“The Corpse-Rider” KIDAN – Weird Tales from Japan Full text by Lafcadio Hearn

"The Corpse-Rider" KIDAN - Weird Tales from Japan Full text by Lafcadio Hearn Storeis
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The Corpse-Rider


*From the Konséki-Monogatari

The body was cold as ice; the heart had long ceased to beat: yet there were no other signs of death. Nobody even spoke of burying the woman. She had died of grief and anger at having been divorced. It would have been useless to bury her,—because the last undying wish of a dying person for vengeance can burst asunder any tomb and rift the heaviest graveyard stone. People who lived near the house in which she was lying fled from their homes. They knew that she was only waiting for the return of the man who had divorced her.


At the time of her death he was on a journey. When he came back and was told what had happened, terror seized him. “If I can find no help before dark,” he thought to himself, “she will tear me to pieces.” It was yet only the Hour of the Dragon; but he knew that he had no time to lose.


He went at once to an inyōshi, and begged for succor. The inyōshi knew the story of the dead woman; and he had seen the body. He said to the supplicant:—”A very great danger threatens you. I will try to save you. But you must promise to do whatever I shall tell you to do. There is only one way by which you can be saved. It is a fearful way. But unless you find the courage to attempt it, she will tear you limb from limb. If you can be brave, come to me again in the evening before sunset.” The man shuddered; but he promised to do whatever should be required of him.


At sunset the inyōshi went with him to the house where the body was lying. The inyōshi pushed open the sliding-doors, and told his client to enter. It was rapidly growing dark. “I dare not!” gasped the man, quaking from head to foot;—”I dare not even look at her!” “You will have to do much more than look at her,” declared the inyōshi;—”and you promised to obey. Go in!” He forced the trembler into the house and led him to the side of the corpse.


The dead woman was lying on her face. “Now you must get astride upon her,” said the inyōshi, “and sit firmly on her back, as if you were riding a horse…. Come!—you must do it!” The man shivered so that the inyōshi had to support him—shivered horribly; but he obeyed. “Now take her hair in your hands,” commanded the inyōshi,—”half in the right hand, half in the left…. So!… You must grip it like a bridle. Twist your hands in it—both hands—tightly. That is the way!… Listen to me! You must stay like that till morning. You will have reason to be afraid in the night—plenty of reason. But whatever may happen, never let go of her hair. If you let go,—even for one second,—she will tear you into gobbets!”
The inyōshi then whispered some mysterious words into the ear of the body, and said to its rider:—”Now, for my own sake, I must leave you alone with her…. Remain as you are!… Above all things, remember that you must not let go of her hair.” And he went away,—closing the doors behind him.


Hour after hour the man sat upon the corpse in black fear;—and the hush of the night deepened and deepened about him till he screamed to break it. Instantly the body sprang beneath him, as to cast him off; and the dead woman cried out loudly, “Oh, how heavy it is! Yet I shall bring that fellow here now!”
Then tall she rose, and leaped to the doors, and flung them open, and rushed into the night,—always bearing the weight of the man. But he, shutting his eyes, kept his hands twisted in her long hair,—tightly, tightly,—though fearing with such a fear that he could not even moan. How far she went, he never knew. He saw nothing: he heard only the sound of her naked feet in the dark,—picha-picha, picha-picha,—and the hiss of her breathing as she ran.


At last she turned, and ran back into the house, and lay down upon the floor exactly as at first. Under the man she panted and moaned till the cocks began to crow. Thereafter she lay still.
But the man, with chattering teeth, sat upon her until the inyōshi came at sunrise. “So you did not let go of her hair!”—observed the inyōshi,greatly pleased. “That is well… Now you can stand up.” He whispered again into the ear of the corpse, and then said to the man:—”You must have passed a fearful night; but nothing else could have saved you. Hereafter you may feel secure from her vengeance.”


* * *


The conclusion of this story I do not think to be morally satisfying. It is not recorded that the corpse-rider became insane, or that his hair turned white: we are told only that “he worshipped the inyōshi with tears of gratitude.” A note appended to the recital is equally disappointing. “It is reported,” the Japanese author says, “that a grandchild of the man [who rode the corpse] still survives, and that a grandson of the inyōshi is at this very time living in a vilage called Otokunoi-mura[probably pronounced Otonoi-mura].”
This village-name does not appear in any Japanese directory of to-day. But the names of many towns and villages have been changed since the foregoing story was written.



[Hour of the Dragon] Tatsu no Koku, or the Hour of the Dragon, by old Japanese time, began at about eight o’clock in the morning.


[inyōshi] Inyōshi, a professor or master of the science of in-yō,—the old Chinese nature-philosophy, based upon the theory of a male and a female principle pervading the universe.


All Stories

1.Story of Foxes| 2.The Child of the River| 3.Of a Promise Kept| 4.Of a Promise Broken| 5.Story of the Futon of Tottori| 6.The Legend of Yurei-Daki| 7.Common Sense| 8.A Legend of Fugen-Bosatsu| 9.The Story of Umétsu Chūbei| 10.Ingwa-Banashi| 11.The Corpse-Rider| 12.The Story of Chūgorō| 13.Chin Chin Kobakama| 14.The Fountain of Youth| 15.The Goblin Spider| 16.Goblin Poetry

Kwaidan Series


Japanese version

1.狐の話| 2.川の子供| 3.守られた約束| 4.破られた約束| 5.鳥取の布団の話| 6.幽霊滝の伝説| 7.常識| 8.普賢菩薩の伝説| 9.梅津忠兵衛の話| 10.因果話| 11.死骸に乗る者| 12.忠五郎の話| 13.ちんちん小袴| 14.若返りの泉| 15.化け蜘蛛| 16.妖魔詩話



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