Bebe Taian: The Rooted Corpse

October 3, 2013

The Rooted Corpse

The Rooted Corpse
From Uji Shuui Monogatari, translated by Royall Tyler (Japanese Tales, 1987).

The elder of two sisters was married and lived in the mistress's apartment toward the back of her late father's mansion. The younger had served for a time in a noble household but now lived at home. She had no husband or accepted lover, only occasional, casual visitors whom she saw in her room at the front of the house, by the double doors in the west wing. The house was near the crossing of Takatsuji and Muromachi streets in Kyoto.

At the age of twenty-seven the younger sister fell ill and died. Her body was left in her room, since there seemed to be nowhere else for her in the house, till her older sister and the rest of the household took her off to the burning ground at Toribeno.

They were about to unload the coffin from the carriage, in preparation for the usual funeral rites, when they noticed that it was oddly light and that the lid was ajar. Why, the body was gone! This was a shocking discovery. The body could not possibly have fallen out on the way, but they retraced their steps to make sure. Of course, they found nothing. But on reaching the house they thought they might as well check the room by the double doors. There she was, lying there as though she had never been moved!

The night wore on while the mourners discussed anxiously what to do. At dawn they put the body back in the coffin and carefully sealed the lid, then waited for night and another chance to proceed with the cremation. But at nightfall they again found the coffin open and were really terrified this time. The body was lying as before by the double doors, and it defeated every attempt to get it back where it belonged. They simply could not budge it. They might as well have tried to move a rooted tree.

There she was, and apparently that was where she was meant to stay. "That's what you want, is it?" one level-headed mourner finally said to the corpse. "You like it here? All right, then this is where we'll leave you. But we are going to have to get you out of sight, you know!"

They took up the floor, and she was light as a feather when they lowered her through the hole. So they buried her under the floor and built a good-sized mound over her. Then the family and servants all moved away, since no one wanted to stay on in the same house with a corpse. Over the years the house fell to ruin and eventually disappeared.

For some reason, not even the common people seemed to be able to live near the mound. People claimed that awful things happened there. As a result, the mound stood all alone, without a single hut for forty or fifty feet around it. In time a shrine was built on top of it, for one reason or another, and they say the shrine is still there.

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