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Sunday, Oct. 31, 1999

JAPAN LITE

Jed and Ted's spine-tingling fishing adventure


In Japan, the heat of the summer is the time for telling ghost stories. In the United States, we wait for Halloween. One of the most famous ghost stories is "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a story by Washington Irving that tells the tale of the headless horseman who rides his horse through the night.

Japan has its famous ghost stories too. So light the bonfire and break out the marshmallows while I tell you a ghost story from Shiraishi Island.

One summer night, two men were fishing in their boats. They were near the shore when one man saw a light coming down the mountain. He looked very closely. It was a "hitodama," (a head engulfed in flames). Soon another ball of light rolled down the mountain and the two heads fought each other while hovering over the trees. The fishermen looked closer and realized the two heads were samurai heads: Heike and Genji warriors. Later, a tomb was found in that same place on the mountain. The end.

I think everybody will agree that this is a nice story. But for Americans it's not scary enough to be a ghost story. Allow me the liberty of Americanizing this story.

One Halloween night, Jed and Ted were fishing in their boats. They were near the shore when Jed saw a fireball coming down the mountain. It was a flaming head!

Jed: "A Heike warrior's head!" Ted: "Look, another head is rolling down the mountain. It's a Genji warrior." Jed: "Gross! They're gouging out each other's eyes with their sharp tongues!" Ted: "Wait! I hear something coming." Jed: "Look, there's a horse in the sea!" Ted: "A horse?" Jed: "It's coming after us!" Ted: "Quick, let's get out of here."

Ted tried to start the motor but the motor failed him. He tried again and again, pumping the gas and pulling the clutch. The motor spit and spat and finally started.

Jed: "The horse is right behind us. Gun it!"

Ted gunned it but the horse gained speed and was still very close. It was big and black with a wild mane and large nostrils that flared and snorted.

Jed: "Hey, I recognize that horse. I've seen him in history books." Ted: "That's ridiculous. How can you recognize a horse?" Jed: Really. "It's the horse of the Heike warrior, Tomomori. The loyal horse who saved his master by carrying him out to sea away from the Genji warriors." Ted: "Didn't Tomomori commit suicide by jumping into the sea after losing the battle against the Genji at Danno'ura?" Jed: "Yes." Ted: "And didn't the Genji cut off his son's head?" Jed: "My God, we're in the middle of an ancient historical spat!"

Jed and Ted could see something on top of the horse glimmering in the moonlight. Suddenly, the hitodama appeared next to the horse. It was the son of Tomomori. From the light of the hitodama, they could now see a sword, with a dark figure mounted on top of the horse. But the figure had no head!

Ted: "It's the headless swordsman!" Jed: "HELP! Can't this boat go any faster? If we could just get back to Shiraishi Island port, we'd be safe. "

But the horse was more powerful than the boat and the headless swordsman was getting closer and closer. Ted had an idea. He threw the fishing nets overboard.

But the horse was too powerful to let the nets hinder him. He swam right over the nets, all the while gaining speed.

Jed and Ted could see the lighthouse. Ted, sitting next to the motor at the back of the boat, could feel the horse's hot breath on the back of his hands at the tiller. The horse's hot breath soon faded and was replaced by the edge of a cold, steel blade.

Ted was ready to pass out from fear when the boat entered the port. The blade disappeared and Jed and Ted looked behind them. The horse had stopped at the lighthouse and the hitodama hovered close by. Then the headless swordsman pierced the hitodama with his sword and flung it with great speed at the two fishermen. The hitodama looked like a giant jack-o-lantern coming toward them. The fishermen were so stunned, they were unable to react and the hitodama hit them on their heads!

The next morning, the people of Shiraishi Island found the boat in the port with a shattered jack-o-lantern pumpkin strewn about it. The fishermen's net had washed ashore, torn to smithereens by some strange but powerful sea beast. The fishermen themselves were never found.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com



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