The Story of Kochuujoo

by Alfred Chapell

Kochuujoo, a young lady who served the empress, was very pretty and graceful, and so nice too that all the other ladies loved her dearly. Though she had no regular gentleman friend, Fujiwara no Takatsune, the governor of Mino, did visit her a good deal. Once while Kochuujoo was looking after the empress, dressed in pale violet over a pink underrobe, a precise image of her appeared in the flame of a lamp nearby. Her costume, her hair, her face, her look as she held her hand before her mouth -each detail was perfect. The other young ladies were amazed at the resemblance and clustered round to chatter and stare. Not one of them was experienced enough to know what needed to be done. Kochuujoo took it badly when she was told. "Ugh!" she cried. "You didn't put it out? You just kept staring at it? How embarrassing!" But when the older ladies of the household found out, they were worried. Those girls should have let someone responsible know right away! In-stead, they had just trimmed the lamp as usual and left it at that. Three weeks or so later, for no apparent reason, Kochuujoo began to run a fever. For a day or two she kept to her room, then felt so ill that she went home. When Lord Takatsune came by to let her know that he would be going away briefly, a little kitchenmaid told him where she had gone. He went straight to her house. The moon was sinking toward the west. When Kochuujoo came out to him, he found her curiously pathetic, while she too seemed constrained and acted a little distant. Takatsune went in and lay down with her, but actually he felt like leaving. They talked all night. By dawn Takatsune found it hard to say goodbye, and he worried about her all the way home. As soon as he got there, he sent her a note to tell her how concerned he was and promised he would be back to see her soon. Then he lingered to wait for her answer. Her reply consisted of one word, "Toribeno." Why, that was the name of the burning ground where the dead were taken! Deeply troubled, Takatsune slipped the note in under his clothing, against his heart. Then he started off. He kept taking out the note all the way along to examine it. What beautiful writing she had! After being detained at his destination for some time, he got away as soon as he could and hurried back, thinking of her constantly. On reaching the Capital, he went directly to her house. She had died the previous night and they had taken her to Toribeno. Lord Takatsune's feelings can easily be imagined. Yes, when someone's image appears in a flame, the thing to do is to trim off that part of the burned wick and have the person swallow it. And it's a good thing to pray hard, too. The young ladies hadn't known how dangerous a sight they had seen, and their ignorance caused Kochu-ujoo's death.

 

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