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Botan Dōrō (Peony Lantern)

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

This story is a Japanese ghost story, there are two versions of this story, one is the oldest version and closest to its Chinese origin and the second is a kabuki (theater version)

The oldest version goes like this ...

On the first night of Obon (festival of the dead), a beautiful woman and a young girl holding a peony lantern stroll by the house of the widowed samurai Ogiwara Shinnojo. Ogiwara is instantly smitten with the woman, named Otsuyu, and vows an eternal relationship. From that night onward, the woman and the girl visit at dusk, always leaving before dawn. An elderly neighbor, suspicious of the girl, peeks into his home and finds Ogiwara in bed with a skeleton.

Consulting a Buddhist priest, Ogiwara finds that he is in danger unless he can resist the woman, and he places a protection charm on his house.

The woman is then unable to enter his house but calls him from outside. Finally, unable to resist, Ogiwara goes out to greet her, and is led back to her house, a grave in a temple. In the morning, Ogiwara's dead body is found entwined with the woman's skeleton.

The next version is the kabuki or the theater version;

A young student named Saburo falls in love with a beautiful woman named Otsuyu, the daughter of his father's best friend. They meet secretly, and promise to be married. However, Saburo falls ill, and is unable to see Otsuyu for a long time.

Later, when Saburo recovers and goes to see his love, he is told that Otsuyu has died. He prays for her spirit during the Obon festival, and is surprised to hear the approaching footsteps of two women. When he sees them, they look remarkably like Otsuyu and her maid. It is revealed that her aunt, who opposed the marriage, spread the rumor that Otsuyu had died and told Otsuyu in turn that Saburo had died.

The two lovers, reunited, begin their relationship again in secret. Each night Otsuyu, accompanied by her maid who carries a peony lantern, spends the night with Saburo.

This continues blissfully until one night a servant peek through a hole in the wall in Saburo's bedroom, and sees him having sex with a decaying skeleton, while another skeleton sits in the doorway holding a peony lantern. He reports this to the local Buddhist priest, who locates the graves of Otsuyu and her maid. Taking Saburo there, he convinces him of the truth, and agrees to help Saburo guard his house against the spirits. The priest places ofuda around the house and prays the nenbutsu every night.

The plan works, and Otsuyu and her maid are unable to enter, although they come every night and call out their love to Saburo. Pining for his sweetheart, Saburo's health begins to deteriorate. Saburo's servants, afraid that he will die from heartbreak and leave them without work, remove the ofuda from the house. Otsuyu enters, and again has sex with Saburo.

In the morning, the servants find Saburo dead, his body entwined with Otsuyu's skeleton, with a blissful expression on his face.

This story is such an interesting to unpack, first and let's not joke around much is the necrophilia of the story regardless which version you choose, also how both versions are similar in that the men falls in love with a dead woman.

The earlier version we do not know the woman is dead already in fact we don't learn this until later while the kabuki version which was written after the Meiji restoration, we learn that the woman died.

This is a very classic and loved story I enjoyed this one did you enjoyed it dear reader??

Very well dear reader I bid you good night.

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