156 HONDA THE SAMURAI.
the village. Men who bought the right of wearing
swords were called "money-lifted samurai."
Young fellows who wore two swords were more
fond of fencing, horsemanship, and wrestling than of
Their whole talk and reading was about the
fighting heroes of old days, and their swords they
looked on as their very souls. Many of them would
probably have starved before doing manual labor.
One of their favorite proverbs was " Though an eagle
be starving, it will not eat grain." They formed
parties and cliques among themselves, and were often
rough to each other, especially when they played the
Genji and He*ik6 fight. In walking through the
country, if a farmer or lower-class man were riding on
his pack-horse and did not instantly dismount when
he saw a samurai coming, or if he jostled a gentleman
or was rude to him, the man of swords was very apt
to draw blade and murder him. The sight of dead
men lying in their own blood on the roadside was no
rare thing. There was usually a good deal of jeal-
ousy between the ignorant fencing experts who could
hardly write a letter correctly and those who were
close students of books, and the societies or frater-
nities of the one sort usually excluded men of the
other kind. Even men who trained their sons to
a knowledge of arithmetic, or calculation on the aba-
cus, did it with the idea of getting them lucrative
offices, such as those of treasurer and tax-collector.
No slates, pencils, blackboards, or chalk were used
in school, but instead the abacus, or box of balls
sliding on rods, was employed. On this counting-
MEN, MONKEYS, HOUSES, AND SOTS. 157
machine subtraction, multiplication, division, frac-
tions, decimals, extraction of square and cube root,
and many other arithmetical problems can be done
much more rapidly than by our common methods.
In old time, when Mr. Honda was a boy, the only
books and literature studied were Chinese, which is
to Japanese very much as Latin is to English.
Through the influence of Mr. Rai, Doctor Sano, and
men of like mind Japanese was introduced and seri-
ously studied for the first time about the year that
Rai Taro first entered school. A few were begin-
ning to master Dutch, and these found it such hard
work that, though they persevered, they were called
by the fencing boys of old-fashioned methods " pale-
face-and-big-top-knot fellows." The ultra conserva-
tives also despised the students of arithmetic, which
had been introduced into the course of studies after
a struggle, considering that men who had handled
money, whether samurai or traders, must necessarily
be thieves. In this they were not so far wrong, for
in the day of spies and bribery and oppression of
one class by another, two and two did not commonly
make four. Among the shopkeepers too the idea
seemed to be to get rich by defrauding customers,
and then to lock up the money in a strong-box or
to bury it in the ground. Between the idle privi-
leged classes and the toiler without right or proper
protection against the strong or insolent there was
little love lost.
Before the age of thirteen the son of a samurai
was necessarily a vassal or retainer of the lord in
158 HONDA THE SAMURAI.
whose fief, or district governed by a daimio, he was
born. Only on one of three great occasions could
lads whose fathers received a salary of only five
hundred bushels of rice be presented to the daimio.
These were at the ceremony of taking the oath of
allegiance when thirteen years old, after marriage,
and on succeeding to the father's income. On the
important occasion of becoming a vassal the young
man presented his lord with an arrow, in token of loy-
alty, or with two hundred copper coins, for the war-
fund to be used in time of hostilities. In some of the
citadels of the feudal castles, the trap-door of the
entrance to them being under the bed of the lord,
there were subterranean chambers of gra-nite and
iron in which the offerings of retainers thus made
were stored until the accumulation ran into mighty
sums of gold and silver.
We might tell more of the lights and shadows of
life in one of the petty principalities in the days
when Japan was cut up into fractions, but we must
hasten with our story. Of Echizen it is truth and
not fiction to say that the people in it were as happy
as in any other province of Japan. The samurai
and the people both loved their lord, Matsudaira,
who was both enlightened and benevolent. It was
with a view to the bettering of his people that he
had encouraged such men as Doctor Sano and had
invited to his dominions such scholars as Professor
Koba. The land was well tilled and the farmers
toiled in sunny content. Many new hillsides were
terraced with rice-fields and waste lands brought
MEN, MONKEYS, HORSES, AND BOYS. 159
under cultivation. When the rice harvest was good
the taxes were easily paid by the farmers, and when
crops failed and food was short the local government
opened its store-house of rice and fed the people free,
for which all were grateful.
It was a time of general prosperity, yet, strange to
say, people began to remember and talk about the
old saying handed down by tradition, " When the
spade has reached the top of the hills, war will
SCENES AT A HERO'S SHRINE.
ABOUT a mile out from the city of Fukui, on
the road to the north, stands a neat memorial
shrine to the memory of Nitta Yoshisada, a lineal
descendant of the great Yoshi-iye*, the founder of
the Genji family. Around the shrine, which is
built of granite and roofed with copper, were pine-
trees. The approach from the road was a neat stone
path bordered on either side with those peculiar
dark-blue pebbles which are brought from the sea-
side of the province of Kii and being laid on sand
prevent the growth of weeds and straggling grass.
Fronting the sacred fane, in which was a tablet or
inscribed square stone column, was the usual grooved
granite block containing water for fresh flowers,
and drilled at each end to hold a bamboo tube con-
taining bouquets. Here on certain days came cer-
tain of the samurai to make their floral offerings in
honor of the brave hero whose blood centuries ago
dyed the earth of the battle-field.
For over five hundred years the memory of Nitta
had been honored by scholars throughout Japan, and
the story of his life was familiar to all the chil-
dren of Fukui. There were at the time of our
story special reasons for the increased visitation and
SCENES AT A HERO'S SHRINE. 161
public honors given to Nitta's tomb. Let us see what
these were and why the name of this particular char-
acter in history should rise to a new glory and this
tomb enjoy perpetual decoration day.
The successors of Yoritomo, the Hojo rulers who
ruled at Kamakura from A.D. 1219 to 1333, were not
content with division of the government, nor with
excess of rapacity, cruelty, or corruption. They
went so far as to fight against the Mikado and to send
him into exile. Then the white banner was raised,
and brave leaders, Ashikaga, Kojima, Kusunoki, and
others, at the head of thousands of enthusiastic vol-
unteers, marched to destroy the usurpers and to
place once more the emperor on his rightful throne.
The most prominent of these captains who loved the
white banner in revolt against the Hojo were Ashi-
kaga Takauji and Nitta Yoshisada, whose common
ancestor was Yoshi-iy^, the Minamoto chieftain.
Nitta took and burned Kamakura in 1333 A.D., and
when civil war broke out adhered unflinchingly to
the Mikado's cause, and not only at Hiogo but in
Echizen fought bravely against mighty odds until
his death in an ambuscade near Fukui in 1338.
But thirty-eight years old, he was the mirror of
chivalry and loyalty. His fidelity to the emperor,
amid all threats, bribes, and defeat, made him a
bright star in that galaxy of typical loyal men
whom the samurai almost worshiped as models. A
remarkable historical fact kept in mind by Nitta's
admirers was that for a few years, between A.D. 1333
and 1336, and chiefly through Nitta's victory, there
162 HONDA THE SAMURAI.
was no dual system of government, the Mikado
ruling the whole empire from Kyoto, as in the an-
Honda Jiro's ambition was to emulate and imitate
Nitta. Excelling as a swordsman in fencing, in
spear exercise, horsemanship, and the military vir-
tues and training, he had also studied Rai Sanyo's
history of Japan, and the effect was to make him
hate the Yedo rulers, in whom he saw only the suc-
cessors of the Hojo and the usurpers of Kamakura.
He longed to see the Tokugawa family humiliated
and reduced to their proper level as but one among
the many other vassals of the emperor. He was
fanatically patriotic, and his energies found vent in
hatred of the Tycoon and in passionate love to the
Mikado. For this reason he had of late come almost
daily to Nitta's shrine. In winter he brushed away
the snow to lay before the tablet camellias, in the
spring-time plum-blossoms and wistarias, in summer
the peach and cherry blooms, in autumn the chrysan-
themums, and at all times evergreenery and wild
With his floral offering Honda put up prayers to
the gods to make him pure in heart, loyal and de-
voted to the emperor, and unflinching in his pur-
pose when opportunity came.
For three years the young man had been with vary-
ing regularity an habitual visitor to Nitta's shrine,
but a hint of news from his uncle, Rai Goro, given
since the latter's return from Higo, had made him
a daily comer. Further, it had diverted his prayers
SCENES AT A HEBO'S SHEINE. 163
into a new channel through a special mediator. Still
again, it had even the effect of precipitating a crisis
in a matter of the heart, in which a certain maiden
was de'eply interested, as we shall see.
The item of news which Mr. Rai had heard from
the Dutch was that the Americans were coming with
soldiers and men-of-war to Japan to compel the
making of a treaty. Instantly to Honda's eyes rose
the horrible picture of the " hairy barbarians " defil-
ing the sacred soil of the Holy Country and possibly
insulting the Mikado, the descendant of the gods
who created Japan and of the goddess who daily
blazed in the sky and whose rays filled the earth.
A polished and courtly gentleman as Honda was,
cultured in the fine art of being a samurai, his igno-
rance of foreign people and of their literature, man-
ners, religion, as well as of modern business or of
political economy, was as dense as that of " the well-
frog that knows not the great ocean." A gentleman
and a fanatic were combined in him. In practical
acquaintance with the world outside of Dai Nippon
the Japanese of his day were as little children.
On the night of the same day that Mr. Rai in-
formed him that the American squadron had sailed,
he hastened to the shrine. He recalled from history
that on the eve of his capture of Kamakura, when
he flung his sword into the sea as a tribute to the
god, Nitta had sought the aid of Kompira, the sail-
ors' patron deity, the god of the sea and of ven-
geance. On this night, instead of the prayer, " O
Thou who art enthroned in the highest heaven," or
164 HONDA THE SAMURAI.
those addressed to the hosts of gods, Honda offered
to the deity whose hideous image seems a very night-
mare of scowling horror this petition :
" Mighty ruler of the great ocean, who governest
the ebbing and flowing tide, drive back these bar-
barous aliens from my native land, or drown them by
raising a great storm and foundering their ships.
Give the fishes a feast upon their carcases. Let not
one of them return to tell the story."
Then to the hosts of gods in the Shinto pantheon
he made petition as follows :
" Breath of the gods, sweep away all defilement from
our holy country, the land of the heavenly spirits."
This petition, invoking destruction upon the
Americans, repeated again and again, was added to
his litany to Aina-Te'rasu, the sun-goddess, to Hachi-
man, the god of war, and to the gods who were the
ancestors of the Mikado.
One evening early in July, A. D. 1853, he had offered
his jimpo (divine breath) prayer, as he called it. He
thought he was alone, but on turning round to go
home, he saw the figure of a young woman of about
eighteen at the end of the walk where it joined the
" Good-evening, Mr. Honda. It is many days since
my eyes have hung upon your honored face."
" Good-evening, Miss Hoshi (Star). How is your
temper this evening? "
" My temper let me be frank to say it is like
that of a wrestler flower (violet), for I seek an expla-
nation. I have heard you praying for the wind to
SCENES AT A HE BO'S SHRINE. 165
blow and for some one's destruction ; pray tell me,
is it mine ? "
" What a question ! No, certainly not. I was
not thinking of you."
" Alas ! That I fear you have not done for a long
time. Have you forsaken me utterly ? Who is your
new love ? "
" Miss Hoshi, rest your mind. There is no other
woman that has captured my affections ; and yet my
mind has changed not only towards you, but even in
relation to my prince, and even as regards my family
and kinsmen. I am at this moment so little in the
mood to be opposed, that should they attempt to hin-
der my purpose I shall cast off my allegiance to our
lord and leave the country."
" What can be the matter, Mr. Honda ? It is so
long since you have honored me with your confidences,
or even spoken a kind word to me, that I had almost
imagined you possessed of a fox. Once we were like
two violets which the wind has driven and joined
together in a single flower, but now some hand has
torn us apart. Is it anything I have done to bring
you to your present state of mind ? "
" Miss Hoshi, maid and friend, let me say now and
forever that all the regard I professed for you since
I first saw you on that bright day two years ago,
when the famous master from Yedo gave his ex-
hibition of flower-fires at the river-meadow, was
in all truth and faithfulness. I have often said I
loved you, and I spojie the truth of a samurai ; but
166 HONDA THE SAMURAI.
" You cast me off because I am a merchant's
daughter, as I have said you would. I never be-
lieved since my father is a street man and yours is
a castle-dweller that you would make me your
wife. Now I suppose that your father is to betroth
you to a lady of samurai rank : I have so heard."
" You have heard falsely, then. Let me go on to
say that, though I am a samurai and you a merchant's
daughter, my affection was real, and I hoped in time to
overcome my honored father's prejudice, and to have
our betrothal arranged and marriage consummated
regularly, in form according with the strictest rules
of etiquette. Yet now I have left off all association
with you, secret or open, because I am a changed
" But what is it that has changed you who is
" Miss Hoshi, it is the gods, not a woman, that have
changed me. I can not explain all, but our Mikado,
the Son of Heaven, owns me now. The foreigner is
coming to drain our country of its gold and silver,
its rice and tea and silk, to impoverish it by trade,
perhaps to conquer it as India was conquered, but in
any event to insult our country, and I have laid aside
every other thought except to drive him off. I can
not now think of love or marriage, and as no formal
word of betrothal has ever passed between us, you
can not in fairness reproach me with unfaithfulness."
" But listen, Mr. Honda, one moment."
" I can not ; you must excuse me, for here comes
a party of people, some of whom I know by their
SCEtfEti AT A HERO'S SHRINE. 167
voices. Until the Son of Heaven is honored, or I
try the fortune of the sword with the foreigner, I
talk love with no woman. A samurai when he sees
his duty plainly knows no man, woman, or devil.
So saying, he turned his back upon her and upon
the party approaching in the direction of the shrine,
and hurried off.
His night was spent in hard study, hers in tears
and bitter thoughts.
Honda Jiro had the reputation among his friends
and comrades of being an austere youth, fond alike
of severe study and of athletic exercises, but not
given to the light and easy life which so many of the
samurai led. The love of pleasure for its own sake
was hardly a feeling known to him. He was inde-
pendent in his notions, and, despite his high ideals
as a samurai, had more sympathy for the common
people than most of his fellows. He had often been
known to shield farmers' boys and " street men " from
swaggering bullies who wore two swords and called
themselves samurai. In one or two instances he had
saved the lives of eta by threatening to draw sword
and take their part against ruffians in silk clothes who
would have cut down the outcasts like dogs. For
him the social gulf which divided the gentry and the
lower classes had often been bridged by kindly inter-
course between his father and the grain-merchants.
Honda himself went further than his father, and often
made playmates of the children of a rich rice-mer-
chant named Asai. Growing up together with her,
1G8 HONDA THE SAMUttAt.
he was especially fond of Hoshi, Mr. Asai's daughter.
In accordance with the social proprieties of the coun-
try the boys and girls were kept apart in play or
company after the age of eight years.
Then Mr. Asai moved his family to his other house
in Osaka, where he had a branch of his rice ware-
house. Here his daughter Hoshi was educated.
Though tenderly reared, she was also trained in use-
ful accomplishments. She even occasionally watched
at her father's store and returned the flag-signals
from the roof of the large house in which the rice-
merchants had their guild or exchange, and from
which the rise and fall of prices were telegraphed by
a sort of signal service of flags.
When, eight years after, Mr. Asai returned to
Fukui with his daughter Hoshi, she was a beautiful
maiden of graceful figure and winsome manner.
Rather taller than the average of her country-
women of the same age, neither too slender nor
too fully rounded, and with that exquisite taste in
dress for which the daughters of Japan are noted,
she might have graced a prince's castle. As a matter
of fact, more than one of the wealthy men of rank
had opened negotiations with her father, hoping that
the fair face might beautify their harem. Mr. Asai
had, however, determined that his daughter should
never leave the paternal roof except legally be-
trothed and pledged to be a wife. As their purpose
was not honorable marriage, their offers were politely
declined. Hoshi grew up as pure in person as the
flower which she called " the face of the morning,"
SCENES AT A HERO'S SHRINE. 169
and we the morning-glory, when jeweled with the
In this respect our story must be different from
that in perhaps the majority of Japanese novels.
These powerfully illustrate the idea of filial piety,
even to the idea that a daughter must cheerfully sell
herself and her happiness at the command of her
parents, so that they may be saved from debt or
poverty. In the name of filial piety crimes against
women were constantly committed. Perhaps no pages
of Japanese fiction more vividly illustrate this truth
than those of the classic writer Bakin, in his story
entitled " Biography of a Gold-fish."
From the middle of the sixth month, according to
the lunar calendar, people went out in the evenings
to saunter on the great bridge along the river-flats
und over the hills. Then the jugglers displayed
their skill, and curious animals, fish, bugs, beasts,
fossils, and monstrosities were exhibited. Story-
tellers gathered their gaping crowds and "picked
the pockets of listeners with their tongues." Musi-
cians, both players and singers, mountebanks, the
man who cracked stones with his fist, the sword-
swallowers, the tortoise-tamers, the snake-charmers,
the acrobats who danced on the top of the man who
lay on the ground with a tengu's nose eight or ten
feet high, were in their glory.
At night the river-banks, boats, tea-houses, flats,
and parts of the dry bed of the stream were brill-
iantly illuminated. In this month also the picnic
parties spread their rugs, and made merry with
170 HONDA THE SAMURAI.
baked and fried fish, sake*, cakes, rice, hard-boiled
eggs, pickles, and all sorts of portable and outdoor
refreshments, the eating being interspersed with
song, jest, and dance. By the first day of the
seventh month the temples were gayly adorned.
The priests set up their huge, long pole-banners,
decorated their grounds with flags and lanterns, and
gave their great free lunches or dinners of rice and
radishes to visiting companies of devotees coming
from a distance. About this time also the famous
makers of day fire-works entertained the people
with their exhibition on the parade-ground or pleas-
ure meadow. In a huge wooden mortar, like an
upright cannon, made of the hollowed trunk of a
tree bound round with bamboo hoops, a cartridge
was dropped looking like a foot of round log
sawed off and wrapped in paper. Fired off, it flew
into the air a few hundred feet and exploded into
something surprising and usually funny. Out of
the black cloud of dust that stained the air for a
few seconds would be seen shooting lines that
formed a gigantic spider, a monkey blowing little
balloons out of its mouth, an enormous cuttle-fish,
a tailless cat chasing three or four scampering mice,
a fox coming out of a tea-kettle, an old woman
hobbling on a stick, or a nest full of rats upset.
Many other familiar pictures rested a few moments
in the quiet air, printed in black and red against the
blue ether. As each scene became visible the chil-
dren, quick to recognize the subject, became up-
roariously happy. Indeed, all seemed to be children
in their fullness of joy and flow of aniniiil spirits.
SCENES AT A HERO'S SHRINE. 171
It was at one of these merry-makings that Honda
Jiro, now himself a handsome samurai and an ambi-
tious young man, saw Miss Asai Hoshi for the first
time since childhood,, Taking his seat among some
friends where he could feast his eyes upon her, he
enjoyed with a rapturous glow this vision of loveli-
ness. He gave himself to his own party while
conversation, fun, or refreshments were in order;
but when all other eyes were turned skyward to
view the " flower-fires," then his gaze was upon the
fair and lovely maiden towards whom he felt a new
and, as it seemed, an overmastering passion. With-
out going near the party in which her parents were
he went home and wrote her a letter in which he
breathed out his heart.
That letter Miss Hoshi had kept in a silken cover
since first she received it. She had sewed it inside
her best girdle. This girdle, by the way, was not, as
one might think, of costliest brocade and richest color,
such as ladies of the samurai class and the gtiisha,
or singing-girls, wear, but of modest tints and of a
quality far less than her father could easily afford.
The fault of this was not in his parsimony or
economy, but because, under the feudal system, a
merchant could not spend his money or enjoy the
fruits of his industry as he pleased. Below the
privileged sword-wearing class none could ride a
horse, build a house, or wear clothing except of a
certain grade prescribed. In a word, men were not
allowed to reap the fruits of their toil or brains
except as their superiors or oppressors permitted.
172 HONDA THE SAMURAI.
This was the feudal, and not the industrial, era.
Work was not honored, and trade was reckoned a
disgrace; and nearly two millions of people lived
upon the labor of the thirty millions whom they
counted beneath them. There was little encourage-
ment to industry, for, as a rule, the merchant and
the mechanic and farmer were the prey of the ruling
class, who kept themselves above the people with
almost the isolation of a caste.
Partly because of his rank and partly because of
his own personal attractiveness, but chiefly because
her own heart responded to the glowing sentiments
of Honda Jiro's letter, the maiden Hoshi treasured
his love-letter in her girdle. Shall we glance at its
contents ? Here it is :
Permit me to address you. Although utterly unable
to express my feelings, yet my love to you permits of no
restraint, so I attempt the task of spreading out my heart
A few days ago I unexpectedly chanced to meet you, and
caught my first rapturous glance of your face. Your coun-
tenance was to me as fair as the face of the morning and
as pure as the white camellia. Your motions were as