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Tales of Old Japan by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford

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Formerly Second Secretary to the British Legation in Japan

With Illustrations Drawn and Cut on Wood by Japanese Artists




In the Introduction to the story of the Forty-seven Ronins, I have
said almost as much as is needful by way of preface to my stories.

Those of my readers who are most capable of pointing out the many
shortcomings and faults of my work, will also be the most indulgent
towards me; for any one who has been in Japan, and studied Japanese,
knows the great difficulties by which the learner is beset.

For the illustrations, at least, I feel that I need make no apology.
Drawn, in the first instance, by one Odake, an artist in my employ,
they were cut on wood by a famous wood-engraver at Yedo, and are
therefore genuine specimens of Japanese art. Messrs. Dalziel, on
examining the wood blocks, pointed out to me, as an interesting fact,
that the lines are cut with the grain of the wood, after the manner of
Albert Duerer and some of the old German masters,--a process which has
been abandoned by modern European wood-engravers.

It will be noticed that very little allusion is made in these Tales to
the Emperor and his Court. Although I searched diligently, I was able
to find no story in which they played a conspicuous part.

Another class to which no allusion is made is that of the Goshi. The
Goshi are a kind of yeomen, or bonnet-lairds, as they would be called
over the border, living on their own land, and owning no allegiance to
any feudal lord. Their rank is inferior to that of the Samurai, or men
of the military class, between whom and the peasantry they hold a
middle place. Like the Samurai, they wear two swords, and are in many
cases prosperous and wealthy men claiming a descent more ancient than
that of many of the feudal Princes. A large number of them are
enrolled among the Emperor's body-guard; and these have played a
conspicuous part in the recent political changes in Japan, as the most
conservative and anti-foreign element in the nation.

With these exceptions, I think that all classes are fairly
represented in my stories.

The feudal system has passed away like a dissolving view before the
eyes of those who have lived in Japan during the last few years. But
when they arrived there it was in full force, and there is not an
incident narrated in the following pages, however strange it may
appear to Europeans, for the possibility and probability of which
those most competent to judge will not vouch. Nor, as many a recent
event can prove, have heroism, chivalry, and devotion gone out of the
land altogether. We may deplore and inveigh against the Yamato
Damashi, or Spirit of Old Japan, which still breathes in the soul of
the Samurai, but we cannot withhold our admiration from the
self-sacrifices which men will still make for the love of their

The first two of the Tales have already appeared in the _Fortnightly
Review,_ and two of the Sermons, with a portion of the Appendix on the
subject of the Hara-Kiri, in the pages of the _Cornhill Magazine_. I
have to thank the editors of those periodicals for permission to
reprint them here.

LONDON, January 7, 1871





















The books which have been written of late years about Japan have
either been compiled from official records, or have contained the
sketchy impressions of passing travellers. Of the inner life of the
Japanese the world at large knows but little: their religion, their
superstitions, their ways of thought, the hidden springs by which they
move--all these are as yet mysteries. Nor is this to be wondered at.
The first Western men who came in contact with Japan--I am speaking
not of the old Dutch and Portuguese traders and priests, but of the
diplomatists and merchants of eleven years ago--met with a cold
reception. Above all things, the native Government threw obstacles in
the way of any inquiry into their language, literature, and history.
The fact was that the Tycoon's Government--with whom alone, so long as
the Mikado remained in seclusion in his sacred capital at Kioto, any
relations were maintained--knew that the Imperial purple with which
they sought to invest their chief must quickly fade before the strong
sunlight which would be brought upon it so soon as there should be
European linguists capable of examining their books and records. No
opportunity was lost of throwing dust in the eyes of the new-comers,
whom, even in the most trifling details, it was the official policy to
lead astray. Now, however, there is no cause for concealment; the _Roi
Faineant_ has shaken off his sloth, and his _Maire du Palais_,
together, and an intelligible Government, which need not fear scrutiny
from abroad, is the result: the records of the country being but so
many proofs of the Mikado's title to power, there is no reason for
keeping up any show of mystery. The path of inquiry is open to all;
and although there is yet much to be learnt, some knowledge has been
attained, in which it may interest those who stay at home to share.

The recent revolution in Japan has wrought changes social as well as
political; and it may be that when, in addition to the advance which
has already been made, railways and telegraphs shall have connected
the principal points of the Land of Sunrise, the old Japanese, such
as he was and had been for centuries when we found him eleven short
years ago, will have become extinct. It has appeared to me that no
better means could be chosen of preserving a record of a curious and
fast disappearing civilization than the translation of some of the
most interesting national legends and histories, together with other
specimens of literature bearing upon the same subject. Thus the
Japanese may tell their own tale, their translator only adding here
and there a few words of heading or tag to a chapter, where an
explanation or amplification may seem necessary. I fear that the long
and hard names will often make my tales tedious reading, but I believe
that those who will bear with the difficulty will learn more of the
character of the Japanese people than by skimming over descriptions of
travel and adventure, however brilliant. The lord and his retainer,
the warrior and the priest, the humble artisan and the despised Eta or
pariah, each in his turn will become a leading character in my budget
of stories; and it is out of the mouths of these personages that I
hope to show forth a tolerably complete picture of Japanese society.

Having said so much by way of preface, I beg my readers to fancy
themselves wafted away to the shores of the Bay of Yedo--a fair,
smiling landscape: gentle slopes, crested by a dark fringe of pines
and firs, lead down to the sea; the quaint eaves of many a temple and
holy shrine peep out here and there from the groves; the bay itself is
studded with picturesque fisher-craft, the torches of which shine by
night like glow-worms among the outlying forts; far away to the west
loom the goblin-haunted heights of Oyama, and beyond the twin hills of
the Hakone Pass--Fuji-Yama, the Peerless Mountain, solitary and grand,
stands in the centre of the plain, from which it sprang vomiting
flames twenty-one centuries ago.[1] For a hundred and sixty years the
huge mountain has been at peace, but the frequent earthquakes still
tell of hidden fires, and none can say when the red-hot stones and
ashes may once more fall like rain over five provinces.

In the midst of a nest of venerable trees in Takanawa, a suburb of
Yedo, is hidden Sengakuji, or the Spring-hill Temple, renowned
throughout the length and breadth of the land for its cemetery, which
contains the graves of the Forty-seven. Ronins,[2] famous in Japanese
history, heroes of Japanese drama, the tale of whose deeds I am about
to transcribe.

On the left-hand side of the main court of the temple is a chapel, in
which, surmounted by a gilt figure of Kwanyin, the goddess of mercy,
are enshrined the images of the forty-seven men, and of the master
whom they loved so well. The statues are carved in wood, the faces
coloured, and the dresses richly lacquered; as works of art they have
great merit--the action of the heroes, each armed with his favourite
weapon, being wonderfully life-like and spirited. Some are venerable
men, with thin, grey hair (one is seventy-seven years old); others are
mere boys of sixteen. Close by the chapel, at the side of a path
leading up the hill, is a little well of pure water, fenced in and
adorned with a tiny fernery, over which is an inscription, setting
forth that "This is the well in which the head was washed; you must
not wash your hands or your feet here." A little further on is a
stall, at which a poor old man earns a pittance by selling books,
pictures, and medals, commemorating the loyalty of the Forty-seven;
and higher up yet, shaded by a grove of stately trees, is a neat
inclosure, kept up, as a signboard announces, by voluntary
contributions, round which are ranged forty-eight little tombstones,
each decked with evergreens, each with its tribute of water and
incense for the comfort of the departed spirit. There were forty-seven
Ronins; there are forty-eight tombstones, and the story of the
forty-eighth is truly characteristic of Japanese ideas of honour.
Almost touching the rail of the graveyard is a more imposing monument
under which lies buried the lord, whose death his followers piously

[Footnote 1: According to Japanese tradition, in the fifth year of the
Emperor Korei (286 B.C.), the earth opened in the province of Omi,
near Kioto, and Lake Biwa, sixty miles long by about eighteen broad,
was formed in the shape of a _Biwa_, or four-stringed lute, from which
it takes its name. At the same time, to compensate for the depression
of the earth, but at a distance of over three hundred miles from the
lake, rose Fuji-Yama, the last eruption of which was in the year 1707.
The last great earthquake at Yedo took place about fifteen years ago.
Twenty thousand souls are said to have perished in it, and the dead
were carried away and buried by cartloads; many persons, trying to
escape from their falling and burning houses, were caught in great
clefts, which yawned suddenly in the earth, and as suddenly closed
upon the victims, crushing them to death. For several days heavy
shocks continued to be felt, and the people camped out, not daring to
return to such houses as had been spared, nor to build up those which
lay in ruins.]

[Footnote 2: The word _Ronin_ means, literally, a "wave-man"; one who
is tossed about hither and thither, as a wave of the sea. It is used
to designate persons of gentle blood, entitled to bear arms, who,
having become separated from their feudal lords by their own act, or
by dismissal, or by fate, wander about the country in the capacity of
somewhat disreputable knights-errant, without ostensible means of
living, in some cases offering themselves for hire to new masters, in
others supporting themselves by pillage; or who, falling a grade in
the social scale, go into trade, and become simple wardsmen. Sometimes
it happens that for political reasons a man will become Ronin, in
order that his lord may not be implicated in some deed of blood in
which he is about to engage. Sometimes, also, men become Ronins, and
leave their native place for a while, until some scrape in which they
have become entangled shall have blown over; after which they return
to their former allegiance. Nowadays it is not unusual for men to
become Ronins for a time, and engage themselves in the service of
foreigners at the open ports, even in menial capacities, in the hope
that they may pick up something of the language and lore of Western
folks. I know instances of men of considerable position who have
adopted this course in their zeal for education.]

And now for the story.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century there lived a daimio,
called Asano Takumi no Kami, the Lord of the castle of Ako, in the
province of Harima. Now it happened that an Imperial ambassador from
the Court of the Mikado having been sent to the Shogun[3] at Yedo,
Takumi no Kami and another noble called Kamei Sama were appointed to
receive and feast the envoy; and a high official, named Kira Kotsuke
no Suke, was named to teach them the proper ceremonies to be observed
upon the occasion. The two nobles were accordingly forced to go daily
to the castle to listen to the instructions of Kotsuke no Suke. But
this Kotsuke no Suke was a man greedy of money; and as he deemed that
the presents which the two daimios, according to time-honoured custom,
had brought him in return for his instruction were mean and unworthy,
he conceived a great hatred against them, and took no pains in
teaching them, but on the contrary rather sought to make
laughing-stocks of them. Takumi no Kami, restrained by a stern sense
of duty, bore his insults with patience; but Kamei Sama, who had less
control over his temper, was violently incensed, and determined to
kill Kotsuke no Suke.

[Footnote 3: The full title of the Tycoon was Sei-i-tai-Shogun,
"Barbarian-repressing Commander-in-chief." The style Tai Kun, Great
Prince, was borrowed, in order to convey the idea of sovereignty to
foreigners, at the time of the conclusion of the Treaties. The envoys
sent by the Mikado from Kioto to communicate to the Shogun the will of
his sovereign were received with Imperial honours, and the duty of
entertaining them was confided to nobles of rank. The title
Sei-i-tai-Shogun was first borne by Minamoto no Yoritomo, in the
seventh month of the year A.D. 1192.]


One night when his duties at the castle were ended, Kamei Sama
returned to his own palace, and having summoned his councillors[4] to
a secret conference, said to them: "Kotsuke no Suke has insulted
Takumi no Kami and myself during our service in attendance on the
Imperial envoy. This is against all decency, and I was minded to kill
him on the spot; but I bethought me that if I did such a deed within
the precincts of the castle, not only would my own life be forfeit,
but my family and vassals would be ruined: so I stayed my hand. Still
the life of such a wretch is a sorrow to the people, and to-morrow
when I go to Court I will slay him: my mind is made up, and I will
listen to no remonstrance." And as he spoke his face became livid with

[Footnote 4: Councillor, lit. "elder." The councillors of daimios were
of two classes: the _Karo_, or "elder," an hereditary office, held by
cadets of the Prince's family, and the _Yonin_, or "man of business,"
who was selected on account of his merits. These "councillors" play no
mean part in Japanese history.]

Now one of Kamei Sama's councillors was a man of great judgment, and
when he saw from his lord's manner that remonstrance would be useless,
he said: "Your lordship's words are law; your servant will make all
preparations accordingly; and to-morrow, when your lordship goes to
Court, if this Kotsuke no Suke should again be insolent, let him die
the death." And his lord was pleased at this speech, and waited with
impatience for the day to break, that he might return to Court and
kill his enemy.

But the councillor went home, and was sorely troubled, and thought
anxiously about what his prince had said. And as he reflected, it
occurred to him that since Kotsuke no Suke had the reputation of being
a miser he would certainly be open to a bribe, and that it was better
to pay any sum, no matter how great, than that his lord and his house
should be ruined. So he collected all the money he could, and, giving
it to his servants to carry, rode off in the night to Kotsuke no
Suke's palace, and said to his retainers: "My master, who is now in
attendance upon the Imperial envoy, owes much thanks to my Lord
Kotsuke no Suke, who has been at so great pains to teach him the
proper ceremonies to be observed during the reception of the Imperial
envoy. This is but a shabby present which he has sent by me, but he
hopes that his lordship will condescend to accept it, and commends
himself to his lordship's favour." And, with these words, he produced
a thousand ounces of silver for Kotsuke no Suke, and a hundred ounces
to be distributed among his retainers.

When the latter saw the money their eyes sparkled with pleasure, and
they were profuse in their thanks; and begging the councillor to wait
a little, they went and told their master of the lordly present which
had arrived with a polite message from Kamei Sama. Kotsuke no Suke in
eager delight sent for the councillor into an inner chamber, and,
after thanking him, promised on the morrow to instruct his master
carefully in all the different points of etiquette. So the councillor,
seeing the miser's glee, rejoiced at the success of his plan; and
having taken his leave returned home in high spirits. But Kamei Sama,
little thinking how his vassal had propitiated his enemy, lay brooding
over his vengeance, and on the following morning at daybreak went to
Court in solemn procession.

When Kotsuke no Suke met him his manner had completely changed, and
nothing could exceed his courtesy. "You have come early to Court this
morning, my Lord Kamei," said he. "I cannot sufficiently admire your
zeal. I shall have the honour to call your attention to several points
of etiquette to-day. I must beg your lordship to excuse my previous
conduct, which must have seemed very rude; but I am naturally of a
cross-grained disposition, so I pray you to forgive me." And as he
kept on humbling himself and making fair speeches, the heart of Kamei
Sama was gradually softened, and he renounced his intention of killing
him. Thus by the cleverness of his councillor was Kamei Sama, with all
his house, saved from ruin.

Shortly after this, Takumi no Kami, who had sent no present, arrived
at the castle, and Kotsuke no Suke turned him into ridicule even more
than before, provoking him with sneers and covert insults; but Takumi
no Kami affected to ignore all this, and submitted himself patiently
to Kotsuke no Suke's orders.

This conduct, so far from producing a good effect, only made Kotsuke
no Suke despise him the more, until at last he said haughtily: "Here,
my Lord of Takumi, the ribbon of my sock has come untied; be so good
as to tie it up for me."

Takumi no Kami, although burning with rage at the affront, still
thought that as he was on duty he was bound to obey, and tied up the
ribbon of the sock. Then Kotsuke no Suke, turning from him, petulantly
exclaimed: "Why, how clumsy you are! You cannot so much as tie up the
ribbon of a sock properly! Any one can see that you are a boor from
the country, and know nothing of the manners of Yedo." And with a
scornful laugh he moved towards an inner room.

But the patience of Takumi no Kami was exhausted; this last insult was
more than he could bear.

"Stop a moment, my lord," cried he.

"Well, what is it?" replied the other. And, as he turned round, Takumi
no Kami drew his dirk, and aimed a blow at his head; but Kotsuke no
Suke, being protected by the Court cap which he wore, the wound was
but a scratch, so he ran away; and Takumi no Kami, pursuing him, tried
a second time to cut him down, but, missing his aim, struck his dirk
into a pillar. At this moment an officer, named Kajikawa Yosobei,
seeing the affray, rushed up, and holding back the infuriated noble,
gave Kotsuke no Suke time to make good his escape.

Then there arose a great uproar and confusion, and Takumi no Kami was
arrested and disarmed, and confined in one of the apartments of the
palace under the care of the censors. A council was held, and the
prisoner was given over to the safeguard of a daimio, called Tamura
Ukiyo no Daibu, who kept him in close custody in his own house, to
the great grief of his wife and of his retainers; and when the
deliberations of the council were completed, it was decided that, as
he had committed an outrage and attacked another man within the
precincts of the palace, he must perform _hara-kiri_,--that is, commit
suicide by disembowelling; his goods must be confiscated, and his
family ruined. Such was the law. So Takumi no Kami performed
_hara-kiri_, his castle of Ako was confiscated, and his retainers
having become Ronins, some of them took service with other daimios,
and others became merchants.

Now amongst these retainers was his principal councillor, a man called
Oishi Kuranosuke, who, with forty-six other faithful dependants,
formed a league to avenge their master's death by killing Kotsuke no
Suke. This Oishi Kuranosuke was absent at the castle of Ako at the
time of the affray, which, had he been with his prince, would never
have occurred; for, being a wise man, he would not have failed to
propitiate Kotsuke no Suke by sending him suitable presents; while the
councillor who was in attendance on the prince at Yedo was a dullard,
who neglected this precaution, and so caused the death of his master
and the ruin of his house.

So Oishi Kuranosuke and his forty-six companions began to lay their
plans of vengeance against Kotsuke no Suke; but the latter was so well
guarded by a body of men lent to him by a daimio called Uyesugi Sama,
whose daughter he had married, that they saw that the only way of
attaining their end would be to throw their enemy off his guard. With
this object they separated and disguised themselves, some as
carpenters or craftsmen, others as merchants; and their chief,
Kuranosuke, went to Kioto, and built a house in the quarter called
Yamashina, where he took to frequenting houses of the worst repute,
and gave himself up to drunkenness and debauchery, as if nothing were
further from his mind than revenge. Kotsuke no Suke, in the meanwhile,
suspecting that Takumi no Kami's former retainers would be scheming
against his life, secretly sent spies to Kioto, and caused a faithful
account to be kept of all that Kuranosuke did. The latter, however,
determined thoroughly to delude the enemy into a false security, went
on leading a dissolute life with harlots and winebibbers. One day, as
he was returning home drunk from some low haunt, he fell down in the
street and went to sleep, and all the passers-by laughed him to scorn.
It happened that a Satsuma man saw this, and said: "Is not this Oishi
Kuranosuke, who was a councillor of Asano Takumi no Kami, and who, not
having the heart to avenge his lord, gives himself up to women and
wine? See how he lies drunk in the public street! Faithless beast!
Fool and craven! Unworthy the name of a Samurai!"[5]

[Footnote 5: _Samurai_, a man belonging to the _Buke_ or military
class, entitled to bear arms.]


And he trod on Kuranosuke's face as he slept, and spat upon him; but
when Kotsuke no Suke's spies reported all this at Yedo, he was greatly
relieved at the news, and felt secure from danger.

One day Kuranosuke's wife, who was bitterly grieved to see her husband
lead this abandoned life, went to him and said: "My lord, you told me
at first that your debauchery was but a trick to make your enemy relax
in watchfulness. But indeed, indeed, this has gone too far. I pray and
beseech you to put some restraint upon yourself."

"Trouble me not," replied Kuranosuke, "for I will not listen to your
whining. Since my way of life is displeasing to you, I will divorce
you, and you may go about your business; and I will buy some pretty
young girl from one of the public-houses, and marry her for my
pleasure. I am sick of the sight of an old woman like you about the
house, so get you gone--the sooner the better."

So saying, he flew into a violent rage, and his wife, terror-stricken,
pleaded piteously for mercy.

"Oh, my lord! unsay those terrible words! I have been your faithful
wife for twenty years, and have borne you three children; in sickness
and in sorrow I have been with you; you cannot be so cruel as to turn
me out of doors now. Have pity! have pity!"

"Cease this useless wailing. My mind is made up, and you must go; and
as the children are in my way also, you are welcome to take them with

When she heard her husband speak thus, in her grief she sought her
eldest son, Oishi Chikara, and begged him to plead for her, and pray
that she might be pardoned. But nothing would turn Kuranosuke from his
purpose, so his wife was sent away, with the two younger children, and
went back to her native place. But Oishi Chikara remained with his

The spies communicated all this without fail to Kotsuke no Suke, and
he, when he heard how Kuranosuke, having turned his wife and children
out of doors and bought a concubine, was grovelling in a life of
drunkenness and lust, began to think that he had no longer anything to
fear from the retainers of Takumi no Kami, who must be cowards,
without the courage to avenge their lord. So by degrees he began to
keep a less strict watch, and sent back half of the guard which had
been lent to him by his father-in-law, Uyesugi Sama. Little did he
think how he was falling into the trap laid for him by Kuranosuke,
who, in his zeal to slay his lord's enemy, thought nothing of
divorcing his wife and sending away his children! Admirable and
faithful man!

In this way Kuranosuke continued to throw dust in the eyes of his foe,
by persisting in his apparently shameless conduct; but his associates
all went to Yedo, and, having in their several capacities as workmen
and pedlars contrived to gain access to Kotsuke no Suke's house, made
themselves familiar with the plan of the building and the arrangement
of the different rooms, and ascertained the character of the inmates,
who were brave and loyal men, and who were cowards; upon all of which
matters they sent regular reports to Kuranosuke. And when at last it
became evident from the letters which arrived from Yedo that Kotsuke
no Suke was thoroughly off his guard, Kuranosuke rejoiced that the day
of vengeance was at hand; and, having appointed a trysting-place at
Yedo, he fled secretly from Kioto, eluding the vigilance of his
enemy's spies. Then the forty-seven men, having laid all their plans,
bided their time patiently.

It was now midwinter, the twelfth month of the year, and the cold was
bitter. One night, during a heavy fall of snow, when the whole world
was hushed, and peaceful men were stretched in sleep upon the mats,
the Ronins determined that no more favourable opportunity could occur
for carrying out their purpose. So they took counsel together, and,
having divided their band into two parties, assigned to each man his
post. One band, led by Oishi Kuranosuke, was to attack the front gate,
and the other, under his son Oishi Chikara, was to attack the postern
of Kotsuke no Suke's house; but as Chikara was only sixteen years of
age, Yoshida Chiuzayemon was appointed to act as his guardian. Further
it was arranged that a drum, beaten at the order of Kuranosuke, should
be the signal for the simultaneous attack; and that if any one slew
Kotsuke no Suke and cut off his head he should blow a shrill whistle,
as a signal to his comrades, who would hurry to the spot, and, having
identified the head, carry it off to the temple called Sengakuji, and
lay it as an offering before the tomb of their dead lord. Then they
must report their deed to the Government, and await the sentence of
death which would surely be passed upon them. To this the Ronins one
and all pledged themselves. Midnight was fixed upon as the hour, and
the forty-seven comrades, having made all ready for the attack,
partook of a last farewell feast together, for on the morrow they must
die. Then Oishi Kuranosuke addressed the band, and said--

"To-night we shall attack our enemy in his palace; his retainers will
certainly resist us, and we shall be obliged to kill them. But to slay
old men and women and children is a pitiful thing; therefore, I pray
you each one to take great heed lest you kill a single helpless
person." His comrades all applauded this speech, and so they remained,
waiting for the hour of midnight to arrive.

When the appointed hour came, the Ronins set forth. The wind howled
furiously, and the driving snow beat in their faces; but little cared
they for wind or snow as they hurried on their road, eager for
revenge. At last they reached Kotsuke no Suke's house, and divided
themselves into two bands; and Chikara, with twenty-three men, went
round to the back gate. Then four men, by means of a ladder of ropes
which they hung on to the roof of the porch, effected an entry into
the courtyard; and, as they saw signs that all the inmates of the
house were asleep, they went into the porter's lodge where the guard
slept, and, before the latter had time to recover from their
astonishment, bound them. The terrified guard prayed hard for mercy,
that their lives might be spared; and to this the Ronins agreed on
condition that the keys of the gate should be given up; but the others
tremblingly said that the keys were kept in the house of one of their
officers, and that they had no means of obtaining them. Then the
Ronins lost patience, and with a hammer dashed in pieces the big
wooden bolt which secured the gate, and the doors flew open to the
right and to the left. At the same time Chikara and his party broke in
by the back gate.

Then Oishi Kuranosuke sent a messenger to the neighbouring houses,
bearing the following message:--"We, the Ronins who were formerly in
the service of Asano Takumi no Kami, are this night about to break
into the palace of Kotsuke no Suke, to avenge our lord. As we are
neither night robbers nor ruffians, no hurt will be done to the
neighbouring houses. We pray you to set your minds at rest." And as
Kotsuke no Suke was hated by his neighbours for his covetousness, they
did not unite their forces to assist him. Another precaution was yet
taken. Lest any of the people inside should run out to call the
relations of the family to the rescue, and these coming in force
should interfere with the plans of the Ronins, Kuranosuke stationed
ten of his men armed with bows on the roof of the four sides of the
courtyard, with orders to shoot any retainers who might attempt to
leave the place. Having thus laid all his plans and posted his men,
Kuranosuke with his own hand beat the drum and gave the signal for

Ten of Kotsuke no Suke's retainers, hearing the noise, woke up; and,
drawing their swords, rushed into the front room to defend their
master. At this moment the Ronins, who had burst open the door of the
front hall, entered the same room. Then arose a furious fight between
the two parties, in the midst of which Chikara, leading his men
through the garden, broke into the back of the house; and Kotsuke no
Suke, in terror of his life, took refuge, with his wife and female
servants, in a closet in the verandah; while the rest of his
retainers, who slept in the barrack outside the house, made ready to
go to the rescue. But the Ronins who had come in by the front door,
and were fighting with the ten retainers, ended by overpowering and
slaying the latter without losing one of their own number; after
which, forcing their way bravely towards the back rooms, they were
joined by Chikara and his men, and the two bands were united in one.

By this time the remainder of Kotsuke no Suke's men had come in, and
the fight became general; and Kuranosuke, sitting on a camp-stool,
gave his orders and directed the Ronins. Soon the inmates of the house
perceived that they were no match for their enemy, so they tried to
send out intelligence of their plight to Uyesugi Sama, their lord's
father-in-law, begging him to come to the rescue with all the force
at his command. But the messengers were shot down by the archers whom
Kuranosuke had posted on the roof. So no help coming, they fought on
in despair. Then Kuranosuke cried out with a loud voice: "Kotsuke no
Suke alone is our enemy; let some one go inside and bring him forth.
dead or alive!"

Now in front of Kotsuke no Suke's private room stood three brave
retainers with drawn swords. The first was Kobayashi Hehachi, the
second was Waku Handaiyu, and the third was Shimidzu Ikkaku, all good
men and true, and expert swordsmen. So stoutly did these men lay about
them that for a while they kept the whole of the Ronins at bay, and at
one moment even forced them back. When Oishi Kuranosuke saw this, he
ground his teeth with rage, and shouted to his men: "What! did not
every man of you swear to lay down his life in avenging his lord, and
now are you driven back by three men? Cowards, not fit to be spoken
to! to die fighting in a master's cause should be the noblest ambition
of a retainer!" Then turning to his own son Chikara, he said, "Here,
boy! engage those men, and if they are too strong for you, die!"

Spurred by these words, Chikara seized a spear and gave battle to Waku
Handaiyu, but could not hold his ground, and backing by degrees, was
driven out into the garden, where he missed his footing and slipped
into a pond, but as Handaiyu, thinking to kill him, looked down into
the pond, Chikara cut his enemy in the leg and caused him to fall, and
then, crawling out of the water dispatched him. In the meanwhile
Kobayashi Hehachi and Shimidzu Ikkaku had been killed by the other
Ronins, and of all Kotsuke no Suke's retainers not one fighting man
remained. Chikara, seeing this, went with his bloody sword in his hand
into a back room to search for Kotsuke no Suke, but he only found the
son of the latter, a young lord named Kira Sahioye, who, carrying a
halberd, attacked him, but was soon wounded and fled. Thus the whole
of Kotsuke no Suke's men having been killed, there was an end of the
fighting; but as yet there was no trace of Kotsuke no Suke to be

Then Kuranosuke divided his men into several parties and searched the
whole house, but all in vain; women and children weeping were alone to
be seen. At this the forty-seven men began to lose heart in regret,
that after all their toil they had allowed their enemy to escape them,
and there was a moment when in their despair they agreed to commit
suicide together upon the spot; but they determined to make one more
effort. So Kuranosuke went into Kotsuke no Suke's sleeping-room, and
touching the quilt with his hands, exclaimed, "I have just felt the
bed-clothes and they are yet warm, and so methinks that our enemy is
not far off. He must certainly be hidden somewhere in the house."
Greatly excited by this, the Ronins renewed their search. Now in the
raised part of the room, near the place of honour, there was a picture
hanging; taking down this picture, they saw that there was a large
hole in the plastered wall, and on thrusting a spear in they could
feel nothing beyond it. So one of the Ronins, called Yazama Jiutaro,
got into the hole, and found that on the other side there was a little
courtyard, in which there stood an outhouse for holding charcoal and
firewood. Looking into the outhouse, he spied something white at the
further end, at which he struck with his spear, when two armed men
sprang out upon him and tried to cut him down, but he kept them back
until one of his comrades came up and killed one of the two men and
engaged the other, while Jiutaro entered the outhouse and felt about
with his spear. Again seeing something white, he struck it with his
lance, when a cry of pain betrayed that it was a man; so he rushed up,
and the man in white clothes, who had been wounded in the thigh, drew
a dirk and aimed a blow at him. But Jiutaro wrested the dirk from him,
and clutching him by the collar, dragged him out of the outhouse. Then
the other Ronin came up, and they examined the prisoner attentively,
and saw that he was a noble-looking man, some sixty years of age,
dressed in a white satin sleeping-robe, which was stained by the blood
from the thigh-wound which, Jiutaro had inflicted. The two men felt
convinced that this was no other than Kotsuke no Suke, and they asked
him his name, but he gave no answer, so they gave the signal whistle,
and all their comrades collected together at the call; then Oishi
Kuranosuke, bringing a lantern, scanned the old man's features, and it
was indeed Kotsuke no Suke; and if further proof were wanting, he
still bore a scar on his forehead where their master, Asano Takumi no
Kami, had wounded him during the affray in the castle. There being no
possibility of mistake, therefore, Oishi Kuranosuke went down on his
knees, and addressing the old man very respectfully, said--

"My lord, we are the retainers of Asano Takumi no Kami. Last year your
lordship and our master quarrelled in the palace, and our master was
sentenced to _hara-kiri,_ and his family was ruined. We have come
to-night to avenge him, as is the duty of faithful and loyal men. I
pray your lordship to acknowledge the justice of our purpose. And now,
my lord, we beseech you to perform _hara-kiri_. I myself shall have
the honour to act as your second, and when, with all humility, I shall
have received your lordship's head, it is my intention to lay it as an
offering upon the grave of Asano Takumi no Kami."

Thus, in consideration of the high rank of Kotsuke no Suke, the Ronins
treated him with the greatest courtesy, and over and over again
entreated him to perform _hara-kiri._ But he crouched speechless and
trembling. At last Kuranosuke, seeing that it was vain to urge him to
die the death of a nobleman, forced him down, and cut off his head
with the same dirk with which Asano Takumi no Kami had killed himself.
Then the forty-seven comrades, elated at having accomplished their
design, placed the head in a bucket, and prepared to depart; but
before leaving the house they carefully extinguished all the lights
and fires in the place, lest by any accident a fire should break out
and the neighbours suffer.

As they were on their way to Takanawa, the suburb in which the temple
called Sengakuji stands, the day broke; and the people flocked out to
see the forty-seven men, who, with their clothes and arms all
blood-stained, presented a terrible appearance; and every one praised
them, wondering at their valour and faithfulness. But they expected
every moment that Kotsuke no Suke's father-in-law would attack them
and carry off the head, and made ready to die bravely sword in hand.
However, they reached Takanawa in safety, for Matsudaira Aki no Kami,
one of the eighteen chief daimios of Japan, of whose house Asano
Takumi no Kami had been a cadet, had been highly pleased when he heard
of the last night's work, and he had made ready to assist the Ronins
in case they were attacked. So Kotsuke no Suke's father-in-law dared
not pursue them.

At about seven in the morning they came opposite to the palace of
Matsudaira Mutsu no Kami, the Prince of Sendai, and the Prince,
hearing of it, sent for one of his councillors and said: "The
retainers of Takumi no Kami have slain their lord's enemy, and are
passing this way; I cannot sufficiently admire their devotion, so, as
they must be tired and hungry after their night's work, do you go and
invite them to come in here, and set some gruel and a cup of wine
before them."

So the councillor went out and said to Oishi Kuranosuke: "Sir, I am a
councillor of the Prince of Sendai, and my master bids me beg you, as
you must be worn out after all you have undergone, to come in and
partake of such poor refreshment as we can offer you. This is my
message to you from my lord."

"I thank you, sir," replied Kuranosuke. "It is very good of his
lordship to trouble himself to think of us. We shall accept his
kindness gratefully."

So the forty-seven Ronins went into the palace, and were feasted with
gruel and wine, and all the retainers of the Prince of Sendai came and
praised them.

Then Kuranosuke turned to the councillor and said, "Sir, we are truly
indebted to you for this kind hospitality; but as we have still to
hurry to Sengakuji, we must needs humbly take our leave." And, after
returning many thanks to their hosts, they left the palace of the
Prince of Sendai and hastened to Sengakuji, where they were met by the
abbot of the monastery, who went to the front gate to receive them,
and led them to the tomb of Takumi no Kami.

And when they came to their lord's grave, they took the head of
Kotsuke no Suke, and having washed it clean in a well hard by, laid it
as an offering before the tomb. When they had done this, they engaged
the priests of the temple to come and read prayers while they burnt
incense: first Oishi Kuranosuke burnt incense, and then his son Oishi
Chikara, and after them the other forty-five men performed the same
ceremony. Then Kuranosuke, having given all the money that he had by
him to the abbot, said--

"When we forty-seven men shall have performed _hara-kiri_, I beg you
to bury us decently. I rely upon your kindness. This is but a trifle
that I have to offer; such as it is, let it be spent in masses for our

And the abbot, marvelling at the faithful courage of the men, with
tears in his eyes pledged himself to fulfil their wishes. So the
forty-seven Ronins, with their minds at rest, waited patiently until
they should receive the orders of the Government.

At last they were summoned to the Supreme Court, where the governors
of Yedo and the public censors had assembled; and the sentence passed
upon them was as follows: "Whereas, neither respecting the dignity of
the city nor fearing the Government, having leagued yourselves
together to slay your enemy, you violently broke into the house of
Kira Kotsuke no Suke by night and murdered him, the sentence of the
Court is, that, for this audacious conduct, you perform _hara-kiri_."
When the sentence had been read, the forty-seven Ronins were divided
into four parties, and handed over to the safe keeping of four
different daimios; and sheriffs were sent to the palaces of those
daimios in whose presence the Ronins were made to perform _hara-kiri_.
But, as from the very beginning they had all made up their minds that
to this end they must come, they met their death nobly; and their
corpses were carried to Sengakuji, and buried in front of the tomb of
their master, Asano Takumi no Kami. And when the fame of this became
noised abroad, the people flocked to pray at the graves of these
faithful men.

[Illustration: THE TOMBS OF THE RONINS.]

Among those who came to pray was a Satsuma man, who, prostrating
himself before the grave of Oishi Kuranosuke, said: "When I saw you
lying drunk by the roadside at Yamashina, in Kioto, I knew not that
you were plotting to avenge your lord; and, thinking you to be a
faithless man, I trampled on you and spat in your face as I passed.
And now I have come to ask pardon and offer atonement for the insult
of last year." With those words he prostrated himself again before the
grave, and, drawing a dirk from his girdle, stabbed himself in the
belly and died. And the chief priest of the temple, taking pity upon
him, buried him by the side of the Ronins; and his tomb still remains
to be seen with those of the forty-seven comrades.

This is the end of the story of the forty-seven Ronins.

* * * * *

A terrible picture of fierce heroism which it is impossible not to
admire. In the Japanese mind this feeling of admiration is unmixed,
and hence it is that the forty-seven Ronins receive almost divine
honours. Pious hands still deck their graves with green boughs and
burn incense upon them; the clothes and arms which they wore are
preserved carefully in a fire-proof store-house attached to the
temple, and exhibited yearly to admiring crowds, who behold them
probably with little less veneration than is accorded to the relics of
Aix-la-Chapelle or Treves; and once in sixty years the monks of
Sengakuji reap quite a harvest for the good of their temple by holding
a commemorative fair or festival, to which the people flock during
nearly two months.

A silver key once admitted me to a private inspection of the relics.
We were ushered, my friend and myself, into a back apartment of the
spacious temple, overlooking one of those marvellous miniature
gardens, cunningly adorned with rockeries and dwarf trees, in which
the Japanese delight. One by one, carefully labelled and indexed boxes
containing the precious articles were brought out and opened by the
chief priest. Such a curious medley of old rags and scraps of metal
and wood! Home-made chain armour, composed of wads of leather secured
together by pieces of iron, bear witness to the secrecy with which the
Ronins made ready for the fight. To have bought armour would have
attracted attention, so they made it with their own hands. Old
moth-eaten surcoats, bits of helmets, three flutes, a writing-box that
must have been any age at the time of the tragedy, and is now tumbling
to pieces; tattered trousers of what once was rich silk brocade, now
all unravelled and befringed; scraps of leather, part of an old
gauntlet, crests and badges, bits of sword handles, spear-heads and
dirks, the latter all red with rust, but with certain patches more
deeply stained as if the fatal clots of blood were never to be blotted
out: all these were reverently shown to us. Among the confusion and
litter were a number of documents, Yellow with age and much worn at
the folds. One was a plan of Kotsuke no Suke's house, which one of
the Ronins obtained by marrying the daughter of the builder who
designed it. Three of the manuscripts appeared to me so curious that I
obtained leave to have copies taken of them.

The first is the receipt given by the retainers of Kotsuke no Suke's
son in return for the head of their lord's father, which the priests
restored to the family, and runs as follows:--

The above articles are acknowledged to have been received.
Signed, { SAYADA MAGOBELI. (_Loc. sigill._)
{ SAITO KUNAI. (_Loc. sigill._)

"To the priests deputed from the Temple Sengakuji,
His Reverence SEKISHI,
His Reverence ICHIDON."

The second paper is a document explanatory of their conduct, a copy of
which was found on the person of each of the forty-seven men:--

"Last year, in the third month, Asano Takumi no Kami, upon the
occasion of the entertainment of the Imperial ambassador, was
driven, by the force of circumstances, to attack and wound my
Lord Kotsuke no Suke in the castle, in order to avenge an
insult offered to him. Having done this without considering the
dignity of the place, and having thus disregarded all rules of
propriety, he was condemned to _hara-kiri,_ and his property
and castle of Ako were forfeited to the State, and were
delivered up by his retainers to the officers deputed by the
Shogun to receive them. After this his followers were all
dispersed. At the time of the quarrel the high officials
present prevented Asano Takumi no Kami from carrying out his
intention of killing his enemy, my Lord Kotsuke no Suke. So
Asano Takumi no Kami died without having avenged himself, and
this was more than his retainers could endure. It is impossible
to remain under the same heaven with the enemy of lord or
father; for this reason we have dared to declare enmity against
a personage of so exalted rank. This day we shall attack Kira
Kotsuke no Suke, in order to finish the deed of vengeance which
was begun by our dead lord. If any honourable person should
find our bodies after death, he is respectfully requested to
open and read this document.

"15th year of Genroku. 12th month.

"Signed, OISHI KURANOSUKE, Retainer of Asano
Takumi no Kami, and forty-six others."[6]

[Footnote 6: It is usual for a Japanese, when bent upon some deed of
violence, the end of which, in his belief, justifies the means, to
carry about with him a document, such as that translated above, in
which he sets forth his motives, that his character may be cleared
after death.]

The third manuscript is a paper which the Forty-seven Ronins laid upon
the tomb of their master, together with the head of Kira Kotsuke no

"The 15th year of Genroku, the 12th month, and 15th day. We
have come this day to do homage here, forty-seven men in all,
from Oishi Kuranosuke down to the foot-soldier, Terasaka
Kichiyemon, all cheerfully about to lay down our lives on your
behalf. We reverently announce this to the honoured spirit of
our dead master. On the 14th day of the third month of last
year our honoured master was pleased to attack Kira Kotsuke no
Suke, for what reason we know not. Our honoured master put an
end to his own life, but Kira Kotsuke no Suke lived. Although
we fear that after the decree issued by the Government this
plot of ours will be displeasing to our honoured master, still
we, who have eaten of your food, could not without blushing
repeat the verse, 'Thou shalt not live under the same heaven
nor tread the same earth with the enemy of thy father or lord,'
nor could we have dared to leave hell and present ourselves
before you in paradise, unless we had carried out the vengeance
which you began. Every day that we waited seemed as three
autumns to us. Verily, we have trodden the snow for one day,
nay, for two days, and have tasted food but once. The old and
decrepit, the sick and ailing, have come forth gladly to lay
down their lives. Men might laugh at us, as at grasshoppers
trusting in the strength of their arms, and thus shame our
honoured lord; but we could not halt in our deed of vengeance.
Having taken counsel together last night, we have escorted my
Lord Kotsuke no Suke hither to your tomb. This dirk,[7] by
which our honoured lord set great store last year, and
entrusted to our care, we now bring back. If your noble spirit
be now present before this tomb, we pray you, as a sign, to
take the dirk, and, striking the head of your enemy with it a
second time, to dispel your hatred for ever. This is the
respectful statement of forty-seven men."

[Footnote 7: The dirk with which Asano Takumi no Kumi disembowelled
himself and with which Oishi Kuranosuke cut off Kotsuke no Suke's

The text, "Thou shalt not live under the same heaven with the enemy of
thy father," is based upon the Confucian books. Dr. Legge, in his
"Life and Teachings of Confucius," p. 113, has an interesting
paragraph summing up the doctrine of the sage upon the subject of

"In the second book of the 'Le Ke' there is the following
passage:--'With the slayer of his father a man may not live
under the same heaven; against the slayer of his brother a man
must never have to go home to fetch a weapon; with the slayer
of his friend a man may not live in the same State.' The _lex
talionis_ is here laid down in its fullest extent. The 'Chow
Le' tells us of a provision made against the evil consequences
of the principle by the appointment of a minister called 'The
Reconciler.' The provision is very inferior to the cities of
refuge which were set apart by Moses for the manslayer to flee
to from the fury of the avenger. Such as it was, however, it
existed, and it is remarkable that Confucius, when consulted on
the subject, took no notice of it, but affirmed the duty of
blood-revenge in the strongest and most unrestricted terms. His
disciple, Tsze Hea, asked him, 'What course is to be pursued in
the murder of a father or mother?' He replied, 'The son must
sleep upon a matting of grass with his shield for his pillow;
he must decline to take office; he must not live under the same
heaven with the slayer. When he meets him in the market-place
or the court, he must have his weapon ready to strike him.'
'And what is the course in the murder of a brother?' 'The
surviving brother must not take office in the same State with
the slayer; yet, if he go on his prince's service to the State
where the slayer is, though he meet him, he must not fight with
him.' 'And what is the course in the murder of an uncle or
cousin?' 'In this case the nephew or cousin is not the
principal. If the principal, on whom the revenge devolves, can
take it, he has only to stand behind with his weapon in his
hand, and support him.'"

I will add one anecdote to show the sanctity which is attached to the
graves of the Forty-seven. In the month of September 1868, a certain
man came to pray before the grave of Oishi Chikara. Having finished
his prayers, he deliberately performed _hara-kiri_,[8] and, the belly
wound not being mortal, dispatched himself by cutting his throat. Upon
his person were found papers setting forth that, being a Ronin and
without means of earning a living, he had petitioned to be allowed to
enter the clan of the Prince of Choshiu, which he looked upon as the
noblest clan in the realm; his petition having been refused, nothing
remained for him but to die, for to be a Ronin was hateful to him, and
he would serve no other master than the Prince of Choshiu: what more
fitting place could he find in which to put an end to his life than
the graveyard of these Braves? This happened at about two hundred
yards' distance from my house, and when I saw the spot an hour or two
later, the ground was all bespattered with blood, and disturbed by the
death-struggles of the man.

[Footnote 8: A purist in Japanese matters may object to the use of the
words _hara-kiri_ instead of the more elegant expression _Seppuku_. I
retain the more vulgar form as being better known, and therefore more


Within two miles or so from Yedo, and yet well away from the toil and
din of the great city, stands the village of Meguro. Once past the
outskirts of the town, the road leading thither is bounded on either
side by woodlands rich in an endless variety of foliage, broken at
intervals by the long, low line of villages and hamlets. As we draw
near to Meguro, the scenery, becoming more and more rustic, increases
in beauty. Deep shady lanes, bordered by hedgerows as luxurious as any
in England, lead down to a valley of rice fields bright with the
emerald green of the young crops. To the right and to the left rise
knolls of fantastic shape, crowned with a profusion of Cryptomerias,
Scotch firs and other cone-bearing trees, and fringed with thickets of
feathery bamboos, bending their stems gracefully to the light summer
breeze. Wherever there is a spot shadier and pleasanter to look upon
than the rest, there may be seen the red portal of a shrine which the
simple piety of the country folk has raised to Inari Sama, the patron
god of farming, or to some other tutelary deity of the place. At the
eastern outlet of the valley a strip of blue sea bounds the horizon;
westward are the distant mountains. In the foreground, in front of a
farmhouse, snug-looking, with its roof of velvety-brown thatch, a
troop of sturdy urchins, suntanned and stark naked, are frisking in
the wildest gambols, all heedless of the scolding voice of the
withered old grandam who sits spinning and minding the house, while
her son and his wife are away toiling at some outdoor labour. Close at
our feet runs a stream of pure water, in which a group of countrymen
are washing the vegetables which they will presently shoulder and
carry off to sell by auction in the suburbs of Yedo. Not the least
beauty of the scene consists in the wondrous clearness of an
atmosphere so transparent that the most distant outlines are scarcely
dimmed, while the details of the nearer ground stand out in sharp,
bold relief, now lit by the rays of a vertical sun, now darkened under
the flying shadows thrown by the fleecy clouds which sail across the
sky. Under such a heaven, what painter could limn the lights and
shades which flit over the woods, the pride of Japan, whether in late
autumn, when the russets and yellows of our own trees are mixed with
the deep crimson glow of the maples, or in spring-time, when plum and
cherry trees and wild camellias--giants, fifty feet high--are in full

All that we see is enchanting, but there is a strange stillness in the
groves; rarely does the song of a bird break the silence; indeed, I
know but one warbler whose note has any music in it, the _uguisu_, by
some enthusiasts called the Japanese nightingale--at best, a king in
the kingdom of the blind. The scarcity of animal life of all
descriptions, man and mosquitoes alone excepted, is a standing wonder
to the traveller; the sportsman must toil many a weary mile to get a
shot at boar, or deer, or pheasant; and the plough of the farmer and
the trap of the poacher, who works in and out of season, threaten to
exterminate all wild creatures; unless, indeed, the Government should,
as they threatened in the spring of 1869, put in force some adaptation
of European game-laws. But they are lukewarm in the matter; a little
hawking on a duck-pond satisfies the cravings of the modern Japanese
sportsman, who knows that, game-laws or no game-laws, the wild fowl
will never fail in winter; and the days are long past when my Lord the
Shogun used to ride forth with a mighty company to the wild places
about Mount Fuji, there camping out and hunting the boar, the deer,
and the wolf, believing that in so doing he was fostering a manly and
military spirit in the land.

There is one serious drawback to the enjoyment of the beauties of the
Japanese country, and that is the intolerable affront which is
continually offered to one's sense of smell; the whole of what should
form the sewerage of the city is carried out on the backs of men and
horses, to be thrown upon the fields; and, if you would avoid the
overpowering nuisance, you must walk handkerchief in hand, ready to
shut out the stench which assails you at every moment.

It would seem natural, while writing of the Japanese country, to say a
few words about the peasantry, their relation to the lord of the soil,
and their government. But these I must reserve for another place. At
present our dealings are with the pretty village of Meguro.

At the bottom of a little lane, close to the entrance of the village,
stands an old shrine of the Shinto (the form of hero-worship which
existed in Japan before the introduction of Confucianism or of
Buddhism), surrounded by lofty Cryptomerias. The trees around a Shinto
shrine are specially under the protection of the god to whom the altar
is dedicated; and, in connection with them, there is a kind of magic
still respected by the superstitious, which recalls the waxen dolls,
through the medium of which sorcerers of the middle ages in Europe,
and indeed those of ancient Greece, as Theocritus tells us, pretended
to kill the enemies of their clients. This is called _Ushi no toki
mairi,_ or "going to worship at the hour of the ox,"[9] and is
practised by jealous women who wish to be revenged upon their
faithless lovers.

[Footnote 9: The Chinese, and the Japanese following them, divide the
day of twenty-four hours into twelve periods, each of which has a sign
something like the signs of the Zodiac:--
Midnight until two in the morning is represented by the rat.
2 a.m. " 4 a.m. " " ox.
4 a.m. " 6 a.m. " " tiger.
6 a.m. " 8 a.m. " " hare.
8 a.m. " 10 a.m. " " dragon.
10 a.m. " 12 noon " " snake.
12 noon " 2 p.m. " " horse.
2 p.m. " 4 p.m. " " ram.
4 p.m. " 6 p.m. " " ape.
6 p.m. " 8 p.m. " " cock.
8 p.m. " 10 p.m. " " hog.
10 p.m. " Midnight " " fox.]

When the world is at rest, at two in the morning, the hour of which
the ox is the symbol, the woman rises; she dons a white robe and high
sandals or clogs; her coif is a metal tripod, in which are thrust
three lighted candles; around her neck she hangs a mirror, which falls
upon her bosom; in her left hand she carries a small straw figure, the
effigy of the lover who has abandoned her, and in her right she grasps
a hammer and nails, with which she fastens the figure to one of the
sacred trees that surround the shrine. There she prays for the death
of the traitor, vowing that, if her petition be heard, she will
herself pull out the nails which now offend the god by wounding the
mystic tree. Night after night she comes to the shrine, and each night
she strikes in two or more nails, believing that every nail will
shorten her lover's life, for the god, to save his tree, will surely
strike him dead.

Meguro is one of the many places round Yedo to which the good citizens
flock for purposes convivial or religious, or both; hence it is that,
cheek by jowl with the old shrines and temples, you will find many a
pretty tea-house, standing at the rival doors of which Mesdemoiselles
Sugar, Wave of the Sea, Flower, Seashore, and Chrysanthemum are
pressing in their invitations to you to enter and rest. Not beautiful
these damsels, if judged by our standard, but the charm of Japanese
women lies in their manner and dainty little ways, and the tea-house
girl, being a professional decoy-duck, is an adept in the art of
flirting,--_en tout bien tout honneur_, be it remembered; for she is
not to be confounded with the frail beauties of the Yoshiwara, nor
even with her sisterhood near the ports open to foreigners, and to
their corrupting influence. For, strange as it seems, our contact all
over the East has an evil effect upon the natives.

In one of the tea-houses a thriving trade is carried on in the sale of
wooden tablets, some six inches square, adorned with the picture of a
pink cuttlefish on a bright blue ground. These are ex-votos, destined
to be offered up at the Temple of Yakushi Niurai, the Buddhist
AEsculapius, which stands opposite, and concerning the foundation of
which the following legend is told.

In the days of old there was a priest called Jikaku, who at the age of
forty years, it being the autumn of the tenth year of the period
called Tencho (A.D. 833), was suffering from disease of the eyes,
which had attacked him three years before. In order to be healed from
this disease he carved a figure of Yakushi Niurai, to which he used
to offer up his prayers. Five years later he went to China, taking
with him the figure as his guardian saint, and at a place called
Kairetsu it protected him from robbers and wild beasts and from other
calamities. There he passed his time in studying the sacred laws both
hidden and revealed, and after nine years set sail to return to Japan.
When he was on the high seas a storm arose, and a great fish attacked
and tried to swamp the ship, so that the rudder and mast were broken,
and the nearest shore being that of a land inhabited by devils, to
retreat or to advance was equally dangerous. Then the holy man prayed
to the patron saint whose image he carried, and as he prayed, behold
the true Yakushi Niurai appeared in the centre of the ship, and said
to him--

"Verily, thou hast travelled far that the sacred laws might be
revealed for the salvation of many men; now, therefore, take my image,
which thou carriest in thy bosom, and cast it into the sea, that the
wind may abate, and that thou mayest be delivered from this land of

The commands of the saints must be obeyed, so with tears in his eyes,
the priest threw into the sea the sacred image which he loved. Then
did the wind abate, and the waves were stilled, and the ship went on
her course as though she were being drawn by unseen hands until she
reached a safe haven. In the tenth month of the same year the priest
again set sail, trusting to the power of his patron saint, and reached
the harbour of Tsukushi without mishap. For three years he prayed that
the image which he had cast away might be restored to him, until at
last one night he was warned in a dream that on the sea-shore at
Matsura Yakushi Niurai would appear to him. In consequence of this
dream he went to the province of Hizen, and landed on the sea-shore at
Hirato, where, in the midst of a blaze of light, the image which he
had carved appeared to him twice, riding on the back of a cuttlefish.
Thus was the image restored to the world by a miracle. In
commemoration of his recovery from the disease of the eyes and of his
preservation from the dangers of the sea, that these things might be
known to all posterity, the priest established the worship of Tako
Yakushi Niurai ("Yakushi Niurai of the Cuttlefish") and came to
Meguro, where he built the Temple of Fudo Sama,[10] another Buddhist
divinity. At this time there was an epidemic of small-pox in the
village, so that men fell down and died in the street, and the holy
man prayed to Fudo Sama that the plague might be stayed. Then the god
appeared to him, and said--

"The saint Yakushi Niurai of the Cuttlefish, whose image thou
carriest, desires to have his place in this village, and he will heal
this plague. Thou shalt, therefore, raise a temple to him here that
not only this small-pox, but other diseases for future generations,
may be cured by his power."

[Footnote 10: Fudo, literally "the motionless": Buddha in the state
called Nirvana.]

Hearing this, the priest shed tears of gratitude, and having chosen a
piece of fine wood, carved a large figure of his patron saint of the
cuttlefish, and placed the smaller image inside of the larger, and
laid it up in this temple, to which people still flock that they may
be healed of their diseases.

Such is the story of the miracle, translated from a small ill-printed
pamphlet sold by the priests of the temple, all the decorations of
which, even to a bronze lantern in the middle of the yard, are in the
form of a cuttlefish, the sacred emblem of the place.

What pleasanter lounge in which to while away a hot day could a man
wish for than the shade of the trees borne by the hill on which stands
the Temple of Fudo Sama? Two jets of pure water springing from the
rock are voided by spouts carved in the shape of dragons into a stone
basin enclosed by rails, within which it is written that "no woman may
enter." If you are in luck, you may cool yourself by watching some
devotee, naked save his loin-cloth, performing the ceremony called
_Suigiyo_; that is to say, praying under the waterfall that his soul
may be purified through his body. In winter it requires no small pluck
to go through this penance, yet I have seen a penitent submit to it
for more than a quarter of an hour on a bitterly cold day in January.
In summer, on the other hand, the religious exercise called
_Hiyakudo_, or "the hundred times," which may also be seen here to
advantage, is no small trial of patience. It consists in walking
backwards and forwards a hundred times between two points within the
sacred precincts, repeating a prayer each time. The count is kept
either upon the fingers or by depositing a length of twisted straw
each time that the goal is reached; at this temple the place allotted
for the ceremony is between a grotesque bronze figure of Tengu Sama
("the Dog of Heaven"), the terror of children, a most hideous monster
with a gigantic nose, which it is beneficial to rub with a finger
afterwards to be applied to one's own nose, and a large brown box
inscribed with the characters _Hiyaku Do_ in high relief, which may
generally be seen full of straw tallies. It is no sinecure to be a
good Buddhist, for the gods are not lightly to be propitiated. Prayer
and fasting, mortification of the flesh, abstinence from wine, from
women, and from favourite dishes, are the only passports to rising in
office, prosperity in trade, recovery from sickness, or a happy
marriage with a beloved maiden. Nor will mere faith without works be
efficient. A votive tablet of proportionate value to the favour prayed
for, or a sum of money for the repairs of the shrine or temple, is
necessary to win the favour of the gods. Poorer persons will cut off
the queue of their hair and offer that up; and at Horinouchi, a temple
in great renown some eight or nine miles from Yedo, there is a rope
about two inches and a half in diameter and about six fathoms long,
entirely made of human hair so given to the gods; it lies coiled up,
dirty, moth-eaten, and uncared for, at one end of a long shed full of
tablets and pictures, by the side of a rude native fire-engine. The
taking of life being displeasing to Buddha, outside many of the
temples old women and children earn a livelihood by selling sparrows,
small eels, carp, and tortoises, which the worshipper sets free in
honour of the deity, within whose territory cocks and hens and doves,
tame and unharmed, perch on every jutty, frieze, buttress, and coigne
of vantage.

But of all the marvellous customs that I wot of in connection with
Japanese religious exercises, none appears to me so strange as that of
spitting at the images of the gods, more especially at the statues of
the Ni-o, the two huge red or red and green statues which, like Gog
and Magog, emblems of strength, stand as guardians of the chief
Buddhist temples. The figures are protected by a network of iron wire,
through which the votaries, praying the while, spit pieces of paper,
which they had chewed up into a pulp. If the pellet sticks to the
statue, the omen is favourable; if it falls, the prayer is not
accepted. The inside of the great bell at the Tycoon's burial-ground,
and almost every holy statue throughout the country, are all covered
with these outspittings from pious mouths.[11]

[Footnote 11: It will be readily understood that the customs and
ceremonies to which I have alluded belong only to the gross
superstitions with which ignorance has overlaid that pure Buddhism of
which Professor Max Mueller has pointed out the very real beauties.]

[Illustration: THE TOMB OF THE SHIYOKU.]

Through all this discourse about temples and tea-houses, I am coming
by degrees to the goal of our pilgrimage--two old stones, mouldering
away in a rank, overgrown graveyard hard by, an old old
burying-ground, forgotten by all save those who love to dig out the
tales of the past. The key is kept by a ghoulish old dame, almost as
time-worn and mildewed as the tomb over which she watches. Obedient to
our call, and looking forward to a fee ten times greater than any
native would give her, she hobbles out, and, opening the gate, points
out the stone bearing the inscription, the "Tomb of the Shiyoku"
(fabulous birds, which, living one within the other--a mysterious
duality contained in one body--are the emblem of connubial love and
fidelity). By this stone stands another, graven with a longer legend,
which runs as follows:--

"In the old days of Genroku, she pined for the beauty of her lover,
who was as fair to look upon as the flowers; and now beneath the moss
of this old tombstone all has perished of her save her name. Amid the
changes of a fitful world, this tomb is decaying under the dew and
rain; gradually crumbling beneath its own dust, its outline alone
remains. Stranger! bestow an alms to preserve this stone; and we,
sparing neither pain nor labour, will second you with all our hearts.
Erecting it again, let us preserve it from decay for future
generations, and let us write the following verse upon it:--'These two
birds, beautiful as the cherry-blossoms, perished before their time,
like flowers broken down by the wind before they have borne seed.'"

Under the first stone is the dust of Gompachi, robber and murderer,
mixed with that of his true love Komurasaki, who lies buried with him.
Her sorrows and constancy have hallowed the place, and pious people
still come to burn incense and lay flowers before the grave. How she
loved him even in death may be seen from the following old-world

* * * * *

About two hundred and thirty years ago there lived in the service of a
daimio of the province of Inaba a young man, called Shirai Gompachi,
who, when he was but sixteen years of age, had already won a name for
his personal beauty and valour, and for his skill in the use of arms.
Now it happened that one day a dog belonging to him fought with
another dog belonging to a fellow-clansman, and the two masters, being
both passionate youths, disputing as to whose dog had had the best of
the fight, quarrelled and came to blows, and Gompachi slew his
adversary; and in consequence of this he was obliged to flee from his
country, and make his escape to Yedo.

And so Gompachi set out on his travels.

One night, weary and footsore, he entered what appeared to him to be a
roadside inn, ordered some refreshment, and went to bed, little
thinking of the danger that menaced him: for as luck would have it,
this inn turned out to be the trysting-place of a gang of robbers,
into whose clutches he had thus unwittingly fallen. To be sure,
Gompachi's purse was but scantily furnished, but his sword and dirk
were worth some three hundred ounces of silver, and upon these the
robbers (of whom there were ten) had cast envious eyes, and had
determined to kill the owner for their sake; but he, all unsuspicious,
slept on in fancied security.

In the middle of the night he was startled from his deep slumbers by
some one stealthily opening the sliding door which led into his room,
and rousing himself with an effort, he beheld a beautiful young girl,
fifteen years of age, who, making signs to him not to stir, came up to
his bedside, and said to him in a whisper--

"Sir, the master of this house is the chief of a gang of robbers, who
have been plotting to murder you this night for the sake of your
clothes and your sword. As for me, I am the daughter of a rich
merchant in Mikawa: last year the robbers came to our house, and
carried off my father's treasure and myself. I pray you, sir, take me
with you, and let us fly from this dreadful place."

She wept as she spoke, and Gompachi was at first too much startled to
answer; but being a youth of high courage and a cunning fencer to
boot, he soon recovered his presence of mind, and determined to kill
the robbers, and to deliver the girl out of their hands. So he

"Since you say so, I will kill these thieves, and rescue you this very
night; only do you, when I begin the fight, run outside the house,
that you may be out of harm's way, and remain in hiding until I join

Upon this understanding the maiden left him, and went her way. But he
lay awake, holding his breath and watching; and when the thieves crept
noiselessly into the room, where they supposed him to be fast asleep,
he cut down the first man that entered, and stretched him dead at his
feet. The other nine, seeing this, laid about them with their drawn
swords, but Gompachi, fighting with desperation, mastered them at
last, and slew them. After thus ridding himself of his enemies, he
went outside the house and called to the girl, who came running to his
side, and joyfully travelled on with him to Mikawa, where her father
dwelt; and when they reached Mikawa, he took the maiden to the old
man's house, and told him how, when he had fallen among thieves, his
daughter had come to him in his hour of peril, and saved him out of
her great pity; and how he, in return, rescuing her from her
servitude, had brought her back to her home. When the old folks saw
their daughter whom they had lost restored to them, they were beside
themselves with joy, and shed tears for very happiness; and, in their
gratitude, they pressed Gompachi to remain with them, and they
prepared feasts for him, and entertained him hospitably: but their
daughter, who had fallen in love with him for his beauty and knightly
valour, spent her days in thinking of him, and of him alone. The young
man, however, in spite of the kindness of the old merchant, who
wished to adopt him as his son, and tried hard to persuade him to
consent to this, was fretting to go to Yedo and take service as an
officer in the household of some noble lord; so he resisted the
entreaties of the father and the soft speeches of the daughter, and
made ready to start on his journey; and the old merchant, seeing that
he would not be turned from his purpose, gave him a parting gift of
two hundred ounces of silver, and sorrowfully bade him farewell.


But alas for the grief of the maiden, who sat sobbing her heart out
and mourning over her lover's departure! He, all the while thinking
more of ambition than of love, went to her and comforted her, and
said: "Dry your eyes, sweetheart, and weep no more, for I shall soon
come back to you. Do you, in the meanwhile, be faithful and true to
me, and tend your parents with filial piety."

So she wiped away her tears and smiled again, when she heard him
promise that he would soon return to her. And Gompachi went his way,
and in due time came near to Yedo.

But his dangers were not yet over; for late one night, arriving at a
place called Suzugamori, in the neighbourhood of Yedo, he fell in with
six highwaymen, who attacked him, thinking to make short work of
killing and robbing him. Nothing daunted, he drew his sword, and
dispatched two out of the six; but, being weary and worn out with his
long journey, he was sorely pressed, and the struggle was going hard
with him, when a wardsman,[12] who happened to pass that way riding in
a chair, seeing the affray, jumped down from his chair and drawing his
dirk came to the rescue, and between them they put the robbers to

[Footnote 12: Japanese cities are divided into wards, and every
tradesman and artisan is under the authority of the chief of the ward
in which he resides. The word _chonin_, or wardsman, is generally used
in contradistinction to the word _samurai_, which has already been
explained as denoting a man belonging to the military class.]

Now it turned out that this kind tradesman, who had so happily come to
the assistance of Gompachi, was no other than Chobei of Bandzuin, the
chief of the _Otokodate_, or Friendly Society of the wardsmen of
Yedo--a man famous in the annals of the city, whose life, exploits,
and adventures are recited to this day, and form the subject of
another tale.

When the highwaymen had disappeared, Gompachi, turning to his
deliverer, said--

"I know not who you may be, sir, but I have to thank you for rescuing
me from a great danger."

And as he proceeded to express his gratitude, Chobei replied--

"I am but a poor wardsman, a humble man in my way, sir; and if the
robbers ran away, it was more by good luck than owing to any merit of
mine. But I am filled with admiration at the way you fought; you
displayed a courage and a skill that were beyond your years, sir."

"Indeed," said the young man, smiling with pleasure at hearing
himself praised; "I am still young and inexperienced, and am quite
ashamed of my bungling style of fencing."

"And now may I ask you, sir, whither you are bound?"

"That is almost more than I know myself, for I am a _ronin,_ and have
no fixed purpose in view."

"That is a bad job," said Chobei, who felt pity for the lad. "However,
if you will excuse my boldness in making such an offer, being but a
wardsman, until you shall have taken service I would fain place my
poor house at your disposal."

Gompachi accepted the offer of his new but trusty friend with thanks;
so Chobei led him to his house, where he lodged him and hospitably
entertained him for some months. And now Gompachi, being idle and
having nothing to care for, fell into bad ways, and began to lead a
dissolute life, thinking of nothing but gratifying his whims and
passions; he took to frequenting the Yoshiwara, the quarter of the
town which is set aside for tea-houses and other haunts of wild young
men, where his handsome face and figure attracted attention, and soon
made him a great favourite with all the beauties of the neighbourhood.

About this time men began to speak loud in praise of the charms of
Komurasaki, or "Little Purple," a young girl who had recently come to
the Yoshiwara, and who in beauty and accomplishments outshone all her
rivals. Gompachi, like the rest of the world, heard so much of her
fame that he determined to go to the house where she dwelt, at the
sign of "The Three Sea-coasts," and judge for himself whether she
deserved all that men said of her. Accordingly he set out one day, and
having arrived at "The Three Sea-coasts," asked to see Komurasaki; and
being shown into the room where she was sitting, advanced towards her;
but when their eyes met, they both started back with a cry of
astonishment, for this Komurasaki, the famous beauty of the Yoshiwara,
proved to be the very girl whom several months before Gompachi had
rescued from the robbers' den, and restored to her parents in Mikawa.
He had left her in prosperity and affluence, the darling child of a
rich father, when they had exchanged vows of love and fidelity; and
now they met in a common stew in Yedo. What a change! what a contrast!
How had the riches turned to rust, the vows to lies!

"What is this?" cried Gompachi, when he had recovered from his
surprise. "How is it that I find you here pursuing this vile calling,
in the Yoshiwara? Pray explain this to me, for there is some mystery
beneath all this which I do not understand."

But Komurasaki--who, having thus unexpectedly fallen in with her lover
that she had yearned for, was divided between joy and shame--answered,

"Alas! my tale is a sad one, and would be long to tell. After you left
us last year, calamity and reverses fell upon our house; and when my
parents became poverty-stricken, I was at my wits' end to know how to
support them: so I sold this wretched body of mine to the master of
this house, and sent the money to my father and mother; but, in spite
of this, troubles and misfortunes multiplied upon them, and now, at
last, they have died of misery and grief. And, oh! lives there in this
wide world so unhappy a wretch as I! But now that I have met you
again--you who are so strong--help me who am weak. You saved me
once--do not, I implore you, desert me now!!" and as she told her
piteous tale the tears streamed from her eyes.

"This is, indeed, a sad story," replied Gompachi, much affected by the
recital. "There must have been a wonderful run of bad luck to bring
such misfortune upon your house, which but a little while ago I
recollect so prosperous. However, mourn no more, for I will not
forsake you. It is true that I am too poor to redeem you from your
servitude, but at any rate I will contrive so that you shall be
tormented no more. Love me, therefore, and put your trust in me." When
she heard him speak so kindly she was comforted, and wept no more, but
poured out her whole heart to him, and forgot her past sorrows in the
great joy of meeting him again.

When it became time for them to separate, he embraced her tenderly and
returned to Chobei's house; but he could not banish Komurasaki from
his mind, and all day long he thought of her alone; and so it came
about that he went daily to the Yoshiwara to see her, and if any
accident detained him, she, missing the accustomed visit, would become
anxious and write to him to inquire the cause of his absence. At last,
pursuing this course of life, his stock of money ran short, and as,
being a _ronin_ and without any fixed employment, he had no means of
renewing his supplies, he was ashamed of showing himself penniless at
"The Three Sea-coasts." Then it was that a wicked spirit arose within
him, and he went out and murdered a man, and having robbed him of his
money carried it to the Yoshiwara.

From bad to worse is an easy step, and the tiger that has once tasted
blood is dangerous. Blinded and infatuated by his excessive love,
Gompachi kept on slaying and robbing, so that, while his outer man was
fair to look upon, the heart within him was that of a hideous devil.
At last his friend Chobei could no longer endure the sight of him, and
turned him out of his house; and as, sooner or later, virtue and vice
meet with their reward, it came to pass that Gompachi's crimes became
notorious, and the Government having set spies upon his track, he was
caught red-handed and arrested; and his evil deeds having been fully
proved against him, he was carried off to the execution ground at
Suzugamori, the "Bell Grove," and beheaded as a common male-factor.

Now when Gompachi was dead, Chobei's old affection for the young man
returned, and, being a kind and pious man, he went and claimed his
body and head, and buried him at Meguro, in the grounds of the Temple
called Boronji.

When Komurasaki heard the people at Yoshiwara gossiping about her
lover's end, her grief knew no bounds, so she fled secretly from "The
Three Sea-coasts," and came to Meguro and threw herself upon the
newly-made grave. Long she prayed and bitterly she wept over the tomb
of him whom, with all his faults, she had loved so well, and then,
drawing a dagger from her girdle, she plunged it in her breast and
died. The priests of the temple, when they saw what had happened,
wondered greatly and were astonished at the loving faithfulness of
this beautiful girl, and taking compassion on her, they laid her side
by side with Gompachi in one grave, and over the grave they placed a
stone which remains to this day, bearing the inscription "The Tomb of
the Shiyoku." And still the people of Yedo visit the place, and still
they praise the beauty of Gompachi and the filial piety and fidelity
of Komurasaki.

Let us linger for a moment longer in the old graveyard. The word which
I have translated a few lines above as "loving faithfulness" means
literally "chastity." When Komurasaki sold herself to supply the wants
of her ruined parents, she was not, according to her lights,
forfeiting her claim to virtue. On the contrary, she could perform no
greater act of filial piety, and, so far from incurring reproach among
her people, her self-sacrifice would be worthy of all praise in their
eyes. This idea has led to grave misunderstanding abroad, and indeed
no phase of Japanese life has been so misrepresented as this. I have
heard it stated, and seen it printed, that it is no disgrace for a
respectable Japanese to sell his daughter, that men of position and
family often choose their wives from such places as "The Three
Sea-coasts," and that up to the time of her marriage the conduct of a
young girl is a matter of no importance whatever. Nothing could be
more unjust or more untrue. It is only the neediest people that sell
their children to be waitresses, singers, or prostitutes. It does
occasionally happen that the daughter of a _Samurai_, or gentleman, is
found in a house of ill-fame, but such a case could only occur at the
death or utter ruin of the parents, and an official investigation of
the matter has proved it to be so exceptional, that the presence of a
young lady in such a place is an enormous attraction, her superior
education and accomplishments shedding a lustre over the house. As for
gentlemen marrying women of bad character, are not such things known
in Europe? Do ladies of the _demi-monde_ never make good marriages?
_Mesalliances_ are far rarer in Japan than with us. Certainly among
the lowest class of the population such, marriages may occasionally
occur, for it often happens that a woman can lay by a tempting dowry
out of her wretched earnings-, but amongst the gentry of the country
they are unknown.

And yet a girl is not disgraced if for her parents' sake she sells
herself to a life of misery so great, that, when a Japanese enters a
house of ill-fame, he is forced to leave his sword and dirk at the
door for two reasons--first, to prevent brawling; secondly, because it
is known that some of the women inside so loathe their existence that
they would put an end to it, could they get hold of a weapon.

It is a curious fact that in all the Daimio's castle-towns, with the
exception of some which are also seaports, open prostitution is
strictly forbidden, although, if report speaks truly, public morality
rather suffers than gains by the prohibition.

The misapprehension which exists upon the subject of prostitution in
Japan may be accounted for by the fact that foreign writers, basing
their judgment upon the vice of the open ports, have not hesitated to
pronounce the Japanese women unchaste. As fairly might a Japanese,
writing about England, argue from the street-walkers of Portsmouth or
Plymouth to the wives, sisters, and daughters of these very authors.
In some respects the gulf fixed between virtue and vice in Japan is
even greater than in England. The Eastern courtesan is confined to a
certain quarter of the town, and distinguished by a peculiarly gaudy
costume, and by a head-dress which consists of a forest of light
tortoiseshell hair-pins, stuck round her head like a saint's glory--a
glory of shame which a modest woman would sooner die than wear. Vice
jostling virtue in the public places; virtue imitating the fashions
set by vice, and buying trinkets or furniture at the sale of vice's
effects--these are social phenomena which the East knows not.

The custom prevalent among the lower orders of bathing in public
bath-houses without distinction of the sexes, is another circumstance
which has tended to spread abroad very false notions upon the subject
of the chastity of the Japanese women. Every traveller is shocked by
it, and every writer finds in it matter for a page of pungent
description. Yet it is only those who are so poor (and they must be
poor indeed) that they cannot afford a bath at home, who, at the end
of their day's work, go to the public bath-house to refresh themselves
before sitting down to their evening meal: having been used to the
scene from their childhood, they see no indelicacy in it; it is a
matter of course, and _honi soit qui mal y pense_: certainly there is
far less indecency and immorality resulting from this public bathing,
than from the promiscuous herding together of all sexes and ages which
disgraces our own lodging-houses in the great cities, and the hideous
hovels in which some of our labourers have to pass their lives; nor
can it be said that there is more confusion of sexes amongst the
lowest orders in Japan than in Europe. Speaking upon the subject once
with a Japanese gentleman, I observed that we considered it an act of
indecency for men and women to wash together. He shrugged his
shoulders as he answered, "But then Westerns have such prurient
minds." Some time ago, at the open port of Yokohama, the Government,
out of deference to the prejudices of foreigners, forbade the men and
women to bathe together, and no doubt this was the first step towards
putting down the practice altogether: as for women tubbing in the open
streets of Yedo, I have read of such things in books written by
foreigners; but during a residence of three years and a half, in which
time I crossed and recrossed every part of the great city at all hours
of the day, I never once saw such a sight. I believe myself that it
can only be seen at certain hot mineral springs in remote country

The best answer to the general charge of immorality which has been
brought against the Japanese women during their period of unmarried
life, lies in the fact that every man who can afford to do so keeps
the maidens of his family closely guarded in the strictest seclusion.
The daughter of poverty, indeed, must work and go abroad, but not a
man is allowed to approach the daughter of a gentleman; and she is
taught that if by accident any insult should be offered to her, the
knife which she carries at her girdle is meant for use, and not
merely as a badge of her rank. Not long ago a tragedy took place in
the house of one of the chief nobles in Yedo. One of My Lady's
tire-women, herself a damsel of gentle blood, and gifted with rare
beauty, had attracted the attention of a retainer in the palace, who
fell desperately in love with her. For a long time the strict rules of
decorum by which she was hedged in prevented him from declaring his
passion; but at last he contrived to gain access to her presence, and
so far forgot himself, that she, drawing her poniard, stabbed him in
the eye, so that he was carried off fainting, and presently died. The
girl's declaration, that the dead man had attempted to insult her, was
held to be sufficient justification of her deed, and, instead of being
blamed, she was praised and extolled for her valour and chastity. As
the affair had taken place within the four walls of a powerful noble,
there was no official investigation into the matter, with which the
authorities of the palace were competent to deal. The truth of this
story was vouched for by two or three persons whose word I have no
reason to doubt, and who had themselves been mixed up in it; I can
bear witness that it is in complete harmony with Japanese ideas; and
certainly it seems more just that Lucretia should kill Tarquin than

The better the Japanese people come to be known and understood, the
more, I am certain, will it be felt that a great injustice has been
done them in the sweeping attacks which have been made upon their
women. Writers are agreed, I believe, that their matrons are, as a
rule, without reproach. If their maidens are chaste, as I contend that
from very force of circumstances they cannot help being, what becomes
of all these charges of vice and immodesty? Do they not rather recoil
upon the accusers, who would appear to have studied the Japanese woman
only in the harlot of Yokohama?

Having said so much, I will now try to give some account of the famous
Yoshiwara[13] of Yedo, to which frequent allusion will have to be made
in the course of these tales.

[Footnote 13: The name Yoshiwara, which is becoming generic for
"Flower Districts,"--_Anglice_, quarters occupied by brothels,--is
sometimes derived from the town Yoshiwara, in Sunshine, because it was
said that the women of that place furnished a large proportion of the
beauties of the Yedo Yoshiwara. The correct derivation is probably
that given below.]

At the end of the sixteenth century the courtesans of Yedo lived in
three special places: these were the street called Koji-machi, in
which dwelt the women who came from Kioto; the Kamakura Street, and a
spot opposite the great bridge, in which last two places lived women
brought from Suruga. Besides these there afterwards came women from
Fushimi and from Nara, who lodged scattered here and there throughout
the town. This appears to have scandalized a certain reformer, named
Shoji Jinyemon, who, in the year 1612, addressed a memorial to the
Government, petitioning that the women who lived in different parts of
the town should be collected in one "Flower Quarter." His petition was
granted in the year 1617, and he fixed upon a place called Fukiyacho,
which, on account of the quantities of rushes which grew there, was
named _Yoshi-Wara,_ or the rush-moor, a name which now-a-days, by a
play upon the word _yoshi,_ is written with two Chinese characters,
signifying the "good," or "lucky moor." The place was divided into
four streets, called the Yedo Street, the Second Yedo Street, the
Kioto Street, and the Second Kioto Street.

In the eighth month of the year 1655, when Yedo was beginning to
increase in size and importance, the Yoshiwara, preserving its name,
was transplanted bodily to the spot which it now occupies at the
northern end of the town. And the streets in it were named after the
places from which the greater number of their inhabitants originally
came, as the "Sakai Street," the "Fushimi Street," &c.

The official Guide to the Yoshiwara for 1869 gives a return of 153
brothels, containing 3,289 courtesans of all classes, from the
_Oiran_, or proud beauty, who, dressed up in gorgeous brocade of gold
and silver, with painted face and gilded lips, and with her teeth
fashionably blacked, has all the young bloods of Yedo at her feet,
down to the humble _Shinzo_, or white-toothed woman, who rots away her
life in the common stews. These figures do not, however, represent the
whole of the prostitution of Yedo; the Yoshiwara is the chief, but not
the only, abiding-place of the public women. At Fukagawa there is
another Flower District, built upon the same principle as the
Yoshiwara; while at Shinagawa, Shinjiku, Itabashi, Senji, and
Kadzukappara, the hotels contain women who, nominally only waitresses,
are in reality prostitutes. There are also women called _Jigoku-Omna,_
or hell-women, who, without being borne on the books of any brothel,
live in their own houses, and ply their trade in secret. On the whole,
I believe the amount of prostitution in Yedo to be wonderfully small,
considering the vast size of the city.

There are 394 tea-houses in the Yoshiwara, which are largely used as
places of assignation, and which on those occasions are paid, not by
the visitors frequenting them, but by the keepers of the brothels. It
is also the fashion to give dinners and drinking-parties at these
houses, for which the services of _Taikomochi_, or jesters, among whom
there are thirty-nine chief celebrities, and of singing and dancing
girls, are retained. The Guide to the Yoshiwara gives a list of
fifty-five famous singing-girls, besides a host of minor stars. These
women are not to be confounded with the courtesans. Their conduct is
very closely watched by their masters, and they always go out to
parties in couples or in bands, so that they may be a check upon one
another. Doubtless, however, in spite of all precautions, the shower
of gold does from time to time find its way to Danae's lap; and to be
the favoured lover of a fashionable singer or dancer is rather a
feather in the cap of a fast young Japanese gentleman. The fee paid to
singing-girls for performing during a space of two hours is one
shilling and fourpence each; for six hours the fee is quadrupled, and
it is customary to give the girls a _hana_, or present, for
themselves, besides their regular pay, which goes to the master of the
troupe to which they belong.

Courtesans, singing women, and dancers are bought by contractors,
either as children, when they are educated for their calling, or at a
more advanced age, when their accomplishments and charms render them
desirable investments. The engagement is never made life-long, for
once past the flower of their youth the poor creatures would be mere
burthens upon their masters; a courtesan is usually bought until she
shall have reached the age of twenty-seven, after which she becomes
her own property. Singers remain longer in harness, but even they
rarely work after the age of thirty, for Japanese women, like
Italians, age quickly, and have none of that intermediate stage
between youth and old age, which seems to be confined to countries
where there is a twilight.

Children destined to be trained as singers are usually bought when
they are five or six years old, a likely child fetching from about
thirty-five to fifty shillings; the purchaser undertakes the education
of his charge, and brings the little thing up as his own child. The
parents sign a paper absolving him from all responsibility in case of
sickness or accident; but they know that their child will be well
treated and cared for, the interests of the buyer being their material
guarantee. Girls of fifteen or upwards who are sufficiently
accomplished to join a company of singers fetch ten times the price
paid for children; for in their case there is no risk and no expense
of education.

Little children who are bought for purposes of prostitution at the age
of five or six years fetch about the same price as those that are
bought to be singers. During their novitiate they are employed to wait
upon the _Oiran_, or fashionable courtesans, in the capacity of little
female pages (_Kamuro_). They are mostly the children of distressed
persons, or orphans, whom their relatives cruelly sell rather than be
at the expense and trouble of bringing them up. Of the girls who enter
the profession later in life, some are orphans, who have no other
means of earning a livelihood; others sell their bodies out of filial
piety, that they may succour their sick or needy parents; others are
married women, who enter the Yoshiwara to supply the wants of their
husbands; and a very small proportion is recruited from girls who have
been seduced and abandoned, perhaps sold, by faithless lovers.

The time to see the Yoshiwara to the best advantage is just after
nightfall, when the lamps are lighted. Then it is that the women--who
for the last two hours have been engaged in gilding their lips and
painting their eyebrows black, and their throats and bosoms a snowy
white, carefully leaving three brown Van-dyke-collar points where the
back of the head joins the neck, in accordance with one of the
strictest rules of Japanese cosmetic science--leave the back rooms,
and take their places, side by side, in a kind of long narrow cage,
the wooden bars of which open on to the public thoroughfare. Here they
sit for hours, gorgeous in dresses of silk and gold and silver
embroidery, speechless and motionless as wax figures, until they shall
have attracted the attention of some of the passers-by, who begin to
throng the place. At Yokohama indeed, and at the other open ports, the
women of the Yoshiwara are loud in their invitations to visitors,
frequently relieving the monotony of their own language by some
blasphemous term of endearment picked up from British and American
seamen; but in the Flower District at Yedo, and wherever Japanese
customs are untainted, the utmost decorum prevails. Although the shape
which vice takes is ugly enough, still it has this merit, that it is
unobtrusive. Never need the pure be contaminated by contact with the
impure; he who goes to the Yoshiwara, goes there knowing full well
what he will find, but the virtuous man may live through his life
without having this kind of vice forced upon his sight. Here again do
the open ports contrast unfavourably with other places: Yokohama at
night is as leprous a place as the London Haymarket.[14]

[Footnote 14: Those who are interested in this branch of social
science, will find much curious information upon the subject of
prostitution in Japan in a pamphlet published at Yokohama, by Dr.
Newton, R.N., a philanthropist who has been engaged for the last two
years in establishing a Lock Hospital at that place. In spite of much
opposition, from prejudice and ignorance, his labours have been
crowned by great success.]

A public woman or singer on entering her profession assumes a _nom de
guerre_, by which she is known until her engagement is at an end. Some
of these names are so pretty and quaint that I will take a few
specimens from the _Yoshiwara Saiken_, the guidebook upon which this
notice is based. "Little Pine," "Little Butterfly," "Brightness of the
Flowers," "The Jewel River," "Gold Mountain," "Pearl Harp," "The Stork
that lives a Thousand Years," "Village of Flowers," "Sea Beach," "The
Little Dragon," "Little Purple," "Silver," "Chrysanthemum,"
"Waterfall," "White Brightness," "Forest of Cherries,"--these and a
host of other quaint conceits are the one prettiness of a very foul


It is a law that he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. In
Japan, where there exists a large armed class over whom there is
practically little or no control, party and clan broils, and single
quarrels ending in bloodshed and death, are matters of daily
occurrence; and it has been observed that Edinburgh in the olden time,
when the clansmen, roistering through the streets at night, would pass
from high words to deadly blows, is perhaps the best European parallel
of modern Yedo or Kioto.

It follows that of all his possessions the Samurai sets most store by
his sword, his constant companion, his ally, defensive and offensive.
The price of a sword by a famous maker reaches a high sum: a Japanese
noble will sometimes be found girding on a sword, the blade of which
unmounted is worth from six hundred to a thousand riyos, say from L200
to L300, and the mounting, rich in cunning metal work, will be of
proportionate value. These swords are handed down as heirlooms from
father to son, and become almost a part of the wearer's own self.
Iyeyasu, the founder of the last dynasty of Shoguns, wrote in his
Legacy,[15] a code of rules drawn up for the guidance of his
successors and their advisers in the government, "The girded sword is
the living soul of the Samurai. In the case of a Samurai forgetting
his sword, act as is appointed: it may not be overlooked."

[Footnote 15: _The Legacy of Iyeyasu_, translated by F. Lowder.
Yokohama, 1868. (Printed for private circulation.)]

The occupation of a swordsmith is an honourable profession, the
members of which are men of gentle blood. In a country where trade is
looked down upon as degrading, it is strange to find this single
exception to the general rule. The traditions of the craft are many
and curious. During the most critical moment of the forging of the
sword, when the steel edge is being welded into the body of the iron
blade, it is a custom which still obtains among old-fashioned
armourers to put on the cap and robes worn by the Kuge, or nobles of
the Mikado's court, and, closing the doors of the workshop, to labour
in secrecy and freedom from interruption, the half gloom adding to the
mystery of the operation. Sometimes the occasion is even invested with
a certain sanctity, a tasselled cord of straw, such as is hung before
the shrines of the Kami, or native gods of Japan, being suspended
between two bamboo poles in the forge, which for the nonce is
converted into a holy altar.

At Osaka, I lived opposite to one Kusano Yoshiaki, a swordsmith, a
most intelligent and amiable gentleman, who was famous throughout his
neighbourhood for his good and charitable deeds. His idea was that,
having been bred up to a calling which trades in life and death, he
was bound, so far as in him lay, to atone for this by seeking to
alleviate the suffering which is in the world; and he carried out his
principle to the extent of impoverishing himself. No neighbour ever
appealed to him in vain for help in tending the sick or burying the
dead. No beggar or lazar was ever turned from his door without
receiving some mark of his bounty, whether in money or in kind. Nor
was his scrupulous honesty less remarkable than his charity. While
other smiths are in the habit of earning large sums of money by
counterfeiting the marks of the famous makers of old, he was able to
boast that he had never turned out a weapon which bore any other mark
than his own. From his father and his forefathers he inherited his
trade, which, in his turn, he will hand over to his son--a
hard-working, honest, and sturdy man, the clank of whose hammer and
anvil may be heard from daybreak to sundown.

[Illustration: FORGING THE SWORD.]

The trenchant edge of the Japanese sword is notorious. It is said that
the best blades will in the hands of an expert swordsman cut through
the dead bodies of three men, laid one upon the other, at a blow. The
swords of the Shogun used to be tried upon the corpses of executed
criminals; the public headsman was entrusted with the duty, and for a
"nose medicine," or bribe of two bus (about three shillings), would
substitute the weapon of a private individual for that of his Lord.
Dogs and beggars, lying helpless by the roadside, not unfrequently
serve to test a ruffian's sword; but the executioner earns many a fee
from those who wish to see how their blades will cut off a head.

The statesman who shall enact a law forbidding the carrying of this
deadly weapon will indeed have deserved well of his country; but it
will be a difficult task to undertake, and a dangerous one. I would
not give much for that man's life. The hand of every swashbuckler in
the empire would be against him. One day as we were talking over this
and other kindred subjects, a friend of mine, a man of advanced and
liberal views, wrote down his opinion, _more Japonico_, in a verse of
poetry which ran as follows:--"I would that all the swords and dirks
in the country might be collected in one place and molten down, and
that, from the metal so produced, one huge sword might be forged,
which, being the only blade left, should be the girded sword of Great

The following history is in more senses than one a "Tale of a Sword."

About two hundred and fifty years ago Ikeda Kunaishoyu was Lord of the

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