Blind Hoichi, the angel-faced wandering minstrel, came to a small fishing village off Akamagaseki, facing the straits of Shimoneseki channel. Five hundred years ago, it was the site of the last of the great battles between the Heike and the Genji for the control of the empire. The grandeur of the Heike clan finally came to a fateful end in these waters. The deep sea, Dan-no-Ura, became the burial ground of the entire Heike clan and local legend whispers that the area is haunted by the ghosts of the Heike.
The local Buddhist priest, a cultured man exiled for past indiscretions, takes Hoichi under his wing and installs him in the temple annex. Hoichi's skill with the lute is so refined and intricate that a party of gentry from the capital, used to the brash, ostentatious music of the day, are unable to appreciate his finesse with the lute and his exquisite vocals.
One evening, a samurai summons Hoichi to play for his mistress. Too frightened to refuse, Hoichi accompanies the man to a nearby opulent mansion, though Hoichi has no recollection of such a building in the area. Hoichi's rendition of the Battle of Dan-no-Ura this night is superb and it is as if they are actually there in the midst of the final battle. Blind Hoichi's crescendos are so powerful that they reduce the assembled lords and ladies to tears and spirited wails of appreciation.
Once again the samurai comes in the night to summon Hoichi and after his performance he is congratulated. The mistress, obviously of royal blood, commands Hoichi to open his eyes. Hoichi can see! Light has come into his eyes and the rich opulence of the palace overwhelms him. But as soon as he is escorted off the grounds, blindness returns.
Hoichi has fallen deeply in love with the lady and her image fills his every waking moment. The nightly sojourns are somehow sapping the very spirit from him and his health deteriorates rapidly. In spite of this, Hoichi longs for the chance to see again and be in the arms of the beautiful lady. Finally, the priest becomes suspicious and discovers Hoichi's nightly destination. Instead of a grand palace filled with laughter and song, the priest can see the reality of a graveyard filled with the ghosts of the Heike in various stages of decay. No priestess this one. She is a rotting carcass crawling with sea vermin and just as she bends to kiss Hoichi, the priest and his aides rescue the besotted musician.
The worldy priest knows how to fight these evil demons and sets about writing particularly efficacious sutras onto every inch of Hoichi's body. When he is next summoned, the magical charms of the sutras will render him invisible.
The fateful night comes and the lady herself arrives at the temple in search of Hoichi. Frantically she searches the temple grounds for her lover, until finally she sees, there on the veranda, a pair of ears suspended in space. The priest in his haste has missed that part of Hoichi's anatomy. The lady, in a passionate rage at being spurned, rips the very ears from Hoichi's head, leaving bloody stumps in their place.
Thereafter, Hoichi becomes known as Hoichi the Earless and his fame as the musician who stirred the very souls of the dead spreads throughout the land.
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