Kosodate Yurei (A Ghost Caring for Her Baby) (子育て幽霊)
Kosodate Yurei is a Japanese folktale. Although the plot and ending are slightly different in some areas, it has been handed down in all regions of Japan, and is used as a material for rakugo (traditional Japanese comic storytelling). Amekai Yurei' (A Ghost that buys candies for her kid) is another name for the folktale.
One night, somebody knocks on the sliding shutter of a candy store, so a storekeeper opens the shutter to see a pale-faced young woman with disheveled hair who gives him a one-mon coin ("mon" is a monetary unit of old times) saying, 'I want some candy.'
Alhough the storekeeper feels suspicion about the woman, she pleads with him to sell some candy to her in such a sad small voice, so he sells her some.
The next night, the woman comes again and gives him a one-mon coin, saying 'I want some candy.'
The storekeeper sells her some candy and asks her, 'Where do you live?,' but she is gone without answering his question.
The following night and the night after next, she appears to buy candy, but at the seventh night she finally says to him, 'I don't have money any more. Could you please sell me some candy with this?,' showing him her haori (a Japanese half-coat). The storekeeper feels sorry for her, and he gives her some candy in exchange for the haori.
The next day, when he hangs the woman's haori in front of the store, a wealthy person happens to pass and comes into it, asking 'This haori is the one I put into the casket of my daughter who passed away the other day. Where did you get it?'
The storekeeper gets surprised and tells him about the woman who came to buy candy.
The wealthy person is very surprised too and goes to the graveyard with the storekeeper where his daughter was buried, hearing a baby crying in the new grave mound. Digging up the soil, he finds her remains holding a baby boy who has just been born, and in her hand the candy which the storekeeper has sold is clasped.
The wealthy person says, 'When my daughter died, I assumed that the baby in the womb also died, so I buried her without thinking of it. But she gave birth to a son in here and must have become a ghost to raise the child by buying some candy.'
He rescues the baby from the grave, saying 'I will bring up this child to be a good man instead of you.' and then her head drops onto her chest as if she had nodded. The child is said to have been taken in by the family temple and grown up to be a distinguished priest of virtue.
Chinese ghost story: A Woman Who Buys Rice Cakes
The Japanese ghost story 'A Woman Who Buys Candy' is quite similar to the ghost story 'A Woman Who Buys Rice Cakes' collected in "Yijian zhi" compiled by Hong Mai of the Southern Song, therefore it might have been adapted from the Chinese ghost story.
The plot of 'A Woman Who Buys Rice Cakes' is as follows. At a certain house, a wife dies while she is expecting a baby, and is buried. After a while, a woman who holds a baby appears every day at a rice cake store near the town to buy some. The storekeeper feels suspicious about her, and sews a red thread on the bottom edge of her dress, tracing the thread after she has left, and finds it hung over a grave in a clump of grass. Knowing the news, the bereaved family dig up the grave to find a baby alive in the casket and the dead woman's face looks as if she were stile alive. It turned out that the baby in the womb has been born after her death. The bereaved family burns the remains to ashes and brings up the baby.
The relationship between preaching stories of Buddhism and myths.
Kosodate Yurei' has been used by many monks for preaching the kindness of parents to their children. A major example is "Bunryaku Shion Ron" written by Gekkan, a monk of the True Pure Land sect of Buddhism in Higo Province (the present Kumamoto Prefecture) in the early Edo period.
The story of a dead woman giving birth to a child is also seen in the Relief of Gandhara Buddhist Ruins, and the one widely circulating in Japan is said to have been modeled after "Bussetsu Senda Okkoku Okyo." Some people pay attention to the passages in which a baby is found seven days after a ghost appears, pointing out that it has something to do with the episode of Maya, who passed away seven days after she gave birth to Shakyamuni.
Many traditions have it that the store where the woman buys candy is at the top of a hill, which implies that the story is related to the Yomotsu Hirasaka (the slope that leads to the land of the dead) in Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters).
The tradition concerning what happened later to the baby
Many traditions say that the baby has grown up to be a distinguished monk of virtue, and there are some examples of real monks who were said to be identified as this baby.
Tsugen Jakurei (1322-1391) - born in Musashi village in Bungo Province (the present Kunisaki City, Oita Prefecture). He became a monk of the Soto sect and the fifth caretaker of the Soji-ji Temple. Eminent disciples called Tsugen Great Ten appeared one after another from his school, and Tsugen sect grew to be the biggest school in the Soto sect, having 9000 temples at its height while all the temples of the Soto sect was over 16000.
Daigon (1791-1856) - born into a family of village headman in Takatsu, Iwami Province (the present Masuda City, Shimane Prefecture). He became a monk of the True Pure Land sect of Buddhism, studying I Ching (The Book of Changes) and Confucianism along with the study of sectarian doctrines. When he opened a school at the castle town of Hagi, there was a large number of townspeople and retainers of daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) who wanted to participate in the school, so Meirinkan, a han (domain) school established by a daimyo during the Edo period, had to be closed for a while.
Chiyoda-cho (the present Kasumigaura City), Ibaraki Prefecture has a tradition of Zuhaku Shonin, who was born of a killed mother in the ground and raised by a ghost mother. It is said that he was called "Zuhaku" (white hair) because he was born with white hair. He became a distinguished priest of the Tendai sect of Buddhism, and after his pilgrimages to many lands, he is said to have prayed for the repose of his mother's soul or taken revenge for the death of his mother. In the Saizo-in Temple at Sawara City (the present Katori City), Chiba Prefecture, there is a grave mound where he was buried alive to drive out evil spirits in the village.
The candy store which sold the ghost candy exists in Kyoto Higashiyama (Kyoto Prefecture), still selling 'Yurei Kosodate Ame' (ghost's candy to care for her child). Accompanying the history of the candy, it is said that the ghost's child became a priest of Rokudochinno-ji Temple and passed away at the age of 68 in 1666. If this is to be believed, the year when the ghost appeared to buy candy was 1599.
Rakugo and cartoons
The story was adapted for rakugo in which the setting is Kyoto Kodai-ji Temple, and at the end of storytelling, the ghost says, 'My child is important' (child is "ko" in Japanese and important is "daiji," so both words make the temple's name "Kodai-ji") as the point of a joke.
Kitaro, a main character of "Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro (Kitaro in the Graveyard)" created by Shigeru MIZUKI, is set as a child of this ghost.