"The Inn of Lost Time" by Lensey Namioka
I'm trying to find a summary online (all I've found so far is an online copy), but there's a framing device of a man telling stories to children, including one supposedly involving himself.
It happened about seven years ago, when I was a green, inexperienced youngster not quite eighteen years old.
But I had had a good training in arms, and I was able to get a job as a bodyguard for a wealthy merchant from
We followed our noses. We had to leave the well-traveled highway and take a narrow, winding footpath. But the
mouth-watering smell of the rice and the vision of fluffy, freshly aired cotton quilts drew us on.
The old woman’s next words confirmed my fears. “I recognize you now! You are two of the lost guests from our
inn! The other lost ones I don’t remember so well, but I remember you because your disappearance made me so
sad. Such a handsome youth, I thought; what a pity that he should have gone the way of the others!”
A high wail came from Tokubei, who began to keen and rock.
“There was a case of one returning guest who consulted the priestess at our local shrine,” said the man. “She
went into a trance and revealed that there was an evil spirit dwelling in the bamboo grove here. This spirit would
put unwary travelers into a long, unnatural sleep. They would wake up twenty, thirty, or even fifty years later.”
“The priestess promised to make a spell that would undo the work of the evil spirit,” said the man. “But she
demanded a large sum of money, for she said that she had to burn some very rare and costly incense before she
could begin the spell.”
And the purpose of the hoax? To make Tokubei send for fifty pieces of gold, of course. It was clever of the man
to accuse the shrine priestess of fraud and pretend reluctance to let Tokubei send his message.
I saw it mentioned under Folklore at the TV Tropes entry for Faked Rip Van Winkle, which mentioned the detail of six fingers on one hand (both on the young girl and old crone), so I searched for
japanese story samurai "six fingers". The samurai tie is that the innkeeper is a ronin, a former samurai, and that the teller is Zenta, one of a pair of wandering ronin, with Matsuzo, both characters in a mystery series by Lensey. At the end of the story, it is revealed that they are in that same house, with the family having given up the scam.
It may be an adaptation of an older piece of Japanese folklore, but I haven't found any proof of that yet.