Open menu


Open menu


Open menu
three pairs of lovers with space


The following story, originally called “He Fell in Love When the Mountain Rose Was in Bloom”, 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 slightly 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 “A Samurai becomes a Beggar through his Love for a Page” in pp. 53-63 of Comrade Loves of the Samurai, the first section of volume seven of his Eastern Love (London, 1928).

The story’s setting can only be dated to the period between the establishment of Edo as the shogun’s capital in 1603 and the year of publication.

A Samurai becomes a Beggar through his Love for a Page

A YOUNG SAMURAI NAMED GUZAYEMON TOYAWA lived in a house by himself in his master’s palace near Toranomon.[1] One day, being at liberty, he went out for a walk, as he was tired of his bachelor solitude. When young he had been famous for his manly beauty, and had lived in the town of Matsuyama in the Province of South Shikoku; but he had at length left his former master and come to Yedo. There he was soon engaged by another Lord at the same salary which he had received at Matsuyama. His house was in the Shibuya district.

The temple of Fudō at Meguro by Kitao Shigemasa, ca. 1770

Mid-spring had come, and the weather was delightful. He went to visit the shrine of the god Tudo[2] at Meguro. Passing by a little waterfall in the temple garden, he saw a beautiful young man. This youth was wearing a large hat decorated with silk and kept in place by a pale blue ribbon: his wide-sleeved robe was as purple as the glory of morning flowers: he carried at his girdle two swords in wonderfully- ornamented scabbards: he was walking at ease carrying a branch of yellow flowers in his hand. His beauty was such that Guzayemon for a moment asked himself if the god Roya had not taken human form, or if a peony had not come to life and was walking in the spring sunlight.

He was fascinated by the young man, who was already accompanied by two shaven courtiers and several servants, and followed him. Guzayemon thought that he must be the favourite page of some noble Prince. He was profoundly disturbed, and followed him.

The two shaven courtiers were singing gay songs, for they were a little drunk. The young boy went towards a palace near the shrine of Koroku, and entered it by a door crowned with violet paulownia leaves. Guzayemon asked a Guard what this palace might be, and learned that the young man’s name was Shyume Okuyama, the favourite page of his master.

Guzayemon dreamed of the boy all night. Next day he stood before the palace door, hoping to see the page; but in vain. Returning to his house, he could not keep his mind on his work. He pretended to be ill, and resigned from his service. He then went to live in a little house in a street in the Kojimachi district. Since his time was all his own, he walked every day before the palace door, from the twenty-third of May till the month of October; but he never saw the young man again. He had no means of sending him a love-letter, and therefore suffered cruelly from his passion by day and by night.

Then the young page’s master received permission from the Shyōgun to return to his own country, and the twenty-fifth day was fixed for his departure. Guzayemon decided to follow the page; so he sold all the furniture of his house, shut it up, and paid his debts to the grocer, the fishmonger and the wine merchant; he dismissed his young servant, and followed the train of the Lord.

The train stopped for their first night in the town of Kanayawa, and next day took up their quarters at Oysso. That evening the page went out in a litter to visit historic Shigitatsusawa. He opened the door of his litter a trifle and murmured the famous poem which Saigyo, the Buddhist priest, had written concerning that palace:

Although I have renounced all human emotion
As a priest of Buddha,
I am seized with deep sadness
When I find myself here at Shigitatsusawa
On an Autumn evening.

The road through Mount Utsu by Utagawa Hiroshige

Guzayemon could only behold his love from a distance; yet the other also perceived him, and their looks crossed. But they were immediately separated, and Guza-yemon did not see the page again until a day when they were going along a rocky road at the summit of Mount Utsunoyama. Guzaye-mon was standing behind a big rock at the side of the road, and threw a glance into the young man’s litter; then, in spite of himself, he began to weep with emotion. The young man turned his gracious face to him, and Guzayemon became more than ever inflamed.

He did not see his page again before they reached the town of Tsuyama in the Province of Mimasaka, and there he caught but a bare glimpse of him. That was his last chance, for soon the Lord arrived safely in the Province of Yezumo. There Guzayemon became a labourer to gain his food, for he had spent all his money during the long journey from Yedo to Yezumo.

In the following year the Lord again set out for Yedo, to pay his court to the Shyôgun in April. Guzayemon followed in his train a second time, but he only beheld the page thrice during the whole journey: once in the ferry at Kuwana, the second time on the steep hill of Shihomizaki, and the last time in the grove of Suzuga, quite close to Yedo. Then the Lord remained for a whole year at Yedo.

Guzayemon went every day to the palace in the hope of seeing his love. With the life that he was leading, all his refinement and distinguished appearance had gone from him. He was haggard and miserable. No one could have discerned in him a fallen samurai, whose beauty had once been famous. His health was also affected.

Next year he again followed the Lord from Yedo to his Province. He looked like a beggar, so greatly had he suffered. His clothes had more than one hole in them, and his sleeves were torn. But he kept his two swords, which are the soul of a samurai.

Nakayama Pass by Utagawa Hiroshige

In the outskirts of a town called Kanaya he saw the page’s litter. And Shyume saw Guzayemon from his litter, and understood that Guzayemon loved him. He was deeply touched by such an attachment, and wished to speak to him. So he descended from his litter, while the train stopped for a short time on Mount Sayono Nakayama, and stood waiting for Guzayemon to approach. But Guzayemon was too far off to come near him, and they saw each other no more on that occasion. Guzayemon did not indeed behold him again during the whole of that journey, though he did not cease to think of him.

His feet were worn and bleeding from his long walking; he had no more money, and ended by becoming a beggar by the roadside. But he clung desperately to his miserable life. He protected his body from rain, snow and wind with a thin reed hat and a garment of woven grass. He shivered when it blew cold. During the day he stayed in a vile thatched hut in a field, and at evening, when Shyume returned home to his master’s palace, stood near the palace door consoled himself by watching the dear lad from a distance.

One rainy evening Shyume called his servant, Kuzayemon, because he felt lonely and very bored after his day’s service, and said to him: ‘I was born of a family of samurai, and I have not yet killed a living man with my sword. Yet I must have practice in case of a battle. I cannot be a good warrior if I have no exercise in the art of killing. Kuzayemon, I wish to try to kill a living man this evening.’

Wakashu by Otake Naoko

His servant rebuked him: ‘Dear master, you are an excellent swordsman, and very expert with your weapon. You are not inferior to any of the courtiers of this company. You have nothing to fear in this matter, nothing at all. Heaven will punish you if you kill a living man without sufficient reason, merely from caprice. I beg you to wait for a more serious occasion to exercise your skill.’

Shyume explained to him: ‘I do not wish to kill an honourable man, dear Kuzayemon. Over there by the street gutter there is a beggar, who seems entirely wretched. He cannot love his life. Ask him to give me his life, after I have satisfied all his desires.’

The servant answered: ‘Even in that miserable state he will not wish to die.’ Yet he went up to the beggar and said: ‘Dear friend, I have a favour to beg of you. This human life is, as you know, but a vain thing. It is also as uncertain as one of this evening’s showers. We cannot know how long it may last and when it will cease. You have come to a truly lamentable condition, and I think that life does not offer you much pleasure. My young master has commanded me to ask if you would be willing to give him your life to die by his sword, because he wishes to practise his weapons upon a living person. But, before killing you, he will allow you to continue for thirty days, during which time he will cause you to live splendidly. He will engage a priest to perform a fine funeral for you also. What do you think of this?’

The beggar answered: ‘I know that I shall not live until next Spring, and every night I suffer because of the cold air. I have no friends, and none will care what has become of me. I am quite ready to be killed by your master.’

The servant then led him to Shyume, supporting his weak and trembling body with his hands, and told of the success of his mission. They first made the man take a bath to wash himself; then they gave him clean clothes and a servant’s room. They fed him for ten days on the most delicious dishes, according to his desire. On the appointed evening, when it was already late, he was led to a secluded part of Shyume’s garden.

Shyume looked at his pale, haggard face, and asked: ‘Are you really willing to make me this present of your life?’

Guzayemon sitting before Shyume for his beheading: a woodblock illustration accompanying the original text

The beggar stretched out his neck to receive the mortal wound, saying: ‘I am quite ready, Lord. Cut off my head.’ Shyume raised his skirt, so as to be more free in his movement, and went up to the other, brandishing his sword. He struck him with it, but it did not wound him at all; for it was quite without an edge. The beggar and the servant were astonished at this. But Shyume dismissed all his attendants and shut the gate of the garden. He was now alone with Guzayemon, whom he led into his apartment, saying: ‘I recognise your face: you must have been a samurai.’ But the beggar denied it.

Shyume insisted: ‘You are lying. I know that you love me passionately. Open your heart to me, and do not hide your thought. If you keep your secret now, when will you tell it; and to whom, if not to me? Or am I mistaken in thinking that you love me?’

The beggar drew from his bosom a little packet wrapped in bamboo bark, and opened it. From it he took a purse of gold silk which he offered to Shyume, saying with tears: ‘My heart is locked in that.’ Shyume unfastened the purse, and took out sixty[3] leaves of thin paper on which Guzayemon had written the story of his love, from the first day that he saw Shyume near the shrine of the god Tudo, up to that last day when he had waited before the door.

Shyume read five of the leaves, and then replaced them in the purse, putting the latter in his pocket. He summoned his servants and ordered them to guard Guzayemon. Next morning he went to the Lord and said: ‘Lord, a man is madly in love with me, and I cannot find the cruelty to reject him.[4] But if I accept his love, I disobey you, Lord, and show myself ungrateful towards you. I do not know what to do. I have no idea. Lord, I pray you to kill me with your sword and free me from my dilemma.’

The Lord asked him for the details of this story, and Shyume gave him the papers written by Guzayemon, which the Lord read secretly in his room. Then he summoned Shyume and told him to return home and await his orders, until he should have weighed his decision. Shyume answered: ‘My lover is in my house, and if you send me back I shall love him. Let me die here by Hara-kiri.’

Illustration accompanying Mathers's translation

After a little thought the Lord sentenced Shyume to be confined in his own house, whereupon Shyume quickly returned home and made Guzayemon assume the dress of a true samurai, and gave him two swords. Shyume and Guzayemon then loved each other madly and passionately, expecting every minute to be condemned to death by command of their master. This ardent love, at the price of life itself, was daring and audacious. But after twenty days the Lord pardoned Shyume, and gave him twenty suits of man’s clothing[5] and much money, saying to him: ‘Send your  samurai back to Yedo.’

Shyume was very grateful for his Lord’s kindness and generosity. Without delaying until next day, he made ready for Guzayemon’s departure.

When he reached the Province of Yedo, Guzayemon sent back all Shyume’s men who had accompanied him. Instead of going to Yedo, he climbed up the high mountain of Katsororaju, in the Province of Yamato, and there lived as a hermit, remaining on the mountain and seeing no one. He called himself Mugento, the priest of dream. He cut off his hair. He spent all his days watching the cool springs flow from the rocks beside his dwelling.

[1] “Tiger Gate,” one of the gates that led out of Edo castle, where samurai in the shogun’s service were confined to barracks (nagaya). [Note by P. G. Schalow to his translation of the story in The Great Mirror of Male Love (Stanford, 1990).]

[2] Fudō Myō-ō (not Tuda, as Mathers misspells his name) was a Buddhist god.

[3] Should be seventy, not sixty.

[4] In P. G. Schalow’s more accurate translation, instead of saying he cannot find the cruelty to reject his suitor, he says, “If I refuse him, I betray my honor as a follower of the way of boy love.” (The Great Mirror of Male Love, Stanford, 1990).

[5] The significance of this gift of clothing (more accurately, five sets of robes with rounded sleeves) is that “these are the robes of an adult man, indicating that the lord was relinquishing his sexual claims to the boy and requiring him to undergo the coming-of-age ceremony.” (P. G. Schalow’s footnote 8 to his translation of the story in The Great Mirror of Male Love (Stanford, 1990). By this ceremony, which would not otherwise have been performed until the boy reached 18 or 19, he would become an adult man(yarō) and no longer available for sex with any other man.




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.