Ghost Fishing

By Nakagawa Enryou (18??-18??)

In the territory of Tajiro in Hizen Province, there are people who possess the art of “ghost fishing.” This technique has been around since times long past, and passed down through the generations up to today.

There was a man who died on the way to Osaka. Unavoidably, they had to cremate the man there, and only his bones were able to return home for burial. His wife and children, as well as his siblings were devastated, so they visited a ghost fisher named Souhachi.

“I cannot perform ghost fishing inside the house,” he said. “It must be done in a field.”

“There is a field of pine trees growing on the border of Chikugo, how about there?” the man’s family suggested, and so it was agreed.

Night fell and they all went together. Souhachi lit a single lantern at the end of a pine branch, and together they waited and chatted until midnight.

Before long, a large gust of wind kicked up, and suddenly the area was covered in fog. The nearby trees were swallowed up, and they could only see through the vague light of the lantern.

Slowly the fog began to thin, and then Souhachi spoke.

“It would appear the deceased has arrived. Come closer to the light.”

Everyone stepped closer, and above the lantern they could see a single man standing. His face and clothes were exactly the same as the man who died on the way to Osaka. His bamboo hat with his hometown and name written on it were also the same, as were his silver trinkets. He appeared exactly as how he did when he set out.

“We had you come here tonight because those who were unable to be with you upon your death in a far away land have requested to see you once more. Please tell them what happened,” Souhachi said.

The man told them of how he fell ill in Osaka, all the way up to his cremation in minute detail. This information was exactly the same as what they had been told previously. Then the man continued.

“If you have something you would like to ask me, now is the time.”

But his wife, children, and siblings could not stop crying, and nobody was able to say a word.

“If there is nothing, then I will go.”

Then his wife stood up. “Please, stay here just a little longer.”

She reached out to grab the man’s sleeve, but he was gone. She found herself instead holding the pine branch.

When ghost fishing, they say one must put azuki niboshi in their pockets. Then, you put oil in a lantern, and light it using a dried earthworm found on a path on a summer’s day. This will light the lantern splendidly. There are no doubt more finer techniques that are involved as well. The azuki may be seen as a technique used by kitsune.

Nishimura Kuriemon spoke further of these techniques.

“Lighting the earthworm surely comes from Christianity, no? That’s what I heard long ago. There was once a priest in Tajiro by the name of Gouchou. He was a highly celebrated monk at the time, possessed of high virtues, and in his final years he came to learn of techniques involving earthworms, which led to various suspicious practises. He would pull forth ghosts from his robes and show them to people, which caused his reputation to fall greatly. I heard many even came to pity him.”

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