An old man named Takahama lived in a little house behind the cemetery of the temple of Sozanji. He was extremely amiable and generally liked by his neighbors, though most of them considered him to be a little mad. His madness, it would appear, entirely rested upon the fact that he had never married or evinced desire for intimate companionship with women.
One summer day he became very ill, so ill, in fact, that he sent for his sister-in-law and her son. They both came and did all they could to bring comfort during his last hours. While they watched, Takahama fell asleep; but he had no sooner done so than a large white butterfly flew into the room and rested on the old man’s pillow. The young man tried to drive it away with a fan; but it came back three times, as if loath to leave the sufferer.
At last Takahama’s nephew chased it out into the garden, through the gate, and into the cemetery beyond, where it lingered over a woman’s tomb, and then mysteriously disappeared. On examining the tomb the young man found the name “Akiko” written upon it, together with a description narrating how Akiko died when she was eighteen. Though the tomb was covered with moss and must have been erected fifty years previously, the boy saw that it was surrounded with flowers, and that the little water tank had been recently filled.
When the young man returned to the house he found that Takahama had passed away, and he returned to his mother and told her what he had seen in the cemetery.
“Akiko?” murmured his mother. “When your uncle was young he was betrothed to Akiko. She died of consumption shortly before her wedding day. When Akiko left this world your uncle resolved never to marry, and to live ever near her grave. For all these years he has remained faithful to his vow, and kept in his heart all the sweet memories of his one and only love. Every day Takahama went to the cemetery, whether the air was fragrant with summer breeze or thick with falling snow. Every day he went to her grave and prayed for her happiness, swept the tomb and set flowers there. When Takahama was dying, and he could no longer perform his loving task, Akiko came for him. That white butterfly was her sweet and loving soul.”
This story was collected by F. Hadland Davis, and published in Myths and Legends of Japan (London: G. G. Harrap and Company, 1913), pp. 218-219. Retrieved from Internet Archive.org, from the University of Connecticut Libraries: https://archive.org/stream/mythslegendsofja00davi