By Mori Haruki (1771-1834)
A friend of mine became a monk and took on the name Shindo, travelling around the Sanyo and Sanin areas. He stopped by an old, large house in a certain village in Tajima Province and asked if he may partake of lunch with them. The head of the family, around 40 or 50-years-old, presented him with some food, and he ate while inspecting the condition of the houses around them.
The rows of storehouses and sheds were horribly rotten, the eaves falling down, and numerous walls entirely collapsed. And for a rather large house, he saw no-one other than the owner around. Finding it strange, the monk asked about it after he was done with his lunch.
According to the owner, it all started about three or four years earlier. At that time, the house had been prosperous with numerous servants and many large fields of rice. A snake lived near the pond where the women washed rice, and it came out to eat the grains they left behind. Over time they started to feed it the leftovers, and gradually it lost its fear of humans.
Later it grew so brave that it followed the women back and entered the house. It took up residence under the floor and ate the food given to it. They even named it like a pet cat, and it came to understand when it was being called.
However, as the years went on, the snake grew bigger and bigger. People passing by the house outside began to fear it as it poked its head out of the floor. People from the village soon stopped visiting entirely, and so one day, the head of the house reluctantly spoke to the snake.
“As long as you’re in this house, people are too afraid to visit. That’s no good for us at all. Please, you must go back to the mountains. I’ll take you there tomorrow myself.”
That night he crafted a large basket, and the next morning he returned to the snake.
“Alright, get in.”
The snake slid over and obediently got into the basket. It coiled itself up and several people carried the basket up into the mountains, roughly a few miles away.
“Here is fine. You can stay here.”
They put the basket down, snake and all, and returned to the house. The next day the owner was worried about how the snake was doing, so he decided to take him some food. The snake was in the same spot; he hadn’t moved. Every time the owner returned to visit, the snake was in the same general area, but some time later he noticed the snake had dug a hole beside a nearby waterfall and was living there instead.
Over time the snake widened the hole, but this in turned muddied the drinking water the farmers downstream used. This was a big problem. The farmers sought help to chase the snake away, but the owner was unsure of what to do and so did nothing. The farmers, losing their livelihoods, filed a complaint with the local government. A government official came out, had the owner guide him to the snake’s location, and then immediately killed the snake.
Disasters soon struck the farmers one by one. Some went blind, while others died. The snake must have cursed them, of that they had no doubt. They collected the snake’s ashes and enshrined them to Benzaiten, performing a ritual to comfort the snake’s spirit in the afterlife. Yet this had no effect, and one after another the farmers continued to die and lose their fortunes. At present, the owner was the only one left with his large house intact.
“The small shrine to Benzaiten is still in the pond out back. You can go and see it for yourself,” the owner said.
The monk did as he was told, and the garden was so large that it indeed appeared to be that of a powerfully wealthy family. There was a magnificent mound in the middle of the pond, and on this island was a small shrine.
“I don’t know whether the snake cursed us or not,” the owner continued. “It’s difficult to guess, but it’s natural that we would be reduced to all this. And as part of my repentance, I have now told you everything.”