To Japanese

Literature Perusal: "Kwashin Koji"



By Masatoshi Iguchi




In the ending chapter of his novel, The Smiles of Gods (1922), Ryunosuke Akutagawa wrote about Padre Organtino of the Namban Temple that “Tugging at the cuff of his robe, the long-nosed red-haired man quietly left the garden, where laurel trees and roses grew in the evening twilight, and returned into the pair of folding screens of three hundred years old in which the scene of The Arrival of Namban Ship was depicted.” (See, this web page)


This scene reminded me of the epilogue of Lafcadio Hearn’s novel, entitled The Story of Kwashin Koji (果心居士, 1901) [1], in which the mysterious monk who frequently appeared in Kyoto during the Tensho Era (1573 - 1591) finally disappeared into a painting on an eight-fold screen in the palace of Lord Mitsuhide Akechi, waving a boat painted in the picture and boarding on it, —— while the room was temporarily flooded up to waist level to the surprise of people, —— leading me to imagine that Akutagawa would have imitated the idea of Hearn to conclude his story. In fact, Akutagawa was conscious of Kwashin Koji, as he wrote in his Tobacco and Devil (1916) [2], “As to the theory that the man called Kwashin Koji who played with Danshō Matsunaga was this devil (who came to Japan with St. Francisco Xavier), but I would refrain from commenting on it, as Prof. Lafcadio Hearn had wrote about.”


Lafcadio Hearn (1850 - 1904), a British writer of an Irish father and a Greek mother who introduced the culture and literature of Japan to the West, is better known in Japan by his Japanese name, Yakumo Koizumi (小泉八雲), —— which he acquired when he came to Japan and married Setsu, a daughter of the former warrior-class Koizumi Family in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, —— as his works are often adopted in school text books. In the past years I heard the Hearn’s story of Kwashin Koji many times narrated in Japanese with an audio file stored in my PC and mobile phone. I had thought the Japanese text had been written by Hearn himself but recently I learnt that it was a translation by his disciple (Prof. Ryuji Tabe, in 1948) [3] and that the Kwashin Koji story was not a creation based on a sort of legend or tradition but it was an adaption of an established novel, Kwasin Koji - Kwoukon-sau (黄昏艸, Evening tale) written by Kousai Ishikawa (石川鴻斎) in Chinese and compiled in Yasō Kidan (夜窓鬼談, Lit. Night Window Demon Talk)[4] in 1889. Having read “The story of Kwasin Koji” and some works of Hearn in English, I supposed the level of his comprehending Japanese language would have been far lower than that of other famous Japanologists, such as Prof. Donald Keene and Prof. Robert Campbell, whose Japanese is more than perfect. In my personal view, the high literary value of Kousai Ishikawa’s Kwasin Koji - Kwoukon-sau does not seem to have been properly inherited in the Hearn’s The Story of Kwashin Koji, as it will be evident when the two works are compared in detail.


The deeds of Kwashin Koji were written also in some other books. The episode, mentioned by Akutagawa as above, that Kwashin Koji deceived Lord Dansho Matsunaga (by transforming himself into Matsunaga’s deceased wife) is an instance found in Daigo Zuihitsu (醍醐随筆, Daigo Essay) [5], written by Sanryu Nakayama (中山三柳) in 1670 (the 10th year of Kwanbun (寛文)), as well as. Tamahahaki (玉箒子, Lit. A broom decorated with a number of small balls)[6], a mystery by Gitan Hayashi (林義端), published in 1696 (the 9th Year of Genroku. 元禄), although the very article in which Lafcadio Hearn had regarded Kwashin Koji as the Christianity’s devil has not been tracked down.


The Tamahahaki included other Kwashin Magics such as: (i) Kwashin Koji was looking round atop high tower which was hardly climbable, (ii) He turned a bamboo leaf into a fish, and (iii) He caused a flood by chanting a spell and waving a fan (in an unspecified drinking party).


In Kyojitu-zatsudan-shu (虚實雜談集, Lit.True-false Chit-chat) [7], published in 1749, a storyteller Jo-ou Zuiryuken (瑞龍軒恕翁) told of the Case of Incarnation, which said, during the time of Lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi, there was a man called Kwashin Koji who can turn the day to night; since he revealed the old love affair of Hideyoshi with a woman which was kept very secret, he was arrested and jailed: in the prison, he asked the gaoler to unfasten the rope a little, and then transformed himself into a mouse to get out, picked up by a kite (bird).


Gizankoukaku (義殘後覺)[8], compiled by Guken (愚軒) earlier in 1590s (Bunroko (文禄) Era), told of other episodes, such as follows: (i) When Kwashin Koji, who came to Kamigata from Chikushi, went to see the Noh Play at Fushimi, the front of the stage was so crowded that he extended his head two feet long by stroking his head. Then, not only the audience but the actors came to see him, (ii) In Hiroshima, when he was dunned by a debt collector, he disguised himself to some other person and escaped, (iii) When he visited a famous military strategist, called Deha of Toda, he won a kendo (fencing) match. Toda and his seven disciples got together but the result was the same as Kwashin Koji turned himself to be invisible during the match.


As for the Chinese novel, “Kwashin Koji -  Kwoukon-sau” in the Yasō Kidan (Night Window Demon Talk) by Kousai Ishikawa, a Japanese reading by Prof. Robert Campbell[9] is available. A number of annotations given by the professor with his profound erudition about Japanese literature to the phrases and clauses in the original text is quite valuable. Those annotations have proved the fact that the original author, Kousai Ishikawa, had implicitly referred to various classic books. In The Story of Kwashin Koji by Lafcadio Hearn, to be given below, some of those annotations will be cited. A trial translation of "Kwasin Koji - Kwoukonsau" into English made by me with reference to Prof. Campbell’s Japanese reading are included in this English page.


For reference, a historical novel entitled The Magic of Kwashin Koji (果心居士の幻術) [10] was authored by a modern-time writer, Ryotaro Shiba (斯波遼太郎) in 1961, but the story in the Night Window Demon Talk was not included.


This website includes the followings:

1. Introduction (This article)

2. “The Story of Kwashin Koji”, by Lafcadio Hearn (1901)/ Japanese Translation by Ryuji Tabe*.

3. Chine text of “Kwashin Koji Kwoukon-sau" by Kousai Ishikawa.

4. “Kwashin Koji- Kwoukon-sau": Trial English Translation by Masatoshi Iguchi/ Japanese Reading by Prof. Robert Campbell.

4. Reference images

* The Story of Kwashin Koji was translated also by Teiichi Hirai (in: 『日本雑記他』, 恒文社 1975) but the Ryuji Tabe’s translation is more word-for-word.


March 2022




[1] “The story of Kwashin Koji”, in: Lafcadio Hearn, Japanese Miscellany, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, MA, 1901, Page 37-51

[2] 芥川龍之介: 『煙草と惡魔』, 新思潮, 11, 1916 (大正5) (Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Tobacco and Devil, Shin-Shicho, Nov., 1916 (Taisho 5))

[3] ヘルン(著), 田部隆次(譯): 『旅の宿の夜話』, 養徳社, 奈良, 1948 (Lafcadio Hearn (au), Ryuji Tabe (transl.), Night tales for a travel inn , Youtokusha Publ., Nara, Japan 1948)

[4] 石川鴻斎: 『夜窓鬼談』, 東陽堂, 東京1889 (明治22) (Kousai Ishikawa, Yaso Kidan (Night Window Demon Talk), Toyo-do, Tokyo, 1889 (Meiji 22)). ロバート・キ ャンベル教授による漢文和讀 (Japanese reading of Chinese text by Prof. Robert Campbell), in: 池澤一郎, 宮崎修多, 徳田武, ロバート・キャンベル: 『新日本古典文学大系 3 - 明治編』, 岩波書店, 2005 (Ichiro Ikezawa, Shuta Miyazaki, Takeshi Tokuda, Robert Campbell, Shin-Nihonbunngaku-taikei 3 - Meiji, Iwanami-Shoten 2005).

[5] 中山三柳:『醍醐随筆』, 1670 (寛文 10) (Sanryu Nakayama, Daigo Zuihitsu, 1670). In: 須永朝彦(編): 『江戸奇談怪談集』, 筑摩書房 2012 (Tomohiko Sunaga (ed.), Edo-kwaidan-kidan-shu, Chikuma-Shobo 2012).

[6] 林義端; 『玉箒子』, 1696 (元禄9) (Gitan Hayashi, Tamahahaki, 1696 (Genroko 9).

[7] 瑞龍軒恕翁: 『虚實雜談集』, 1749 (Jo-ou Zuiryuken, Kyojitu-zatsudan-shu, 1749). In: 勝俣基, 木越俊介: 『江戸怪談文芸名作選 5 - 諸国奇談集』, 東京図書刊行会 2019 (Motoi Katsumata, Shunsuke Kikosi, Edo-kaidan-kidan-meisakusen 5 - Shokoku-kidann-shu, Tokyo-tosho-kankoukai, 2019).

[8] 愚軒(編):『義殘後覺』, 1590s (文禄年間) (Guken (ed.), Gizankoukaku 1590s (Bunroko (文禄) Era). In: 高田衛: 『江戸怪談集』, 岩波書店, 1989 (Mamoru Takada, Edo-kaidan-shu, Iwanami-Shoten 1989).

須永朝彦(編), 『江戸奇談怪談集』, 筑摩書房 2012 (Tomohiko Sunga (ed.), Edo-kwaidan-kidan-shu, Chikuma-Shobo 2012).

[9] Ref. 5.

[10] 司馬遼太郎: 『果心居士の幻術』, オール読物 1961 (Ryotaro Shiba, The Magic of Kwashin Koji, Ōru Yomimono, 1961