Open menu


Open menu


Open menu
three pairs of lovers with space



The following story, originally called “Within the Fence”, is from Ihara Saikaku’s Nanshoku Ōkagami 男色大鑑 (Great Mirror of Male Love), a collection of forty short stories of Greek love published in 1687.

The shortened translation presented here is the first into English and was made by E. Powys Mathers from the French translation of Ken Sato. Mathers published it as “Love long Concealed” in pp.  92-98 of Comrade Loves of the Samurai, the first section of volume seven of his Eastern Love (London, 1928).

Presumably the story is set in the era in which it was written.  Its setting was in any case seventeenth-century, as the original text mentions a temple founded in 1596 in which the principal protagonist’s mother had served before his birth.[1]

It should be noted that Saikaku used the traditional Japanese method of counting age, according to which a person is born aged one, and goes up one each subsequent New Year. Thus between one and two years needs to be taken off to find the modern English equivalent. Thus the protagonist, Tamanosuke, described as 15 at the beginning of the story, was (by modern English counting) 13 or 14.


Love long Concealed

FOLLOWING a dispute with the counsellor of the Lord of the Province of Osumi, the samurai Jiuzayemon Fatjibana retired from official life. He lived very comfortably with his wife and son in a remote village. His son, Tamanosuke, was at that time fifteen years old, and so beautiful that people thought it a pity to leave him hidden in this remote village, and not to make him a well-known samurai in some large town.

But when Jiuzayemon thought that his son was old enough to serve a Prince as a page, he sent him to the capital, Yedo. He also caused his servant, Kakubeï Kanazawa, to accompany him. This man had served him for many years, and was fifty years old and had great experience of life. Before leaving him, his father gave his son some good advice, telling him to conduct himself bravely and to defend his honour to the death.

The residence at Aizu ("Aezu" in the text) of a samurai of the Edo period (faithfully reconstructed after a fire)

But his mother whispered for a moment with Kakubeï, asking him to guard and protect her son, and ended by saying: ‘I beg you to take particular care of my son, especially in this matter.’

When Tamanosuke and Kakubeï were some distance from the house, Tamanosuke asked: ‘Did not my mother tell you not to deliver love-letters to me if a samurai should send me one? But if you refuse to oblige a man who sends me love-letters, you will act heartlessly. You will be a cruel man. I want to be loved by some great samurai, since that is one of the best things in this life of ours. If no one loves me, I shall hate my beautiful face. Once in Great China, a prevalent poet of the Province of Yoshu said in one of his poems, speaking of a young boy: “A cruel youth without a heart.”[2] I wish you to feel sympathy for pederasty, O Kakubeï.’

Kakubeï answered: ‘But of course, young master! If everybody were as scrupulous as your mother, such a thing as honourable love between samurai would not exist. I shall act quite in accordance with your wishes.’ And they laughed together.

After a long and troublesome journey they at last reached Yedo. Tamanosuke was presented by a friend of his father’s to the Prince of the Province of Aezu, who was charmed with him and immediately engaged him as a page, and took him to the Province of Aezu with him. Tamanosuke was greatly attached to this Lord, and very polite to the other courtiers, of whom this Lord made him his favourite. Compared with Tamanosuke’s beauty, all the other pages were as flowers hidden behind a fence from the rays of the sun.

One summer evening Tamanosuke was playing ball with the other pages in the palace garden. He was the best player of all, and people watched and admired his grace and skill. Suddenly his eyes grew haggard, his body began to tremble, and he was seized with convulsions in all his limbs. They took off his playing habit, and he seemed to have stopped breathing. When he regained consciousness, they bore him to his house. He grew worse and worse. His death seemed very near, and they despaired of saving him.

There was a certain samurai named Senzayemon Sasamura, a junior officer charged with the defence of the frontiers of the Province. No one took much notice of him. However, he loved Tamanosuke, though he had no means of sending him a message of love. He was waiting a favourable opportunity to declare his passion to him. When he learned of Tamanosuke’s serious illness, he felt that he would not survive him if he should die.

Illustration accompanying the original text

Every morning he went to Tamanosuke’s house and wrote his name on the register in the vestibule, like all the other samurai. He came again in the afternoon and in the evening after his supper to inquire after him. In this way he made three visits every day for six months.

Tamanosuke recovered. He washed himself in a bath and carefully shaved himself. After a meticulous toilet he went to the Lord to announce his recovery, and to thank him for the kindness he had shown to him while he was ill. Then he visited all those who had been good to him, and, after his round of visits, returned home. Finally, he told Kakubeï to bring him the register of visitors, and there he saw the name of Senzayemon Sasamura, and noticed that he had been three times a day from the beginning of his illness. He asked Kakubeï who this Senzayemon might be, and Kakubeï answered: ‘He is not very well known. He must be an inferior samurai.[3] He seemed to be really anxious about you. When I told him that my master was better, his face quite brightened; but when I told him that the illness was getting worse, he grew pale and was overcome with distress. He was different from the ordinary visitors.’

Tamanosuke said: ‘He is a very faithful individual, although I have never seen him.’ And he went at once to Senzayemon’s house, although it was far enough away, and said to the servant: ‘I have come to thank Senzayemon for his kindness during my illness.’

Senzayemon ran joyfully to him and said: ‘How good you are to have come so far to thank me for my insignificant actions. I am quite confused by your visit, Lord. But your health is not yet strong, and the evening air is fresh. I beg you to return to your house and take care of yourself.’

Tamanosuke answered: ‘The world is so vain and uncertain, and man is like the momentary gleam of a light. In the morning we do not know surely if we shall live till the evening. I beg you to let me come in; I have a private matter to discuss with you.’

Senzayemon led him to his room, and then Tamanosuke said to him: ‘I am truly grateful for your devotion during my long illness. Forgive me for saying it frankly, but if you love me, humble as I am, I have come to be loved by you this evening, Senzayemon.’

Senzayemon blushed with pleasure: ‘My heart cannot express itself in words. I pray you to go and see it. It is in the shrine of the god Hatjiman, who is the god of war and of soldiers. I consecrated it there, my lover.’

Tamanosuke went to the shrine, and asked the priest what was there. The priest said: ‘Senzayemon gave me a box which contained his daily prayer for his friend’s recovery.’ Tamanosuke, with leave, opened the box and found in it a dagger of Sadamune and a fervent prayer for his recovery in a letter addressed to the god. In this manner he discovered that he owed his recovery to Senzayemon’s prayer. Then he and Senzayemon became faithful lovers.

Little by little this story spread, and came to the ears of the Lord, who sentenced the two lovers to be confined in their own houses.[4] They were both ready to die for their love, and did not at all fear death. They calmly awaited their severe punishment, and succeeded in finding a secret means of corresponding with each other. A year passed in this way.

Then, on the ninth of March, they sent a petition to the Lord, in which they begged to be allowed an honourable death by Hara-kiri. They awaited their condemnation from moment to moment. But one day a messenger came from the Lord to Tamanosuke and ordered him to become a samurai instead of the page that he had been.[5] Senzayemon was also pardoned. They were very grateful to this Lord, and decided to forgo their meetings until Tamanosuke should have reached the age of twenty-five. They no longer even spoke to each other when they met in the street. They but continued to serve their Lord faithfully.


[1] Paul Gordon Schalow, The Great Mirror of Male Love (Stanford, 1990) pp. 63 & 321.

[2] Schalow, op. cit., p. 321 says this refers to “a boy of great beauty who rejected the advances of his suitors and died a lonely, miserable death”, and who was described in a poem by Tsung Wen, a visitor to his grave as a “heartless youth.”

[3] This appears to be an invention of Sato or Mathers, as it is not in Schalow’s fuller translation, op. cit., p. 66, where Kakubeï answers instead: “We assumed he had some connection with your family.”

[4] Schalow, op. cit., p. 321 explains “It was a crime against the laws of the domain for a youth in the personal service of the daimyo lord to establish sexual relations with another samurai.”

[5] This is Mathers’s way of expressing that Tamanosuke was ordered to undergo the coming-of-age ceremony of hair-shaving, not usually done until the age of nineteen, which Schalow, op. cit., p. 322 explains was done three or four years prematurely in this case “as a means of making him sexually inaccessible to Senzaemon, since sexual relations were not practiced between adult males.”