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   Chapter 5 ROKURO-KUBI

The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 2636

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The etymological meaning of Rokuro-Kubi can scarcely be indicated by any English rendering. The term rokuro is indifferently used to designate many revolving objects-objects as dissimilar as a pulley, a capstan, a windlass, a turning lathe, and a potter's wheel. Such renderings of Rokuro-Kubi as "Whirling-Neck" and "Rotating-Neck" are unsatisfactory;-for the idea which the term suggests to Japanese fancy is that of a neck which revolves, and lengthens or retracts according to the direction of the revolution.... As for the ghostly meaning of the expression, a Rokuro-Kubi is either (1) a person whose neck lengthens prodigiously during sleep, so that the head can wander about in all directions, seeking what it may devour, or (2) a person able to detach his or her head completely from the body, and to rejoin it to the neck afterwards. (About this last mentioned variety of Rokuro-Kubi there is a curious story in my "Kwaidan," translated from the Japanese.) In Chinese mythology the being whose neck is so constructed as to allow of the head being completely detached belongs to a special class; but in Japanese folk-tale this distinction is not always maintained. One of the bad habits attributed to the Rokuro-Kubi is that of drinking the oil in night-lamps. In Japanese pictures the Rokuro-Kubi is usually d

epicted as a woman; and old books tell us that a woman might become a Rokuro-Kubi without knowing it,-much as a somnambulist walks about while asleep, without being aware of the fact.... The following verses about the Rokuro-Kubi have been selected from a group of twenty in the Kyōka Hyaku-Monogatari:-

Nemidaré no

Nagaki kami woba

Furi-wakété,

Chi hiro ni nobasu

Rokuro-Kubi kana!

[Oh!... Shaking loose her long hair disheveled by sleep, the Rokuro-Kubi stretches her neck to the length of a thousand fathoms!]

"Atama naki

Bakémono nari"-to

Rokuro-Kubi,

Mité odorokan

Onoga karada we.

[Will not the Rokuro-Kubi, viewing with astonishment her own body (left behind) cry out, "Oh, what a headless goblin have you become!"]

Tsuka-no-ma ni

Hari we tsutawaru,

Rokuro-Kubi

Kéta-kéta warau-

Kao no kowasa yo!

[Swiftly gliding along the roof-beam (and among the props of the roof), the Rokuro-Kubi laughs with the sound of "kéta-kéta"-oh! the fearfulness of her face!34]

Roku shaku no

Byōbu ni nobiru

Rokuro-Kubi

Mité wa, go shaku no

Mi wo chijimi-kéri!

[Beholding the Rokuro-Kubi rise up above the six-foot screen, any five-foot person would have become shortened by fear (or, "the stature of any person five feet high would have been diminished").35]

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