Kwaidan (1965) 2.18.13

Kwaidan (1965) 2.18.16

Kwaidan (1965) 2.20.32

Kwaidan (1965) 2.24.11

Kwaidan (1965) 2.24.16

Kwaidan (1965) 2.32.23

Kwaidan (1965) 2.37.04

Kwaidan (1965) 2.37.06

Kwaidan (1965) 2.40.08
    [ Masaki Kobayashi ]
    [ Kwaidan ]
( 1965 )

4. "In a Cup of Tea"
Copyright and Fair Use
These film clips and stills are copyright by Toho Company, Ltd.. They are reproduced here in conjunction with the course website for ENLT 255: Special Collections, an undergraduate seminar held at the University of Virginia in the fall semester of 2005. Their reproduction is made possible by the fair use provisions of 17 U.S.C. 107, which limit the exclusive rights of copyright holders. For more on the fair use of film stills, see Kristin Thompson's "Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Society For Cinema Studies: 'Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills'" in Cinema Journal 32.2 (Winter 1993): 3-20.
Hearn, Lafacdio. "In a Cup of Tea." Kotto—: Being Japanese Curios, With Sundry Cobwebs. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902.
Have you ever attempted to mount some old tower stairway, spiring up through darkness, and in the heart of that darkness found yourself at the cobwebbed edge of nothing? Or have you followed some coast path, cut along the face of a cliff, only to discover yourself, at a turn, on the jagged verge of a break? The emotional worth of such an experience—from a literary point of view—is proved by the force of sensations aroused, and by the vividness with which they are remembered.

Now there have been curiously preserved, in old Japanese story-books, certain fragments of fiction that produce an almost similar emotional experience.... Perhaps the writer was lazy; perhaps he had a quarrel with the publisher; perhaps he was suddenly called away from his little table, and never came back; perhaps death stopped the writing-brush in the very middle of a sentence. But no mortal man can ever tell us exactly why these things were left unfinished.... I select a typical example.

• • •

On the fourth day of the first month of the third Tenwa,—that is to say, about two hundred and twenty years ago,—the lord Nakagawa Sado, while on his way to make a New Year's visit, halted with his train at a tea-house in Hakusan, in the Hongo district of Yedo. While the party were resting there, one of the lord's attendants,—a wakato1 named Sekinai,—feeling very thirsty, filled himself a large water-cup with tea. He was raising the cup to his lips when he suddenly perceived, in the transparent yellow infusion, the image or reflection of a face that was not his own. Startled, he looked around, but could see no one near him. The face in the tea appeared, from the coiffure, to be the face of a young samurai: it was strangely distinct, and very handsome,—delicate as the face of a girl. And it seemed the reflection of a living face; for the eyes and the lips were moving. Bewildered by this mysterious apparition, Sekinai threw away the tea, and carefully examined the cup. It proved to be a very cheap water-cup, with no artistic devices of any sort. He found and filled another cup; and again the face appeared in the tea. He then ordered fresh tea, and refilled the cup; and once more the strange face appeared,—this time with a mocking smile. But Sekinai did not allow himself to be frightened. "Whoever you are," he muttered, "you shall delude me no further!"—then he swallowed the tea, face and all, and went his way, wondering whether he had swallowed a ghost.

Late in the evening of the same day, while on watch in the palace of the lord Nakagawa, Sekinai was surprised by the soundless coming of a stranger into the apartment. This stranger, a richly dressed young samurai, seated himself directly in front of Sekinari, and, saluting the wakato— with a slight bow, observed:—

"I am Shikibu Heinai—met you to-day for the first time... You do not seem to recognize me."

He spoke in a very low, but penetrating voice. And Sekinai was astonished to find before him the same sinister, handsome face of which he had seen, and swallowed, the apparition in a cup of tea. It was smiling now, as the phantom had smiled; but the steady gaze of the eyes, above the smiling lips, was at once a challenge and an insult.

"No, I do not recognize you," returned Sekinai, angry but cool;—"and perhaps you will now be good enough to inform me how you obtained admission to this house?"

[In feudal times the residence of a lord was strictly guarded at all hours; and no one could enter unannounced, except through some unpardonable negligence on the part of the armed watch.]

"Ah, you do not recognize me!" exclaimed the visitor, in a tone of irony, drawing a little nearer as he spoke. "No, you do not recognize me!" Yet you took upon yourself this morning to do me a deadly injury!..."

Sekinari instantly seized the tanto2 at his girdle, and made a fierce thrust at the throat of the man. But the blade seemed to touch no substance. Simultaneously and soundlessly the intruder leaped sideward to the chamber-wall, and through it! The wall showed no trace of his exit. He had traversed it only as the light of a candle passes through lantern-paper.

When Sekinai made report of this incident, his recital astonished and puzzled the retainers. No stranger had been seen either to enter or to leave the palace at the hour of the occurrence; and no one in the service of the lord Nakagawa had ever heard of the name "Shikibu Henai."

On the following night Sekinai was off duty, and remained at home with his parents. At a rather late hour he was informed that some strangers had called at the house, and desired to speak with him for a moment. Taking his sword, he went to the entrance, and there found three armed men,—apparently retainers,—waiting in front of the doorstep. The three bowed respectfully to Sekinai; and one of them said:—

'Our names are Matsuoka Bungo—, Tsuchibashi Bungo—, and Okamura Heiroku. We are retainers of the noble Shikubu Henai. When our master last night deigned to pay you a visit, you struck him with a sword. He was much hurt, and has been obliged to go to the hot springs, where his wound is now being treated. But on the sixteenth day of the coming month he will return; and he will then fitly repay you for the injury done him."

Without waiting to hear more, Sekinai leaped out, sword in hand, and slashed right and left, at the strangers. But the three men sprang to the wall of the adjoining building, and flitted up the wall like shadows, and...

• • •

Here the old narrative breaks off; the rest of the story existed only in some brain that has been dust for a century.

I am able to imagine several possible endings; but none of them would satisfy an Occidental imagination. I prefer to let the reader attempt to decide for himself the probable consequence of swallowing a Soul.

1 The armed attendant of a samurai was thus called. The relation of the wakato to the samurai was that of squire to knight. [Hearn's Note]

2 The shorter of two swords carried by samurai. The longer sword was called katana. [Hearn's Note]