The opening describes a servant (chuugen) of the hatamoto Endou Saburouzaemon who is kind enough to act as porter to a beautiful young women and is invited to wine and dine with her and her two sisters at a magnificent yashiki (hatamoto house). As it transpires, however, she and her sisters are ghosts (and the food, excrement), leaving the servant departing in some haste upon this discovery. His master investigates and discovers that the yashiki, old and decrepit but once magnificent, was inhabited by a great lord who had took a young country girl to be his concubine. This concubine attracts the ire of the unloved and childless wife and when the concubine has the indiscretion to become with child, the wife has her killed. The girl vowed revenge in the afterlife and, sure enough, the Shuuzen‘s household soon had misfortunes and the yashiki was left in ruins.

Another Shuuzen, recently commanded to move to a different yashiki cleaned out a nearby temple, unknowningly sealing a thief in a chamber underneath the altar. As a result, his horse gained the power of speech, making some inconvenient remarks in public places and putting on airs above a horse’s station. The priest was called for (after the sage, who could only read unhelpful passages in dusty books), the theif discovered and his spirit purged from the horse. By a series of small events this caused Aoyama Shuuzen to pass by the haunted yashiki that Endou Sama had visited and while the spirits that Aoyama Sama encountered were different, the net effect was the same as that of the chuuzen. Aoyama Shuuzen resolved to use this matter to bring himself to the head of the group of samurai that attempted to maintain battle-hardiness by braving the elements, in lieu of actual battles, by acquiring the haunted yashiki (Endou Shuuzen had requested it but was refused).

The story here takes a somewhat unrelated turn and describes how the haunted yashiki came to be in the first place, the result of aid to Tokugawa Ieyasu. And a description of the licentious princess who next occupied it, who waylaid handsome men to satiate her lusts. A particular peddlar inflamed her, but of all the men she used, only he managed to escape because he recognized that he was elevated beyond his station and instead of being arrogant about his prowess, was filled only with concern for his family since he knew his life was short in the normal course of affairs. The tale then progresses to a much more demure princess who was rescued from the seige of Osaka and married off to a lord by the conquerors. Some ronnin, having lost their master in the seige, consider this marraige an affront and attempt to carry of the princess. They are unsuccessful, and Jinnai flees to a remote area to pretend to be a farmer.

Meanwhile, Aoyama Shuzen gets some information out of a women, kills her, and uses the information to become useful to the Shogun. He is appointed to be in charge reducing crime in Edo and takes the haunted yashiki. His method of crime stopping is to take a quota of prisoners and some examples of his justice, which compare him not too unfavorably with Emma-Dai-Ou (a Buddhist equivalent of the devil), are given.

During this time a son of Jinnai, Jinnai Kosaka turns to a life of crime, but before he leaves, he is married to a certain daughter of a family friend and has two children. Caring little for filial piety he determinesd to bring down the current evil government and funds himself by being a highwayman. The most famous Jinnai story is related, whereby he uses a priest as cover to attack a shipment of gold. Despite the fears of the priest he is unharmed. Jinnai later sets himself up as a swordsman sensei, training men for his rebellion. He slips up, though, leaving the doors to his dojo open after a night raid and a tradesmen discoveres his identity. This is related to Aoyama Shuuzen and Jinnai eventually captured. His two daughters were in Edo trying to meet their father, eventually doing so at his execution. One of the daughters, Kiku, being beautiful, was taken into service by Aoyama Shuuzen. She raised the ire of the Wife, not surprisingly, who gave her the task of keeping the 10 plates the Shogun had sent Aoyama for safe-keeping. She broke one of the plates and when the time for counting came, Kiku was blamed and put to death by Aoyama.

Haunting pandemonium ensured in the yashiki. Furthermore, Kiku was married and her samurai husband (and son) came to Edo to find her. He hunts down Aoyama Shuuzen, kills him and then cuts belly. Thus the yashiki continued to be haunted for several hundred years. At last a priest determined to solve the problem and after spending several weeks having his retainers terrified and fleeing from the yashiki, the priest is given the solution. Every night Kiku counts her plates, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and then starts wailing. The priest goes alone one night and after she gets to 9 he shouts “10", so that she would have her tenth plate that she could never have. Although her vengeance had long ago been wrecked on Aoyama Shuuzen’s household, she could not enter nirvana until she had all her plates. The priest having allowed her to do this, the yashiki ceased to be haunted.

Unlike Western ghost stories, the haunting occupies very little of the book, although the causes of the ghosts—murder—seems to be fairly similar. Since the Tokugawa societal system gave samurai men very much power over civilians and women little power, combined with the expectation that men could have extramarital affairs any time it pleased, it seems that young girls unfortunate enough to please the eye of a local lord were an easy source of this sort of murder.

The book is a little confusing with respect to chronology and relationships, being as it seems, a collection of samurai ghost stories concerning this particular yashiki all bundled into one coherent story. It appears to be a fairly direct translation of Japanese, which while it sometimes aids in the confusion, does impart a strong Japanese flavor more difficult to achieve in a smoother translation. In particular, the self-effacing, third person and passive voice sentences are most notable. Although the book does not flow very well, it has a large vocabulary, a very fitting tone, and has a nice subtle way of description. It is a nice collection and definitely gives a strong flavor of the genre.
Review: 8.9
As far as a strictly English-language tale this probably ranks about a 7 or 8 since it really does not flow terribly well. However, the adherence to Japanese flavor, the subtlety, and the fact that these are Japanese stories, not Western stories, makes this book definitely worth reading, both for the stories and for the cultural elements that can be gleaned.