.
Mataichi only intended for Tatsugoro to confess his crime by being frightened by the stories, but Tatsugoro killed himself because of his fear of hearing the names of his victims in the ghost stories, and the sound of the azuki beans. It was true that Yasuke had a special ability adding up the number of beans in a scoopful.
After finding out the truth, Momosuke thought that it was better that this incident appeared that it was due to the monster.
Mataichi said, “Shall I wash the azuki beans or eat a human-”

It is the outline of  “Azuki Arai.”
This story tells about Mataichi’s work (which is called “sikake” in this book, and it means a scheme or plot) and the encounter of Mataichi and Momosuke.

Mataichi is a komatakuguri. Although he dresses as a wondering monk, he is a faithless man who believes neither in God nor Buddha. Although he is a scoundrel, he is very likable character. When he solves a problem, he skillfully kids people into thinking that it was due to a monster or a ghost.
His accomplice,”Yamanekomawasi is a beautiful woman who is a street performer who uses a puppet. “Kotobure-no Jihei” is an expert in disguise. In a later story, “Yotsudama-no Tokujiro” appears. He is a showman and an expert hypnotist. They act in various roles in their work.
After this first story, Momosuke started to cooperate with them.
He is a writer and is well versed in monster and ghost stories, so he is able to give reality to Mataichi’s work.

They deceive people using the monster or ghost stories but, actually don’t believe in them. This is especially true of Matachi. He declared “There is neither soul nor a after world. Those things exist only in people’s minds. A dead person is only a dead body.” in the last story of the book.

This is the first book of the Kousetsu series. The later books are also fantastic.


Warau(laughing) Iemon (1997)

嗤う伊右衛門 (中公文庫)
嗤う伊右衛門 (中公文庫)
This is a book by Kyogoku Natsuhiko. It’s from his series of rewritten traditional Japanese stories.
“Warau Iemon” is the written version of “Yotsuya Kaidan”.

Yotsuya Kaidan is the most famous Japanese ghost story and was written in 1825 by Tsuruya Nanboku IV as a kabuki play. The original title was “Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan.”
It’s a tale of betrayal, murder and ghostly revenge.

Iemon, a samurai from Enya-han (塩治藩Enya-fief) ,and Oiwa, a daughter of the Tamiya family, were a married couple. Although Iemon had been passionate with her before they got married, he became tired of her because she was weak due to illness.
Oume, a granddaughter of a well-to-do neighbor called Itou Kihei, was in love with Iemon. Oume and Kihei poisoned Oiwa disguising it as medicine. However the poison did not kill her, but instead disfigured her, causing her hair to fall out and her left eye to droop. Seeing Oiwa’s disfigurement, Iemon began to hate her and he was lured toward the Itou family’s wealth and young Oume. Iemon and Kihei conspired to kill Oiwa.
Iemon killed Oiwa and flung her body into a nearby river.
Iemon planned his new marriage. On his wedding day to his new bride Oume, Iemon lifted her veil to find Oiwa’s disfigured face. Horrified, he thinks it’s a ghost and beheads her and discovers that he has in fact killed Oume. He also killed Kihei mistaking him as the ghost too.
After that, everywhere he goes, he sees the disfigured face. Oiwa’s ghost manages to kill all of the conspirators with Iemon. In the end, Iemon gets killed by his brother-in-law whom he had betrayed before.

This is the original story “Yotsuya Kaidan” by Tsuruya Nanboku.
There is a Japanese word “Iroaku(色悪).” It’s one of the kabuki terms which means a villain who has a handsome face.
Iemon is typical “Iroaku.” If you refer to the word in the dictionary, you will find that Iemon is written as an example in the difinition of Iroaku.

Kyogoku Natsuhiko transformed this traditional character and made a new “Yotsuya Kaidan”.
Iemon, in the story by Kyogoku, is a serious, honest and sincere man. He is silent and never laughs.
Oiwa, who was a powerless and obedient character in the traditional story, is changed into a courageous and reasonable character that is strong willed.
Oiwa’s face (it is a trademark of Oiwa) has been disfigured at the beginning of the story because of disease. Oiwa was a beautiful woman, but after her disease, it became difficult for her to find a husband. If she couldn’t find someone, the Tamiya family would lose its status. Oiwa thought that she didn’t need a husband and the Tamiya family should just accept it. However, her father asked a man called “Komatakuguri no Mataichi” whose job was to solve problem or come to a private settlement using his skill in speech and elocution, to find the husband. The man who Mataichi introduced was Iemon, an unemployed ronin. In spite of her disfigured face, Iemon decided to marry her to help the Tamiya family. Knowing his sincerity, Oiwa got married with him. Iemon respected her strong will. They were attracted to each other. They never spoke words of love, but it is clearly apparent to the reader that it is true love.
The two characters, Iemon and Oiwa in the Kyougoku version, are virtuous and they both wish for their partner’s happiness.
However, this story is a tragedy and all the characters die at the end of the story in the same way as the traditional Yotsuya Kaidan.
There aren’t any evil characters in the story by Kyougoku other than Itou Kihei. Kihei is definitely an evil character. Although he is cruel and killed some of his enemies all he did to iemon and Oiwa was to tell lies. He made Oiwa believe that divorce was the only way to make Iemon happy. So Oiwa decided to get divorced although Iemon opposed this. Iemon thought that she hated him so much that she would never change her mind. Despairing, he accepted her decision, and got married to Oume instead, following Kihei’s advice. Oume became pregnant. The baby was Kihei’s. In this story, she is Kihei’s secret lover. Kihei didn’t want to marry her because she is a daughter of a merchant and he was a samurai. So he shifted the responsibility of her and the baby onto Iemon.
Oume is not an evil character. However, she didn’t tell Iemon and Oiwa that he had lied. She is an unhappy and pitiful woman. Although she hated Kihei, she couldn’t escape from him. So she married Iemon to get away.
The other characters like Naosuke and Takuetsu, who were conspirators with Iemon in the traditional story, are not bad either. Their only fault was telling Oiwa the truth. They told her the truth because they thought it would be good for her.
It is interesting that the truth is more harmful than the lie in this story. When Oiwa believed Kihei’s lie, she was happy because she could believe that Iemon was happy. However, when Naosuke and Takuetsu told her the truth, this drove her mad. Oiwa disappeared and a rumor that she was ghost was spread around Edo. Iemon too became possessed by madness. When he became possessed by madness, Iemon laughed for the first time.
The story ends with some terrible murders and a miserable death.
Oiwa killed Takuetsu, Oume killed her baby, Kihei killed Naosuke and Iemon killed Oume and Kihei. All the main character eventually died.
In the end, Iemon got inside a chest in which he had hidden Oiwa’s dead body, and he let many snakes and mice bite him to death. Holding Oiwa’s dead body, Iemon’s dead face was smiling.

This is the synopsis of Warau(laughing) Iemon.
No ghosts appear in the story. Instead, the story tells how the ghost story was born. It’s a strange, odd, sad, dreary and beautiful human drama. I really love it.