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Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

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lamented by their young widows, who will survive them for a time of many


But all the foregoing is no more than a proem to the real "Romance of the

-- By far the most startling discovery in relation to this astonishing
civilization is that of the suppression of sex. In certain advanced forms
of ant-life sex totally disappears in the majority of individuals;-- in
nearly all the higher ant-societies sex-life appears to exist only to the
extent absolutely needed for the continuance of the species. But the
biological fact in itself is much less startling than the ethical
suggestion which it offers;-- for this practical suppression, or
regulation, of sex-faculty appears to be voluntary! Voluntary, at least, so
far as the species is concerned. It is now believed that they wonderful
creatures have learned how to develop, or to arrest the development, of sex
in their young,-- by some particular mode of nutrition. They have succeeded
in placing under perfect control what is commonly supposed to be the most
powerful and unmanageable of instincts. And this rigid restraint of
sex-life to within the limits necessary to provide against extinction is
but one (though the most amazing) of many vital economies effected by the
race. Every capacity for egoistic pleasure -- in the common meaning of the
word "egoistic" -- has been equally repressed through physiological
modification. No indulgence of any natural appetite is possible except to
that degree in which such indulgence can directly or indirectly benefit the
species;-- even the indispensable requirements of food and sleep being
satisfied only to the exact extent necessary for the maintenance of healthy
activity. The individual can exist, act, think, only for the communal good;
and the commune triumphantly refuses, in so far as cosmic law permits, to
let itself be ruled eitherby Love or Hunger.

Most of us have been brought up in the belief that without some kind of
religious creed -- some hope of future reward or fear of future punishment
-- no civilization could exist. We have been taught to think that in the
absence of laws based upon moral ideas, and in the absence of an effective
police to enforce such laws, nearly everybody would seek only his or her
personal advantage, to the disadvantage of everybody else. The strong would
then destroy the weak; pity and sympathy would disappear; and the whole
social fabric would fall to pieces... These teachings confess the existing
imperfection of human nature; and they contain obvious truth. But those who
first proclaimed that truth, thousands and thousands of years ago, never
imagined a form of social existence in which selfishness would be naturally
impossible. It remained for irreligious Nature to furnish us with proof
positive that there can exist a society in which the pleasure of active
beneficence makes needless the idea of duty,-- a society in which
instinctive morality can dispense with ethical codes of every sort,-- a
society of which every member is born so absolutely unselfish, and so
energetically good, that moral training could signify, even for its
youngest, neither more nor less than waste of precious time.

To the Evolutionist such facts necessarily suggest that the value of our
moral idealism is but temporary; and that something better than virtue,
better than kindness, better than self-denial,-- in the present human
meaning of those terms,-- might, under certain conditions, eventually
replace them. He finds himself obliged to face the question whether a world
without moral notions might not be morally better than a world in which
conduct is regulated by such notions. He must even ask himself whether the
existence of religious commandments, moral laws, and ethical standards
among ourselves does not prove us still in a very primitive stage of social
evolution. And these questions naturally lead up to another: Will humanity
ever be able, on this planet, to reach an ethical condition beyond all its
ideals,-- a condition in which everything that we now call evil will have
been atrophied out of existence, and everything that we call virtue have
been transmuted into instinct;-- a state of altruism in which ethical
concepts and codes will have become as useless as they would be, even now,
in the societies of the higher ants.

The giants of modern thought have given some attention to this question;
and the greatest among them has answered it -- partly in the affirmative.
Herbert Spencer has expressed his belief that humanity will arrive at some
state of civilization ethically comparable with that of the ant:--

"If we have, in lower orders of creatures, cases in which the nature is
constitutionally so modified that altruistic activities have become one
with egoistic activities, there is an irresistible implication that a
parallel identification will, under parallel conditions, take place among
human beings. Social insects furnish us with instances completely to the
point,-- and instances showing us, indeed, to what a marvelous degree the
life of the individual may be absorbed in subserving the lives of other
individuals... Neither the ant nor the bee can be supposed to have a sense
of duty, in the acceptation we give to that word; nor can it be supposed
that it is continually undergoing self-sacrifice, in the ordinary
acceptation of that word... [The facts] show us that it is within the
possibilities of organization to produce a nature which shall be just as
energetic in the pursuit of altruistic ends, as is in other cases shown in
the pursuit of egoistic ends;-- and they show that, in such cases, these
altruistic ends are pursued in pursuing ends which, on their other face,
are egoistic. For the satisfaction of the needs of the organization, these
actions, conducive to the welfare of others, must be carried on...

. . . . . . . .

"So far from its being true that there must go on, throughout all the futur
e, a condition in which self-regard is to be continually subjected by the
regard for others, it will, contrari-wise, be the case that a regard for
others will eventually become so large a source of pleasure as to overgrow
the pleasure which is derivable from direct egoistic gratification...
Eventually, then, there will come also a state in which egoism and altruism
are so conciliated that the one merges in the other."


Of course the foregoing prediction does not imply that human nature will
ever undergo such physiological change as would be represented by
structural specializations comparable to those by which the various castes
of insect societies are differentiated. We are not bidden to imagine a
future state of humanity in which the active majority would consist of
semi-female workers and Amazons toiling for an inactive minority of
selected Mothers. Even in his chapter, "Human Population in the Future,"
Mr. Spencer has attempted no detailed statement of the physical
modifications inevitable to the production of higher moral types,-- though
his general statement in regard to a perfected nervous system, and a great
diminution of human fertility, suggests that such moral evolution would
signify a very considerable amount of physical change. If it be legitimate
to believe in a future humanity to which the pleasure of mutual beneficence
will represent the whole joy of life, would it not also be legitimate to
imagine other transformations, physical and moral, which the facts of
insect-biology have proved to be within the range of evolutional
possibility?... I do not know. I most worshipfully reverence Herbert
Spencer as the greatest philosopher who has yet appeared in this world; and
I should be very sorry to write down anything contrary to his teaching, in
such wise that the reader could imagine it to have been inspired by
Synthetic Philosophy. For the ensuing reflections, I alone am responsible;
and if I err, let the sin be upon my own head.

I suppose that the moral transformations predicted by Mr. Spencer, could
be effected only with the aid of physiological change, and at a terrible
cost. Those ethical conditions manifested by insect-societies can have been
reached only through effort desperately sustained for millions of years
against the most atrocious necessities. Necessities equally merciless may
have to be met and mastered eventually by the human race. Mr. Spencer has
shown that the time of the greatest possible human suffering is yet to
come, and that it will be concomitant with the period of the greatest
possible pressure of population. Among other results of that long stress, I
understand that there will be a vast increase in human intelligence and
sympathy; and that this increases of intelligence will be effected at the
cost of human fertility. But this decline in reproductive power will not,
we are told, be sufficient to assure the very highest of social conditions:
it will only relieve that pressure of population which has been the main
cause of human suffering. The state of perfect social equilibrium will be
approached, but never quite reached, by mankind --

Unless there be discovered some means of solving economic problems, just
as social insects have solved them, by the suppression of sex-life.

Supposing that such a discovery were made, and that the human race should
decide to arrest the development of six in the majority of its young,-- so
as to effect a transferrence of those forces, now demanded by sex-life to
the development of higher activities,-- might not the result be an eventual
state of polymorphism, like that of ants? And, in such event, might not the
Coming Race be indeed represented in its higher types,-- through feminine
rather than masculine evolution,-- by a majority of beings of neither sex?

Considering how many persons, even now, through merely unselfish (not to
speak of religious) motives, sentence themselves to celibacy, it should not
appear improbably that a more highly evolved humanity would cheerfully
sacrifice a large proportion of its sex-life for the common weal, particular
ly in view of certain advantages to be gained. Not the least of such
advantages -- always supposing that mankind were able to control sex-life
after the natural manner of the ants -- would be a prodigious increase of
longevity. The higher types of a humanity superior to sex might be able to
realize the dream of life for a thousand years.

Already we find lives too short for the work we have to do; and with the
constantly accelerating progress of discovery, and the never-ceasing
expansion of knowledge, we shall certainly find more and more reason to
regret, as time goes on, the brevity of existence. That Science will ever
discover the Elixir of the Alchemists' hope is extremely unlikely. The
Cosmic Powers will not allow us to cheat them. For every advantage which
they yield us the full price must be paid: nothing for nothing is the
everlasting law. Perhaps the price of long life will prove to be the price
that the ants have paid for it. Perhaps, upon some elder planet, that price
has already been paid, and the power to produce offspring restricted to a
caste morphologically differentiated, in unimaginable ways, from the rest
of the species...


But while the facts of insect-biology suggest so much in regard to the
future course of human evolution, do they not also suggest something of
largest significance concerning the relation of ethics to cosmic law?
Apparently, the highest evolution will not be permitted to creatures
capable of what human moral experience has in all areas condemned.
Apparently, the highest possible strength is the strength of unselfishness;
and power supreme never will be accorded to cruelty or to lust. There may
be no gods; but the forces that shape and dissolve all forms of being would
seem to be much more exacting than gods. To prove a "dramatic tendency" in
the ways of the stars is not possible; but the cosmic process seems
nevertheless to affirm the worth of every human system of ethics
fundamentally opposed to human egoism.



[1] See my Kotto, for a description of these curious crabs.
[2] Or, Shimonoseki. The town is also known by the name of Bakkan.
[3] The biwa, a kind of four-stringed lute, is chiefly used in musical
recitative. Formerly the professional minstrels who recited the
Heike-Monogatari, and other tragical histories, were called biwa-hoshi, or
"lute-priests." The origin of this appellation is not clear; but it is
possible that it may have been suggested by the fact that "lute-priests" as
well as blind shampooers, had their heads shaven, like Buddhist priests.
The biwa is played with a kind of plectrum, called bachi, usually made of
(1) A response to show that one has heard and is listening attentively.
[4] A respectful term, signifying the opening of a gate. It was used by
samurai when calling to the guards on duty at a lord's gate for admission.
[5] Or the phrase might be rendered, "for the pity of that part is the
deepest." The Japanese word for pity in the original text is "aware."
[6] "Traveling incognito" is at least the meaning of the original
phrase,-- "making a disguised august-journey" (shinobi no go-ryoko).
[7] The Smaller Pragna-Paramita-Hridaya-Sutra is thus called in Japanese.
Both the smaller and larger sutras called Pragna-Paramita ("Transcendent
Wisdom") have been translated by the late Professor Max Muller, and can be
found in volume xlix. of the Sacred Books of the East ("Buddhist Mahayana
Sutras"). -- Apropos of the magical use of the text, as described in this
story, it is worth remarking that the subject of the sutra is the Doctrine
of the Emptiness of Forms,-- that is to say, of the unreal character of all
phenomena or noumena... "Form is emptiness; and emptiness is form.
Emptiness is not different from form; form is not different from emptiness.
What is form -- that is emptiness. What is emptiness -- that is form...
Perception, name, concept, and knowledge, are also emptiness... There is no
eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind... But when theenvelopment of
consciousness has been annihilated, then he [the seeker] becomes free from
all fear, and beyond the reach of change, enjoying final Nirvana."

[1] From ancient time, in the Far East, these birds have been regarded as
emblems of conjugal affection.
[2] There is a pathetic double meaning in the third verse; for the
syllables composing the proper name Akanuma ("Red Marsh") may also be read
as akanu-ma, signifying "the time of our inseparable (or delightful)
relation." So the poem can also be thus rendered:-- "When the day began to
fail, I had invited him to accompany me...! Now, after the time of that
happy relation, what misery for the one who must slumber alone in the
shadow of the rushes!" -- The makomo is a short of large rush, used for
making baskets.

(1) "-sama" is a polite suffix attached to personal names.
(2) A Buddhist term commonly used to signify a kind of heaven.
[1] The Buddhist term zokumyo ("profane name") signifies the personal
name, borne during life, in contradistinction to the kaimyo ("sila-name")
or homyo ("Law-name") given after death,-- religious posthumous
appellations inscribed upon the tomb, and upon the mortuary tablet in the
parish-temple. -- For some account of these, see my paper entitled, "The
Literature of the Dead," in Exotics and Retrospectives.
[2] Buddhist household shrine.
(3) Direct translation of a Japanese form of address used toward young,
unmarried women.

(1) The spacious house and grounds of a wealthy person is thus called.
(2) A Buddhist service for the dead.

(1) Part of present-day Shizuoka Prefecture.
(2) The two-hour period between 1 AM and 3 AM.
(3) A monetary unit.

(1) The southern part of present-day Gifu Prefecture.
[1] Literally, a man-eating goblin. The Japanese narrator gives also the
Sanscrit term, "Rakshasa;" but this word is quite as vague as jikininki,
since there are many kinds of Rakshasas. Apparently the word jikininki
signifies here one of the Baramon-Rasetsu-Gaki,-- forming the twenty-sixth
class of pretas enumerated in the old Buddhist books.
[2] A Segaki-service is a special Buddhist service performed on behalf of
beings supposed to have entered into the condition of gaki (pretas), or
hungry spirits. For a brief account of such a service, see my Japanese
[3] Literally, "five-circle [or five-zone] stone." A funeral monument
consisting of five parts superimposed,-- each of a different form,--
symbolizing the five mystic elements: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth.

(1) A kind of badger. Certain animals were thought to be able to transform
themselves and cause mischief for humans.
[1] O-jochu ("honorable damsel"), a polite form of address used in
speaking to a young lady whom one does not know.
(2) An apparition with a smooth, totally featureless face, called a
"nopperabo," is a stock part of the Japanese pantheon of ghosts and demons.
[2] Soba is a preparation of buckwheat, somewhat resembling vermicelli.
(3) An exclamation of annoyed alarm.
(4) Well!

[1] The period of Eikyo lasted from 1429 to 1441.
[2] The upper robe of a Buddhist priest is thus called.
(1) Present-day Yamanashi Prefecture.
(2) A term for itinerant priests.
[3] A sort of little fireplace, contrived in the floor of a room, is thus
described. The ro is usually a square shallow cavity, lined with metal and
half-filled with ashes, in which charcoal is lighted.
(3) Direct translation of "suzumushi," a kind of cricket with a
distinctive chirp like a tiny bell, whence the name.
(4) Now a rokuro-kubi is ordinarily conceived as a goblin whose neck
stretches out to great lengths, but which nevertheless always remains
attached to its body.
(5) A Chinese collection of stories on the supernatural.
[4] A present made to friends or to the household on returning from a
journey is thus called. Ordinarily, of course, the miyage consists of
something produced in the locality to which the journey has been made: this
is the point of Kwairyo's jest.
(6) Present-day Nagano Prefecture.

(1) On the present-day map, Tamba corresponds roughly to the central area
of Kyoto Prefecture and part of Hyogo Prefecture.
[1] The Hour of the Rat (Ne-no-Koku), according to the old Japanese method
of reckoning time, was the first hour. It corresponded to the time between
our midnight and two o'clock in the morning; for the ancient Japanese hours
were each equal to two modern hours.
[2] Kaimyo, the posthumous Buddhist name, or religious name, given to the
dead. Strictly speaking, the meaning of the work is sila-name. (See my
paper entitled, "The Literature of the Dead" in Exotics and

(1) An ancient province whose boundaries took in most of present-day
Tokyo, and parts of Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures.
[1] That is to say, with a floor-surface of about six feet square.
[2] This name, signifying "Snow," is not uncommon. On the subject of
Japanese female names, see my paper in the volume entitled Shadowings.
(2) Also spelled Edo, the former name of Tokyo.

(1) An ancient province corresponding to the northern part of present-day
Ishikawa Prefecture.
(2) An ancient province corresponding to the eastern part of present-day
Fukui Prefecture.
[1] The name signifies "Green Willow;" -- though rarely met with, it is
still in use.
[2] The poem may be read in two ways; several of the phrases having a
double meaning. But the art of its construction would need considerable
space to explain, and could scarcely interest the Western reader. The
meaning which Tomotada desired to convey might be thus expressed:-- "While
journeying to visit my mother, I met with a being lovely as a flower; and
for the sake of that lovely person, I am passing the day here... Fair one,
wherefore that dawn-like blush before the hour of dawn? -- can it mean that
you love me?"
[3] Another reading is possible; but this one gives the signification of
the answer intended.
[4] So the Japanese story-teller would have us believe,-- although the
verses seem commonplace in translation. I have tried to give only their
general meaning: an effective literal translation would require some

(1) Present-day Ehime Prefecture.

(1) Present-day Nara Prefecture.
[1] This name "Tokoyo" is indefinite. According to circumstances it may
signify any unknown country,-- or that undiscovered country from whose
bourn no traveler returns,-- or that Fairyland of far-eastern fable, the
Realm of Horai. The term "Kokuo" means the ruler of a country,-- therefore
a king. The original phrase, Tokoyo no Kokuo, might be rendered here as
"the Ruler of Horai," or "the King of Fairyland."
[2] The last phrase, according to old custom, had to be uttered by both
attendants at the same time. All these ceremonial observances can still be
studied on the Japanese stage.
[3] This was the name given to the estrade, or dais, upon which a feudal
prince or ruler sat in state. The term literally signifies "great seat."

(1) Kana: the Japanese phonetic alphabet.
(2) "So-and-so": appellation used by Hearn in place of the real name.
(3) A section of Tokyo.
[1] A square piece of cotton-goods, or other woven material, used as a
wrapper in which to carry small packages.
(4) Ten yen is nothing now, but was a formidable sum then.

(1) Haiku.
[1] "The modest nymph beheld her God, and blushed." (Or, in a more
familiar rendering: "The modest water saw its God, and blushed.") In this
line the double value of the word nympha -- used by classical poets both in
the meaning of fountain and in that of the divinity of a fountain, or
spring -- reminds one of that graceful playing with words which Japanese
poets practice.
[2] More usually written nugi-kakeru, which means either "to take off and
hang up," or "to begin to take off," -- as in the above poem. More loosely,
but more effectively, the verses might thus be rendered: "Like a woman
slipping off her haori -- that is the appearance of a butterfly." One must
have seen the Japanese garment described, to appreciate the comparison. The
haori is a silk upper-dress,-- a kind of sleeved cloak,-- worn by both
sexes; but the poem suggests a woman's haori, which is usually of richer
color or material. The sleeves are wide; and the lining is usually of
brightly-colored silk, often beautifully variegated. In taking off the
haori, the brilliant lining is displayed,-- and at such an instant the
fluttering splendor might well be likened to the appearance of a butterfly
in motion.
[3] The bird-catcher's pole is smeared with bird-lime; and the verses
suggest that the insect is preventing the man from using his pole, by
persistently getting in the way of it,-- as the birds might take warning
from seeing the butterfly limed. Jama suru means "to hinder" or "prevent."
[4] Even while it is resting, the wings of the butterfly may be seen to
quiver at moments,-- as if the creature were dreaming of flight.
[5] A little poem by Basho, greatest of all Japanese composers of hokku.
The verses are intended to suggest the joyous feeling of spring-time.
[6] Literally, "a windless day;" but two negatives in Japanese poetry do
not necessarily imply an affirmative, as in English. The meaning is, that
although there is no wind, the fluttering motion of the butterflies
suggests, to the eyes at least, that a strong breeze is playing.
[7] Alluding to the Buddhist proverb: Rakkwa eda ni kaerazu; ha-kyo
futatabi terasazu ("The fallen flower returns not to the branch; the broken
mirror never again reflects.") So says the proverb -- yet it seemed to me
that I saw a fallen flower return to the branch... No: it was only a
[8] Alluding probably to the light fluttering motion of falling cherry-petals.
[9] That is to say, the grace of their motion makes one think of the grace
of young girls, daintily costumed, in robes with long fluttering sleeves...
And old Japanese proverb declares that even a devil is pretty at eighteen:
Oni mo jiu-hachi azami no hana: "Even a devil at eighteen,
[10] Or perhaps the verses might be more effectively rendered thus: "Happy
together, do you say? Yes -- if we should be reborn as field-butterflies in
some future life: then we might accord!" This poem was composed by the
celebrated poet Issa, on the occasion of divorcing his wife.
[11] Or, Tare no tama? [Digitizer's note: Hearn's note calls attention to
an alternative reading of the ideogram for "spirit" or "soul."]
[12] Literally, "Butterfly-pursing heart I wish to have always;' -- i.e.,
I would that I might always be able to find pleasure in simple things, like
a happy child.
[13] An old popular error,-- probably imported from China.
[14] A name suggested by the resemblance of the larva's artificial
covering to the mino, or straw-raincoat, worn by Japanese peasants. I am
not sure whether the dictionary rendering, "basket-worm," is quite
correct;-- but the larva commonly called minomushi does really construct
for itself something much like the covering of the basket-worm.
(2) A very large, white radish. "Daikon" literally means "big root."
[15] Pyrus spectabilis.
[16] An evil spirit.
(3) A common female name.

(1) Meiji: The period in which Hearn wrote this book. It lasted from 1868
to 1912, and was a time when Japan plunged head-first into Western-style
modernization. By the "fashions and the changes and the disintegrations of
Meiji" Hearn is lamenting that this process of modernization was destroying
some of the good things in traditional Japanese culture.

(1) Cicadas.
[1] An interesting fact in this connection is that the Japanese word for
ant, ari, is represented by an ideograph formed of the character for
"insect" combined with the character signifying "moral rectitude,"
"propriety" (giri). So the Chinese character actually means "The

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