How Kinu Returned from the Grave

In the good old days of long, long, ago, there lived in the city of Osaka a rich merchant. Fortune had smiled upon his enterprises, and his business prospered tenfold, until he possessed in abundance all that this world had to bestow: moreover, he was proud in the possession of a little daughter, named Kinu, beautiful as a ten-no-tsukai, one of the angels of the Buddhist heaven; her fame spread far and wide, and all who saw her marvelled at her exceeding loveliness.

In contrast to the opulence and grandeur of this wealthy man, next door, in a poor and mean house, there dwelt a humble vendor of tobacco, who was also blessed with an unusually handsome child, a boy named Kunizo, and who chanced to be of the same age as his little neighbour.

From earliest times Kinu and Kunizo were accustomed to play together almost daily, and shared all their childish joys and sorrows, so that gradually a deep and enduring affection sprang up between the two. All who saw them took great delight in watching the grace and beauty of the two children, who seemed so well suited to each other, and who made a perfect picture when seen together.

As, however, the little playfellows grew older, from motives of prudence, the rich merchant and his wife sought to discourage their intimacy, and their daughter was gradually removed as much as possible from the companionship of the lowly neighbour’s son.

But although Kinu and Kunizo could no longer enter into each other’s daily life and play as formerly, yet the strong bond of sympathy and affection that linked them together never grew less, and silently within their hearts they cherished the remembrance of all the happy days they had spent in each other’s company.

At last, when Kinu reached the age of seventeen, her beauty and charm had become so celebrated, and the merchant’s wealth and position so well established in the city, that she was sought in marriage by the son of a great nobleman. The parents, highly elated at the distinction of such a lofty alliance for their lovely daughter, immediately gave their consent, and all preliminaries were speedily arranged for the nuptials to take place at an early date.

Just at that time, Kinu, with some of her girl friends, and under the escort of her old nurse, paid a visit to the theatre. Her mother, expecting her to be the cynosure of all eyes as the bride-elect of the heir of a well-known noble family, attired her daughter in the most exquisite robes that could possibly be procured. The fashions of that period were brilliant in hue, and especially suited to Kinu’s luxuriant beauty, so that when she appeared all eyes gazed with admiration and envy at the radiant vision; indeed, the audience gazed more at her than at the play.

From earliest times Kinu and Kunizo were accustomed to play together
From earliest times Kinu and Kunizo were accustomed to play together

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How inexorable are the decrees of Destiny! That day it happened that Kunizo also visited the same theatre.

From his humble seat in the pit, his eyes followed the direction where everyone else was turning, and he soon descried his former friend and playfellow, seated in a prominent place and surrounded by friends and attendants as befitting her approaching exalted position.

Kunizo felt a great impulse to go and speak to her, but dared not. His only solace was to gaze with ardent longing at the lovely apparition, that now seemed as far removed from him as the moth from the star.

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Meanwhile, it was not long before Kinu singled out, from amongst the sea of faces, the familiar features of her dear comrade of earlier days, and their glances were soon exchanging reciprocally tender messages across the intervening space.

Memories of their childhood’s friendship had long been secretly smouldering in their hearts, and opportunity alone was needed to fan the flame into unquenchable passion.

As the lovers gazed at each other in that crowded place, both their young hearts were carried away beyond the bounds of time and circumstances, and they realized, with an overwhelming conviction, how strong were the golden fetters of love that riveted their souls to each other for all eternity.

That night Kunizo returned to his humble home in a very sad and downcast frame of mind. His thoughts were busily contrasting the happy times of those bygone days, when he could frequently enjoy the society of his beloved Kinu, with now, when, as he bitterly reflected, a gulf yawned between them, as impassable as that which separates Heaven from Hell!

And, brooding over the miseries of an unjust world, poor Kunizo fell sick, and was confined for days to his room. Meanwhile, the beautiful bride-elect returned to her father’s mansion with her heart strangely agitated. The sight of his handsome face, so full of hopeless longing, when his eyes sought her in the theatre, had deeply affected her, and she could not forget him. At last she also fell ill, and after a time became too weak to leave her bed.

She felt like a poor insect caught in the entangling meshes of a cruel Fate. The mere thought of the brilliant marriage that had been arranged by her parents became detestable to her, and tossing on her fevered pillow, long and earnest were her daily supplications to the powers above to find her some means of escape.

To the faithful old nurse alone did Kinu dare to confide her tormenting troubles, and the old woman, sorely distressed at the constant fits of weeping and increasing melancholy of her stricken foster-child, at last promised to be the bearer of a message to Kunizo.

Then Kinu embodied her woes in a little poem to which she composed an accompaniment on the koto, and she found much solace singing it repeatedly to herself in the solitude of her chamber.

The nurse’s sympathies being with the hapless pair, she soon found an opportunity to inform Kunizo of the love-poem that Kinu had dedicated to him, and the knowledge that his affection was requited brought such joy to his sad heart that all traces of sickness left him, and he was able to resume his usual mode of life.

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But not so with Kinu. Day and night the image of Kunizo alone filled her thoughts, and the more fervently she longed to see him the more her malady increased.

The merchant and his wife were plunged into deep distress and anxiety concerning the mysterious ailment that had so suddenly attacked their beloved daughter: the most skilful doctors were hastily summoned to her bedside, but all their ministrations proved of no avail, and the love-smitten patient, like a wilted flower, continued to fade and droop.

Now, although Kunizo had grown up amidst poor and obscure surroundings, yet he had received a good education, and had always cherished a great devotion to literature, and especially poetry, for the composition of which he had a natural gift. So when the news reached him that his lady-love was lying on a bed of sickness, he composed a little poem for her, revealing the state of his mind, and entrusted it to the care of the faithful nurse:

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To O KINU SAMA So near Belovèd, yet long leagues apart, The ladder to thy Heaven so far and dim, Its steps I dare not scale!

One night my soul a butterfly became: Straight to its goal thy presence sweet, It fluttered softly through the starlit dusk Behind thy purple tasselled sudare[1].

What ecstasy was mine! From KUNIZO

This message brought great comfort to Kinu’s heart, for until then she had merely guessed Kunizo’s affection for her, and had no certain proof of it. Joyfully she wrote a little stanza in response:

To KUNIZO SAMA What matter that our weary feet Tread thorny paths and wastes forlorn If only we together climb?

What matter that a hermit’s hut Is all our shelter from the blast?

Beyond the mists one shining star, Our heart’s true guide bright beckons us!

Earth’s dust shake off, and hand in hand Set out in faith to Love’s lone peak!


From that time, day by day, the enamoured pair existed on the exchange of their love-tokens, while the happiness of being in such constant and intimate intercourse with her old friend led to Kinu’s sudden and complete recovery.

In the meantime her parents, overjoyed at their daughter’s restoration to health, and in total ignorance of all that was taking place, hastened to select an auspicious day for the marriage, and began with enthusiasm the elaborate preparations for the important event.

When the hapless Kinu realized that her destiny was irrevocably sealed, and that she was condemned to become the wife of another man, she became almost frantic.

Disobedience and defiance of her parent’s wishes being out of the question, she pondered morning, noon, and night over the dreadful situation: but it seemed that nothing short of a miracle could prevent or even delay the marriage ceremony with the hated bridegroom.

After long days and nights of futile scheming, it seemed to her distraught brain that the only line of action left to her was this: once arrived at the nobleman’s house she determined, on pretence of illness, to ask permission to isolate herself in her own apartments; but should he insist on her presence, there would be but one course left to her to follow, and since it was doomed that she should not be the Bride of Love, she would become the Bride of Death.

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This desperate decision she communicated in her last farewell to the distracted Kunizo, and as a pledge of finality and her unshakeable resolve, she wrote the letter in blood, drawn from a self-inflicted wound on one of her fingers, and tied this ominous missive with a long tress of her silken, ebony hair.

The fateful day arrived. Passively the unwilling, shrinking bride submitted to the obsequious attendants, who robed her slender form in the gorgeous wedding-garments and applied the adornments of art to enhance her pale beauty, so that when she appeared before them, the relatives and friends, who had assembled for the occasion, were enchanted, and all were loud in praise of her surpassing loveliness.

At last the evening came and the hour of departure was at hand. Kinu took formal leave of her parents, and then, steeling her heart with the firm resolution to escape from the hateful bondage of this forced marriage, entered her kago, and was slowly borne to the house of the bridegroom, closely followed by a long procession of her parents, the go-between, and attendants.

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Now, it happened that some years before the young nobleman had formed a liaison with a woman, a famous danseuse and singer, to whom he had been deeply attached. According to the custom of those times he had installed her in his house, and being of an ambitious nature, from the first she had cherished the hope that in time her devotion would be rewarded by becoming his legal wife, and the mistress of that noble house. When, therefore, she learnt of the death-blow to her aspirations in her lover’s approaching marriage to a young bride of peerless beauty, the shock was so great as to unhinge her reason.

Secretly she nursed her bitter feelings: vainly she hoped that her agonized prayers to the Gods might be heard, and that the dreaded marriage might yet be cancelled.

But when the evening of the wedding-day arrived, and the lights of the bridal procession had already come into view along the road, and were slowly nearing the house, her fury could no longer be restrained. Mad with jealousy and disappointment she rushed into the garden, stabbed herself through the breast, and in a last convulsive frenzy, cast her bleeding body down the well.

At that moment the massive gates were thrown open, and the bride’s sumptuously lacquered kago appeared, surrounded by a numerous retinue, carrying lanterns and torches.

Suddenly, an unearthly gust of cold wind arose whirling wildly round the mansion, and all the lights were extinguished. In the dense gloom of that moonless night, what was the terror of everyone to behold in front of them, barring the way before the passage of the bride, the spectre of the deserted mistress! Shrouded in a cloud of pale-bluish mist, her ghastly face and blood-stained garments struck terror to the souls of the petrified spectators—her long dishevelled hair streamed behind her in the breeze, which was not of this world, and her hands were uplifted in menace towards the bride, from whose kago a wild and heartpiercing shriek was heard.

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The bridegroom, who with a group of retainers had been impatiently awaiting the advent of Kinu at the entrance to the house, was a horrified spectator of the fearful scene. His wrath was uncontrollable. With drawn sword he rushed to the gate and made a wild attempt to cut down the wraith of his jealous paramour—but as his sword fell, in a flash the whole apparition vanished.

Great was the commotion that followed, but by degrees the alarmed servants and bearers recovered from their fright, the torches and lanterns were relighted, and the door of the palanquin was opened.

Alas! to all appearances the beautiful bride was dead. Like a white lily she lay back on her cushions, pale and still. Physicians were summoned in all haste, but they declared that remedies were of no avail—life was extinct.

The hapless Kinu had perished. Coming as a climax to the mental anguish she had suffered, the horror of the ghastly welcome that had greeted her, was beyond the endurance of her frail spirit, and on the threshold of her new and dreaded home, it had taken wing.

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Her ghastly face and blood-stained garments struck terror to the souls of the petrified spectators
Her ghastly face and blood-stained garments struck terror to the souls of the petrified spectators

The woe of that night was unutterable.

Amidst the general lamentations, Kinu’s afflicted parents returned to their home, bearing with them the lifeless body of their beloved daughter: all their pride obliterated and their hopes in her brightly opening future swept away for ever by the tragedy of that fearful night.

Two days later, with poignant grief, the stricken couple laid in the tomb all that was left of their cherished child, so irrevocably and cruelly torn from them by a sudden unexpected doom, and they resolved to dedicate the remnant of their days to her memory.

Kunizo was the first to hear the dire news. With a breaking heart he had watched his love depart on her ill-starred journey, and, numbed with despair, from the same spot he witnessed the mournful return of the procession.

Stupefied at the turn events had taken, he at once determined that her spirit should not go forth on its way alone into the darkness of the Land of Shadows, and since their paths had been so ruthlessly parted in life, compassionate Death should unite them for many lives to come. However, before he made his final exit from this world of pain, he would at least gaze once again upon the beautiful face of his beloved Kinu.

With this resolve, on the night of her interment he found his way to the cemetery; the coffin was easily disinterred, and with the tools brought for that purpose, he soon succeeded in wrenching off the lid. No sooner had this been done than a miracle was wrought. Instead of lying there a pallid wraith of her former self, as Kunizo so fully expected to find the corpse of his lost love, with a faint sigh she raised herself in the narrow coffin, and turned her bewildered gaze upon her astounded deliverer.

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It was indeed true, the sudden rush of cold air had brought back the wandering spirit of poor Kinu. The hideous events of her wedding night had completely suspended her animation, and she had fallen into a deep trance, which had deceived everyone by its faithful semblance of Death.

Who can depict the joy and transports of the young lovers, who after enduring such torments and vicissitudes, were thus miraculously restored to each other! Kunizo, almost beside himself with happiness, did his utmost to minister to his beloved lady, and when she had sufficiently recovered, he tenderly wrapped her in his outer garment and carried her in all haste to the house of an aunt, who lived at some distance, where she could be safely concealed.

This relative was considerably surprised at such a visitation in the dead of night, and still more so at the almost incredible narrative of the fugitive couple. However, clearly discerning the will of Heaven in all that had passed, she willingly afforded them a shelter, and did all in her power to aid them escape from that part of the country.

Under cover of the darkness they fled, and crossing the sea, arrived safely in the island of Shikoku. There, in a place called Marugame, they found another member of Kunizo’s family, to whom they had been directed, who was the prosperous master of a yadoya, or inn, in the vicinity of the famous temple of Kompira,[2] for which that region had become famous.

Kunizo, almost beside himself with happiness, did his utmost to minister to his beloved lady
Kunizo, almost beside himself with happiness, did his utmost to minister to his beloved lady

The fugitives received a kindly welcome, and then after all their trials and sorrows, they made their home in that flourishing country town, annually visited by thousands of pilgrims, Kinu’s beauty and accomplishments winning all hearts and proving of great assistance to their benefactor. In this way, far from their native place, the united lovers spent happy years in the joy of each other’s company, secure in their deep affection, which, like the flower of the enchanted bowers of Horai, the Elysian Isle, fades not, but blooms on fragrant for all eternity.

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Haunted by the fear that they might again be pitilessly separated from each other, and Kinu forced to fulfil her engagement to the luckless nobleman, who had been defrauded of his happiness in such a gruesome and unforeseen manner, they lived in the strictest retirement and never dared to disclose to their respective sorrowing families the wonders that had been worked in their behalf.

However, some years later, Kinu’s parents, who had all this time been mourning and inconsolable for their daughter’s tragic end, undertook an extensive pilgrimage age to certain celebrated temples for requiem services and prayers for the repose and well-being of the soul of their lost child.

In the course of their journeying they arrived at Marugame, for the temple of Kompira was included in their tour, and by a strange coincidence they came to stay at the very inn presided over by Kunizo’s uncle.

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When they were shown into the room allotted them, the first object to meet their astonished gaze was a handsome screen on which was written a poem in skilled calligraphy. The characteristic handwriting was the facsimile of Kinu’s, and the poem constantly and fondly read at home—they knew it by heart, for it was one of the treasured relics left to them by their beloved daughter.

Their imaginations were deeply stirred, and in a state of great emotion at this strange occurrence, they hastily summoned their host. In a long interview the astounding story of Kinu’s resurrection from the tomb and the escape of the lovers was revealed to them.

Deep and boundless was their joy and gratitude to Providence at thus restoring to them, in such an amazing manner, their lost one, whom they never expected to meet again this side of the Meido[3] and at that happy reunion all shed tears of joy, and also of sorrow, in recalling the past.

Further separation being out of the question, the old couple insisted on carrying back with them to Osaka their newly restored son and daughter, and there they all lived together long and happily: the whole neighbourhood never ceasing to marvel at the wonderful history of “how Kinu returned from the grave.”


[1] Sudáré, a curtain of finely slatted bamboo pulled up and down by silken cords and tassels.

[2] Kompira, a deity claimed by both Shintoists and Buddhists: very popular with travellers and seamen.

[3] Meido, Hades.

How Kinu Returned from the Grave – Romances of Old Japan

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