This tale takes place in the Tokugawa/Edo Era (1615-1867) and centers on the fate of a feudal peasant farmer working for a powerful property owner of the Hatamoto clan. Feudalism, by its most basic definition, refers to a socio-political system wherein landowners allow tenants to occupy and agricult their land. These tenants have no ownership rights, but simply live on the land and there make their livelihood.
Such tenants (aka "vassals") thus found themselves in a notoriously bad situation should either hard times or a mean spirit befall the landowner, who had full power to either evict or heavily tax at whim any and all of his tenants. Historically, feudalistic eras, whether in Europe or Japan, have always ended in some form of peasant revolt.
The Ghost of Sakura is an ancient Japanese ghost story revolving around the fate of a good natured tenant at the hands of a greedy and immoral landowner. It also involves the karmic expectation that justice is often meted out even from beyond the grave.
This is a rather long story, so give yourself enough time to enjoy it. The following text, including the introduction and the notes, is taken from Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford's Tales of Old Japan, dated 1910.
The misfortunes and death of the farmer Sôgorô, which, although the preternatural appearances by which they are said to have been followed may raise a smile, are matters of historic notoriety with which every Japanese is familiar, furnish a forcible illustration of the relations which exist between the tenant and the lord of the soil, and of the boundless power for good or for evil exercised by the latter. It is rather remarkable that in a country where the peasant—placed as he is next to the soldier, and before the artisan and merchant, in the four classes into which the people are divided—enjoys no small consideration, and where agriculture is protected by law from the inroads of wild vegetation, even to the lopping of overshadowing branches and the cutting down of hedgerow timber, the lord of the manor should be left practically without control in his dealings with his people.
The land-tax, or rather the yearly rent paid by the tenant, is usually assessed at forty per cent. of the produce; but there is no principle clearly defining it, and frequently the landowner and the cultivator divide the proceeds of the harvest in equal shapes. Rice land is divided into three classes; and, according to these classes, it is computed that one tan (1,800 square feet) of the best land should yield to the owner a revenue of five bags of rice per annum; each of these bags holds four tô (a tô is rather less than half an imperial bushel), and is worth at present (1868) three riyos, or about sixteen shillings; land of the middle class should yield a revenue of three or four bags. The rent is paid either in rice or in money, according to the actual price of the grain, which varies considerably. It is due in the eleventh month of the year, when the crops have all been gathered, and their market value fixed.
The rent of land bearing crops other than rice, such as cotton, beans, roots, and so forth, is payable in money during the twelfth month. The choice of the nature of the crops to be grown appears to be left to the tenant.
The Japanese landlord, when pressed by poverty, does not confine himself to the raising of his legitimate rents: he can always enforce from his needy tenantry the advancement of a year's rent, or the loan of so much money as may be required to meet his immediate necessities. Should the lord be just, the peasant is repaid by instalments, with interest, extending over ten or twenty years. But it too often happens that unjust and merciless lords do not repay such loans, but, on the contrary, press for further advances. Then it is that the farmers, dressed in their grass rain-coats, and carrying sickles and bamboo poles in their hands, assemble before the gate of their lord's palace at the capital, and represent their grievances, imploring the intercession of the retainers, and even of the womankind who may chance to go forth. Sometimes they pay for their temerity by their lives; but, at any rate, they have the satisfaction of bringing shame upon their persecutor, in the eyes of his neighbours and of the populace.
The official reports of recent travels in the interior of Japan have fully proved the hard lot with which the peasantry had to put up during the government of the Tycoons, and especially under the Hatamotos, the created nobility of the dynasty. In one province, where the village mayors appear to have seconded the extortions of their lord, they have had to flee before an exasperated population, who, taking advantage of the revolution, laid waste and pillaged their houses, loudly praying for a new and just assessment of the land; while, throughout the country, the farmers have hailed with acclamations the resumption of the sovereign power by the Mikado, and the abolition of the petty nobility who exalted themselves upon the misery of their dependants. Warming themselves in the sunshine of the court at Yedo, the Hatamotos waxed fat and held high revel, and little cared they who groaned or who starved. Money must be found, and it was found.
It is necessary here to add a word respecting the position of the village mayors, who play so important a part in the tale.
The peasants of Japan are ruled by three classes of officials: the Nanushi, or mayor; the Kumigashira, or chiefs of companies; and the Hiyakushôdai, or farmers' representatives. The village, which is governed by the Nanushi, or mayor, is divided into companies, which, consisting of five families each, are directed by a Kumigashira; these companies, again, are subdivided into groups of five men each, who choose one of their number to represent them in case of their having any petition to present, or any affairs to settle with their superiors. This functionary is the Hiyakushôdai. The mayor, the chief of the company, and the representative keep registers of the families and people under their control, and are responsible for their good and orderly behaviour. They pay taxes like the other farmers, but receive a salary, the amount of which depends upon the size and wealth of the village. Five per cent. of the yearly land tax forms the salary of the mayor, and the other officials each receive five per cent. of the tax paid by the little bodies over which they respectively rule.
The average amount of land for one family to cultivate is about one chô, or 9,000 square yards; but there are farmers who have inherited as much as five or even six chô from their ancestors. There is also a class of farmers called, from their poverty, "water-drinking farmers," who have no land of their own, but hire that of those who have more than they can keep in their own hands. The rent so paid varies; but good rice land will bring in as high a rent as from £1 18s. to £2 6s. per tan (1,800 square feet).
Farm labourers are paid from six or seven riyos a year to as much as thirty riyos (the riyo being worth about 5s. 4d.); besides this, they are clothed and fed, not daintily indeed, but amply. The rice which they cultivate is to them an almost unknown luxury: millet is their staple food, and on high days and holidays they receive messes of barley or buckwheat. Where the mulberry-tree is grown, and the silkworm is "educated," there the labourer receives the highest wage.
The rice crop on good land should yield twelve and a half fold, and on ordinary land from six to seven fold only. Ordinary arable land is only half as valuable as rice land, which cannot be purchased for less than forty riyos per tan of 1,800 square feet. Common hill or wood land is cheaper, again, than arable land; but orchards and groves of the Pawlonia are worth from fifty to sixty riyos per tan.
With regard to the punishment of crucifixion, by which Sôgorô was put to death, it is inflicted for the following offences:—parricide (including the murder or striking of parents, uncles, aunts, elder brothers, masters, or teachers) coining counterfeit money, and passing the barriers of the Tycoon's territory without a permit. The criminal is attached to an upright post with two cross bars, to which his arms and feet are fastened by ropes. He is then transfixed with spears by men belonging to the Eta or Pariah class. I once passed the execution-ground near Yedo, when a body was attached to the cross. The dead man had murdered his employer, and, having been condemned to death by crucifixion, had died in prison before the sentence could be carried out. He was accordingly packed, in a squatting position, in a huge red earthenware jar, which, having been tightly filled up with. salt, was hermetically sealed. On the anniversary of the commission of the crime, the jar was carried down to the execution-ground and broken, and the body was taken out and tied to the cross, the joints of the knees and arms having been cut, to allow of the extension of the stiffened and shrunken limbs; it was then transfixed with spears, and allowed to remain exposed for three days. An open grave, the upturned soil of which seemed almost entirely composed of dead men's remains, waited to receive the dishonoured corpse, over which three or four Etas, squalid and degraded beings, were mounting guard, smoking their pipes by a scanty charcoal fire, and bandying obscene jests. It was a hideous and ghastly warning, had any cared to read the lesson; but the passers-by on the high road took little or no notice of the sight, and a group of chubby and happy children were playing not ten yards from the dead body, as if no strange or uncanny thing were near them.
The Ghost of Sakura
How true is the principle laid down by Confucius, that the benevolence of princes is reflected in their country, while their wickedness causes sedition and confusion!
In the province of Shimôsa, and the district of Sôma, Hotta Kaga no Kami was lord of the castle of Sakura, and chief of a family which had for generations produced famous warriors. When Kaga no Kami, who had served in the Gorôjiu, the cabinet of the Shogun, died at the castle of Sakura, his eldest son Kôtsuké no Suké Masanobu inherited his estates and honours, and was appointed to a seat in the Gorôjiu; but he was a different man from the lords who had preceded him. He treated the farmers and peasants unjustly, imposing additional and grievous taxes, so that the tenants on his estates were driven to the last extremity of poverty; and although year after year, and month after month, they prayed for mercy, and remonstrated against this injustice, no heed was paid to them, and the people throughout the villages were reduced to the utmost distress. Accordingly, the chiefs of the one hundred and thirty-six villages, producing a total revenue of 40,000 kokus of rice, assembled together in council and determined unanimously to present a petition to the Government, sealed with their seals, stating that their repeated remonstrances had been taken no notice of by their local authorities. Then they assembled in numbers before the house of one of the councillors of their lord, named Ikéura Kazuyé, in order to show the petition to him first, but even then no notice was taken of them; so they returned home, and resolved, after consulting together, to proceed to their lord's yashiki, or palace, at Yedo, on the seventh day of the tenth month. It was determined, with one accord, that one hundred and forty-three village chiefs should go to Yedo; and the chief of the village of Iwahashi, one Sôgorô, a man forty-eight years of age, distinguished for his ability and judgment, ruling a district which produced a thousand kokus, stepped forward, and said—
"This is by no means an easy matter, my masters. It certainly is of great importance that we should forward our complaint to our lord's palace at Yedo; but what are your plans? Have you any fixed intentions?"
"It is, indeed, a most important matter," rejoined the others; but they had nothing further to say. Then Sôgorô went on to say—
"We have appealed to the public office of our province, but without avail; we have petitioned the Prince's councillors, also in vain. I know that all that remains for us is to lay our case before our lord's palace at Yedo; and if we go there, it is equally certain that we shall not be listened to—on the contrary, we shall be cast into prison. If we are not attended to here, in our own province, how much less will the officials at Yedo care for us. We might hand our petition into the litter of one of the Gorôjiu, in the public streets; but, even in that case, as our lord is a member of the Gorôjiu, none of his peers would care to examine into the rights and wrongs of our complaint, for fear of offending him, and the man who presented the petition in so desperate a manner would lose his life on a bootless errand. If you have made up your minds to this, and are determined, at all hazards, to start, then go to Yedo by all means, and bid a long farewell to parents, children, wives, and relations. This is my opinion."
The others all agreeing with what Sôgorô said, they determined that, come what might, they would go to Yedo; and they settled to assemble at the village of Funabashi on the thirteenth day of the eleventh month.
On the appointed day all the village officers met at the place agreed upon,—Sôgorô, the chief of the village of Iwahashi, alone being missing; and as on the following day Sôgorô had not yet arrived, they deputed one of their number, named Rokurobei, to inquire the reason. Rokurobei arrived at Sôgorô's house towards four in the afternoon, and found him warming himself quietly over his charcoal brazier, as if nothing were the matter. The messenger, seeing this, said rather testily—
"The chiefs of the villages are all assembled at Funabashi according to covenant, and as you, Master Sôgorô, have not arrived, I have come to inquire whether it is sickness or some other cause that prevents you."
"Indeed," replied Sôgorô, "I am sorry that you should have had so much trouble. My intention was to have set out yesterday; but I was taken with a cholic, with which I am often troubled, and, as you may see, I am taking care of myself; so for a day or two I shall not be able to start. Pray be so good as to let the others know this."
Rokurobei, seeing that there was no help for it, went back to the village of Funabashi and communicated to the others what had occurred. They were all indignant at what they looked upon as the cowardly defection of a man who had spoken so fairly, but resolved that the conduct of one man should not influence the rest, and talked themselves into the belief that the affair which they had in hand would be easily put through; so they agreed with one accord to start and present the petition, and, having arrived at Yedo, put up in the street called Bakurochô. But although they tried to forward their complaint to the various officers of their lord, no one would listen to them; the doors were all shut in their faces, and they had to go back to their inn, crestfallen and without success.
On the following day, being the 18th of the month, they all met together at a tea-house in an avenue, in front of a shrine of Kwannon Sama; and having held a consultation, they determined that, as they could hit upon no good expedient, they would again send for Sôgorô to see whether he could devise no plan. Accordingly, on the 19th, Rokurobei and one Jiuyémon started for the village of Iwahashi at noon, and arrived the same evening.
Now the village chief Sôgorô, who had made up his mind that the presentation of this memorial was not a matter to be lightly treated, summoned his wife and children and his relations, and said to them—
"I am about to undertake a journey to Yedo, for the following reasons:—Our present lord of the soil has increased the land-tax, in rice and the other imposts, more than tenfold, so that pen and paper would fail to convey an idea of the poverty to which the people are reduced, and the peasants are undergoing the tortures of hell upon earth. Seeing this, the chiefs of the various villages have presented petitions, but with what result is doubtful. My earnest desire, therefore, is to devise some means of escape from this cruel persecution. If my ambitious scheme does not succeed, then shall I return home no more; and even should I gain my end, it is hard to say how I may be treated by those in power. Let us drink a cup of wine together, for it may be that you shall see my face no more. I give my life to allay the misery of the people of this estate. If I die, mourn not over my fate; weep not for me."
Having spoken thus, he addressed his wife and his four children, instructing them carefully as to what he desired to be done after his death, and minutely stating every wish of his heart. Then, having drunk a parting cup with them, he cheerfully took leave of all present, and went to a tea-house in the neighbouring village of Funabashi, where the two messengers, Rokurobei and Jiuyémon, were anxiously awaiting his arrival, in order that they might recount to him all that had taken place at Yedo.
"In short," said they, "it appears to us that we have failed completely; and we have come to meet you in order to hear what you propose. If you have any plan to suggest, we would fain be made acquainted with it."
"We have tried the officers of the district," replied Sôgorô, "and we have tried my lord's palace at Yedo. However often we might assemble before my lord's gate, no heed would be given to us. There is nothing left for us but to appeal to the Shogun."
So they sat talking over their plans until the night was far advanced, and then they went to rest. The winter night was long; but when the cawing of the crows was about to announce the morning, the three friends started on their journey for the tea-house at Asakusa, at which, upon their arrival, they found the other village elders already assembled.
"Welcome, Master Sôgorô," said they. "How is it that you have come so late? We have petitioned all the officers to no purpose, and we have broken our bones in vain. We are at our wits' end, and can think of no other scheme. If there is any plan which seems good to you, we pray you to act upon it."
"Sirs," replied Sôgorô, speaking very quietly, "although we have met with no better success here than in our own place, there is no use in grieving. In a day or two the Gorôjiu will be going to the castle; we must wait for this opportunity, and following one of the litters, thrust in our memorial. This is my opinion: what think you of it, my masters?"
One and all, the assembled elders were agreed as to the excellence of this advice; and having decided to act upon it, they returned to their inn.
Then Sôgorô held a secret consultation with Jiuyémon, Hanzô, Rokurobei, Chinzô, and Kinshirô, five of the elders, and, with their assistance, drew up the memorial; and having heard that on the 26th of the month, when the Gorôjiu should go to the castle, Kuzé Yamato no Kami would proceed to a palace under the western enclosure of the castle, they kept watch in a place hard by. As soon as they saw the litter of the Gorôjiu approach, they drew near to it, and, having humbly stated their grievances, handed in the petition; and as it was accepted, the six elders were greatly elated, and doubted not that their hearts' desire would be attained; so they went off to a tea-house at Riyôgoku, and Jiuyémon said—
"We may congratulate ourselves on our success. We have handed in our petition to the Gorôjiu, and now we may set our minds at rest; before many days have passed, we shall hear good news from the rulers. To Master Sôgorô is due great praise for his exertions."
Sôgorô, stepping forward, answered, "Although we have presented our memorial to the Gorôjiu, the matter will not be so quickly decided; it is therefore useless that so many of us should remain here: let eleven men stay with me, and let the rest return home to their several villages. If we who remain are accused of conspiracy and beheaded, let the others agree to reclaim and bury our corpses. As for the expenses which we shall incur until our suit is concluded, let that be according to our original covenant. For the sake of the hundred and thirty-six villages we will lay down our lives, if needs must, and submit to the disgrace of having our heads exposed as those of common malefactors."
Then they had a parting feast together, and, after a sad leave-taking, the main body of the elders went home to their own country; while the others, wending their way to their quarters waited patiently to be summoned to the Supreme Court. On the 2d day of the 12th month, Sôgorô, having received a summons from the residence of the Gorôjiu Kuzé Yamato no Kami, proceeded to obey it, and was ushered to the porch of the house, where two councillors, named Aijima Gidaiyu and Yamaji Yôri, met him, and said—
"Some days since you had the audacity to thrust a memorial into the litter of our lord Yamato no Kami. By an extraordinary exercise of clemency, he is willing to pardon this heinous offence; but should you ever again endeavour to force your petitions; upon him, you will be held guilty of riotous conduct;" and with this they gave back the memorial.
"I humbly admit the justice of his lordship's censure. But oh! my lords, this is no hasty nor ill-considered action. Year after year, affliction upon affliction has been heaped upon us, until at last the people are without even the necessaries of life; and we, seeing no end to the evil, have humbly presented this petition. I pray your lordships of your great mercy to consider our case" and deign to receive our memorial. Vouchsafe to take some measures that the people may live, and our gratitude for your great kindness will know no bounds."
"Your request is a just one," replied the two councillors after hearing what he said; "but your memorial cannot be received: so you must even take it back."
With this they gave back the document, and wrote down the names of Sôgorô and six of the elders who had accompanied him. There was no help for it: they must take back their petition, and return to their inn. The seven men, dispirited and sorrowful, sat with folded arms considering what was best to be done, what plan should be devised, until at last, when they were at their wits' end, Sôgorô said, in a whisper—
"So our petition, which we gave in after so much pains, has been returned after all! With what f ace can we return to our villages after such a disgrace? I, for one, do not propose to waste my labour for nothing; accordingly, I shall bide my time until some day, when the Shogun shall go forth from the castle, and, lying in wait by the roadside, I shall make known our grievances to him, who is lord over our lord. This is our last chance."
The others all applauded this speech, and, having with one accord hardened their hearts, waited for their opportunity.
Now it so happened that, on the 20th day of the 12th month, the then Shogun, Prince Iyémitsu, was pleased to worship at the tombs of his ancestors at Uyéno; and Sôgorô and the other elders, hearing this, looked upon it as a special favour from the gods, and felt certain that this time they would not fail. So they drew up a fresh memorial, and at the appointed time Sôgorô hid himself under the Sammayé Bridge, in front of the black gate at Uyéno. When Prince Iyémitsu passed in his litter, Sôgorô clambered up from under the bridge, to the great surprise of the Shogun's attendants, who called out, "Push the fellow on one side;" but, profiting by the confusion, Sôgorô, raising his voice and crying, "I wish to humbly present a petition to his Highness in person," thrust forward his memorial, which he had tied on to the end of a bamboo stick six feet long, and tried to put it into the litter; and although there were cries to arrest him, and he was buffeted by the escort, he crawled up to the side of the litter, and the Shogun accepted the document. But Sôgorô was arrested by the escort, and thrown into prison. As for the memorial, his Highness ordered that it should be handed in to the Gorôjiu Hotta Kôtsuké no Suké, the lord of the petitioners.
When Hotta Kôtsuké no Suké had returned home and read the memorial, he summoned his councillor, Kojima Shikibu, and said—
"The officials of my estate are mere bunglers. When the peasants assembled and presented a petition, they refused to receive it, and have thus brought this trouble upon me. Their folly has been beyond belief; however, it cannot be helped. We must remit all the new taxes, and you must inquire how much was paid to the former lord of the castle. As for this Sôgorô, he is not the only one who is at the bottom of the conspiracy; however, as this heinous offence of his in going out to lie in wait for the Shogun's procession is unpardonable, we must manage to get him given up to us by the Government, and, as an example for the rest of my people, he shall be crucified—he and his wife and his children; and, after his death, all that he possesses shall be confiscated. The other six men shall be banished; and that will suffice."
"My lord," replied Shikibu, prostrating himself, "your lordship's intentions are just. Sôgorô, indeed, deserves any punishment for his outrageous crime. But I humbly venture to submit that his wife and children cannot be said to be guilty in the same degree: I implore your lordship mercifully to be pleased to absolve them from so severe a punishment."
"Where the sin of the father is great, the wife and children cannot be spared," replied Kôtsuké no Suké; and his councillor, seeing that his heart was hardened, was forced to obey his orders without further remonstrance.
So Kôtsuké no Suké, having obtained that Sôgorô should be given up to him by the Government, caused him to be brought to his estate of Sakura as a criminal, in a litter covered with nets, and confined him in prison. When his case had been inquired into, a decree was issued by the Lord Kôtsuké no Suké that he should be punished for a heinous crime; and on the 9th day of the 2d month of the second year of the period styled Shôhô (A.D. 1644) he was condemned to be crucified. Accordingly Sôgorô, his wife and children, and the elders of the hundred and thirty-six villages were brought before the Court-house of Sakura, in which were assembled forty-five chief officers. The elders were then told that, yielding to their petition, their lord was graciously pleased to order that the oppressive taxes should be remitted, and that the dues levied should not exceed those of the olden time. As for Sôgorô and his wife, the following sentence was passed upon them:—
"Whereas you have set yourself up as the head of the villagers; whereas, secondly, you have dared to make light of the Government by petitioning his Highness the Shogun directly, thereby offering an insult to your lord; and whereas, thirdly, you have presented a memorial to the Gorôjiu; and, whereas, fourthly, you were privy to a conspiracy: for these four heinous crimes you are sentenced to death by crucifixion. Your wife is sentenced to die in like manner; and your children will be decapitated.
"This sentence is passed upon the following persons:—
"Sôgorô, chief of the village of Iwahashi, aged 48.
"His wife, Man, aged 38.
"His son, Gennosuké, aged 13.
"His son, Sôhei, aged 10.
"His son, Kihachi, aged 7."
The eldest daughter of Sôgorô, named Hatsu, nineteen years of age, was married to a man named Jiuyémon, in the village of Hakamura, in Shitachi, beyond the river, in the territory of Matsudaira Matsu no Kami (the Prince of Sendai). His second daughter, whose name was Saki, sixteen years of age, was married to one Tôjiurô, chief of a village on the property of my lord Naitô Geki. No punishment was decreed against these two women.
The six elders who had accompanied Sôgorô were told that although by good rights they had merited death, yet by the special clemency of their lord their lives would be spared, but that they were condemned to banishment. Their wives and children would not be attainted, and their property would be spared. The six men were banished to Oshima, in the province of Idzu.
Sôgorô heard his sentence with pure courage.
The six men were banished; but three of them lived to be pardoned on the occasion of the death of the Shogun, Prince Genyuin, and returned to their country.
According to the above decision, the taxes were remitted; and men and women, young and old, rejoiced over the advantage that had been gained for them by Sôgorô and by the six elders, and there was not one that did not mourn for their fate.
When the officers of the several villages left the Court-house, one Zembei, the chief of the village of Sakato, told the others that he had some important subjects to speak to them upon, and begged them to meet him in the temple called Fukushôin. Every man having consented, and the hundred and thirty-six men having assembled at the temple, Zembei addressed them as follows:—
"The success of our petition, in obtaining the reduction of our taxes to the same amount as was levied by our former lord, is owing to Master Sôgorô, who has thus thrown away his life for us. He and his wife and children are now to suffer as criminals for the sake of the one hundred and thirty-six villages. That such a thing should take place before our very eyes seems to me not to be borne. What say you, my masters?"
"Ay! ay! what you say is just from top to bottom," replied the others. Then Hanzayémon, the elder of the village of Katsuta, stepped forward and said—
"As Master Zembei has just said, Sôgorô is condemned to die for a matter in which all the village elders are concerned to a man. We cannot look on unconcerned. Full well I know that it is useless our pleading for Sôgorô; but we may, at least, petition that the lives of his wife and children may be spared."
The assembled elders having all applauded this speech, they determined to draw up a memorial; and they resolved, should their petition not be accepted by the local authorities, to present it at their lord's palace in Yedo, and, should that fail, to appeal to the Government. Accordingly, before noon on the following day, they all affixed their seals to the memorial, which four of them, including Zembei and Hanzayémon, composed, as follows:—
"With deep fear we humbly venture to present the following petition, which the elders of the one hundred and thirty-six villages of this estate have sealed with their seals. In consequence of the humble petition which we lately offered up, the taxes have graciously been reduced to the rates levied by the former lord of the estate, and new laws have been vouchsafed to us. With reverence and joy the peasants, great and small, have gratefully acknowledged these favours. With regard to Sôgorô, the elder of the village of Iwahashi, who ventured to petition his highness the Shogun in person, thus being guilty of a heinous crime, he has been sentenced to death in the castle-town. With fear and trembling we recognize the justice of his sentence. But in the matter of his wife and children, she is but a woman, and they are so young and innocent that they cannot distinguish the east from the west: we pray that in your great clemency you will remit their sin, and give them up to the representatives of the one hundred and thirty-six villages, for which we shall be ever grateful. We, the elders of the villages, know not to what extent we may be transgressing in presenting this memorial. We were all guilty of affixing our seals to the former petition; but Sôgorô, who was chief of a large district, producing a thousand kokus of revenue, and was therefore a man of experience, acted for the others; and we grieve that he alone should suffer for all. Yet in his case we reverently admit that there can be no reprieve. For his wife and children, however, we humbly implore your gracious mercy and consideration.
"Signed by the elders of the villages of the estate, the 2d year of Shôhô, and the 2d month."
Having drawn up this memorial, the hundred and thirty-six elders, with Zembei at their head, proceeded to the Court-house to present the petition, and found the various officers seated in solemn conclave. Then the clerk took the petition, and, having opened it, read it aloud; and the councillor, Ikéura Kazuyé, said—
"The petition which you have addressed to us is worthy of all praise. But you must know that this is a matter which is no longer within our control. The affair has been reported to the Government; and although the priests of my lord's ancestral temple have interceded for Sôgorô, my lord is so angry that he will not listen even to them, saying that, had he not been one of the Gorôjiu, he would have been in danger of being ruined by this man: his high station alone saved him. My lord spoke so severely that the priests themselves dare not recur to the subject. You see, therefore, that it will be no use your attempting to take any steps in the matter, for most certainly your petition will not be received. You had better, then, think no more about it." And with these words he gave back the memorial.
Zembei and the elders, seeing, to their infinite sorrow, that their mission was fruitless, left the Court-house, and most sorrowfully took counsel together, grinding their teeth in their disappointment when they thought over what the councillor had said as to the futility of their attempt. Out of grief for this, Zembei, with Hanzayémon and Heijiurô, on the 11th day of the 2d month (the day on which Sôgorô and his wife and children suffered), left Ewaradai, the place of execution, and went to the temple Zenkôji, in the province of Shinshiu, and from thence they ascended Mount Kôya in Kishiu, and, on the 1st day of the 8th month, shaved their heads and became priests; Zembei changed his name to Kakushin, and Hanzayémon changed his to Zenshô: as for Heijiurô, he fell sick at the end of the 7th month, and on the 11th day of the 8th month died, being forty-seven years old that year. These three men, who had loved Sôgorô as the fishes love water, were true to him to the last. Heijiurô was buried on Mount Kôya. Kakushin wandered through the country as a priest, praying for the entry of Sôgorô and his children into the perfection of paradise; and, after visiting all the shrines and temples, came back at last to his own province of Shimôsa, and took up his abode at the temple Riukakuji, in the village of Kano, and in the district of Imban, praying and making offerings on behalf of the souls of Sôgorô, his wife and children. Hanzayémon, now known as the priest Zenshô, remained at Shinagawa, a suburb of Yedo, and, by the charity of good people, collected enough money to erect six bronze Buddhas, which remain standing to this day. He fell sick and died, at the age of seventy, on the 10th day of the 2d month of the 13th year of the period styled Kambun. Zembei, who, as a priest, had changed his name to Kakushin, died, at the age of seventy-six, on the 17th day of the 10th month of the 2d year of the period styled Empô. Thus did those men, for the sake of Sôgorô and his family, give themselves up to works of devotion; and the other villagers also brought food to soothe the spirits of the dead, and prayed for their entry into paradise; and as litanies were repeated without intermission, there can be no doubt that Sôgorô attained salvation.
"In paradise, where the blessings of God are distributed without favour, the soul learns its faults by the measure of the rewards given. The lusts of the flesh are abandoned; and the soul, purified, attains to the glory of Buddha."
On the 11th day of the 2d month of the 2d year of Shôhô, Sôgorô having been convicted of a heinous crime, a scaffold was erected at Ewaradai, and the councillor who resided at Yedo and the councillor who resided on the estate, with the other officers, proceeded to the place in all solemnity. Then the priests of Tôkôji, in the village of Sakénaga, followed by coffin-bearers, took their places in front of the councillors, and said—
"We humbly beg leave to present a petition."
"What have your reverences to say?"
"We are men who have forsaken the world and entered the priesthood," answered the monks, respectfully; "and we would fain, if it be possible, receive the bodies of those who are to die, that we may bury them decently. It will be a great joy to us if our humble petition be graciously heard and granted."
"Your request shall be granted; but as the crime of Sôgorô was great, his body must be exposed for three days and three nights, after which the corpse shall be given to you."
At the hour of the snake (10 A.M.), the hour appointed for the execution, the people from the neighbouring villages and the castle-town, old and young, men and women, flocked to see the sight: numbers there were, too, who came to bid a last farewell to Sôgorô, his wife and children, and to put up a prayer for them. When the hour had arrived, the condemned were dragged forth bound, and made to sit upon coarse mats. Sôgorô and his wife closed their eyes, for the sight was more than they could bear; and the spectators, with heaving breasts and streaming eyes, cried "Cruel!" and "Pitiless!" and taking sweetmeats and cakes from the bosoms of their dresses threw them to the children. At noon precisely Sôgorô and his wife were bound to the crosses, which were then set upright and fixed in the ground. When this had been done, their eldest son Gennosuké was led forward to the scaffold, in front of the two parents. Then Sôgorô cried out—
"Oh! cruel, cruel! what crime has this poor child committed that he is treated thus? As for me, it matters not what becomes of me." And the tears trickled down his face.
The spectators prayed aloud, and shut their eyes; and the executioner himself, standing behind the boy, and saying that it was a pitiless thing that the child should suffer for the father's fault, prayed silently. Then Gennosuké, who had remained with his eyes closed, said to his parents—
"Oh! my father and mother, I am going before you to paradise, that happy country, to wait for you. My little brothers and I will be on the banks of the river Sandzu, and stretch out our hands and help you across. Farewell, all you who have come to see us die; and now please cut off my head at once."
With this he stretched out his neck, murmuring a last prayer; and not only Sôgorô and his wife, but even the executioner and the spectators could not repress their tears; but the headsman, unnerved as he was, and touched to the very heart, was forced, on account of his office, to cut off the child's head, and a piteous wail arose from the parents and the spectators.
Then the younger child Sôhei said to the headsman, "Sir, I have a sore on my right shoulder: please, cut my head off from the left shoulder, lest you should hurt me. Alas! I know not how to die, nor what I should do."
When the headsman and the officers present heard the child's artless speech, they wept again for very pity; but there was no help for it, and the head fell off more swiftly than water is drunk up by sand. Then little Kihachi, the third son, who, on account of his tender years, should have been spared, was butchered as he was in his simplicity eating the sweetmeats which had been thrown to him by the spectators.
When the execution of the children was over, the priests of Tôkôji took their corpses, and, having placed them in their coffins, carried them away, amidst the lamentations of the bystanders, and buried them with great solemnity.
Then Shigayémon, one of the servants of Danzayémon, the chief of the Etas, who had been engaged for the purpose, was just about to thrust his spear, when O Man, Sôgorô's wife, raising her voice, said—
"Remember, my husband, that from the first you had made up your mind to this fate. What though our bodies be disgracefully exposed on these crosses?—we have the promises of the gods before us; therefore, mourn not. Let us fix our minds upon death: we are drawing near to paradise, and shall soon be with the saints. Be calm, my husband. Let us cheerfully lay down our single lives for the good of many. Man lives but for one generation; his name, for many. A good name is more to be prized than life."
So she spoke; and Sôgorô on the cross, laughing gaily, answered—
"Well said, wife! What though we are punished for the many? Our petition was successful, and there is nothing left to wish for. Now I am happy, for I have attained my heart's desire. The changes and chances of life are manifold. But if I had five hundred lives, and could five hundred times assume this shape of mine, I would die five hundred times to avenge this iniquity. For myself I care not; but that my wife and children should be punished also is too much. Pitiless and cruel! Let my lord fence himself in with iron walls, yet shall my spirit burst through them and crush his bones, as a return for this deed."
And as he spoke, his eyes became vermilion red, and flashed like the sun or the moon, and he looked like the demon Razetsu.
"Come," shouted he, "make haste and pierce me with the spear."
"Your wishes shall be obeyed," said the Eta, Shigayémon, and thrust in a spear at his right side until it came out at his left shoulder, and the blood streamed out like a fountain. Then he pierced the wife from the left side; and she, opening her eyes, said in a dying voice—
"Farewell, all you who are present. May harm keep far from you. Farewell! farewell!" and as her voice waxed faint, the second spear was thrust in from her right side, and she breathed out her spirit. Sôgorô, the colour of his face not even changing, showed no sign of fear, but opening his eyes wide, said—
"Listen, my masters! all you who have come to see this sight. Recollect that I shall pay my thanks to my lord Kôtsuké no Suké for this day's work. You shall see it for yourselves, so that it shall be talked of for generations to come. As a sign, when I am dead, my head shall turn and face towards the castle. When you see this, doubt not that my words shall come true."
When he had spoken thus, the officer directing the execution gave a sign to the Eta, Shigayémon, and ordered him to finish the execution, so that Sôgorô should speak no more. So Shigayémon pierced him twelve or thirteen times, until he died. And when he was dead, his head turned and faced the castle. When the two councillors beheld this miracle, they came down from their raised platform, and knelt down before Sôgorô's dead body and said—
"Although you were but a peasant on this estate, you conceived a noble plan to succour the other farmers in their distress. You bruised your bones, and crushed your heart, for their sakes. Still, in that you appealed to the Shogun in person, you committed a grievous crime, and made light of your superiors; and for this it was impossible not to punish you. Still we admit that to include your wife and children in your crime, and kill them before your eyes, was a cruel deed. What is done, is done, and regret is of no avail. However, honours shall be paid to your spirit: you shall be canonized as the Saint Daimiyô, and you shall be placed among the tutelar deities of my lord's family."
With these words the two councillors made repeated reverences before the corpse; and in this they showed their faithfulness to their lord. But he, when the matter was reported to him, only laughed scornfully at the idea that the hatred of a peasant could affect his feudal lord; and said that a vassal who had dared to hatch a plot which, had it not been for his high office, would have been sufficient to ruin him, had only met with his deserts. As for causing him to be canonized, let him be as he was. Seeing their lord's anger, his councillors could only obey. But it was not long before he had cause to know that, though Sôgorô was dead, his vengeance was yet alive.
The relations of Sôgorô and the elders of the villages having been summoned to the Court-house, the following document was issued:—
"Although the property of Sôgorô, the elder of the village of Iwahashi, is confiscated, his household furniture shall be made over to his two married daughters; and the village officials will look to it that these few poor things be not stolen by lawless and unprincipled men.
"His rice-fields and corn-fields, his mountain land and forest land, will be sold by auction. His house and grounds will be given over to the elder of the village. The price fetched by his property will be paid over to the lord of the estate.
"The above decree will be published, in full, to the peasants of the village; and it is strictly forbidden to find fault with this decision.
"The 12th day of the 2d month, of the 2d year of the period Shôhô."
The peasants, having heard this degree with all humility, left the Court-house. Then the following punishments were awarded to the officers of the castle, who, by rejecting the petition of the peasants in the first instance, had brought trouble upon their lord:—
"Dismissed from their office, the resident councillors at Yedo and at the castle-town.
"Banished from the province, four district governors, and three bailiffs, and nineteen petty officers.
"Dismissed from office, three metsukés, or censors, and seven magistrates.
"Condemned to hara-kiri, one district governor and one Yedo bailiff.
"The severity of this sentence is owing to the injustice of the officials in raising new and unprecedented taxes, and bringing affliction upon the people, and in refusing to receive the petitions of the peasants, without consulting their lord, thus driving them to appeal to the Shogun in person. In their avarice they looked not to the future, but laid too heavy a burden on the peasants, so that they made an appeal to a higher power, endangering the honour of their lord's house. For this bad government the various officials are to be punished as above."
In this wise was justice carried out at the palace at Yedo and at the Court-house at home. But in the history of the world, from the dark ages down to the present time, there are few instances of one man laying down his life for the many, as Sôgorô did: noble and peasant praise him alike.
As month after month passed away, towards the fourth year of the period Shôhô, the wife of my lord Kôtsuké no Suké, being with child, was seized with violent pains; and retainers were sent to all the different temples and shrines to pray by proxy, but all to no purpose: she continued to suffer as before. Towards the end of the seventh month of the year, there appeared, every night, a preternatural light above the lady's chamber; this was accompanied by hideous sounds as of many people laughing fiendishly, and sometimes by piteous wailings, as though myriads of persons were lamenting. The profound distress caused by this added to her sufferings; so her own privy councillor, an old man, took his place in the adjoining chamber, and kept watch. All of a sudden, he heard a noise as if a number of people were walking on the boards of the roof of my lady's room; then there was a sound of men and women weeping; and when, thunderstruck, the councillor was wondering what it could all be, there came a wild burst of laughter, and all was silent. Early the following morning, the old women who had charge of my lady's household presented themselves before my lord Kôtsuké no Suké, and said—
"Since the middle of last month, the waiting-women have been complaining to us of the ghostly noises by which my lady is nightly disturbed, and they say that they cannot continue to serve her. We have tried to soothe them, by saying that the devils should be exorcised at once, and that there was nothing to be afraid of. Still we feel that their fears are not without reason, and that they really cannot do their work; so we beg that your lordship will take the matter into your consideration."
"This is a passing strange story of yours; however, I will go myself to-night to my lady's apartments and keep watch. You can come with me."
Accordingly, that night my lord Kôtsuké no Suké sat up in person. At the hour of the rat (midnight) a fearful noise of voices was heard, and Sôgorô and his wife, bound to the fatal crosses, suddenly appeared; and the ghosts, seizing the lady by the hand, said—
"We have come to meet you. The pains you are suffering are terrible, but they are nothing in comparison with those of the hell to which we are about to lead you."
At these words, Kôtsuké no Suké, seizing his sword, tried to sweep the ghosts away with a terrific cut; but a loud peal of laughter was heard, and the visions faded away. Kôtsuké no Suké, terrified, sent his retainers to the temples and shrines to pray that the demons might be cast out; but the noises were heard nightly, as before. When the eleventh month of the year came round, the apparitions of human forms in my lady's apartments became more and more frequent and terrible, all the spirits railing at her, and howling out that they had come to fetch her. The women would all scream and faint; and then the ghosts would disappear amid yells of laughter. Night after night this happened, and even in the daytime the visions would manifest themselves; and my lady's sickness grew worse daily, until in the last month of the year she died, of grief and terror. Then the ghost of Sôgorô and his wife crucified would appear day and night in the chamber of Kôtsuké no Suké, floating round the room, and glaring at him with red and flaming eyes. The hair of the attendants would stand on end with terror; and if they tried to cut at the spirits, their limbs would be cramped, and their feet and hands would not obey their bidding. Kôtsuké no Suké would draw the sword that lay by his bedside; but, as often as he did so, the ghosts faded away, only to appear again in a more hideous shape than before, until at last, having exhausted his strength and spirits, even he became terror-stricken. The whole household was thrown into confusion, and day after day mystic rites and incantations were performed by the priests over braziers of charcoal, while prayers were recited without ceasing; but the visions only became more frequent, and there was no sign of their ceasing. After the 5th year of Shôhô, the style of the years was changed to Keian; and during the 1st year of Keian the spirits continued to haunt the palace; and now they appeared in the chamber of Kôtsuké no Suké's eldest son, surrounding themselves with even more terrors than before; and when Kôtsuké no Suké was about to go to the Shogun's castle, they were seen howling out their cries of vengeance in the porch of the house. At last the relations of the family and the members of the household took counsel together, and told Kôtsuké no Suké that without doubt no ordinary means would suffice to lay the ghosts; a shrine must be erected to Sôgorô, and divine honours paid to him, after which the apparitions would assuredly cease. Kôtsuké no Suké having carefully considered the matter and given his consent, Sôgorô was canonized under the name of Sôgo Daimiyô, and a shrine was erected in his honour. After divine honours had been paid to him, the awful visions were no more seen, and the ghost of Sôgorô was laid for ever.
In the 2d year of the period Keian, on the 11th day of the 10th month, on the occasion of the festival of first lighting the fire on the hearth, the various Daimios and Hatamotos of distinction went to the castle of the Shogun, at Yedo, to offer their congratulations on this occasion. During the ceremonies, my lord Hotta Kôtsuké no Suké and Sakai Iwami no Kami, lord of the castle of Matsumoto, in the province of Shinshiu, had a quarrel, the origin of which was not made public; and Sakai Iwami no Kami, although he came of a brave and noble family, received so severe a wound that he died on the following day, at the age of forty-three; and in consequence of this, his family was ruined and disgraced. My lord Kôtsuké no Suké, by great good fortune, contrived to escape from the castle, and took refuge in his own house, whence, mounting a famous horse called Hira-Abumi, he fled to his castle of Sakura, in Shimôsa, accomplishing the distance, which is about sixty miles, in six hours. When he arrived in front of the castle, he called out in a loud voice to the guard within to open the gate, answering, in reply to their challenge, that he was Kôtsuké no Suké, the lord of the castle. The guard, not believing their ears, sent word to the councillor in charge of the castle, who rushed out to see if the person demanding admittance were really their lord. When he saw Kôtsuké no Suké, he caused the gates to be opened, and, thinking it more than strange, said—
"Is this indeed you, my lord? What strange chance brings your lordship hither thus late at night, on horseback and alone, without a single follower?"
With these words he ushered in Kôtsuké no Suké, who, in reply to the anxious inquiries of his people as to the cause of his sudden appearance, said—
"You may well be astonished. I had a quarrel to-day in the castle at Yedo, with Sakai Iwami no Kami, the lord of the castle of Matsumoto, and I cut him down. I shall soon be pursued; so we must strengthen the fortress, and prepare for an attack."
The household, hearing this, were greatly alarmed, and the whole castle was thrown into confusion. In the meanwhile the people of Kôtsuké no Suké's palace at Yedo, not knowing whether their lord had fled, were in the greatest anxiety, until a messenger came from Sakura, and reported his arrival there.
When the quarrel inside the castle of Yedo and Kôtsuké no Suké's flight had been taken cognizance of, he was attainted of treason, and soldiers were sent to seize him, dead or alive. Midzuno Setsu no Kami and Gotô Yamato no Kami were charged with the execution of the order, and sallied forth, on the 13th day of the 10th month, to carry it out. When they arrived at the town of Sasai, they sent a herald with the following message—
"Whereas Kôtsuké no Suké killed Sakai Iwami no Kami inside the castle of Yedo, and has fled to his own castle without leave, he is attainted of treason; and we, being connected with him by ties of blood and of friendship, have been charged to seize him."
The herald delivered this message to the councillor of Kôtsuké no Suké, who, pleading as an excuse that his lord was mad, begged the two nobles to intercede for him. Gotô Yamato no Kami upon this called the councillor to him, and spoke privately to him, after which the latter took his leave and returned to the castle of Sakura.
In the meanwhile, after consultation at Yedo, it was decided that, as Gotô Yamato no Kami and Midzuno Setsu no Kami were related to Kôtsuké no Suké, and might meet with difficulties for that very reason, two other nobles, Ogasawara Iki no Kami and Nagai Hida no Kami, should be sent to assist them, with orders that should any trouble arise they should send a report immediately to Yedo. In consequence of this order, the two nobles, with five thousand men, were about to march for Sakura, on the 15th of the month, when a messenger arrived from that place bearing the following despatch for the Gorôjiu, from the two nobles who had preceded them—
"In obedience to the orders of His Highness the Shogun, we proceeded, on the 13th day of this month, to the castle of Sakura, and conducted a thorough investigation of the affair. It is true that Kôtsuké no Suké has been guilty of treason, but he is out of his mind; his retainers have called in physicians, and he is undergoing treatment by which his senses are being gradually restored, and his mind is being awakened from its sleep. At the time when he slew Sakai Iwami no Kami he was not accountable for his actions, and will be sincerely penitent when he is aware of his crime. We have taken him prisoner, and have the honour to await your instructions; in the meanwhile, we beg by these present to let you know what we have done.
To the Gorôjiu, 2d year of Keian, 2d month, 14th day."
This despatch reached Yedo on the 16th of the month, and was read by the Gorôjiu after they had left the castle; and in consequence of the report of Kôtsuké no Suké's madness, the second expedition was put a stop to, and the following instructions were sent to Gotô Yamato no Kami and Midzuno Setsu no Kami—
"With reference to the affair of Hotta Kôtsuké no Suké, lord of the castle of Sakura, in Shimôsa, whose quarrel with Sakai Iwami no Kami within the castle of Yedo ended in bloodshed. For this heinous crime and disregard of the sanctity of the castle, it is ordered that Kôtsuké no Suké be brought as a prisoner to Yedo, in a litter covered with nets, that his case may be judged.
"2d year of Keian, 2d month.
Upon the receipt of this despatch, Hotta Kôtsuké nô Suké was immediately placed in a litter covered with a net of green silk, and conveyed to Yedo, strictly guarded by the retainers of the two nobles; and, having arrived at the capital, was handed over to the charge of Akimoto Tajima no Kami. All his retainers were quietly dispersed; and his empty castle was ordered to be thrown open, and given in charge to Midzuno Iki no Kami.
At last Kôtsuké no Suké began to feel that the death of his wife and his own present misfortunes were a just retribution for the death of Sôgorô and his wife and children, and he was as one awakened from a dream. Then night and morning, in his repentance, he offered up prayers to the sainted spirit of the dead farmer, and acknowledged and bewailed his crime, vowing that, if his family were spared from ruin and re-established, intercession should be made at the court of the Mikado, at Kiyôto, on behalf of the spirit of Sôgorô, so that, being worshipped with even greater honours than before, his name should be handed down to all generations.
In consequence of this it happened that the spirit of Sôgorô having relaxed in its vindictiveness, and having ceased to persecute the house of Hotta, in the 1st month of the 4th year of Keian, Kôtsuké no Suké received a summons from the Shogun, and, having been forgiven, was made lord of the castle of Matsuyama, in the province of Déwa, with a revenue of twenty thousand kokus. In the same year, on the 20th day of the 4th month, the Shogun, Prince Iyémitsu, was pleased to depart this life, at the age of forty-eight; and whether by the forgiving spirit of the prince, or by the divine interposition of the sainted Sôgorô, Kôtsuké no Suké was promoted to the castle of Utsu no Miya, in the province of Shimotsuké, with a revenue of eighty thousand kokus; and his name was changed to Hotta Hida no Kami. He also received again his original castle of Sakura, with a revenue of twenty thousand kokus: so that there can be no doubt that the saint was befriending him. In return for these favours, the shrine of Sôgorô was made as beautiful as a gem. It is needless to say how many of the peasants of the estate flocked to the shrine: any good luck that might befall the people was ascribed to it, and night and day the devout worshipped at it.
Here follows a copy of the petition which Sôgorô presented to the Shogun—
"We, the elders of the hundred and thirty-six villages of the district of Chiba, in the province of Shimôsa, and of the district of Buji, in the province of Kadzusa, most reverently offer up this our humble petition.
"When our former lord, Doi Shosho, was transferred to another castle, in the 9th year of the period Kanyé, Hotta Kaga no Kami became lord of the castle of Sakura; and in the 17th year of the same period, my lord Kôtsuké no Suké succeeded him. Since that time the taxes laid upon us have been raised in the proportion of one tô and two sho to each koku.
"Item.—At the present time, taxes are raised on nineteen of our articles of produce; whereas our former lord only required that we should furnish him with pulse and sesamum, for which he paid in rice.
"Item.—Not only are we not paid now for our produce, but, if it is not given in to the day, we are driven and goaded by the officials; and if there be any further delay, we are manacled and severely reprimanded; so that if our own crops fail, we have to buy produce from other districts, and are pushed to the utmost extremity of affliction.
"Item.—We have over and over again prayed to be relieved from these burthens, but our petitions are not received. The people are reduced to poverty, so that it is hard for them to live under such grievous taxation. Often they have tried to sell the land which they till, but none can be found to buy; so they have sometimes given over their land to the village authorities, and fled with their wives to other provinces, and seven hundred and thirty men or more have been reduced to begging, one hundred and eighty-five houses have fallen into ruins; land producing seven thousand kokus has been given up, and remains untilled, and eleven temples have fallen into decay in consequence of the ruin of those upon whom they depended.
"Besides this, the poverty-stricken farmers and women, having been obliged to take refuge in other provinces, and having no abiding-place, have been driven to evil courses and bring men to speak ill of their lord; and the village officials, being unable to keep order, are blamed and reproved. No attention has been paid to our repeated representations upon this point; so we were driven to petition the Gorôjiu Kuzé Yamato no Kami as he was on his way to the castle, but our petition was returned to us. And now, as a last resource, we tremblingly venture to approach his Highness the Shogun in person.
"The 1st year of the period Shôhô, 12th month, 20th day.
The Shogun at that time was Prince Iyémitsu, the grandson of Iyéyasu. He received the name of Dai-yu-In after his death.
The Gorôjiu at that time were Hotta Kôtsuké no Suké, Sakai Iwami no Kami, Inaba Mino no Kami, Katô Ecchiu no Kami, Inouyé Kawachi no Kami.
The Wakadoshiyôri (or 2d council) were Torii Wakasa no Kami, Tsuchiya Dewa no Kami, and Itakura Naizen no Sho.
The belief in ghosts appears to be as universal as that in the immortality of the soul, upon which it depends. Both in China and Japan the departed spirit is invested with the power of revisiting the earth, and, in a visible form, tormenting its enemies and haunting those places where the perishable part of it mourned and suffered. Haunted houses are slow to find tenants, for ghosts almost always come with revengeful intent; indeed, the owners of such houses will almost pay men to live in them, such is the dread which they inspire, and the anxiety to blot out the stigma.
One cold winter's night at Yedo, as I was sitting, with a few Japanese friends, huddled round the imperfect heat of a brazier of charcoal, the conversation turned upon the story of Sôgorô and upon ghostly apparitions in general. Many a weird tale was told that evening, and I noted down the three or four which follow, for the truth of which the narrators vouched with the utmost confidence.
About ten years ago there lived a fishmonger, named Zenroku, in the Mikawa-street, at Kanda, in Yedo. He was a poor man, living with his wife and one little boy. His wife fell sick and died, so he engaged an old woman to look after his boy while he himself went out to sell his fish. It happened, one day, that he and the other hucksters of his guild were gambling; and this coming to the ears of the authorities, they were all thrown into prison. Although their offence was in itself a light one, still they were kept for some time in durance while the matter was being investigated; and Zenroku, owing to the damp and foul air of the prison, fell sick with fever. His little child, in the meantime, had been handed over by the authorities to the charge of the petty officers of the ward to which his father belonged, and was being well cared for; for Zenroku was known to be an honest fellow, and his fate excited much compassion. One night Zenroku, pale and emaciated, entered the house in which his boy was living; and all the people joyfully congratulated him on his escape from jail. "Why, we heard that you were sick in prison. This is, indeed, a joyful return." Then Zenroku thanked those who had taken care of the child, saying that he had returned secretly by the favour of his jailers that night; but that on the following day his offence would be remitted, and he should be able to take possession of his house again publicly. For that night, he must return to the prison. With this he begged those present to continue their good offices to his babe; and, with a sad and reluctant expression of countenance, he left the house. On the following day, the officers of that ward were sent for by the prison authorities. They thought that they were summoned that Zenroku might be handed back to them a free man, as he himself had said to them; but to their surprise, they were told that he had died the night before in prison, and were ordered to carry away his dead body for burial. Then they knew that they had seen Zenroku's ghost; and that when he said that he should be returned to them on the morrow, he had alluded to his corpse. So they buried him decently, and brought up his son, who is alive to this day.
The next story was told by a professor in the college at Yedo, and, although it is not of so modern a date as the last, he stated it to be well authenticated, and one of general notoriety.
About two hundred years ago there was a chief of the police, named Aoyama Shuzen, who lived in the street called Bancho, at Yedo. His duty was to detect thieves and incendiaries. He was a cruel and violent man, without heart or compassion, and thought nothing of killing or torturing a man to gratify spite or revenge. This man Shuzen had in his house a servant-maid, called O Kiku (the Chrysanthemum), who had lived in the family since her childhood, and was well acquainted with her master's temper. One day O Kiku accidentally broke one of a set of ten porcelain plates, upon which he set a high value. She knew that she would suffer for her carelessness; but she thought that if she concealed the matter her punishment would be still more severe; so she went at once to her master's wife, and, in fear and trembling, confessed what she had done. When Shuzen came home, and heard that one of his favourite plates was broken, he flew into a violent rage, and took the girl to a cupboard, where he left her bound with cords, and every day cut off one of her fingers. O Kiku, tightly bound and in agony, could not move; but at last she contrived to bite or cut the ropes asunder, and, escaping into the garden, threw herself into a well, and was drowned. From that time forth, every night a voice was heard coming from the well, counting one, two, three, and so on up to nine—the number of the plates that remained unbroken—and then, when the tenth plate should have been counted, would come a burst of lamentation. The servants of the house, terrified at this, all left their master's service, until Shuzen, not having a single retainer left, was unable to perform his public duties; and when the officers of the government heard of this, he was dismissed from his office. At this time there was a famous priest, called Mikadzuki Shônin, of the temple Denzuin, who, having been told of the affair, came one night to the house, and, when the ghost began to count the plates, reproved the spirit, and by his prayers and admonitions caused it to cease from troubling the living.
The laying of disturbed spirits appears to form one of the regular functions of the Buddhist priests; at least, we find them playing a conspicuous part in almost every ghost-story.
About thirty years ago there stood a house at Mitsumé, in the Honjô of Yedo, which was said to be nightly visited by ghosts, so that no man dared to live in it, and it remained untenanted on that account. However, a man called Miura Takéshi, a native of the province of Oshiu, who came to Yedo to set up in business as a fencing-master, but was too poor to hire a house, hearing that there was a haunted house, for which no tenant could be found, and that the owner would let any man live in it rent free, said that he feared neither man nor devil, and obtained leave to occupy the house. So he hired a fencing-room, in which he gave his lessons by day, and after midnight returned to the haunted house. One night, his wife, who took charge of the house in his absence, was frightened by a fearful noise proceeding from a pond in the garden, and, thinking that this certainly must be the ghost that she had heard so much about, she covered her head with the bed-clothes and remained breathless with terror. When her husband came home, she told him what had happened; and on the following night he returned earlier than usual, and waited for the ghostly noise. At the same time as before, a little after midnight, the same sound was heard—as though a gun had been fired inside the pond. Opening the shutters, he looked out, and saw something like a black cloud floating on the water, and in the cloud was the form of a bald man. Thinking that there must be some cause for this, he instituted careful inquiries, and learned that the former tenant, some ten years previously, had borrowed money from a blind shampooer, and, being unable to pay the debt, had murdered his creditor, who began to press him for his money, and had thrown his head into the pond. The fencing-master accordingly collected his pupils and emptied the pond, and found a skull at the bottom of it; so he called in a priest, and buried the skull in a temple, causing prayers to be offered up for the repose of the murdered man's soul. Thus the ghost was laid, and appeared no more.
The belief in curses hanging over families for generations is as common as that in ghosts and supernatural apparitions. There is a strange story of this nature in the house of Asai, belonging to the Hatamoto class. The ancestor of the present representative, six generations ago, had a certain concubine, who was in love with a man who frequented the house, and wished in her heart to marry him; but, being a virtuous woman, she never thought of doing any evil deed. But the wife of my lord Asai was jealous of the girl, and persuaded her husband that her rival in his affections had gone astray; when he heard this he was very angry, and beat her with a candlestick so that he put out her left eye. The girl, who had indignantly protested her innocence, finding herself so cruelly handled, pronounced a curse against the house; upon which, her master, seizing the candlestick again, dashed out her brains and killed her. Shortly afterwards my lord Asai lost his left eye, and fell sick and died; and from that time forth to this day, it is said that the representatives of the house have all lost their left eyes after the age of forty, and shortly afterwards they have fallen sick and died at the same age as the cruel lord who killed his concubine.
Of the many fair scenes of Yedo, none is better worth visiting than the temple of Zôjôji, one of the two great burial-places of the Shoguns; indeed, if you wish to see the most beautiful spots of any Oriental city, ask for the cemeteries: the homes of the dead are ever the loveliest places. Standing in a park of glorious firs and pines beautifully kept, which contains quite a little town of neat, clean-looking houses, together with thirty-four temples for the use of the priests and attendants of the shrines, the main temple, with its huge red pillars supporting a heavy Chinese roof of grey tiles, is approached through a colossal open hall which leads into a stone courtyard. At one end of this courtyard is a broad flight of steps—the three or four lower ones of stone, and the upper ones of red wood. At these the visitor is warned by a notice to take off his boots, a request which Englishmen, with characteristic disregard of the feelings of others, usually neglect to comply with. The main hall of the temple is of large proportions, and the high altar is decorated with fine bronze candelabra, incense-burners, and other ornaments, and on two days of the year a very curious collection of pictures representing the five hundred gods, whose images are known to all persons who have visited Canton, is hung along the walls. The big bell outside the main hall is rather remarkable on account of the great beauty of the deep bass waves of sound which it rolls through the city than on account of its size, which is as nothing when compared with that of the big bells of Moscow and Peking; still it is not to be despised even in that respect, for it is ten feet high and five feet eight inches in diameter, while its metal is a foot thick: it was hung up in the year 1673. But the chief objects of interest in these beautiful grounds are the chapels attached to the tombs of the Shoguns.
It is said that as Prince Iyéyasu was riding into Yedo to take possession of his new castle, the Abbot of Zôjôji, an ancient temple which then stood at Hibiya, near the castle, went forth and waited before the gate to do homage to the Prince. Iyéyasu, seeing that the Abbot was no ordinary man, stopped and asked his name, and entered the temple to rest himself. The smooth-spoken monk soon found such favour with Iyéyasu, that he chose Zôjôji to be his family temple; and seeing that its grounds were narrow and inconveniently near the castle, he caused it to be removed to its present site. In the year 1610 the temple was raised, by the intercession of Iyéyasu, to the dignity of the Imperial Temples, which, until the last revolution, were presided over by princes of the blood; and to the Abbot was granted the right, on going to the castle, of sitting in his litter as far as the entrance-hall, instead of dismounting at the usual place and proceeding on foot through several gates and courtyards. Nor were the privileges of the temple confined to barren honours, for it was endowed with lands of the value of five thousand kokus of rice yearly.
When Iyéyasu died, the shrine called Antoku In was erected in his honour to the south of the main temple. Here, on the seventeenth day of the fourth month, the anniversary of his death, ceremonies are held in honour of his spirit, deified as Gongen Sama, and the place is thrown open to all who may wish to come and pray. But Iyéyasu is not buried here; his remains lie in a gorgeous shrine among the mountains some eighty miles north of Yedo, at Nikkô, a place so beautiful that the Japanese have a rhyming proverb which says, that he who has not seen Nikkô should never pronounce the word Kekkô (charming, delicious, grand, beautiful).
Hidétada, the son and successor of Iyéyasu, together with Iyénobu, Iyétsugu, Iyéshigé, Iyéyoshi, and Iyémochi, the sixth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, and fourteenth Shoguns of the Tokugawa dynasty, are buried in three shrines attached to the temple; the remainder, with the exception of Iyémitsu, the third Shogun, who lies with his grandfather at Nikkô, are buried at Uyéno.
The shrines are of exceeding beauty, lying on one side of a splendid avenue of Scotch firs, which border a broad, well-kept gravel walk. Passing through a small gateway of rare design, we come into a large stone courtyard, lined with a long array of colossal stone lanterns, the gift of the vassals of the departed Prince. A second gateway, supported by gilt pillars carved all round with figures of dragons, leads into another court, in which are a bell tower, a great cistern cut out of a single block of stone like a sarcophagus, and a smaller number of lanterns of bronze; these are given by the Go San Ké, the three princely families in which the succession to the office of Shogun was vested. Inside this is a third court, partly covered like a cloister, the approach to which is a doorway of even greater beauty and richness than the last; the ceiling is gilt, and painted with arabesques and with heavenly angels playing on musical instruments, and the panels of the walls are sculptured in high relief with admirable representations of birds and flowers, life-size, life-like, all being coloured to imitate nature. Inside this enclosure stands a shrine, before the closed door of which a priest on one side, and a retainer of the house of Tokugawa on the other, sit mounting guard, mute and immovable as though they themselves were part of the carved ornaments. Passing on one side of the shrine, we come to another court, plainer than the last, and at the back of the little temple inside it is a flight of stone steps, at the top of which, protected by a bronze door, stands a simple monumental urn of bronze on a stone pedestal. Under this is the grave itself; and it has always struck me that there is no small amount of poetical feeling in this simple ending to so much magnificence; the sermon may have been preached by design, or it may have been by accident, but the lesson is there.
There is little difference between the three shrines, all of which are decorated in the same manner. It is very difficult to do justice to their beauty in words. Writing many thousand miles away from them, I have the memory before me of a place green in winter, pleasant and cool in the hottest summer; of peaceful cloisters, of the fragrance of incense, of the subdued chant of richly robed priests, and the music of bells; of exquisite designs, harmonious colouring, rich gilding. The hum of the vast city outside is unheard here: Iyéyasu himself, in the mountains of Nikkô, has no quieter resting-place than his descendants in the heart of the city over which they ruled.
Besides the graves of the Shoguns, Zôjôji contains other lesser shrines, in which are buried the wives of the second, sixth, and eleventh Shoguns, and the father of Iyénobu, the sixth Shogun, who succeeded to the office by adoption. There is also a holy place called the Satsuma Temple, which has a special interest; in it is a tablet in honour of Tadayoshi, the fifth son of Iyéyasu, whose title was Matsudaira Satsuma no Kami, and who died young. At his death, five of his retainers, with one Ogasasawara Kemmotsu at their head, disembowelled themselves, that they might follow their young master into the next world. They were buried in this place; and I believe that this is the last instance on record of the ancient Japanese custom of Junshi, that is to say, "dying with the master."
There are, during the year, several great festivals which are specially celebrated at Zôjoji; the chief of these are the Kaisanki, or founder's day, which is on the eighteenth day of the seventh month; the twenty-fifth day of the first month, the anniversary of the death of the monk Hônen, the founder of the Jôdo sect of Buddhism (that to which the temple belongs); the anniversary of the death of Buddha, on the fifteenth of the second month; the birthday of Buddha, on the eighth day of the fourth month; and from the sixth to the fifteenth of the tenth month.
At Uyéno is the second of the burial-grounds of the Shoguns. The Temple Tô-yei-zan, which stood in the grounds of Uyéno, was built by Iyémitsu, the third of the Shoguns of the house of Tokugawa, in the year 1625, in honour of Yakushi Niôrai, the Buddhist Æsculapius. It faces the Ki-mon, or Devil's Gate, of the castle, and was erected upon the model of the temple of Hi-yei-zan, one of the most famous of the holy places of Kiyôto. Having founded the temple, the next care of Iyémitsu was to pray that Morizumi, the second son of the retired emperor, should come and reside there; and from that time until 1868, the temple was always presided over by a Miya, or member of the Mikado's family, who was specially charged with the care of the tomb of Iyéyasu at Nikkô, and whose position was that of an ecclesiastical chief or primate over the east of Japan.
The temples in Yedo are not to be compared in point of beauty with those in and about Peking; what is marble there is wood here. Still they are very handsome, and in the days of its magnificence the Temple of Uyéno was one of the finest. Alas! the main temple, the hall in honour of the sect to which it belongs, the hall of services, the bell-tower, the entrance-hall, and the residence of the prince of the blood, were all burnt down in the battle of Uyéno, in the summer of 1868, when the Shogun's men made their last stand in Yedo against the troops of the Mikado. The fate of the day was decided by two field-pieces, which the latter contrived to mount on the roof of a neighbouring tea-house; and the Shogun's men, driven out of the place, carried off the Miya in the vain hope of raising his standard in the north as that of a rival Mikado. A few of the lesser temples and tombs, and the beautiful park-like grounds, are but the remnants of the former glory of Uyéno. Among these is a temple in the form of a roofless stage, in honour of the thousand-handed Kwannon. In the middle ages, during the civil wars between the houses of Gen and Hei, one Morihisa, a captain of the house of Hei, after the destruction of his clan, went and prayed for a thousand days at the temple of the thousand-handed Kwannon at Kiyomidzu, in Kiyôto. His retreat having been discovered, he was seized and brought bound to Kamakura, the chief town of the house of Gen. Here he was condemned to die at a place called Yui, by the sea-shore; but every time that the executioner lifted his sword to strike, the blade was broken by the god Kwannon, and at the same time the wife of Yoritomo, the chief of the house of Gen, was warned in a dream to spare Morihisa's life. So Morihisa was reprieved, and rose to power in the state; and all this was by the miraculous intervention of the god Kwannon, who takes such good care of his faithful votaries. To him this temple is dedicated. A colossal bronze Buddha, twenty-two feet high, set up some two hundred years ago, and a stone lantern, twenty feet high, and twelve feet round at the top, are greatly admired by the Japanese. There are only three such lanterns in the empire; the other two being at Nanzenji—a temple in Kiyôto, and Atsura, a shrine in the province of Owari. All three were erected by the piety of one man, Sakuma Daizen no Suké, in the year A.D. 1631.
Iyémitsu, the founder of the temple, was buried with his grandfather, Iyéyasu, at Nikkô; but both of these princes are honoured with shrines here. The Shoguns who are interred at Uyéno are Iyétsuna, Tsunayoshi, Yoshimuné, Iyéharu, Iyénori, and Iyésada, the fourth, fifth, eighth, tenth, eleventh, and thirteenth Princes of the Line. Besides them, are buried five wives of the Shoguns, and the father of the eleventh Shogun.