It’s hanami time and it’s cherry trees story time. Here’s The cherry tree of the sixteenth day, collected by Lafcadio Hearn.
Koizumi Yakumo (1850-1904), the Japanese name of Lafcadio Hearn, was a Greek-Irish writer. He dedicated his last years to the collection and writing of many Japanese ghost stories. Koizumi arrived in Japan to work as a newspaper correspondent, but soon discovered a love for Japanese culture and settled in Matsue. Here he worked as a teacher in a local school, alongside his literary activity. Hearn then married a Japanese woman from a local samurai family, Koizumi Setsu, and was naturalized Japanese.
After experiencing a ghost tour in Ireland, his nephew decided to create a similar one in Matsue. The participants can visit in the evening several places that are haunted by ghosts, including a temple.
The story Jiu-Roku-Zakura, or The cherry tree of the sixteenth day, is part of Lafcadio Hearn collection, Kaidan (怪談): Stories and Studies on strange things.
In the district of Wakegori, in the province of Iyo, lived an elderly samurai. He had no one in the world, for he had long buried all the members of his family. The only thing he had was the old cherry tree in the garden, planted by his ancestors. In fact, he used to play under its fronds as a child and his family used to hang poems on branches.
The tree used to bloom at the beginning of April, like all the other cherry trees in the area. However one year the samurai saw the dear cherry tree wither and then die.
The sorrow of the samurai touched his neighbors deeply. Therefore they decided to donate him a young and magnificent cherry tree and planted it in his garden. The samurai thanked and simulated his happiness. But nothing could replace the old cherry tree that had accompanied him and that he had loved for so many years.
On the sixteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, the samurai recalled a way in which one could save a dying tree; kneeling down before the cherry tree, he said this words to it: “Now deign, I beseech you, once more to bloom, because I am going to die in your stead”. After pronouncing the words, the samurai spread a white cloth at the foot of the cherry tree and performed hara-kiri. As a result his ghost entered the cherry tree, which bloomed immediately.
In fact the belief is that one can give one’s life to save another, if the deities are favorable. So this is the concept of acting as a substitute, migawari ni tatsu.
From that day, every year, the cherry tree blooms the sixteenth day of the first month and only that day, in the period of great cold, because what makes it blooming is a spirit that, at least at the beginning, was not its own, but that of the samurai.
Articles related to Matsue and Shimane Prefecture:
Japanese Legends: Prince Ōkuninushi and the hare of Inaba
Twelve Japanese Castles – first part