Our yōkai tonight is another bōrei, or ghost, although not in the traditional sense of a spooky white dead person who hunts you down and kills you. This story tells more about the lingering effects a ghost might have on an area, and how customs have been built up around them.
One notable feature of this story is the outfit the woman wears while swimming. In order to keep her candles from snuffing out in the water, she ties them to her head like a hat. This is very much a familiar allusion to ushi no koku mairi, a powerful curse that vengeful scorned lovers sometime place on their former partners. It adds a bit of dramatic imagery to the story.
The Woman’s Bōrei from Mihogasaki, Suruga Province
This is a story from Suruga Province. A love story, between a man from Kiyomidera, and a woman from Mihogasaki.
Every night the woman would visit the man, swimming the six kilometers across Suruga Bay from Mihogasaki to Kiyomidera, wearing candles on her head to light her path. The man would light a fire at Kiyomidera every night to show her the way.
However, as the months as years passed, the man began to wonder why the woman would swim across the bay just to visit him every night. These thoughts scared him, and he became convinced that she was not human. Feeling afraid, one night he decided to douse his signal fire.
The woman swam out into the bay and looked for the fire, but she could not find it. She swam from place to place searching for it, but finally she grew week and drowned in the sea. Her bōrei could not find peace. Eventually it located the man, then possessed and killed him.
It is said that the woman’s bōrei still haunts the area. Whenever a fire broke out at Kiyomidera, a fire also broke out at Mihogasaki without fail. And when a fire burned in Mihogasaki, Kiyomidera would catch fire as well.
Since then and to this very day, whenever there is a fire at Mihogasaki, the people light a bonfire at Kiyomidera, and if there is a fire at Kiyomidera, the people of Mihogasaki burn fires too. Both sides copy each other’s fires.
I was told this story by a boatsman when I visited the shrine at Mihogasaki several years ago.