Chin Chin Kobokama by Lafcadio Hearn
Once there was a little girl who was very pretty, but also very
lazy. Her parents were rich, and had a great many servants; and these
servants were very fond of the little girl, and did everything for
her which she ought to have been able to do for herself. Perhaps this
was what made her so lazy. When she grew up into a beautiful woman,
she still remained lazy; but as the servants always dressed and
undressed her, and arranged her hair, she looked very charming, and
nobody thought about her faults.
At last she was married to a brave warrior, and went away with him
to live in another house where there were but few servants. She was
sorry not to have as many servants as she had had at home, because
she was obliged to do several things for herself, which other folks
had always done for her. It was such trouble to her to dress herself,
and take care of her own clothes, and keep herself looking neat and
pretty to please her husband. But as he was a warrior, and often had
to be far away from home with the army, she could sometimes be just
as lazy as she wished. Her husband's parents were very old and
good-natured, and never scolded her.
Well, one night while her hushand was away with the army, she was
awakened by queer little noises in her room. By the light of a big
paper-lantern she could see very well; and she saw strange things.
Hundreds of little men, dressed just like Japanese warriors, but
only about one inch high, were dancing all around her pillow. They
wore the same kind of dress her husband wore on
holidays,--(Kamishimo, a long robe with square shoulders),--and their
hair was tied up in knots, and each wore two tiny swords. They all
looked at her as they danced, and laughed, and they all sang the same
song, over and over again,--
Ya ton ton!"--
Which meant:--"We are the Chin-chin Kobakama:--he hour is
late;--Sleep, honorable noble darling!"
The words seemed very polite; but she soon saw that the little men
were only making cruel fun of her. They also made ugly faces at
She tried to catch some of them; but they jumped about so quickly
that she could not. Then she tried to drive them away; but they would
not go, and they never stopped singing "Chin-chin Kobakama, ... ."
and laughing at her. Then she knew they were little fairies, and
became so frightened that she could not even cry out. They danced
around her until morning;--then they all vanished suddenly.
She was ashamed to tell anybody what had happened--because, as she
was the wife of a warrior, she did not wish anybody to know how
frightened she had been.
Next night, again the little men came and danced, and they came
also the night after that, and every night--always at the same hour,
which the old Japanese used to call the "Hour of the Ox:" that is,
about two o'clock in the morning by our time. At last she became very
sick, through want of sleep and through fright. But the little men
would not leave her alone.
When her husband came back home, he was very sorry to find her
sick in bed. At first she was afraid to tell him what had made her
ill, for fear that he would laugh at her. But he was so kind, and
coaxed her so gently, hat after a while she told him what happened
He did not laugh at her at all, but looked very serious for a
time. Then he asked:--"At what time do they come?" She
ansvered:--"Always at the same hour--the 'Hour of the Ox."
"Very well," said her husband,--"to-night I shall hide and watch
for them. Do not be frightened."
So that night the warrior hid himself in a closet in the sleeping
room, and kept watch through a chink between the sliding doors.
He waited and watched until the "Hour of the Ox." Then, all at
once, the little men came up through the mats, and began their dance
and their song:--
They looked so queer, and danced in such a funny way, that the
warrior could scarcely keep from laughing. But he saw his young
wife's frightened face; and then remembering that nearly all Japanese
ghosts and goblins are afraid of a sword, he drew his blade, and
rushed out of the closet, and struck at the little dancers.
Immediately they all turned into--what do you think?
There were no more little warriors--only a lot of old toothpicks
scattered over the mats.
The young wife had been too lazy to put her toothpicks away
properly; and every day, after having used a new toothpick, she would
stick it down between the mats on the floor, to get rid of it. So the
little fairies who take care of the floor-mats became angry with her,
and tormented her.
Her mother one night sat up to watch, and saw them, and struck at
them,--and they all turned into plumstones! So the naughtiness of
that little girl was found out. After that she became a very good
There is also a story told about a lazy little girl, who used to
eat plums, and afterward hide the plum-stones between the flor-mats.
For a long time she was able to do this without being found out. But
at last the fairies got angry and punished her.
For every night, tiny, tiny women--all wearing bright red robes
with very long sleves,--rose up from the floor at the same hour, and
danced, and made faces at her and prevented her from sleeping.
Her husband scolded her, and she was so ashamed that she did not
know what to do. A servant was called, and the toothpicks were taken
away and burned. After that the little men never came back again.