Bebe Taian: Hyaku Monogatari: Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談)

October 1, 2012

Hyaku Monogatari: Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談)

四谷怪談, Yotsuya Kaidan, is the murderous story of Yotsuya Oiwa-san and Tamiya Iemon. It is a very old tale with many, many variations as it has passed down through generations.

Long ago, in the samurai days, battles were frequent and warlords ruled the country. In those days, Oiwa was a beautiful woman, upper-class and comfortable in her father's fortune. Meanwhile, Tamiya Iemon was a destitute ronin (a masterless samurai), with an eye for luxuries his lifestyle had previously afforded him and a taste for pretty girls. It was an unfortunate match when Oiwa began to fall in love with the brutish but powerful Iemon. This is the tale of their undoing:

(cut for trigger warnings: murder, ghosts)

In order to marry Oiwa, Iemon had to gain permission from the girl's father. However, Oiwa's father, Yotsuya Samon, was not going to give his beautiful daughter away to just anyone; he wanted to ensure a partner that was faithful, and who was stable enough to care for the girl. Iemon was neither. Poor, without a job or solidly-defined place in the world, and possibly after Oiwa simply because she had connections, Iemon was regarded with suspicion and perhaps disdain. Iemon was rejected as a suitor. In a fit of rage, Iemon murders Samon, and claiming innocence, woos Oiwa by promising to hunt down her father's murderer.

Wealth obtained, beautiful and loyal wife acquired, Iemon was moving up in society. But it wasn't to last long. Already, Oiwa began to lose his interest, and once she became pregnant, he had no desire for her at all. A child got in the way, would take up money, would cry late at night when he wanted to sleep... Soon enough, he met another wealthy, beautiful, single and childless woman named Oume. After some months, he was successful again at playing to his new prospect's emotions, and Oume agreed to marry him- yet, he would have to gain her grandfather's permission to do so.

Oume's grandfather was more than happy to give a fine man permission to marry Oume, but alas! Iemon was already married! If he could obtain a divorce, then things would be settled, but until then, it was not possible. But Iemon was devious- he had a plan. Oume was jealous of Oiwa, believing herself to be ugly by comparison. Together, they conspired to poison the woman, allowing him to be free to marry Oume and gain her wealth combined with his inheritance from Oiwa's estate!

Oiwa, being a beautiful woman, naturally wanted to preserve that beauty. How lovely it was to receive nice things from her husband, especially luxurious creams for her skin to help her stay that way! But over time, the poison built up in her system. In time, her skin began to dull, turn yellowish. She miscarried eventually, and became very ill. Surely, the problem must have been something wrong with the childbearing process... Oiwa continued to use her special face powders and lotions, more and more, in effort to stay beautiful, but ah! Now her hair began to fall out in bloody clumps when she brushed it, and her face, once radiant, began to sag. One day, she falls over, appearing to be dead. Iemon rushes off, not to get help, but to rejoice with his new lover!

When he returns, he finds that Oiwa was only unconscious. Feigning happiness that she is alive, he takes her out to walk in the fresh air. How beautiful the scenery! Look out over this ledge- you can see the world from here! He shoves Oiwa off of a cliff and into a rushing ravine, killing her. It was an accident! She was sick, and she fell! The mourning period was shortened by his marriage to Oume.

Everything was perfect. No one suspected him of killing his wife- after all, she had not been seen socially for some time, due to her well-known illness. He now had access to all of her money, her large home, everything; and now, he had a new, beautiful wife, who had a wealthy, influential grandfather- how could he  wish for more? But the night of the wedding, things began to go wrong.

The Ghost of Oiwa - Hokusai, 1831
In his dream, he was walking around his estate, when a lamp began to change it's shape. Slowly it transformed into the visage of his dead wife, shouting "Betrayal!" to him. He could not escape the sound- the lamp and her voice would follow him. He awoke and shrugged it off. Surely, with his new life, that guilt would pass. But at the wedding, terror would strike him again. As he led his lovely wife to greet the priest, he lifted her loose tsuno kakushi (like a veil), only to see the horrifying face of Oiwa! In terror and anger, he drew his sword and cut off her head- only to see the head of Oume roll to the floor. Now truly frightened, he runs from the wedding, ghostly laughter following on his footsteps all the way.

Iemon runs blindly until he comes to a shack. When he bursts inside, he collapses, fatigued from the horrors of the wedding. A knocking sounds at the door. Panting and bewildered, he gets up to answer- and again, stares into Oiwa's eyes, her voice accusing him of her betrayal. She shrieks as he runs forward, gutting her and cutting off her head. Exhausted from running and from the fight, he looks out to see the mutilated body of Oume's grandfather.

Driven mad, he runs to the cliff where Oiwa was murdered. Surely, she could not have survived the fall! He stops and stares down into the ravine before stumbling over. Some say they say a woman standing behind him when he went over the ledge...

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