Amongst the many temples of Wakayama prefecture is one known as Kishu Dojoji. Many hundreds of years ago, it housed a monk by the name of Anchin, a brother of the Emperor Suzyaku.
One day, as he returned to Dojoji after a long journey, he happened to stop at the house of the landlord Kiyotsugu. He had a warm welcome there, and was bidden to spend the night. Anchin's heart yearned for the quiet of the temple and the sound of the evening bells and the soft chanting of the sutras. But dusk was falling fast and he was tired. So Anchin let himself be persuaded by the landlord's words, and retired to his room.
And it was as he sat in meditation in that room that Kiyohime, the landlord's daughter, first saw him. She gazed at him for a long time, and then went to her father and asked him who this stranger was. Her father was in a merry mood and jokingly, he told her, "That is Anchin, the monk of Kishu Dojoji, who will one day be your husband."
Kiyohime heard her father, and she believed him. She left the room, and tiptoed to the bedroom where Anchin now lay asleep. Gently, she climbed into the bed with him.
Anchin woke with a start. "Who are you", he asked.
"I am Kiyohime", she said. "And you are my husband." And she would not heed Anchin's protestations.
But Anchin's heart was not drawn to Kiyohime, nor, if truth be told, did he find her attractive. So in the morning, he bade her farewell, and made to depart for the temple.
"But where shall I go, my husband?", Kiyohime asked him. "How can you leave me?"
"I shall return, Kiyohime", he said. And with those words, he left. Perhaps at the time he did intend to return, for he was not a cruel man. But as time passed and he returned to his life in the temple, he ceased to think of Kiyohime.
In her father's house, Kiyohime waited patiently for the return of her love. Time passed. The seasons changed, and the chrysanthemums in the garden bloomed and faded again, but Anchin did not return. Joy faded to expectation, and expectation to longing, and longing to despair, but Anchin still did not return. Then Kiyohime knew he had forgotten her, and despair gave way to a cold, burning hate, which burned within her till it consumed her body. Still it burned, until it had turned her spirit into a snake. As a snake, her spirit travelled across land and water till it reached Dojoji.
In the temple, Anchin saw the snake coming, and he knew it was Kiyohime, coming to exact vengeance on him. He fled to the great bell of the temple, and sought refuge within it. But the spirit of Kiyohime wound itself around the weeping bell, and burned till it had consumed the bell and all within it. And then it passed away, some say into the river Hidaka that flowed placidly by the temple.
The spirit still did not rest. For four hundred years, Kishu Dojoji remained without a bell. Then a new bell was made for it, and it brought to the temple to be installed. But as it was being brought into the temple, a dancing girl appeared, finely decked. She threw herself at the bell and, to the amazement of all gathered, vanished without a trace, as if swallowed up by the bell. From that moment, the bell did not ring as the bells of temples did, but wailed and howled in a terrible voice. And each time it rung, disaster hit Wakayama. Finally, it could be borne no longer. The bell was taken down, and buried.
It remained buried for two hundred years, until Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered it to be dug out and taken to the shrine Myomanji, where the ashes of Sakyamuni Buddha were enshrined by the Emperor Asoka of India. And there, the sound of the Lotus sutra ceaselessly chanted by the monks of the shrine finally brought rest to the troubled souls of Kiyohime and Anchin. In time, the bell's sounds acquired a compelling beauty, tinged with wisdom and the awareness of dukkha.
And the bell remains in Myomanji, to this day, as a treasure of the temple, along with the ashes of Sakyamuni.
Kiyohime was not a villainess, even in folklore. The concluding words of Koi no tenarai, "The Learning of Love", from the Nagauta cycle "Kyo Kanoko Musume Dojoji" paint a sensitive picture of a woman tormented by her love, and an unfeeling rejection from one to whom she considered herself bound.
You said we would be united, so I waited patiently.
Are all the written vows we exchanged false?
Could it be borne, not knowing your feelings?
My husband, lord and master, I do not know what is in your heart.
I do not know what is in your fickle, fickle heart.
How heavy and soaked with dew are the fragile petals of the cherries.
One brush and the blossoms scatter in this delicate, beautiful landscape.
This a an old Japanese folktale. The story has also inspired poets in every generation, and many literary versions also exist, some of which differ in several details from the version I've told. One of these versions - Shin Musume Dojoji - has been previously noded.