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three pairs of lovers with space


The following story is from
Ihara Saikaku’s
Budō denraiki 武道伝来記 (Transmission of the Martial Arts), a collection of thirty-two stories about samurai loyalties and vendettas published in Osaka in 1687. The translation presented here, the only one so far into English, 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.  41-47 of Comrade Loves of the Samurai, the first section of volume seven of his Eastern Love (London, 1928).

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, and when the boy protagonist of this story, Shynosuke, is described as in his 14th year, he was really 12 or 13.


The Tragic Love of Two Enemies

A daimyo talking to one of his retainers, by Katsukawa Shunkō, 18th century

THE LORD OF THE PROVINCE ETJIGO WAS called Jibudayu Mashikura. One day his chief minister, Gyobu Tokuzawa, summoned his master’s first page, Senpatji Akanashi, who was in the vestibule with the other pages, whispering: ‘I have something to say to you, Akanashi. Come with me.’ And, leading him to a secret place behind the trees in the garden, he said to him: ‘My master has ordered me to choose someone very strong to kill his courtier Shingokei Dizaki, and I can think of no one better fitted than you for this mission. Go then to Shingokei’s house and kill him. I am sure that my master has an excellent reason for having him destroyed.’

Senpatji asked: ‘What is the offence which Shingokei must expiate?’ But the minister himself did not know. Then Senpatji said to him: ‘I have confidence in your word, yet I should like to hear this order from my master’s own lips.’ So the minister brought Senpatji before the Lord, who, as Senpatji kneeled before him, said: ‘Senpatji, you must kill Shingokei, as my minister has told you.’

Senpatji returned to his house very sad at having to kill Shingokei, who was one of his best friends. Nevertheless he went to that man’s house and, after a short conversation, killed him, saying: ‘It is at the command of my master.’

Shingokei’s slaves tried to seize the murderer; but Senpatji calmed them by saying: ‘I have acted on my master’s order, and you must obey him.’

The Lord confiscated all Shingokei’s property and his wealth. His widow was inconsolable. She was the daughter of a retired samurai of the neighbouring Province, and had married Shingokei the year before with customary rites, for Shingokei and her father were old friends. They loved each other tenderly, and her husband’s death Stunned her. She wished to die with him and follow him into the other world; but she was pregnant, and could not kill herself because of the child she carried in her womb. So she left the Province, bitterly bewailing her husband’s and her own sad destiny. After a long solitary journey full of hardship she came to another very remote Province in the mountains, and decided to live there. Some time after, quite alone and without assistance, she gave birth to a son. She took infinite care of the child, working with her needle to gain a livelihood; for in all the village there was not a single woman who could sew. The two lived thus together in poverty in that place.

A boy with a bow and his mother by Suzuki Harunobu, ca. 1765

Time passed, and the son reached his fourteenth year. His features and his manners were gentle and refined, and he recalled to his mother that cherished husband she had loft. She had kept a Corean harp and two swords fashioned by Kunimune, a celebrated ancient Japanese armourer, which her parents had given her when she left them. When she felt sad she used to play on the harp to distract herself and her dear son. In this manner they lived in their secluded hut.

The destiny of man is surely inconstant and full of surprise. Senpatji Akanashi was banished by his master for some trifling offence; and, after travelling through several Provinces, he settled in a town near the hut in which the mother and son were living. They never met each other, and had no suspicion that they existed at such proximity. But one day Senpatji was invited by his friend Kurobatji Toriyama to hunt birds. On their way back they chanced to pass the widow’s cottage, and heard the sound of the

Corean harp which the mother was playing. They were charmed by this music and stopped to listen. Slipping through a hole in the hedge, they even peeped through a crack in the bamboo wall. A very beautiful woman of about thirty-five was playing the harp. She seemed to belong to some famous family of the high nobility, and to have disguised herself to live in this wretched hovel. Sitting by her side was her son Shynosuke. Studying the writing in a book which his mother had written herself. He was extremely handsome. The interested spectators were surprised to find such diainguished persons in this lonely village. They caused the door to be opened, and dood for some minutes at the entrance to apologise for their intrusion. After a short visit they went away.

Senpatji was struck by the beauty of the young boy; he returned to the hut and became the intimate friend of its inhabitants. Little by little Senpatji and Shynosuke conceived a deep love for each other, and Senpatji took both mother and son with him to his town and there maintained them. In this way a year went peacefully.

Then the mother noticed that Senpatji was very like the man who had killed her husband. One day she questioned him concerning his family and past life; then she became certain that he was the assassin of her husband, the father of her son. Next day she said to the boy: ‘Senpatji killed your father before you were born. He was compelled to do so by the command of his master, who was also your father’s master; but he is none the less your father’s murderer. Kill him, and avenge your father.’

Her son was at first dumb with astonishment. Then he reasoned with his mother: ‘Senpatji did not kill my father out of personal enmity. He bore my father no hatred. He could not act otherwise, since the Lord commanded it. He is not really my father’s enemy. If you wish to avenge him, it is the Lord Jibudayu whom I ought to kill, not my friend Senpatji. We owe him much gratitude for his kindness. Think, mother: I cannot kill him. We have no right to kill him.’

But his mother was angry, and cried: ‘I know that you cannot kill him; you are too cowardly and soft. If I had known that he was my husband’s murderer I should never have accepted his help. I would rather have starved to death than see you form a friendship with him. But I tell you that you are wrong to abandon your revenge because of your love, and, if you do so, you smirch the honour of a samurai. If you are such a coward I no longer know you. I will avenge him myself.’

And, seizing her dagger, she rushed forth. But her son caught her by the sleeve, and said: ‘If you are so firmly determined to avenge my father, there is nothing for me to do but obey you. I shall kill him with my own hands. I pray you not to do it yourself, mother. I beg you to be calm.’ And he made ready his vengeance.

His love with Senpatji had already lasted for more than two years, and yet he was now compelled to destroy that man to whom he had vowed both affection and assistance for ever. He could not, however, kill him without telling him his reason for doing so. So that evening he called Senpatji to his room, but he was pale and weighed down with sorrow. Senpatji at once perceived this, and said to him: ‘Dear Shynosuke, you seem very sad this evening. Are you in trouble? Tell it to me, that I may share it.’

Shynosuke sighed, touched by these gentle words; and Senpatji again urged him to open his heart. Then Shynosuke confessed to him: ‘Oh, what a wretched business is this human life! I am the son of Shingokei Dizaki. You know yourself what you did to my father. I am aware that you could not do otherwise, and that you acted at your maker’s command. But as the son of a samurai I cannot overlook the matter. At that time I was still in my mother’s womb. Truly I am sorry to kill you, for you have been good to my mother and myself. I am in great distress.’

Senpatji sighed: ‘Alas, it is indeed a strange world! I never suspected that you were his son. Yes, I killed your father. But I am happy, O Shynosuke, to die at your hands. Come, kill me, and avenge your father.’ And he threw away his swords and offered his neck to Shynosuke.

Shynosuke cried: ‘No, take your sword and fight with me. I cannot kill you in cold blood, who have been so good to us.’ His mother was watching this scene from the next room, and called her son to her, saying: ‘I admire both you and Senpatji. Each is a man of honour. Love each other again for this one night. I wish to grant you such an interval. Celebrate your separation, but to-morrow without fail, O Shynosuke, avenge your father.’

A samurai and a boy making love by Suzuki Harunobu, ca. 1750

Then Shynosuke brought dishes and cups of wine, and the two rejoiced. The mother slept in the next room, and Senpatji and Shy-nosuke lay down together.

When the woman woke in the morning, they were both silent, lying in the same bed. She called her son: ‘Rise up, lazy boy!’ But there was no answer. She went into the room and turned back the blanket which covered them, and saw that Shynosuke had pierced Senpatji’s heart with his sword passed through his own breast and out at his back.

His mother stood there for a long time overwhelmed at the sight of these two lovers’ bodies, and then, in her sorrow and distress, killed herself in the same room. Surely a sad and a tragic tale.




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