Sunday, July 13, 2014

Japan: Kosodate Yurei

A while back I shared a traditional California ghost story entitled, Milk Bottles. The reader can find it here.

The Japanese have shared this story for centuries. Even though the story of the Kosodate yurei is a very old ghost story several modern versions of it are still shared with children in Japan today.

Japanese ghosts are known as Yurei. These ghosts are both feared and honored. Most Yurei stories were originally shared during the Edo period (1603-1868).

Kosodate yurei means “child-raising” ghost. 

In the American version of this story the ghost of a frontier mother comes in search of “milk bottles” to keep her baby alive that was mistakenly buried with her.

In most modern Japanese versions of this story unlike the American one this mother brings her child with her.

Sweet Sake

Today Tsukiji is a popular fish market in Tokyo. At one time this area was also used for several temples and cemeteries.

Amazake--Sweet Sake
A dealer in this original market became curious when a woman approached his stall every night clutching her baby to her and purchased amazake--this is sweet sake given to children.

One night as he watched this woman give the sake to her baby he decided to follow her.

He watched her as she went into the main hall of one temple and then she simply vanished. Gathering his wits he then hears a baby’s cry and follows the sound to a nearby cemetery.

There he traces the crying to a freshly dug grave. He then unearths this grave. He finds in the coffin the mother’s corpse, in her arms she is still holding the baby tightly.

Similarities and Differences

This Japanese legend and the American one that evolved from it have several similarities but there are also several major differences.

Like mentioned above the Japanese version has the mother bring her baby with her--in the American one she leaves the child behind.

In the Japanese version the Kosodate is in search of sharing the “pleasures” of life with her child--in this version sweet sake--in other Japanese versions little toys, candy etc.

In contrast, the American version has the mother searching for nourishment for her child--in order to keep her baby alive.

Another difference is in the Japanese version the mother appears to want to keep her baby with her *--whereas in the American version she wants someone to find and then rescue her baby.

* This makes this version scarier in my eyes.

The Story of Monchikae Onna

The Japanese legend of the Kosodate yurei originated from a Chinese story that can be traced back to the late 1100s.

The story of Monchikae Onna is about a woman who buys rice-cakes.

In this tragic legend a woman who is pregnant dies and then is buried. Soon afterwards a rice-cake dealer begins to see a strange woman carrying a baby come to his stall.

Rice cakes
She feeds the rice-cakes she buys to her baby.

The dealer wonders about this odd woman who buys his cakes regularly so one night he carefully ties a red string to the woman without her notice.

When she leaves he follows this string. It leads him to a grave hidden among some bushes.

He alerts the still grieving relatives of the woman and they dig up her grave. They find she had given birth posthumously in her coffin.

They take the child to raise as their own and then they cremate the mother’s body.

Again, in this version the yurei appears to want to keep the baby but because of the rice-cake seller’s intervention the child is saved.

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