By Abe Shigeyasu (1784-1868), Jitsujitsu Kidan
There’s a place called Darumayokocho in Honjo. This is a story that took place there during the final years of the Kansei Era (late 1700s).
There was a single man who lived in a rear tenement who made his living as a day labourer, but during autumn he caught a cold and was unable to work. Because he could not work, he couldn’t afford either food or medicine. His illness grew worse, and even though the landlord and other tenants did their best to care for him, at the start of October he passed away.
The tenants all gathered, and each was given a job to do; some went to buy the necessary items for his funeral, others were to alert his family temple, and the rest to take charge of the kitchen. The funeral plans proceeded smoothly.
The winter days grew shorter, and before they knew it, it was completely dark. It was already past 10 p.m., so three or four people stayed behind to keep vigil over the man’s body.
By chance, the local tortoise-shell cat dropped by. It jumped up onto their laps and closed its eyes in happiness.
“I heard that if you put a cat in a dead man’s pocket, he’ll come back to life,” one of the people keeping vigil said. “This is the perfect opportunity, so why don’t we try it?”
“That will defile his body. We mustn’t.”
“It’s just a superstition. No way.”
Everyone else was opposed to the idea.
“But he is still young! If we can bring him back to life, then what good luck that would be! Come on, let’s try it!” The man insisted, and the others begrudgingly agreed. They placed the cat in the dead man’s pocket.
Of course, the man’s corpse was cold, so the cat tried to escape. They tried again and again, but each time the cat escaped. Finally they bound the cat with a belt and it calmed down, but even after waiting, nothing happened.
“That cat’s probably asleep too now.”
“Yeah. Told you it was just a lie.”
The group started chatting once more, when suddenly they heard a noise coming from the man’s coffin. They looked over and saw him stand up. Everyone screamed in unison and then passed out.
At that point, the landlord returned with items for the funeral. All the lanterns had blown out, and the room was pitch black. He held his own lantern above his head and saw the others passed out on the floor, while the dead man’s body was gone.
Unable to comprehend the scene in front of him, the landlord called for the neighbours, and they woke their fallen comrades up with some restorative tonic. They explained what had happened, but it was so foolish that no-one believed them, and the landlord, dumbfounded, grew angry. At any rate, they had to get the corpse back, so they set out to search for it. They found the man lying in front of trash disposal area nearby.
And that was the end of that. It appeared for a while that things might be taken to trial, but a mediator stepped in and the tenants who were supposed to keep vigil over the body escaped with a mere apology to the landlord, and everything was settled.
“You shouldn’t play bad jokes,” someone once said, so I’d like to make a note of that right here.