Maybe a ghost story doesn’t seem like appropriate content for Mother’s Day, but many people love to point to this story as one of Lafcadio Hearn‘s favorites, seeing as he was seperated from his mother at a very young age.

Of the cemetery Dai-Oji, which is in the street called Nakabaramachi, this story is told-

In Nakabaramachi there is an ameya, or little shop in which midzu-ame is sold—the amber-tinted syrup, made of malt, which is given to children when milk cannot be obtained for them. Every night at a late hour there came to that shop a very pale woman, all in white, to buy one rin worth of midzu-ame. The ame-seller wondered that she was so thin and pale, and often questioned her kindly; but she answered nothing. At last one night he followed her, out of curiosity. She went to the cemetery; and he became afraid and returned.

The next night the woman came again, but bought no midzu-ame, and only beckoned to the man to go with her. He followed her, with friends, into the cemetery. She walked to a certain tomb, and there disappeared; and they heard, under the ground, the crying of a child. Opening the tomb, they saw within it the corpse of the woman who nightly visited the ameya, with a living infant, laughing to see the lantern light, and beside the infant a little cup of midzu-ame. For the mother had been prematurely buried; the child was born in the tomb, and the ghost of the mother had thus provided for it—love being stronger than death.

(“The Chief City of the Province of the Gods”, from Lafcadio Hearn’s “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan,” 1894.)

When I went on Matsue’s Ghost Tour, it wrapped up here at Dai-oji temple, nestled into a neighborhood not far from where I live. The temple has a history as long as the city itself, and it used to be connected to the outer castle moat by waterway, so the samurai living closer to the castle would visit the temple by boat.

On a cheerful, sunny day, the temple sits quietly among the houses, humble and easily unnoticed.

It seems the temple used to be a little more overgrown, providing more places for ghosts to hide. I’m not sure how old these photos are, though.

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There’s a part of me that wishes it were still covered like that, but it makes me wonder what it was like when Lafcadio Hearn lived here over a century ago. There is a street nearby to the temple (the street I think he was referring to within the Nakabaramachi district) with a lot of Showa era buildings and old family businesses so it’s somewhat easy to imagine a midzu-ame vendor around there, but even that wouldn’t be old enough to be accurate to the time Hearn lived here, or even the time this story supposedly took place! It seems there are similar stories to this one that take place in other parts of Japan as well, so it makes me wonder how much claim this temple really has or not to being the source. Whatever the case, this story of motherly love rather than ghastly haunting has staying power, and I don’t really think the details detract from it.