Japanese tale #50 – Eye for eye

eye for eye.jpg

Once upon a time, in old Edo, there was a man named Denshi who ruled a small circus​.

He had various numbers, from dog’s acrobatics to simple smoke and mirrors tricks, yet public was getting more and more scarce every passing day.

One evening, he overheard two young men talking excitedly outside his hut:

– Have you heard about the new haunted house? People say it’s such a great freak show: they even have a ghost! Let’s go check it, I am sure we’re going to love it!

The old Denshi bristled and muttered grumpily:

– So eager for some fake monsters ? People are idiots.

Yet, curiosity lead his feet to the new haunted house. The tent was crowded and a long queue wound all around the area. After hours of waiting, the man finally entered… and gasped.

Seated on a stool, was a single pale silhouette, translucent in the dim light. It was a small child, dressed in a white kimono which had seen better days. And above all, one could not miss that the creature had but only one eye. It picked its nose and yawned.

Denshi had been in the business since his earliest childhood, and he knew how to sniff a con. But he could find no hidden mirror, no make up hints.

– Damn, if it’s a trick, it’s a very good one…

The man was so impressed that, as soon as he got close, he throw questions at the bored one-eyed child.

– Are you for real? Where do you come from? Are they others like you?

The one-eye winked, a sly smile playing on its thin white lips.

– You dummy, my whole village is like me. You people are the one looking strange! If you don’t believe me, visit the northern country and you’ll see!

Denshi did not hesitate: had he just exited the haunted house he ran to his hut and packed his things. Determined to catch his own one-eye ghost, he took the road heading straight up north.

He crossed mountains, and he walked for days and days through fields and forests. Yet, everywhere he asked, farmers looked at him strangely, shrugging:

– One-eye people? Sun must have mess with your head my good sir!

Denshi was starting to lose hope. Each morning, his steps brought him further away from any civilisation. And each morning, he rose a big less eager to hit the road again, his feet weary, his back more and more bent.

One evening, as the sun was setting lazily, he finally lost it and swore bitterly:

– Damn it! It’s enough! That stupid kid has probably just duped me! I’ll just have to return home empty handed!

Angry against the whole world, the man set his camp in the wilderness, and went to sleep.

Something shook Denshi up awake. Opening wide eyes in the dark, the man tried to catch what had him shivering despite the summery night.

Somewhere, children were singing.

Denshi jumped to his feet:

– Kids! It means there is a house nearby!

Blindly, the man man followed the voices in the deep of the night. The sound grew stronger and stronger, until he finally reached a clearing shining under moonlight.

There, sheltered by ancient trees, stood not a single house but a whole village. And just a few feet away from him, four children danced in circle, singing.

They were all ghostly pale and had only one wide eye.

A smile nasty smile rose on Denshi’s face:

– Here you are!

The man silently approached the children. Then, pouncing like a wild beast, he seized two of them by the back of their kimono. And he took off running.

The ghost-children hissed and kicked and tried to bite him. But Denshi only laughed:

– You two are gonna make me rich!

Taken by his vile glee, he never saw the blow come.

When Denshi came back to his senses, he found himself tied up from head to toes. He let out a muffled scream.

Above him, big flat faces, opalescent under the moon, stared at him. All had but one eye, opened wide, unblinking.

A surprised voice said:

– Look! Look! It has two eyes!

A second one echoed:

– Are you for real? Where do you come from? Are they others like you?

All adult ghosts started to talk at once. And, with obvious delight, they brought the panicked kidnapper back to their village.

The next morning, a makeshift stage had been set near the village’s well. There, the ghosts sat a stunned Denshi and one of the child chimed happily:

– Come one, come all! Come see that strange creature! Look closely, it has not one, but two eyes!

And from this day on, the man who had once been carnie talker became a main attraction in the faraway One-eye Country.


As stressed in this tale, street performers were quite common in old Japan. The kind of tent structures evoked here were called misemonogoya and could be anything from traditional circus to haunted houses or sensational “freak show”.

The ghost-child of today’s story is a monster named hitotsume kozo (literally: one eye brat). Mischievous and mostly inoffensive, they love to prank unsuspecting passersby. If some traditions link them to bigger cyclopean creatures (see the Hitotsume-nyudo), they are most often presented as everlasting children – but hey, every kid has to have parents isn’t?

[pictures sources: 1 / 2 ]


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