Here is a tale presumably recollecting the actual experiences of author Lafcadio Hearn's during his life in Japan. It portrays a very mundane aspect of daily life in his village which becomes to vehicle for a depth of insight into common traditional religious and superstitious intuitions. Though barely mentioned, the undeniable backbone of this tale is a mother's love and prayer for her deceased child. Look carefully and you will see it. Also here is the comforting Buddhist (not Shinto) notion of reincarnation. Lastly and perhaps most intriguing is this tale's implicit yet wholly indescript doctrine regarding the spiritual power of a grave site. This last aspect is the type of common superstition which is rarely written down or formally declared yet somehow lives eternally through the generations of a people group.
From Lafcadio Hearn's classic Kwaidan, 1904.
His name was Riki (?), signifying Strength; but the people called him Riki-the-Simple, or Riki-the-Fool,-- "Riki-Baka," (???) -- because he had been born into perpetual childhood. For the same reason they were kind to him,-- even when he set a house on fire by putting a lighted match to a mosquito-curtain, and clapped his hands for joy to see the blaze. At sixteen years he was a tall, strong lad; but in mind he remained always at the happy age of two, and therefore continued to play with very small children. The bigger children of the neighborhood, from four to seven years old, did not care to play with him, because he could not learn their songs and games. His favorite toy was a broomstick, which he used as a hobby-horse; and for hours at a time he would ride on that broomstick, up and down the slope in front of my house, with amazing peals of laughter. But at last he became troublesome by reason of his noise; and I had to tell him that he must find another playground. He bowed submissively, and then went off,-- sorrowfully trailing his broomstick behind him. Gentle at all times, and perfectly harmless if allowed no chance to play with fire, he seldom gave anybody cause for complaint. His relation to the life of our street was scarcely more than that of a dog or a chicken; and when he finally disappeared, I did not miss him. Months and months passed by before anything happened to remind me of Riki.
"What has become of Riki?" I then asked the old woodcutter who supplies our neighborhood with fuel. I remembered that Riki had often helped him to carry his bundles.
"Riki-Baka?" answered the old man. "Ah, Riki is dead -- poor fellow!... Yes, he died nearly a year ago, very suddenly; the doctors said that he had some disease of the brain. And there is a strange story now about that poor Riki.
"When Riki died, his mother wrote his name, 'Riki-Baka,' in the palm of his left hand,-- putting 'Riki' (?) in the Chinese character, and 'Baka' (??) in kana. And she repeated many prayers for him,-- prayers that he might be reborn into some more happy condition.
"Now, about three months ago, in the honorable residence of Nanigashi-Sama in Kojimachi, a boy was born with characters on the palm of his left hand; and the characters were quite plain to read,-- 'RIKI-BAKA'!
"So the people of that house knew that the birth must have happened in answer to somebody's prayer; and they caused inquiry to be made everywhere. At least a vegetable-seller brought word to them that there used to be a simple lad, called Riki-Baka, living in the Ushigome quarter, and that he had died during the last autumn; and they sent two men-servants to look for the mother of Riki.
"Those servants found the mother of Riki, and told her what had happened; and she was glad exceedingly -- for that Nanigashi house is a very rich and famous house. But the servants said that the family of Nanigashi-Sama were very angry about the word 'Baka' on the child's hand. 'And where is your Riki buried?' the servants asked. 'He is buried in the cemetery of Zendoji,' she told them. 'Please to give us some of the clay of his grave,' they requested.
"So she went with them to the temple Zendoji, and showed them Riki's grave; and they took some of the grave-clay away with them, wrapped up in a furoshiki.... They gave Riki's mother some money,-- ten yen."...
"But what did they want with that clay?" I inquired.
"Well," the old man answered, "you know that it would not do to let the child grow up with that name on his hand. And there is no other means of removing characters that come in that way upon the body of a child: you must rub the skin with clay taken from the grave of the body of the former birth."...