(a Japanese tale)
Once upon a time six noble knights fought the ogres of Japan. They were brave and strong, and before long all the ogres were destroyed. The people celebrated, for ogres had long haunted their cities and towns.
For a while all was peaceful.
And then one evening at twilight, a young woman walked past the Gates of Rashomon, outside the city of Kyoto. That was the last time anyone ever saw her. The next day a young man vanished from that spot at twilight, and the next day a child disappeared at the same time.
Word spread that an ogre haunted the Gates of Rashomon. “The ogre eats his victims,” the people said. Soon no one would walk past the Gates of Rashomon after sunset, and once again the people whispered with trembling voices, “An ogre is in our midst!”
The six knights were eating supper when they learned the news. Watanabe, one of the knights, simply laughed. “Nonsense,” he said. “There can be no ogre at the Gates of Rashomon. We have killed all the ogres of Japan.”
The others were not so certain. “There may be another ogre,” Raiko said. “After all, people have disappeared. If you truly believe there is no ogre, you will go to the Gates of Rashomon to see for yourself, Watanabe.”
Watanabe was proud and did not want his comrades to believe he was afraid. “I shall go,” he said.
He dressed in his suit of armor and buckled on his sword. Then he turned to his fellow knights. “Give me something to prove that I have been to the gates,” he said.
Raiko brought a roll of writing paper, some ink and brushes to the table, and each of the other five knights wrote his name on this paper. Raiko handed the paper to Watanabe and said, “Leave this on the gates. Tomorrow we shall go to see if it is there, and if it is, we shall know that you have been brave enough to conquer the ogre of Rashomon.”
Watanabe took the paper and set off toward the gates. The night was dark, as thick clouds blanketed the stars. Watanabe shivered. The night was cool, and he could see that a storm was brewing. Any ordinary man would have gone home, but Watanabe rode on into the driving rain. After several hours, he reached the gates.
Watanabe saw no one and heard only the rain and wind. He dismounted his horse, attached the paper with his comrades’ names to the gates and turned to ride home. But just as he was ready to ride, a voice called, “Watanabe, I want to see you.”
Watanabe called into the darkness. “Who speaks?” He squinted, trying to see a figure. He thrust his hand this way and that, and touched something the size of a tree trunk, with the feel of a hairy beast. He knew this must be the ogre’s arm.
He looked up. Sure enough, the ogre stood before him, as tall as the gates themselves. His eyes were shiny and opaque, like mirrors, and from his mouth flames as red as blood shot forth.
For hours knight and ogre fought with all their strength, but at last the ogre realized he could not frighten the knight, and he staggered away into the forest, severely wounded.
Watanabe mounted his horse and chased after him, but the ogre was not to be found. Just before dawn, he returned to the Gates of Rashomon. There, in the dawn’s light, he saw the ogre’s arm. So pleased was he with proof of his success that he carried the arm home with him. There, he built a box of teakwood banded with iron, and in it he kept the ogre’s arm.
The people of Kyoto were overjoyed. Once again they felt safe and peaceful, and they honored Watanabe as their hero.
One year later, Watanabe heard a knock on his door and a gentle voice calling, “Please, let me in.”
When the servant opened the door, he saw a respectable old woman. “I’m a nurse,” she said. “I nursed the master of this house when he was but a child. I hoped to see him one last time before I die. I am so proud of him.”
The servant led her to Watanabe, and when the old woman saw the great warrior, she smiled and touched his hands. “Is it true you cut off the ogre’s arm?” she asked. “I had hoped I might see such a treasure.”
“You may not,” Watanabe said. “Ogres are vengeful creatures, and if I open that box, the ogre could appear to take it back.”
“But Watanabe, I am your old nurse, and oh, how I wish to see such a treasure.”
Still Watanabe refused, but the woman begged and wept. Overcome with pity for her, Watanabe took her to his room and closed the door. He slid the box from its hiding place in the wall and held it open for her. She stood over the box for a moment.
And then, she plunged her own thin, withered arm inside and grabbed the giant, hairy arm. “I’ve got my arm back!” she cried, and she was transformed in that moment into the terrible ogre.
In a flash, Watanabe attacked the ogre again. They fought for hours, but at last the ogre, seeing he would never overcome this knight, burst through the roof and disappeared into the mist and clouds.
Watanabe smiled. He knew now the ogre would never return, for he was terrified — not of Watanabe’s strength, but of his courage.
The ogre never did return, and the people of Kyoto always gave thanks to the brave knight who saved their city.