The Phantom Waterfall: a Japanese scary story

Continuing the theme this week, another famous story by <a href="Yakumo Koizumi, also known as Lafcadio Hearn, is the story of yūrei daki (幽霊滝), the “Phantom Waterfall”. I couldn’t find an English version I could post on the blog, so what follows is my summary and retelling of the story from a couple sources, including the Japanese Wikipedia article. I may get some details wrong, but will try to update later once I get a copy of the story again. You can find a copy of it in Japanese in the White Rabbit Press “Graded Reader Series” if you want to try reading it in simple Japanese.

This story takes place in the remote prefecture called Tottori Prefecture (鳥取県) in a village where people farmed flax and hemp during the Meiji Period. In that village there is a waterfall called ryūōtaki (竜王滝) or Dragon King Waterfall, but in the old days was called yūrei daki (幽霊滝) or Phantom (or ghost) Waterfall. This is a story about the old name.

One cold winter night in the village, the women had gathered around the fire in someone’s house and started telling scary stories, with the children bundled up in their arms or sleeping on their backs. As the night wore on, the stories got scarier and then the topic turned to the nearby waterfall which was said to haunted. Beside the waterfall was a lone shrine which served to placate the restless spirit but the villagers still avoided the place unless absolutely necessary. The women dared one another to go there that night and take the donation box (or saisen bako 賽銭箱). Finally a young lady named Okatsu agreed to the dare, but only if the other ladies gave her all the flax they farmed that day. Impressed with her bravery, they agreed and off she went, carrying her little girl on her back to protect her from the cold.

Okatsu left the village and walked down the cold, dark midnight path until at last she reached the shrine. She looked and found no one there, so she crept up to the building and found the wooden box, with a grill on top: the donation box. Nervous, but determined, she picked up the box, tucked it under her arm and began to head home. All of a sudden a deep voice from behind her said, “Hey!” She started and ran away, when the voice called louder, “hey!” She ran harder. The voice boomed “hey!” louder than ever and Okatsu ran home as fast as she could. As she left the woods behind, she heard the voice no more and started to relax. Her heart was pounding, but she had still had the box.

Triumphantly, she walked back to the village and the waiting women. They were shocked and amazed that she pulled off the dare and succeeded. As she sat down to relax, one of the village elders helped Okatsu get her daughter off her back, when she noticed something red all over Okatsu’s back. Confused, the old woman unwrapped the bundle to find the little girl’s arms and legs, but to their horror, the head was missing.

Happy Halloween!

P.S. Another post accidentally got scheduled too early and posted a little before this one. I pushed it back to the intended day. If you missed it, don’t worry. :)

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