The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi

Whereat, in spite of the weirdness of the thing, the servants could not help laughing. Sure that he had been bewitched, they now seized him, and pulled him up on his feet, and by main force hurried him back to the temple,—where he was immediately relieved of his wet clothes, by order of the priest, and reclad, and made to eat and drink. Then the priest insisted upon a full explanation of his friend’s astonishing behavior.

Hoichi long hesitated to speak. But at last, finding that his conduct had really alarmed and angered the good priest, he decided to abandon his reserve; and he related everything that had happened from the time of the first visit of the samurai.

The priest said:—

“Hoichi, my poor friend, you are now in great danger! How unfortunate that you did not tell me all this before! Your wonderful skill in music has indeed brought you into strange trouble. By this time you must be aware that you have not been visiting any house whatever, but have been passing your nights in the cemetery, among the tombs of the Heike;—and it was before the memorial-tomb of Antoku Tenno that our people to-night found you, sitting in the rain. All that you have been imagining was illusion—except the calling of the dead. By once obeying them, you have put yourself in their power. If you obey them again, after what has already occurred, they will tear you in pieces. But they would have destroyed you, sooner or later, in any event… Now I shall not be able to remain with you to-night: I am called away to perform another service. But, before I go, it will be necessary to protect your body by writing holy texts upon it.”

Before sundown the priest and his acolyte stripped Hoichi: then, with their writing-brushes, they traced upon his breast and back, head and face and neck, limbs and hands and feet,—even upon the soles of his feet, and upon all parts of his body,—the text of the holy sutra called Hannya-Shin-Kyo* When this had been done, the priest instructed Hoichi, saying:—

“To-night, as soon as I go away, you must seat yourself on the verandah, and wait. You will be called. But, whatever may happen, do not answer, and do not move. Say nothing, and sit still—as if meditating. If you stir, or make any noise, you will be torn asunder. Do not get frightened; and do not think of calling for help—because no help could save you. If you do exactly as I tell you, the danger will pass, and you will have nothing more to fear.”

* The Smaller Pragna-Paramita-Hridaya-Sutra is thus called in Japanese. Both the smaller and larger sutras called Pragna-Paramita (“Transcendent Wisdom”) have been translated by the late Professor Max Müller, and can be found in volume xlix. of the Sacred Books of the East (“Buddhist Mahayana Sutras”).—Apropos of the magical use of the text, as described in this story, it is worth remarking that the subject of the sutra is the Doctrine of the Emptiness of Forms,—that is to say, of the unreal character of all phenomena or noumena… “Form is emptiness; and emptiness is form. Emptiness is not different from form; form is not different from emptiness. What is form—that is emptiness. What is emptiness—that is form… Perception, name, concept, and knowledge, are also emptiness… There is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind… But when the envelopment of consciousness has been annihilated, then he (the seeker) becomes free from all fear, and beyond the reach of change, enjoying final Nirvana.”

After dark the priest and the acolyte went away; and Hoichi seated himself on the verandah, according to the instructions given him. He laid his biwa on the planking beside him, and, assuming the attitude of meditation, remained quite still,—taking care not to cough, or to breathe audibly. For hours he stayed thus.

Then, from the roadway, he heard the steps coming. They passed the gate, crossed the garden, approached the verandah, stopped—directly in front of him.

“Hoichi!” the deep voice called. But the blind man held his breath, and sat motionless.

“Hoichi!” grimly called the voice a second time. Then a third time—savagely: “Hoichi!”

Hoichi remained as still as a stone,—and the voice grumbled:

“No answer!—that won’t do!… Must see where the fellow is.”

There was a noise of heavy feet mounting upon the verandah. The feet approached deliberately,—halted beside him. Then, for long minutes,—during which Hoichi felt his whole body shake to the beating of his heart, there was dead silence.

At last the gruff voice muttered close to him:—

“Here is the biwa; but of the biwa-player I see—only two ears!… So that explains why he did not answer: he had no mouth to answer with—there is nothing left of him but his ears… Now to my lord those ears I will take—in proof that the august commands have been obeyed, so far as was possible.”

At that instant Hoichi felt his ears gripped by fingers of iron, and torn off! Great as the pain was, he gave no cry. The heavy footfalls receded along the verandah,—descended into the garden,—passed out to the roadway,—ceased. From either side of his head, the blind man felt a thick warm trickling; but he dared not lift his hands…

Before sunrise the priest came back. He hastened at once to the verandah in the rear, stepped and slipped upon something clammy, and uttered a cry of horror;—for he saw, by the light of his lantern, that the clamminess was blood. But he perceived Hoichi sitting there, in the attitude of meditation—with the blood still oozing from his wounds.

From Kwaidan: stories and studies of strange things, by Lafcadio Hearn.
Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1904.

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