City of the Dead

By Hayashi Razan (1583-1657)

This took place during the Song Dynasty of China. There was a man named Shibun, and when he was done acting in the position of Kanmu in a place called Kenkou, he returned to the capital of Lin’an.

One day, he set out for the market, and there he saw a man selling boiled ducks who looked just like a man named Ouritsu, who had once worked in his kitchen. Finding this strange, he questioned his servant about it, who replied, “Yes, it is the same man.”

As for why Shibun found this strange, that was because one year earlier, Ouritsu had died. Shibun himself had paid for his funeral.

The man selling duck noticed him as well, and bowing his head, presented Shibun with a duck.

“You are dead, why are you here in this market during the middle of the day?” Shibun asked.

“Three out of every ten men in Lin’an right now are my comrades in death,” he replied. “Some of them are government officials, some of them are monks, and some of them are merchants. Each of us works, and we come and go as we please like normal folk. We don’t curse anybody, so nobody notices us.”

“And where did you get this duck from?”

“I buy them in the city. Every day I procure five ducks, borrow someone’s kitchen, and prepare them deliciously. I pay the owners for the use of their firewood. We are all like this. We earn enough in one day to feed a family, but when night comes we have no place to call home, so we sleep under the butcher’s chopping board. Sometimes the barking of the dog wakes us in surprise. It’s a difficult life, but what other choice do we have? These ducks are of this world, so don’t worry. You can eat them with no problems.”

Shibun gave him some money, and Ouritsu departed.

The next day, Ouritsu had four ducks. Shibun went to visit him, and after that, went to speak to him often.

“I am alive, yet I speak with the dead. My time must be close.”

When Ouritsu overheard Shibun lamenting such things, he gently approached him.

“There is no need to doubt me. Until now, you have spoken to the dead without knowing it. Ooyojo of your household is also deceased. If you don’t believe me, you should try throwing this into the fire.”

Ouritsu handed Shibun yellowish white stones. Ooyojo was Shibun’s daughter’s wet nurse, who had been living with them since thirty years prior. Shibun later jokingly said to her, “Ouritsu says you are dead, are you?”

“I am old,” she replied, “so I might be.” She deflected his joke with an innocent face, and did not appear to be disturbed by it. She was, by chance, ironing some silk, so a fire was nearby. Shibun threw the stones into the fire.

Before long smoke rose from the flames, and Ooyojo’s complexion began to wither before his eyes. Her body withered like black ink floating in water, and then, she disappeared.

After that, Ouritsu also stopped coming to see him.

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