The Botan Dōrō or Tales of the Peony Lantern is a ghost story told since the Ming dynasty in China to today. Most popular through the Kaidan theater plays, it is now one of Japan’s most well known ghost stories.

Another dark, yet poetic love story of a ghost. The Botan Dōrō, or, the peony lantern was a story that became popular in Japan during the 17th century in the Edo era. It was really a Chinese tale, but the Japanese adapted it as their own with the writer Asai Ryoi.

The story is set during Obon, a three day festival of the dead in the late summer, and the living pays tribute to their ancestors. Kaidan (ghost stories) was immensely popular during this era, especially during Obon.

The Story

A long time ago in the Nezu district of Tokyo, the first night of Obon was upon them. This is when the spirits are welcomed back into our world and guided home, a man named Ogiwara was out walking. In some versions he is a student, in others, he is a widowed samurai. He noticed a beautiful woman carrying a peony lantern by his house.

Her name was Otsuyu. Over the festival the two fell more and more in love in the light by the lantern. And every night she came back to him.

A neighbor however was growing worried for the young man. One night he visited the boy, peeping through the window. There he saw the man in the arms, not of a young and beautiful woman, but a skeleton.

Almost fainting of shook, he got on his way, running to get a Buddhist priest to help the man. When the priest and the neighbor came the following day, they told the man about this and decided to throw a protective spell over the house. Not really believing until he saw it with his own eyes, he waited to the following night.

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When Otsuyu together with her servant came to the door crying, banging on the door, he understood that it was all true. She was indeed dead. She reminded him again and again for their love for each other.

The mans health grew worse and worse, he only felt sorrow and a longing for the thing they had. One night he couldn’t resist his longing anymore. He lifted the protection charm and let them in.

When the neighbor once again came to check on him, there was not only one dead person in the room, but two. His soul taken away at the end of the Obon festival, back to the spirit world.

Another Haunted Play?

The story was based on the Chinese book Jiandeng Xinhua (New Tales Under the Lamplight), a collection of ghost stories from the Ming Dynasty (1378), telling of Karma and Buddhist traditions.

But just as in the Kaidan theater play of Yotsuya Kaidan, there is said to be a curse on the ones playing the parts. This is from an events in 1919 when the play was set up in the Imperial Theater. The actresses playing Otsuyu and her maid both became sick and died withing a week of each other.

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