The Reincarnation of Tama


“Felt within themselves the sacred passion of the second life. Hope the best, but hold the Present fatal daughter of the Past. Love will conquer at the last.” -TENNYSON

Note.—It is a common Japanese belief that the soul may be re-born more than once into this world. A Buddhist proverb says:

Oya-ko, is-sé Fufu wa, ni-sé, Shu ju wa, sansé.

Parent and child for one life; Husband and wife for two lives; Master and servant for three lives.

Under the strong provocation of the passions of love, loyalty and patriotism, the soul may be reincarnated as many as seven times. The hero Hirose, before Port Arthur in 1904, wrote a poem during the last moments of his life saying that he would return seven times to work for his country.


Many years ago in Yedo,[1] in the district of Fukagawa, there lived a rich timber merchant. He and his wife dwelt together in perfect accord, but though their business prospered and their wealth increased as the years went by, they were a disappointed couple, for by the time they had reached middle age they were still unblessed with children. This was a great grief to them, for the one desire of their lives was to have a child.

The merchant at last determined to make a pilgrimage to several temples in company with his wife, and to supplicate the gods for the long yearned-for joy of offspring. When the arduous tour was over they both went to a resort in the hills noted for its mineral springs, the woman hoping earnestly that the medicinal waters would improve her health and bring about the desired result.

A year passed and the merchant’s wife at last gave birth to a daughter. Both parents rejoiced that the Gods had answered their prayers. They reared the child with great care, likening her to a precious gem held tenderly in both hands, and they named her Tama, the Jewel.

As an infant Tama gave promise of great beauty, and when she grew into girlhood she more than fulfilled that promise. Their friends all declared that they had never seen such loveliness, and people compared her to a morning-glory, besprinkled with dew and glowing with the freshness of a summer dawn.

She had a tiny mole on the side of her snowy neck. This was her sole and distinguishing blemish.

Tama, the Jewel, proved a gifted child. She acquired reading and the writing of hieroglyphics with remarkable facility, and in all her studies was in advance of girls of her own age. She danced with grace, and sang and played the koto enchantingly, and she was also accomplished in the arts of flower-arrangement and the tea-ceremony.

When she reached the age of sixteen her parents thought it was time to seek a suitable bridegroom for her. Very early marriages were the custom of the day, and besides that her parents wished to see her happily established in life before they grew older. As she was the only child, her husband would become the adopted son, and thus the succession to the family would be secured. However, it proved exceedingly difficult to find anyone who would meet all their requirements.

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Now it happened that near-by in a small house there lived a man by the name of Hayashi. He was a provincial samurai, but for some reason or other had left his Daimio’s domain and settled in Yedo. His wife was long since dead, but he had an only son whom he educated in the refinements of the military class. The family was a poor one, for all samurai were trained to hold poverty in high esteem; and to despise trade and money-making.

Both father and son led simple lives and eked out their small patrimony by giving lessons in the reading of the classics and in calligraphy, and by telling fortunes according to the Confucian system of divination. Both were respected by all who knew them for their learning and upright lives.

At the time this story opens the elder Hayashi had just died and the son, though only nineteen years of age, carried on his father’s work.

The young man was strikingly handsome. Of the aristocratic type, with long dark eyes, aquiline features and a pale, cream-like complexion, he attracted notice wheresoever he went, and though shabbily dressed he always bore himself with great dignity. He was a musician and played the flute with unusual skill, and the game of go[2] was his favourite pastime, a taste which made him very popular with older men.

He often passed the rich merchant’s house and Tama, the Jewel, noticed the young man coming and going with his flute. Questioning her nurse, she learned all there was to know about his history, his poverty, his scholarly attainments, his skill as a musician and the recent sorrow he had sustained in the death of his father.

Besides being attracted by his good looks, the beautiful Tama’s heart went out in sympathy to the young man in his misfortune and loneliness, and she asked her mother to invite him to the house as her music-master, so that they might play duets together—he performing on the flute to her accompaniment on the koto.

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The mother consented, thinking the plan an excellent one, and the young samurai became a frequent visitor in the merchant’s house. Tama’s father was delighted when Hayashi proved to be an expert at go, and often asked him to come and spend the evening. As soon as dinner was over the merchant would order the chequer-board to be brought and Hayashi was then invited to try his hand at a game.

In this way the intimacy deepened till by degrees the young man was treated like a trusted member of the family.

The young master and pupil thus meeting day by day, presently fell in love, for heart calls to heart when both are young and handsome and the bond of similar tastes cements the friendship. Choosing themes and songs expressive of love they communicated their sentiments to one another through the romantic medium of music, and the two instruments blended in perfect harmony, the koto’s accompaniment giving an ardent response to the plaintive melody of the young man’s flute, which wailed forth the hopeless passion consuming his soul for the lovely maiden.

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Tama's father was delighted when Hayashi proved to be an expert at go, and often asked him to come and spend the evening
Tama’s father was delighted when Hayashi proved to be an expert at go, and often asked him to come and spend the evening

Tama’s parents were totally unaware of all that was happening, but her nurse soon guessed the secret of the young couple. The woman, who loved her charge faithfully and devotedly, could not bear to see her unhappy, and foolishly helped the lovers to meet each other in secret. With these unexpected opportunities they pledged themselves to each other for all their lives to come, and tried to think of some way by which they could obtain the old people’s consent to their marriage. But Hayashi guessed that the merchant was ambitious for his daughter, and knew that it was improbable that he would accept a son-in-law as poor and obscure as himself. So he postponed asking for her hand until it was too late.

At this time a rich man whom Tama’s parents deemed a suitable match for their daughter presented his proposals, and Tama was suddenly told that they approved of the marriage and that she must prepare for the bridal.

Tama was overwhelmed with despair. That day Hayashi had promised to come and play his favourite game with her father. The nurse contrived that the lovers should meet first, and then Tama told Hayashi of the alliance which had been arranged. Weeping, she insisted that an elopement was the only solution to their difficulties. He consented to escape to some distant place with her that very night. Gathering her in his arms he tried to still her sobbing, and Tama clung to him, declaring that she would die rather than be separated from him.

They were thus surprised by her mother, and their secret could no longer be concealed. Tama was taken from him gently but firmly and shut up like a prisoner in one room. The vigilance of the parents being in this manner rudely awakened, the mother never allowed the girl out of her sight, and Hayashi was peremptorily forbidden the house.

The young man, fearing the wrath of her parents, went to live in another part of the city, telling no one of his whereabouts.

Tama was inconsolable. She pined for her lover and soon fell ill. Her elaborate trousseau and the outfit for the bridal household was complete but the wedding ceremony had to be postponed.

Both parents became very anxious for, as the days went by, instead of getting better their daughter visibly wasted away and sometimes could not leave her bed, so weak did she become. To distract her mind they took her to places of amusement like the theatre, or to gardens noted for the blossoming of trees and flowers. Then finally they carried her to places like Hakone and Atami, hoping that the mineral baths and the change of air and scene would cure her.

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But it was all to no purpose, Tama grew worse in spite of the devotion lavished upon her. Seriously alarmed, the parents called in a doctor. He declared Tama’s malady to be love-sickness, and said that unless she were united to the man she pined for that she might die.

Her mother now begged the father to allow the marriage with Hayashi to take place. Though he was not the man of their choice in worldly position, yet if their daughter loved him, it were better that she should marry him than that she should die.

But now arose a difficulty of which they had not dreamed. Hayashi had moved away no one knew whither, and all their frantic efforts to trace him were fruitless.

A year passed slowly by. When Tama was told that her parents had consented to her marrying her beloved, she brightened up with the hope of seeing him again, and appeared to regain her health for a short time. But as month followed month and he never came, the waiting and the sickening disappointment proved too much for the already weakened frame of the young girl. She drooped and died just as she had attained her seventeenth birthday.

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It was springtime when the sad event occurred. Hayashi had never forgotten the beautiful girl nor the vows they had mutually plighted, and he swore never to accept another woman as his wife. He longed for news of Tama, but he realized how imprudent and blameable his conduct had been in entering into a secret love-affair with a young girl, and he feared that her father might kill him were he to return even for a single day to the vicinity. Weakly he told himself that she had in all probability forgotten him by this time and was surely married to the man of her parents’ choice.

One fine morning he went fishing on the Sumida river. When evening began to fall he turned homewards. As he sauntered along the river embankment, the water lapping softly and dreamily at his feet, he was suddenly startled to see a girlish form coming towards him in the wavering shadows of declining day. Light as a summer zephyr she glided from under the arches of the blossom laden cherry-trees with the sunset flaming behind her. He remembered long afterward that she had seemed rather to float over the ground than to walk.

To his utter astonishment he at once recognized Tama, and his heart leapt with joy at sight of her. After the first salutations he looked at her closely and congratulated her on her good health and ever-increasing beauty. He then asked her to tell him all that had happened since they were cruelly parted.

In the saddest of tremulous voices Jewel answered: “After you left the house my old and devoted nurse was dismissed for having helped us to meet in secret. From that day to this I have never seen her, but she sent me word that she had returned to her old home.”

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“Then you are not married yet?” asked Hayashi, his heart beating wildly with hope as he interrupted her.

“Oh, no,” replied Tama, looking at him strangely, “do you think that I could ever forget you? You are my betrothed forever, even after death. Do you not know that the dread of that marriage being forced upon me and my pining for you made me ill for a long time. Sympathizing with my unhappiness, my parents broke off my engagement and then tried to find you. But you had entirely disappeared leaving no trace behind. To-day I started out, resolved to find you with the help of my old nurse. I am on my way to her now. How happy I am to find you thus. Will you not take me to your house and show me where you live?”

He was suddenly startled to see a girlish form coming towards him in the wavering shadows
He was suddenly startled to see a girlish form coming towards him in the wavering shadows

She then turned and walked with him as he led the way to their humble dwelling. Now that her parents had consented to her marrying him they need not wait long, he told himself. How fortunate he was that he should have gained such faithful and unchanging love as that of his beautiful Tama.

As they went along exchanging blissful confidences as to their undying love for one another, he told her of his oath never to wed another woman for her dear sake.

They entered the house together, the nearness of her sweet presence thrilling him to his finger-tips. Impatiently he knelt to light the lamp, placed ready on his low writing table, then with joy inexpressible at the anticipation of all that the future held for them, he turned to speak to her.

But to his utter bewilderment Tama was gone. He searched the house and garden, and with a lantern went and peered down the road, but she was nowhere to be seen. She had vanished as suddenly and mysteriously as she had appeared. Hayashi thought the incident more than strange; it was eerie in the extreme. Returning alone to his empty room, he shivered as a chill of foreboding seemed to penetrate his whole being, withering as with an icy breath the newly awakened impulses of hope and longing. A thousand recollections of his love crowded upon him, and kept him tossing uneasily upon his pillow all through the night. With the first break of dawn he was no longer able to control his feverish anxiety for news of her, and rising hurriedly, he at once set out for Fukagawa.

Eagerly he hastened to the house of an old friend to make inquiries regarding the merchant’s family and especially about Tama. To his dismay he learned that she had passed away but a few days before, and listened with an aching heart to the account of her long illness. And he knew that she had died for love of him.

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He returned to his home stupefied with grief and tormented with self-reproach.

“Oh, Tama! Tama! My love!” he cried aloud in his anguish, as he threw himself down in his room and gave way to his despair. “Had I but known of your illness I would have come to you. It was your spirit that appeared to me yesterday. Oh! come to me again! Tama! Tama!”

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For weeks he was ill, but when he recovered and was able to think collectedly, he could not endure to live longer in such a world of misery. He felt that he was responsible for the untimely death of the young girl. To escape from the insupportable sorrows of life he decided to enter a Buddhist monastery, and joined the order of itinerant monks called Komuso.[3]

Like the monks in the middle ages in Europe the Komuso enjoyed sanctuary. They were chiefly samurai who wished to hide their identity. Sometimes a breach of the law, such as the killing of a friend, obliged the samurai to cut the ties which bound him to his Daimio; sometimes a family blood-feud forced him to spend his years in tracking down his enemy; sometimes it was disgust of the world, sorrow or disappointment, as in the case of Hayashi: these various reasons often caused men to bury themselves out of remembrance in the remote life of these wandering monks.

The Komuso were always treated with great respect, they enjoyed the hospitality of inns and ships, and a free pass unquestioned across all government barriers.

They wore the stole but not the cassock, and they did not shave their heads like the priesthood. They were distinguished by their strange headgear, which was a wicker basket worn upside down, reaching as far as the chin and completely hiding the face. The rules of their order forbade them to marry, to eat meat, or to drink more than three cups of wine, and when on duty they might not take off their hats or bow to anyone, even to their parents.

Outside these restrictions, though nominally priests, their lives were practically those of laymen, and when not on service they spent their time much as they liked in practising the military arts or in study.

As a mental discipline the Komuso were under obligation to go out daily to beg for alms, holding a bowl to receive whatever was bestowed upon them. They affected flute playing. This instrument was cut from the stem nearest the root, the strongest part of the bamboo, and was thus able to serve a double purpose. It gave the monk, who carried nothing with him, the means of earning his daily food, and when necessary was used as a weapon in self-defence.

Hayashi, being skilful with his flute, chose the life of the Komuso as being the best suited to him.

Before leaving Tokyo he visited the temple where his lost love was buried and knelt before her tomb. He dedicated his whole life to praying for the repose of her soul and for a happier rebirth. Her kaimyo (death-name) he inscribed on heavy paper, and wheresoever he went he carried this in a fold of his robe where it crossed his breast. It was, and still is, the custom of the Komuso to perform upon the flute as a devotional exercise at religious services.

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As each year came round he always made his way to some tranquil spot and rested from his penitential wanderings on the anniversary of the death of Tama.

Staying in an isolated room he then set up her kaimyo in the alcove, and placing an incense burner before it, kindled the fragrant sticks and kept them alight from sunrise to sunset. Kneeling before this temporary altar he took out his flute, and pouring the passionate breath of his soul into the plaintive, quivering notes, he reverently offered the music to her sweet and tender spirit, remembering the delight she had always taken in those melodies before the blossom of their love had been defrauded of its fruit of consummation by the blighting blast of interference.

Hayashi visits the temple where his lost love was buried, and dedicates his whole life to praying for the repose of her soul
Hayashi visits the temple where his lost love was buried, and dedicates his whole life to praying for the repose of her soul

And gradually, as time went by, the burden of sorrow and the tumult of remorse slipped from his soul, and peace and serenity, the aftermath of suffering, came to him at last.

He roamed all over the country for many years, and finally his journeyings brought him to the mountainous province of Koshu. It was nightfall when he reached the district and he lost his way in the darkness. Worn out with fatigue, he began to wonder where he should pass the night, for no houses were to be seen far or near, and everywhere about him there was nothing but a heaping of hills and a wild loneliness.

For hours he strayed about, when at last, peering into the gloom far up on the mountain side, a solitary light gleamed through the heavy mists. Greatly relieved he hastened towards it.

As soon as he knocked at the outer door of the cottage a ferocious looking man appeared. When the stranger asked for a night’s shelter he morosely and silently showed him into the single room which, flanked by a small kitchen, comprised the whole dwelling. Hayashi, furtively gazing round him, noticed that there were no industrial implements to be seen, but that in one corner were standing a sword and a gun.

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The host clapped his hands. In answer to the call a young girl of about fifteen years of age appeared. He ordered her to bring the brazier and some food for the guest. Then arming himself with his weapons, he left the house.

The damsel waited on Hayashi attentively, and as she went to and fro from the kitchen she often glanced appealingly at him. Her attitude was that of one frightened in submission, and Hayashi wondered how she came to be there, for, though begrimed with work, he could see that she was fair and comely, and her deportment was superior to her surroundings.

When they were left alone the girl came and knelt before him, and bursting into tears sobbed out “Whoever you may be I warn you to escape while there is yet time. That man whose hospitality you have accepted is a brigand and he will probably kill you in the hope of plunder.”

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Hayashi, with his heart full of compassion for the young girl, asked her how it was that she came to be living in so wild and desolate a place, and the tale she told him was a pitiful one of wrong.

“My home is in the next province,” she said, as she wiped away the tears with her sleeve. “Just after my father’s death this robber entered our house and demanded money of my mother. As she had none to give him he carried me away, intending to sell me into slavery. Soon after he brought me to this house, he was wounded on a marauding expedition, and has since been confined to the house for a month. Thus it is that you find me here still. But he is now recovered and able to go out once more. I implore you to take me with you, otherwise I shall never see my mother again and my fate will be unendurable.”

Being of a chivalrous nature Hayashi’s heart burned within him at the sad plight of the little maid, and catching her up he fled out of the robber’s den into the night.

After some time, when well away from the place, he set her down and they walked steadily all night. By dawn they had crossed the boundary of Koshu and entered the neighbouring province. Once on the high road the district was familiar to the girl and she gladly led the way to her own home.

The delight of the sorrowing mother on finding her kidnapped child restored to her was great and unrestrained. She fell at his feet in a passion of gratitude and thanked him again and again.

In the meantime the rescued girl came to thank her deliverer. Hayashi gazed at her in astonishment. Her appearance had undergone an extraordinary transformation. No longer the forlorn, neglected drudge of the day before, a beautiful girl stood before him. And wonder of wonders! She was the living image of what his lost Tama had been years ago. The tide of the past swept over him with its bitter-sweet memories, leaving him speechless and racked with the storm of his feelings. Not only was the likeness forcibly striking, but he also beheld a little mark, the exact replica of the one he so well remembered on Tama’s snowy neck.

He had thought that in the long years of hardship and renunciation of the joys of life the tragic love of his youth lay buried, but the shock of the unmistakable resemblance left him trembling.

In a few minutes he was able to control his emotion and the power of speech returned to him.

“Tell me,” he said, turning to the mother, “have you not some relatives in Tokyo? Your daughter is like one whom I knew many years ago, but who is now dead.”

The woman regarded him searchingly and after a few moments of this close scrutiny, she inquired: “Are you not Hayashi who lived in Fukagawa fifteen years ago?”

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He was startled by the suddenness of the question, which showed that his identity was revealed and that she knew of his past. He did not answer but searched his brain, wondering who the woman could possibly be.

Seeing his embarrassment she continued, now and again wiping the tears from her eyes: “When you came to the house I thought that your voice was in some way quite familiar to me, but you are so disguised in your present garb that at first I could not recall who you were.

“Fifteen years ago I served in the house of the rich timber merchant in Fukagawa and often helped O Tama San[4] to meet you in secret, for I felt great sympathy with you both, and if a day passed without her being able to see you, Oh! she was very unhappy. Her parents were furious at the unwise part I had played and I was summarily dismissed. I returned home and was almost immediately married. Within a year I gave birth to a little daughter. The child bore a striking resemblance to my late mistress and I gave her the name of Jewel in remembrance of the beloved charge I had nursed and tended for so many years. As she grew older not only her face and figure, but her voice and her movements all vividly recalled O Tama San. Is not this an affinity of a previous existence that my child should be saved by you who loved the first Tama?”

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Then Hayashi, who had listened with rapt attention to the woman’s strange story, asked her the date of the infant’s birth.

Marvellous to relate it was the very day and hour, for ever indelibly engraven on his memory, that Tama, his first love, had appeared to him on the bank of the Sumida river in the springtide fifteen years ago.

When he told her of this uncanny meeting the woman said that she believed her daughter, the second Tama, to be the re-incarnation of the first Tama. The apparition he had seen was the spirit of his love who had thus announced her rebirth into the world to him. There could be no doubt of this, for had not Tama told him herself that she was on her way to her old nurse. So strong was the affinity that bound them to each other that it had drawn Tama from the spirit-land back to this earth.

“Remember the old proverb, the karma-relation is deep,” she added in conclusion.

Later on she besought Hayashi to marry the second Tama, for she believed that only in this way would the soul of the first Tama find rest.

But Hayashi, thinking that the great difference in their present ages was an obstacle to a happy union, refused on the score that he was too old and sad a man to make such a young bride happy. He decided, however, to stay on in the little household for a while, and to give any possible comfort and help to the old nurse whose loyal devotion to her mistress had figured so prominently and fatefully in his past.

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Thus several months elapsed, bringing with them great and radical changes in the land. The Restoration came to pass, and the new regime was established with the Emperor instead of the Shogun at the helm of State. Schools were founded all over the country, and amongst many other old institutions the order of the Komuso monks, to which Hayashi belonged, was abolished by an edict of State.

Hayashi, during his stay in the village, had won his way into the hearts of the people and they now begged him to remain as teacher in the new school, a position for which he was peculiarly fitted by the classical education he had received from his father. He consented to the proposition which solved the problem of his future, for under the new laws it was forbidden him to return to his old life.

The mayor of the place was also much attracted by Hayashi’s superior character and dignity, and learning of the sad and romantic history of his past, and believing, as all Japanese do, in predestined affinities, persuaded him that it was his fate, nay more, a debt he owed to the past, to marry Tama, the second, the re-incarnation of his first love.

The marriage proved a blessed one. The house of Hayashi prospered from that day forth and as children were born to them the joy of their lives was complete.


[1] The old name for Tokyo.

[2] Go, a game played with black and white counters—more complicated than chess.

[3] The sect was introduced from China in the Kamakura epoch (1200-1400), but it never became popular in the land of its adoption. Under the Tokugawa Government (1700-1850) the Komuso were used as national detectives, but the privileges they enjoyed led to the abuse of the order by bad men, and it was abolished at the time of the Restoration. Later on the edict was rescinded, and these men in their strange headgear may be seen to this day fluting their way about the old city of Kyoto.

[4] In speaking women use the polite forms of speech, whereas men drop them. The “O” is the honorific prefix to a woman’s name and “San” or “Sama” is the equivalent of Mr. Mrs. or Miss according to the gender of the name. Nowadays high-class women drop the “O” before their individual names, but add “Ko” after them. For instance, the name O Tama San would now be Tama-Ko San.

The Reincarnation of Tama – Romances of Old Japan

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