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Kiyohime Or The Power Of Love

Source: Japanese Fairy World

Quiet and shady was the spot in the midst of one of the loveliest valley
landscapes in the empire, near the banks of the Hidaka river, where stood
the tea-house kept by one Kojima. It was surrounded on all sides by
glorious mountains, ever robed with deep forests, silver-threaded with
flashing water-falls, to which the lovers of nature paid many a visit,
and in which poets were inspired to write stanzas in praise of the white
foam and the twinkling streamlets. Here the bonzes loved to muse and
meditate, and anon merry picnic parties spread their mats, looped their
canvas screens, and feasted out of nests of lacquered boxes, drinking the
amber sake from cups no larger nor thicker than an egg-shell, while the
sound of guitar and drum kept time to dance and song.

The garden of the tea-house was as lovely a piece of art as the florist's
cunning could produce. Those who emerged from the deep woods of the lofty
hill called the Dragon's Claw, could see in the tea-house garden a living
copy of the landscape before them. There were mimic mountains, (ten feet
high), and miniature hills veined by a tiny, path with dwarfed pine
groves, and tiny bamboo clumps, and a patch of grass for meadow, and a
valley just like the great gully of the mountains, only a thousand times
smaller, and but twenty feet long. So perfect was the imitation that even
the miniature irrigated rice-fields, each no larger than a
checker-board, were in full sprout. To make this little gem of nature in
art complete, there fell from over a rock at one end a lovely little
waterfall two feet high, which after an angry splash over the stones,
rolled on over an absurdly small beech, all white-sanded and pebbled,
threading its silver way beyond, until lost in fringes of lilies and
aquatic plants. In one broad space imitating a lake, was a lotus pond,
lined with iris, in which the fins of gold fish and silver carp flashed
in the sunbeams. Here and there the nose of a tortoise protruded, while
on a rugged rock sat an old grandfather surveying the scene with one or
two of his grand-children asleep on his shell and sunning themselves.

The fame of the tea-house, its excellent fare, and special delicacy of
its mountain trout, sugar-jelly and well-flavored rice-cakes, drew
hundreds of visitors, especially poetry-parties, and lovers of grand

Just across the river, which was visible from the verandah of the
tea-house, stood the lofty firs that surrounded the temple of the Tendai
Buddhists. Hard by was the pagoda, which painted red peeped between the
trees. A long row of paper-windowed and tile-roofed dwellings to the
right made up the monastery, in which a snowy eye-browed but rosy-faced
old abbot and some twenty bonzes dwelt, all shaven-faced and
shaven-pated, in crape robes and straw sandals, their only food being
water and vegetables.

Not the least noticeable of the array of stone lanterns, and bronze
images with aureoles round their heads, and incense burners and holy
water tanks, and dragon spouts, was the belfry, which stood on a stone
platform. Under its roof hung the massive bronze bell ten feet high,
which, when struck with a suspended log like a trip-hammer, boomed
solemnly over the valley and flooded three leagues of space with the
melody which died away as sweetly as an infant falling in slumber. This
mighty bell was six inches thick and weighed several tons.

In describing the tea-house across the river, the story of its sweetest
charm, and of its garden the fairest flower must not be left untold.
Kiyo, the host's daughter, was a lovely maiden of but eighteen, as
graceful as the bamboo reed swaying in the breeze of a moonlit summer's
eve, and as pretty as the blossoms of the cherry-tree. Far and wide
floated the fame of Kiyo, like the fragrance of the white lilies of
Ibuki, when the wind sweeping down the mountain heights, comes
perfume-laden to the traveler.

As she busied herself about the garden, or as her white socks slipped
over the mat-laid floor, she was the picture of grace itself. When at
twilight, with her own hands, she lighted the gay lanterns that hung in
festoons along the eaves of the tea-house above the verandah, her bright
eyes sparkling, her red petticoats half visible through her
semi-transparent crape robe, she made many a young man's heart glow with
a strange new feeling, or burn with pangs of jealousy.

Among the priests that often passed by the tea-house on their way to the
monastery, were some who were young and handsome.

It was the rule of the monastery that none of the bonzes should drink
sake (wine) eat fish or meat, or even stop at the tea-houses to talk with
women. But one young bonze named "Lift-the-Kettle" (after a passage in
the Sanscrit classics) had rigidly kept the rules. Fish had never passed
his mouth; and as for sake, he did not know even its taste. He was very
studious and diligent. Every day he learned ten new Chinese characters.
He had already read several of the sacred sutras, had made a good
beginning in Sanskrit, knew the name of every idol in the temple of the
3,333 images in Kioto, had twice visited the sacred shrine of the
Capital, and had uttered the prayer "Namu mi[=o] ho ren ge ki[=o],"
("Glory be to the sacred lotus of the law"), counting it on his rosary,
five hundred thousand times. For sanctity and learning he had no peer
among the young neophytes of the bonzerie.

Alas for "Lift-the-Kettle!". One day, after returning from a visit to a
famous shrine in the Kuanto, (Eastern Japan), as he was passing the
tea-house, he caught sight of Kiyohime, (the "lady" or "princess" Kiyo),
and from that moment his pain of heart began. He returned to his bed of
mats, but not to sleep. For days he tried to stifle his passion, but his
heart only smouldered away like an incense-stick.

Before many days he made a pretext for again passing the house.
Hopelessly in love, without waiting many days he stopped and entered the

His call for refreshments was answered by Kiyohime herself!

As fire kindles fire, so priest and maiden were now consumed in one flame
of love. To shorten a long story, "Lift-the-Kettle" visited the inn
oftener and oftener, even stealing out at night to cross the river and
spend the silent hours with his love.

So passed several months, when suddenly a change come over the young
bonze. His conscience began to trouble him for breaking his vows. In the
terrible conflict between principle and passion, the soul of the priest
was tossed to and fro like the feathered seed-ball of a shuttlecock.

But conscience was the stronger, and won.

He resolved to drown his love and break off his connection with the girl.
To do it suddenly, would bring grief to her and a scandal both on her
family and the monastery. He must do it gradually to succeed at all.

Ah! how quickly does the sensitive love-plant know the finger-tip touch
of cooling passion! How quickly falls the silver column in the crystal
tube, at the first breath of the heart's chill even though the words on
the lip are warm! Kiyohime marked the ebbing tide of her lover's regard,
and then a terrible resolve of evil took possession of her soul. From
that time forth, she ceased to be a pure and innocent and gentle virgin.
Though still in maiden form and guise, she was at heart a fox, and as to
her nature she might as well have worn the bushy tail of the sly
deceiver. She resolved to win over her lover, by her importunities, and
failing in this, to destroy him by sorcery.

One night she sat up until two o'clock in the morning, and then, arrayed
only in a white robe, she went out to a secluded part of the mountain
where in a lonely shrine stood a hideous scowling image of Fudo, who
holds the sword of vengeance and sits clothed in fire. There she called
upon the god to change her lover's heart or else destroy him.

Thence, with her head shaking, and eyes glittering with anger like the
orbs of a serpent, she hastened to the shrine of Kampira, whose servants
are the long-nosed sprites, who have the power of magic and of teaching
sorcery. Standing in front of the portal she saw it hung with votive
tablets, locks of hair, teeth, various tokens of vows, pledges and marks
of sacrifice, which the devotees of the god had hung up. There, in the
cold night air she asked for the power of sorcery, that she might be able
at will to transform herself into the terrible ja,--the awful
dragon-serpent whose engine coils are able to crack bones, crush rocks,
melt iron or root up trees, and which are long enough to wind round a

It would be too long to tell how this once pure and happy maiden, now
turned to an avenging demon went out nightly on the lonely mountains to
practice the arts of sorcery. The mountain-sprites were her teachers, and
she learned so diligently that the chief goblin at last told her she
would be able, without fail, to transform herself when she wished.

The dreadful moment was soon to come. The visits of the once lover-priest
gradually became fewer and fewer, and were no longer tender hours of
love, but were on his part formal interviews, while Kiyohime became more
importunate than ever. Tears and pleadings were alike useless, and
finally one night as he was taking leave, the bonze told the maid that he
had paid his last visit. Kiyohime then utterly forgetting all womanly
delicacy, became so urgent that the bonze tore himself away and fled
across the river. He had seen the terrible gleam in the maiden's eyes,
and now terribly frightened, hid himself under the great temple bell.

Forthwith Kiyohime, seeing the awful moment had come, pronounced the
spell of incantation taught her by the mountain spirit, and raised her
T-shaped wand. In a moment her fair head and lovely face, body, limbs and
feet lengthened out, disappeared, or became demon-like, and a
fire-darting, hissing-tongued serpent, with eyes like moons trailed over
the ground towards the temple, swam the river, and scenting out the track
of the fugitive, entered the belfry, cracking the supporting columns made
of whole tree-trunks into a mass of ruins, while the bell fell to the
earth with the cowering victim inside.

Then began the winding of the terrible coils round and round the metal,
as with her wand of sorcery in her hands, she mounted the bell. The
glistening scales, hard as iron, struck off sparks as the pressure
increased. Tighter and tighter they were drawn, till the heat of the
friction consumed the timbers and made the metal glow hot like fire.

Vain was the prayer of priest, or spell of rosary, as the bonzes
piteously besought great Buddha to destroy the demon. Hotter and hotter
grew the mass, until the ponderous metal melted down into a hissing pool
of scintillating molten bronze; and soon, man within and serpent without,
timber and tiles and ropes were nought but a few handfuls of white ashes.

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