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   Chapter 2 RIKOMBYō

The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 3704

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The term Rikombyō is composed with the word rikon, signifying a "shade," "ghost," or "spectre," and the word byō, signifying "sickness," "disease." An almost literal rendering would be "ghost-sickness." In Japanese-English dictionaries you will find the meaning of Rikombyō given as "hypochondria;" and doctors really use the term in this modern sense. But the ancient meaning was a disorder of the mind which produced a Double; and there is a whole strange literature about this weird disease. It used to be supposed, both in China and Japan, that under the influence of intense grief or longing, caused by love, the spirit of the suffering person would create a Double. Thus the victim of Rikombyō would appear to have two bodies, exactly alike; and one of these bodies would go to join the absent beloved, while the other remained at home. (In my "Exotics and Retrospectives," under the title "A Question in the Zen Texts," the reader will find a typical Chinese story on the subject,-the story of the girl Ts'ing.) Some form of the primitive belief in doubles and wraiths probably exists in every part of the world; but this Far Eastern variety is of peculiar interest because the double is supposed to be caused by love, and the subjects of the affliction to belong to the gentler sex.... The term Rikombyō seems to be applied to the apparition as well as to the mental disorder supposed to produce the apparition: it signifies "doppelg?nger" as well as "ghost-disease."

* * *

-With these necessary explanations, the quality of the following kyōka can be understood. A picture which appears in the Kyōka Hyaku-Monogatari shows a maid-servant anxious to offer a cup of tea to her mistress,-a victim of the "ghost-sickness." The servant cannot distinguish between the original and the apparitional shapes before her; and the difficulties of th

e situation are suggested in the first of the kyōka which I have translated:-

Ko-ya, soré to?

Ayamé mo wakanu


Izuré we tsuma to

Hiku zo wazuraü!

[Which one is this?-which one is that? Between the two shapes of the Rikombyō it is not possible to distinguish. To find out which is the real wife-that will be an affliction of spirit indeed!]

Futatsu naki

Inochi nagara mo

Kakéga? no

Karada no miyuru-

Kage no wazurai!

[Two lives there certainly are not;-nevertheless an extra body is visible, by reason of the Shadow-Sickness.]

Naga-tabi no

Oto we shita?té

Mi futatsu ni

Naru wa onna no

Sāru rikombyō.

[Yearning after her far-journeying husband, the woman has thus become two bodies, by reason of her ghostly sickness.]

Miru kagé mo

Naki wazurai no


Omoi no hoka ni

Futatsu miru kagé!

[Though (it was said that), because of her ghostly sickness, there was not even a shadow of her left to be seen,-yet, contrary to expectation, there are two shadows of her to be seen!28]


Hito ni kakushité


Omoté y d?asanu

Kagé no wazurai.

[Afflicted with the Rikombyō, she hides away from people in the back room, and never approaches the front of the house,-because of her Shadow-disease.29]

Mi wa koko ni;

Tama wa otoko ni

So?né suru;-

Kokoro mo shiraga

Haha ga kaihō.

[Here her body lies; but her soul is far away, asleep in the arms of a man;-and the white-haired mother, little knowing her daughter's heart, is nursing (only the body).30]


Futatsu no sugata

Misénuru wa,

Awasé-kagami no

Kagé no wazurai.

[If, when seated before her toilet-stand, she sees two faces reflected in her mirror,-that might be caused by the mirror doubling itself under the influence of the Shadow-Sickness.31]

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