A-Yokai-A-Day: How Hashii Yasaburō Ferried a Ghost

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Tonight’s story is one of my favorites in Shokoku hyakumonogatari. Something about the ghost being upside-down is so creepy and visually striking. Not only that, it’s part love story, part revenge story, and the ghost is both sympathetic and terrifying. Good stuff!

Upside-down ghosts are no stranger to Japanese folklore. In fact, there’s even a name for it–sakasa yūrei–and one appears in 1853’s Kyōka hyakumonogatari as well. As for upside-down yokai, sakabashira also comes to mind, and carries the same notion of being placed upside-down as a method of torture. Another famous example is the upside-down woman’s head from Inō mononoke roku. The upside-down position kind of mirrors the position of those suffering in mugen jigoku, the endless hell from which there is no redemption; falling, head first, into the pit for all of eternity.

There’s only one day left of A-Yokai-A-Day, so I hope this one gives you sufficient chills!

How Hashii Yasaburō Ferried a Ghost

Among Lord Oda Nobunaga’s retainers was a samurai named Hashii Yasaburō who was well-versed in both the literary and military arts. Later, while in Kiyosu in the service of Lord Bingo, he maintained a deep romantic relationship with Lady Inuyama’s son, to whom he traveled eleven kilometers to see every night.

One night after his night watch was over, he went to Inuyama, when it suddenly started pouring rain. The night was terribly dark and lonely. Along the way there was a river ferry. He called out for the ferryman, but he must have been sleeping downstream, as he did not answer. Yasaburō stood resting by the water’s edge and gazing up and down the river, when a fire appeared upstream. He watched it get closer and closer, and he saw a woman with long, disheveled hair, flames billowing from her mouth, walking upside-down on her head. Yasaburō drew his sword and called out, “Who’s there!”

The woman let out a painful cry and said, “I am the wife of the headman from Yamura across the river. My husband conspired with his mistress, and strangled me to death, and then buried me upside-down so that my spirit could not come back upstream to get him. I want to avenge my death, but it is difficult to cross the river upside-down like this. Ah! I hoped to meet a person brave enough to take me across the river. I have been watching the people who cross here, and there is none as brave as you. Please, show me compassion and take me across the river!”

Yasaburō agreed, and he called the ferryman. “Take that woman across to the other bank in your boat,” he said. But upon seeing the woman, the ferryman threw down his oars and fled.

Yasaburō retrieved the oars, picked up the woman and put her in the boat, and then rowed to the opposite shore. Then the woman pointed towards Yamura and flew towards it. Yasaburō followed her to the village headman’s house. He stood at the gate and listened, and he heard a woman’s scream, “Agh!”

Shortly after, the woman came out of the house, the mistress’s head dangling in her hand. She turned to Yasaburō and said, “Thanks to you, I easily took care of my nemesis. I am grateful.” Then she vanished without a trace.

Afterwards, Yasaburō went to Inuyama and stayed until dawn. On his way home, he stopped at Yamura and asked, “Did anything happen here last night?”

One of the residents told him, “The village  headman recently took a wife, but last night, for some reason, somebody ripped off her head and left.”

Yasaburō was mystified. He told Lord Bingo everything that happened, then he went to the upper reaches of the river and dug. Sure enough, he dug up the remains of a woman who had been buried upside-down. It was an unprecedented scandal, and the village headman was executed for it.

a ghost in burial kimono, standing on its hands