Open menu


Open menu


Open menu
three pairs of lovers with space



The following story is from Ihara Saikaku’s Buke giri monogatari 武家義理物語 , a collection of twenty-six short stories of Greek love published in 1687, as translated by Caryl Callahan in Tales of Samurai Honor, (Tokyo, 1981) pp. 142-5.

As the boy hero of this story was a messenger in the service of Kimura Shigenari, already titled governor of Nagato, its setting can hardly be many years before the latter’s death in June 1615 at the age of only twenty-one.  The shaving of the forelock alluded to in the title was done in a ceremony when the youth reached eighteen or nineteen and denoted the end of his availability as a loved-boy, after which he was eligible to become a boy’s lover.

Youths and flowers enjoy all too brief a season of bloom and beauty.

One of the messengers in the service of Lord Kimura, governor of Nagato,[1] was a boy named Matsuo Kozen, whose beauty had gained him his position. He had worked there since he was sixteen,[2] that age when youths are most attractive to other males. He came from Humada in Iwami, where he had an older man named Sugiyama Ichizaemon as his lover. But thinking only of Kozen’s future, Ichizaemon had sacrificed his own endless love; he had persuaded the boy to go to the capital and had reluctantly seen him off on his journey. His was an extremely unselfish love.

A samurai pedicating a boy, by Miyagawa Choshun, early 18th century

Although the two were now far apart, their letters reaffirmed their love, and Kozen thought constantly of Ichizaemon. Unable to sleep for loneliness, the boy yearned for the tender love play that he had known in the past.

It was then that a sumarai named Shigino Uemon fell passionately in love with Kozen and wrote him a letter. Kozen replied, ‘This has nothing to do with my personal feelings towards you, but for good reasons I can give my love to no one. You must never ask me this again, for I will not reply.’

Unable to contain himself, Uemon waited for a good opportunity and then went to Kozen’s room prepared to force the boy to explain his reasons. Kozen was not at all frightened. ‘You are kind enough to think fondly of me,’ he said, ‘and I cannot turn a deaf ear. But there is another man back home to whom I am pledged. Here – please look at this written oath. I will do my duty by him no matter what happens.’

Kozen then told Uemon everything from the very beginning, even the most intimate details, and then he said, ‘From now on, I will put my trust in you. Since we cannot be lovers, I want you to think of us as real brothers. Please guide and advise me as an older brother would.’

Kozen's explanation was so reasonable that Uemon understood the situation and thereafter watched out for Kozen, feeling a special solicitude for him.

Another samurai named Tamamizu Moheii had also been sending Kozen love letters and wooing him. When he saw Koreu‘s closeness with Uemon, he retorted, 'You rejected me who had loved you so long and took a newcomer as your lover. It's more than I can bear. I cannot forgive you, no matter how much you apologize. There’s no point in making excuses. We must duel.’

Since Moheii’s mind was so firmly made up, Kozen had no choice. ‘l don’t care what you say,’ he replied, ‘but I have done nothing that makes me feel guilty. But I have no cowardly reluctance to die - I will most certainly duel with you. Since I am not yet very proficient, l know you will kill me with your sword. Please take care afterward that my body is fit to be seen without shame. Well then, when shall we have our fight?’

By this time Moheii was really worked up. The evening of the 19th is perfect,’ he said, ‘for there's no moon after sunset. Let’s meet at the Tamatsukuri field before the first third of night begins.[3] We will go off together on death's journey. Since only a few days remain to gaze upon the moon of this floating world, make your preparations slowly and calmly.’

An illustration originally accompanying the story

The two then exchanged polite farewells and parted.

The night of the 19th soon came around. Kozen got himself ready and went all alone to the designated meeting place. After he had waited some time and still seen no one, he decided to go directly to Moheii’s to find out what had happened. As Kozen stealthily made his way, he heard footsteps behind him and so, sensing danger, he hid himself by moving close to a bamboo fence. Who could this be? he thought, only to realize that it was his good friend Uemon.

Uemon had sharp vision and came right over to him. ‘I don’t like this at all,’ he said. ‘From the way you're hiding here all by yourself, it certainly looks as if you and Moheii are having an affair. If that is so, I am totally disgraced, and l will have to fight both Moheii and you.’

Uemon's anger was quite understandable, but Kozen remained calm. ‘lt’s all very complicated,’ he said, and then related what had happened. Uemon then replied, ‘You really make me angry. What are friends for if not at a time like this? l’ll be your second. You can kill Moheii knowing that you're backed up by me, Uemon, who’s as solid as a mountain.’ 

After these encouraging words, Uemon had Kozen take him to Moheii’s house and eavesdropped from the gate. Moheii had changed his mind. He told Kozen, ‘I was late because it took so long to write a farewell note. Actually, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you. If you and Uemon are really just friends, then I have nothing against you. So there’s no point in having it out with our swords. I have no complaints at all.’

Kozen replied, ‘Well, if you have no complaints, then I have none either.'

Moheii had made a real fool of himself, and Uemon and Kozen enjoyed a good laugh over it as they left.

Afterward, this reliable samurai Uemon kept up his association with Kozen, a friendship based only on duty, contrary to what people thought.

Kozen stayed as beautiful as a young pine through a thousand springs, and his samurai house prospered endlessly in this well-governed realm where the sword remains forever sheathed and peace reigns eternal.


[1] Kimura Shigenari, 1594-1615, a major retainer of Toyotomi Hideyori, perished in the siege of Osaka. ‘Governor of Nagato’ was an honorary title. [Translator’s Note]

[2] Kozen’s age was 14 or 15, a point of great importance, since it is here said to be that at which boys are most attractive to men. Saikaku used  the pre-1902 Japanese system of reckoning age, according to which one is born at the age of one and goes up a year at the onset of every lichun (4 or 5 February).

[3] Around 8:00 p. m. [Translator’s Note]




If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to greek.love.tta@gmail.com, mentioning either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.