Long, long ago in Kyoto, the people of the city were terrified by accounts of a dreadful ogre, who, it was said, haunted the Gate of Rashomon at twilight and seized whoever passed by. The missing victims were never seen again, so it was whispered that the ogre was a horrible cannibal, who not only killed the unhappy victims but ate them also. Now everybody in the town and neighborhood was in great fear, and no one durst venture out after sunset near the Gate of Rashomon.
Now at this time there lived in Kyoto a general named Raiko, who had made himself famous for his brave deeds. Some time before this he made the country ring with his name, for he had attacked Oeyama, where a band of ogres lived with their chief, who instead of wine drank the blood of human beings. He had routed them all and cut off the head of the chief monster.
This brave warrior was always followed by a band of faithful knights. In this band there were five knights of great valor. One evening as the five knights sat at a feast quaffing SAKE in their rice bowls and eating all kinds of fish, raw, and stewed, and broiled, and toasting each other’s healths and exploits, the first knight, Hojo, said to the others:
“Have you all heard the rumor that every evening after sunset there comes an ogre to the Gate of Rashomon, and that he seizes all who pass by?”
The second knight, Watanabe, answered him, saying:
“Do not talk such nonsense! All the ogres were killed by our chief Raiko at Oeyama! It cannot be true, because even if any ogres did escape from that great killing they would not dare to show themselves in this city, for they know that our brave master would at once attack them if he knew that any of them were still alive!”
“Then do you disbelieve what I say, and think that I am telling you a falsehood?”
“No, I do not think that you are telling a lie,” said Watanabe; “but you have heard some old woman’s story which is not worth believing.”
“Then the best plan is to prove what I say, by going there yourself and finding out yourself whether it is true or not,” said Hojo.
Watanabe, the second knight, could not bear the thought that his companion should believe he was afraid, so he answered quickly:
“Of course, I will go at once and find out for myself!”
So Watanabe at once got ready to go—he buckled on his long sword and put on a coat of armor, and tied on his large helmet. When he was ready to start he said to the others:
“Give me something so that I can prove I have been there!”
Then one of the men got a roll of writing paper and his box of Indian ink and brushes, and the four comrades wrote their names on a piece of paper.
“I will take this,” said Watanabe, “and put it on the Gate of Rashomon, so to-morrow morning will you all go and look at it? I may be able to catch an ogre or two by then!” and he mounted his horse and rode off gallantly.
It was a very dark night, and there was neither moon nor star to light Watanabe on his way. To make the darkness worse a storm came on, the rain fell heavily and the wind howled like wolves in the mountains. Any ordinary man would have trembled at the thought of going out of doors, but Watanabe was a brave warrior and dauntless, and his honor and word were at stake, so he sped on into the night, while his companions listened to the sound of his horse’s hoofs dying away in the distance, then shut the sliding shutters close and gathered round the charcoal fire and wondered what would happen—and whether their comrade would encounter one of those horrible Oni.
At last Watanabe reached the Gate of Rashomon, but peer as he might through the darkness he could see no sign of an ogre.
“It is just as I thought,” said Watanabe to himself; “there are certainly no ogres here; it is only an old woman’s story. I will stick this paper on the gate so that the others can see I have been here when they come to-morrow, and then I will take my way home and laugh at them all.”
He fastened the piece of paper, signed by all his four companions, on the gate, and then turned his horse’s head towards home.
As he did so he became aware that some one was behind him, and at the same time a voice called out to him to wait. Then his helmet was seized from the back. “Who are you?” said Watanabe fearlessly. He then put out his hand and groped around to find out who or what it was that held him by the helmet. As he did so he touched something that felt like an arm—it was covered with hair and as big round as the trunk of a tree!
Watanabe knew at once that this was the arm of an ogre, so he drew his sword and cut at it fiercely.
There was a loud yell of pain, and then the ogre dashed in front of the warrior.
Watanabe’s eyes grew large with wonder, for he saw that the ogre was taller than the great gate, his eyes were flashing like mirrors in the sunlight, and his huge mouth was wide open, and as the monster breathed, flames of fire shot out of his mouth.
The ogre thought to terrify his foe, but Watanabe never flinched. He attacked the ogre with all his strength, and thus they fought face to face for a long time. At last the ogre, finding that he could neither frighten nor beat Watanabe and that he might himself be beaten, took to flight. But Watanabe, determined not to let the monster escape, put spurs to his horse and gave chase.
But though the knight rode very fast the ogre ran faster, and to his disappointment he found himself unable to overtake the monster, who was gradually lost to sight.
Watanabe returned to the gate where the fierce fight had taken place, and got down from his horse. As he did so he stumbled upon something lying on the ground.
Stooping to pick it up he found that it was one of the ogre’s huge arms which he must have slashed off in the fight. His joy was great at having secured such a prize, for this was the best of all proofs of his adventure with the ogre. So he took it up carefully and carried it home as a trophy of his victory.
When he got back, he showed the arm to his comrades, who one and all called him the hero of their band and gave him a great feast. His wonderful deed was soon noised abroad in Kyoto, and people from far and near came to see the ogre’s arm.
Watanabe now began to grow uneasy as to how he should keep the arm in safety, for he knew that the ogre to whom it belonged was still alive. He felt sure that one day or other, as soon as the ogre got over his scare, he would come to try to get his arm back again. Watanabe therefore had a box made of the strongest wood and banded with iron. In this he placed the arm, and then he sealed down the heavy lid, refusing to open it for anyone. He kept the box in his own room and took charge of it himself, never allowing it out of his sight.
Now one night he heard some one knocking at the porch, asking for admittance.
When the servant went to the door to see who it was, there was only an old woman, very respectable in appearance. On being asked who she was and what was her business, the old woman replied with a smile that she had been nurse to the master of the house when he was a little baby. If the lord of the house were at home she begged to be allowed to see him.
The servant left the old woman at the door and went to tell his master that his old nurse had come to see him. Watanabe thought it strange that she should come at that time of night, but at the thought of his old nurse, who had been like a foster-mother to him and whom he had not seen for a long time, a very tender feeling sprang up for her in his heart. He ordered the servant to show her in.
The old woman was ushered into the room, and after the customary bows and greetings were over, she said:
“Master, the report of your brave fight with the ogre at the Gate of Rashomon is so widely known that even your poor old nurse has heard of it. Is it really true, what every one says, that you cut off one of the ogre’s arms? If you did, your deed is highly to be praised!”
“I was very disappointed,” said Watanabe, “that I was not able take the monster captive, which was what I wished to do, instead of only cutting off an arm!”
“I am very proud to think,” answered the old woman, “that my master was so brave as to dare to cut off an ogre’s arm. There is nothing that can be compared to your courage. Before I die it is the great wish of my life to see this arm,” she added pleadingly.
“No,” said Watanabe, “I am sorry, but I cannot grant your request.”
“But why?” asked the old woman.
“Because,” replied Watanabe, “ogres are very revengeful creatures, and if I open the box there is no telling but that the ogre may suddenly appear and carry off his arm. I have had a box made on purpose with a very strong lid, and in this box I keep the ogre’s arm secure; and I never show it to any one, whatever happens.”
“Your precaution is very reasonable,” said the old woman. “But I am your old nurse, so surely you will not refuse to show ME the arm. I have only just heard of your brave act, and not being able to wait till the morning I came at once to ask you to show it to me.”
Watanabe was very troubled at the old woman’s pleading, but he still persisted in refusing. Then the old woman said:
“Do you suspect me of being a spy sent by the ogre?”
“No, of course I do not suspect you of being the ogre’s spy, for you are my old nurse,” answered Watanabe.
“Then you cannot surely refuse to show me the arm any longer.” entreated the old woman; “for it is the great wish of my heart to see for once in my life the arm of an ogre!”
Watanabe could not hold out in his refusal any longer, so he gave in at last, saying:
“Then I will show you the ogre’s arm, since you so earnestly wish to see it. Come, follow me!” and he led the way to his own room, the old woman following.
When they were both in the room Watanabe shut the door carefully, and then going towards a big box which stood in a corner of the room, he took off the heavy lid. He then called to the old woman to come near and look in, for he never took the arm out of the box.
“What is it like? Let me have a good look at it,” said the old nurse, with a joyful face.
She came nearer and nearer, as if she were afraid, till she stood right against the box. Suddenly she plunged her hand into the box and seized the arm, crying with a fearful voice which made the room shake:
“Oh, joy! I have got my arm back again!”
And from an old woman she was suddenly transformed into the towering figure of the frightful ogre!
Watanabe sprang back and was unable to move for a moment, so great was his astonishment; but recognizing the ogre who had attacked him at the Gate of Rashomon, he determined with his usual courage to put an end to him this time. He seized his sword, drew it out of its sheath in a flash, and tried to cut the ogre down.
So quick was Watanabe that the creature had a narrow escape. But the ogre sprang up to the ceiling, and bursting through the roof, disappeared in the mist and clouds.
In this way the ogre escaped with his arm. The knight gnashed his teeth with disappointment, but that was all he could do. He waited in patience for another opportunity to dispatch the ogre. But the latter was afraid of Watanabe’s great strength and daring, and never troubled Kyoto again. So once more the people of the city were able to go out without fear even at night time, and the brave deeds of Watanabe have never been forgotten!
From Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki, used under Public Domain.