Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Miminashi Hoichi

Hoichi the Earless (耳なし芳一 Miminashi Hōichi) is a character from Japanese mythology. His story is well known in Japan, and the best-known English translation first appeared in the book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn.

A version of this story appears in the film Kwaidan, as well as the play The Dream of a Summer Day, which are both based on Hearn's work. Hoichi the Earless is closely associated with Akama Shrine in Shimonoseki, as his story takes place at the Buddhist temple Amidaji, which preceded the shrine before Shintō became the state religion of Japan. According to legend, Hoichi was a blind minstrel (or biwa hoshi) with amazing gifts for the biwa (a loquat-shaped Japanese lute). He was particularly good at performing the Tale of the Heike, an epic describing the fall of Emperor Antoku, who is buried at Amidaji Temple. His performances were so wonderful that "even the goblins could not refrain from tears."

The ghosts of Emperor Antoku's dynasty came and lead Hoichi to nightly performances at the palace that really is the cemetery among the tombs. It is also well known that a person that has developed a relationship with the world beyond would eventually expire due to these nefast influences... as it is evident on the face of Hoichi. That didn't escape the attention of the head priest of the Amidaji temple and he decided to help Hoichi with an eastern version of exorcism... or rather a preemptive move to ward off the ghosts' attempts. The standard most effective remedy is to paint Hoichi's body with the Kanji characters of the Heart Sutra for protection that makes him invisible to the ghosts. Unfortunately, a grievous oversight took place and his ears did not get any of the magic Kanji letters. The ghosts came, they only saw the ears so they took them to their Emperor as proof that they did their diligence. Thus Hoichi became the Earless but survived to continue playing his biwa.

This clip comes from the movie Kwaidan in the Criterion collection. This movie is pretty dark and scary with many ghosts. I no longer watch Kwaidan because I will surely get a heart attack if I do. I told you I'm afraid of ghosts, especially the beautiful ones in form of beautiful but lethal women who usually are either snakes or worse, foxes. Not for me! Besides, if the head priest wants to paint my body with Kanji stuff, he'll tickle me to death way before the beautiful women get to me.
Glass Symphony

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