Once upon a time, lived a poor child named Hikoichi.
In the village, people whispered that Hikoichi’s family only wealth was a kasabake, a living umbrella that naturally opened when it was raining, and magically closed itself when sun came back.
The rumor swelled and spread, and finally reached the ears of the local Lord.
– Well, well. If such an umbrella exists, it cannot be owned by mere peasants!
The Lord sent his men to Hikoichi’s house. But the boy only answered:
– This umbrella is our heirloom. Its part of the family as much as my sisters and I. You maybe a Lord, but you are not part of our family!
This simple message only increased the Lord’s desire to own such a curiosity.
One day, he summoned Hikoichi to the castle and said:
– Boy, I understand you cherish this umbrella. But your family surely need something to ease its days. Money, goods, just tell me: what is your price?
Hikoichi stood silent for a long moment, the living umbrella held close to his heart. He slowly gazed upon the magnificent audience room then, he whispered:
– Maybe you are right. Our umbrella might prefer living in such an amazing castle instead of our poor house…
The boy had not finished his sentence that a gold purse was placed in his hands and the umbrella taken from him. He returned home with his head low and a heavy heart .
At the castle, the Lord was eager to see the magical umbrella came to live. Yet, no clouds gathered in the sky. Sun kept happily shining, days after days, and moon kept glittering bright, nights after nights.
The noble man was getting more and more frustrated.
Then, a couple weeks later, sky finally darkened and thunder rumbled quietly in the distance.
– Rain! At last!
The Lord had his servants set the living umbrella in the gardens. Then the whole household settled on the patio and waited with bated breath.
Under the shower, the umbrella stood still.
– Well, maybe light rain isn’t enough?
But shower turned to storm, light drizzle becoming heavy drops and the umbrella still did not move.
The Lord angrily lashed out:
– Bring my this little liar!
Guards returned with a very frightened Hikoichi.
– See that rain boy? Well, you umbrella did not open. Explain yourself!
Hikoichi looked at the poor object which stood lonely under the pouring sky.
– Such a dreadful weather… The umbrella should be wide open…
The boy went to the gardens. Soon he was drenched to the bones. The Lord and his house watched him gently take the umbrella in his arms.
The boy suddenly wailed.
– How could you!
The rain could not masked the tears falling on his cheeks. He ran to the Lord and tried to kick him.
– How could you let it die!
The Lord was abashed:
-Wh… what do you mean?
– I thought castle life will bring it joy! But, you let it starve!
– Starve? But how could have we know this object needed to eat?
– It was a living umbrella. You too would die if not properly fed!
Hikoichi dropped to his knees, still cradling the umbrella:
– My poor friend! Forgive me, forgive me!
He threw a teary glance at the whole household:
– Murderers! I hope a that at least you’ll give it a proper funeral…
And the Lord and his servants had nothing to reply.
Kasabake (or kasa obake, “haunted umbrella”) are very popular Japanese monsters nowadays mostly represented with one eye, one foot and a wide smile or sticking tongue. Those cheeky youkai are super popular and found in many movies, anime and manga (Shigeru Mizuki called them the “stars of Edo’s youkai”).
In this (rather sad) story, the kasabake is a perfect example of tsukumogami, an everyday object so old it has become self aware. It is a different concept than tsukimono (object possessed by something else like in my other tale “The Dancer’s Fan”).
Kasabake and others tsukumogami can be seen in the movie SHORT PEACE I talked about one year ago on my tumblr.