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Chronicle of the Rebirth of Katsugorō – 05 The account as related by Matsudaira Kwanzan Sama



Type of Spiritual Experience


NOTES by the translator


[1. Children in Japan, among the poorer classes, are not weaned until an age much later than what is considered the proper age for weaning children in Western countries. But "four years old" in this text may mean considerably less, than three by Western reckoning.

2. From very ancient time in Japan it has been the custom to bury the dead in large jars,—usually of red earthenware, p. 281—called Kamé. Such jars are still used, although a large proportion of the dead are buried in wooden coffins of a form unknown in the Occident.]

[3. The idea expressed is not that of lying down with the pillow under the head, but of hovering about the pillow, or resting upon it as an insect might do. The bodiless spirit is usually said to rest upon the roof of the home. The apparition of the aged man referred to in the next sentence seems a thought of Shintô rather than of Buddhism.

4. The repetition of the Buddhist invocation Namu Amida Butsu! is thus named. The nembutsu is repeated by many Buddhist sects besides the sect of Amida proper,—the Shinshû.]

[5. Botamochi, a kind of sugared rice-cake.

6. Such advice is a commonplace in Japanese Buddhist literature. By Hotoké Sama here the boy means, not the Buddhas proper, but the spirits of the dead, hopefully termed Buddhas by those who loved them,—much as in the West we sometimes speak of our dead as angels."]

[7. Nono-San (or Sama) is the child-word for the Spirits of the dead, for the Buddhas, and for the Shintô Gods,—Kami. Nono-San wo ogamu,—"to pray to the Nono-San," is the child-phrase for praying to the gods. The spirits of the ancestors become Nono-San,—Kami,—according to Shintô thought.

8 The reference here to Ontaké Sama has a particular interest, but will need some considerable explanation.

   Ontaké, or Mitaké, is the name of a celebrated holy peak in the province of Shinano—a great resort for pilgrims, During the Tokugawa Shôgunate, a priest called Isshin, of the Risshû Buddhists, made a pilgrimage to that mountain. Returning to his native place (Sakamoto-chô, Shitaya, Yedo), he began to preach certain new doctrines, and to make for himself a reputation as a miracle-worker, by virtue of powers said to have been gained during his pilgrimage to Ontaké. The Shôgunate considered him a dangerous person, and banished him to the island of Hachijô, where he remained for some years. Afterwards he was allowed to return to Yedo, and there to preach his new faith,—to which he gave the name of Azuma-Kyô. It was Buddhist teaching in a Shintô disguise,—the deities especially adored by its followers being Okuni-nushi and Sukuna-hikona as Buddhist avatars. In the prayer of the sect called Kaibyaku-Norito it is said:—"The divine nature is immovable (fudô); yet it moves. It is formless, yet manifests itself in forms. This is the Incomprehensible Divine Body. In Heaven and Earth it is called Kami; in all things it is called Spirit; in Man it is called Mind. . . . From this only reality came the heavens, the four oceans, the great whole of the three thousand universes;—from the One Mind emanate three thousands of great thousands of forms." . . .

   In the eleventh year of Bunkwa (1814) a man called Shimoyama Osuké, originally an oil-merchant in Heiyemon-chô, Asakusa, Yedo, organized, on the basis of Isshin's teaching, a religious association named Tomoyé-Ko. It flourished until the overthrow of the Shôgunate, when a law was issued forbidding the teaching of mixed doctrines, and the blending of Shintô with Buddhist religion. Shimoyama Osuké then applied for permission to establish a new Shintô sect, under the name of Mitaké-Kyô,—popularly called Onfaké-Kyô; and the permission was given in the sixth year of Meiji [1873]. Osuké then remodeled the Buddhist sutra Fudô Kyô into a Shintô prayer-book, under the title, Shintô-Fudô-Norito. The sect still flourishes; and one of its chief temples is situated about a mile from my [Hearn's] present residence in Tôkyô.

   "Ontaké San" (or "Sama") is a popular name given to the deities adored by this sect. It really means the Deity dwelling on the peak Mitaké, or Ontaké. But the name is also sometimes applied to the high-priest of the sect, who is supposed to be oracularly inspired by the deity of Ontaké, and to make revelations of truth through the power of the divinity. In the mouth of the boy Katsugorô "Ontaké Sama" means the high-priest of that time [1828], almost certainly Osuké himself,—then chief of the Tomoyé-Kyô).]

9.   Kozô is the name given to a Buddhist acolyte, or a youth studying for the priesthood. But it is also given to errand-boys and little boy-servants sometimes,—perhaps because in former days the heads of little boys were shaved. I think that the meaning in this text is "acolyte."]

10.  In that time the name of the smallest of coins = 1/10 of 1 cent. It was about the same as that now called rin, a copper with a square hole in the middle and bearing Chinese characters.]

11. The cooking-place in a Japanese kitchen. Sometimes the word is translated "kitchen-range," but the kamado is something very different from a Western kitchen-range.

12. Here I think it better to omit a couple of sentences in the original rather too plain for Western taste, yet not without interest. The meaning of the omitted passages is only that even in the womb the child acted with consideration, and according to the rules of filial piety.]


A description of the experience


4.—(Introductory Note by the Priest Teikin.)

   This is the account of a true fact; for it has been written by Matsudaira Kwanzan Sama, who himself went [to Nakano-mura] on the twenty-second day of the third month of this year for the special purpose of inquiring about the matter.

After having obtained a glimpse of Katsugorô, he questioned the boy's grandmother as to every particular; and he wrote down her answers exactly as they were given.

   Afterwards, the said Kwanzan Sama condescended to honor this temple with a visit on the fourteenth day of this fourth month, and with his own august lips told me about his visit to the family of the aforesaid Katsugorô. Furthermore, he vouchsafed me the favor of permitting me to read the before-mentioned writing, on the twentieth day of this same month. And, availing myself of the privilege, I immediately made a copy of the writing.


Facsimile of the priest's kakihan, or private sign-manual, made with the brush.
The twenty-first day of the Fourth Month of the Sixth Year of Bunsei [1823].



   Some time in the eleventh month of the past year, when Katsugorô was playing in the rice-field with his elder sister, Fusa, he asked her,—

   "Elder Sister, where did you come from before you were born into our household?

   Fusa answered him:—

   "How can I know what happened to me before I was born?"

   Katsugorô looked surprised and exclaimed:

   "Then you cannot remember anything that happened before you were born?"

   "Do you remember?" asked Fusa.

   "Indeed I do," replied Katsugorô. "I used to be the son of Kyûbei San of Hodokubo, and my name was then Tôzô—do you not know all that?"

   "Ah!" said Fusa, "I shall tell father and mother about it."

   But Katsugorô at once began to cry, and said:—

   "Please do not tell!—it would not be good to tell father and mother."

   Fusa made answer, after a little while:—

   "Well, this time I shall not tell. But the next time that you do anything naughty, then I will tell."

   After that day whenever a dispute arose between the two, the sister would threaten the brother, saying, "Very well, then—I shall tell that thing to father and mother." At these words the boy would always yield to his sister. This happened many times; and the parents one day overheard Fusa making her threat. Thinking Katsugorô must have been doing something wrong, they desired to know what the matter was, and Fusa, being questioned, told them the truth. Then Genzô and his wife, and Tsuya, the grandmother of Katsugorô, thought it a very strange thing. They called Katsugorô, therefore; and tried, first by coaxing, and then by threatening, to make him tell what he had meant by those words.

   After hesitation, Katsugorô said:—"I will tell you everything. I used to be the son of Kyûbei San of Hodokubo, and the name of my mother then was O-Shidzu San. When I was five years old, Kyûbei San died; and there came in his place a man called Hanshirô San, who loved me very much. But in the following year, when I was six years old, I died of smallpox. In the third year after that I entered mother's honorable womb, and was born again."

   The parents and the grandmother of the boy wondered greatly at hearing this; and they decided to make all possible inquiry as to the man called Hanshirô of Hodokubo. But as they all had to work very hard every day to earn a living, and so could spare but little time for any other matter, they could not at once carry out their intention.

   Now Sei, the mother of Katsugorô, had nightly to suckle her little daughter Tsuna, who was four years old;[1]—and Katsugorô therefore slept with his grandmother, Tsuya. Sometimes he used to talk to her in bed; and one night when he was in a very confiding mood, she persuaded him to tell her what happened at the time when he had died. Then he said:—"Until I was four years old I used to remember everything; but since then I have become more and more forgetful; and now I forget many, many things. But I still remember that I died of smallpox; I remember that I was put into a jar;[2] I remember that I was buried on a hill. There was a hole made in the ground; and the people let the jar drop into that hole.

It fell pon!—I remember that sound well. Then somehow I returned to the house, and I stopped on my own pillow there.[3] In a short time some old man,—looking like a grandfather—came and took me away. I do not know who or what he was. As I walked I went through empty air as if flying. I remember it was neither night nor day as we went: it was always like sunset-time. I did not feel either warm or cold or hungry. We went very far, I think; but still I could hear always, faintly, the voices of people talking at home; and the sound of the Nembutsu[4] being said for me.

I remember also that when the people at home set offerings of hot botamochi[5] before the household shrine [butsudan], I inhaled the vapor of the offerings. . . . Grandmother, never forget to offer warm food to the honorable dead [Hotoké Sama], and do not forget to give to priests—I am sure it is very good to do these things.[6] . . .

After that, I only remember that the old man led me by some roundabout way to this place—I remember we passed the road beyond the village. Then we came here, and he pointed to this house, and said to me:—'Now you must be reborn,—for it is three years since you died. You are to be reborn in that house. The person who will become your grandmother is very kind; so it will be well for you to be conceived and born there.'

After saying this, the old man went away. I remained a little time under the kaki-tree before the entrance of this house. When I heard talking inside: some one said that because father was now earning so little, mother would have to go to service in Yedo. I thought, "I will not go into that house;" and I stopped three days in the garden. On the third day it was decided that, after all, mother would not have to go to Yedo. The same night I passed into the house through a knot-hole in the sliding-shutters;—and after that I stayed for three days beside the kamado.[11] Then I entered mother's honorable womb.[12] . . . I remember that I was born without any pain at all.—Grandmother, you may tell this to father and mother, but please never tell it to anybody else."

The grandmother told Genzô and his wife what Katsugorô had related to her; and after that the boy was not afraid to speak freely


Then I was going to enter with his parents on the subject of his former existence, and would often say to them: "I want to go to Hodokubo. Please let me make a visit to the tomb of Kyûbei San." Genzô thought that Katsugorô, being a strange child, would probably die before long, and that it might therefore be better to make inquiry at once as to whether there really was a man in Hodokubo called Hanshirô. But he did not wish to make the inquiry himself, because for a man to do so [under such circumstances?] would seem inconsiderate or forward. Therefore, instead of going himself to Hodokubo, he asked his mother Tsuya, on the twentieth day of the first mouth of this year, to take her grandson there.

   Tsuya went with Katsugorô to Hodokubo; and when they entered the village she pointed to the nearer dwellings, and asked the boy, "Which house is it?—is it this house or that one?" "No," answered Katsugorô,—"it is further on—much further,"—and he hurried before her. Reaching a certain dwelling at last, he cried, "This is the house!"—and ran in, without waiting for his grandmother. Tsuya followed him in, and asked the people there what was the name of the owner of the house.

"Hanshirô," one of them answered. She asked the name of Hanshirô's wife. "Shidzu," was the reply. Then she asked whether there had ever been a son called Tôzô born in that house. "Yes," was the answer; "but that boy died thirteen years ago, when he was six years old."

   Then for the first time Tsuya was convinced that Katsugorô had spoken the truth; and she could not help shedding tears. She related to the people of the house all that Katsugorô had told her about his remembrance of his former birth. Then Hanshirô and his wife wondered greatly. They caressed Katsugorô and wept; and they remarked that he was much handsomer now than he had been as Tôzô before dying at the age of six. In the mean time, Katsugorô was looking all about; and seeing the roof of a tobacco shop opposite to the house of Hanshirô, he pointed to it, and said:—"That used not to be there." And he also said,—"The tree yonder used not to be there." All this was true. So from the minds of Hanshirô and his wife every doubt departed [ga wo orishi].

 On the same day Tsuya and Katsugorô returned to Tanitsuiri, Nakano-mura. Afterwards Genzô sent his son several times to Hanshirô's house, and allowed him to visit the tomb of Kyûbei his real father in his previous existence.

   Sometimes Katsugorô says:—"I am a Nono-Sama:[7] therefore please be kind to me." Sometimes he also says to his grandmother:—"I think I shall die when I am sixteen; but, as Ontaké Sama [8] has taught us, dying is not a matter to be afraid of." When his parents ask him, "Would you not like to become a priest?" he answers, "I would rather not be a priest."

   The village people do not call him Katsugorô any more; they have nicknamed him "Hodokubo-Kozô" (the Acolyte of Hodokubo).[9] When any one visits the house to see him, he becomes shy at once, and runs to bide himself in the inner apartments. So it is not possible to have any direct conversation with him. I have written down this account exactly as his grandmother gave it to me.

   I asked whether Genzô, his wife, or Tsuya, could any of them remember having done any virtuous deeds. Genzô and his wife said that they had never done anything especially virtuous; but that Tsuya, the grandmother, had always been in the habit of repeating the Nembutsu every morning and evening, and that she never failed to give two mon[10] to any priest or pilgrim who came to the door. But excepting these small matters, she never had done anything which could be called a particularly virtuous act.

(—This is the End of the Relation of the Rebirth of Katsugorô.)


The source of the experience

Chronicle of the Rebirth of Katsugorō

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Being a child