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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.

[Illustration: THE DEPUTATION OF PEASANTS AT THEIR LORD'S GATE.]

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.[59] 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.

[Footnote 59: This last crime is, of course, now obsolete.]

THE GHOST OF SAKURA.[60]

[Footnote 60: The story, which also forms the subject of a play, is
published, but with altered names, in order that offence may not be
given to the Hotta family. The real names are preserved here. The
events related took place during the rule of the Shogun Iyémitsu, in
the first half of the seventeenth century.]

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!

[Illustration: THE GHOST OF SAKURA.]

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;[61] 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.

[Footnote 61: A Buddhist deity.]

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."

[Illustration: SÔGORÔ THRUSTING THE PETITION INTO THE SHOGUN'S
LITTER.]

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;[62] 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.

[Footnote 62: Destroyed during the revolution, in the summer of 1868,
by the troops of the Mikado. See note on the tombs of the Shoguns, at
the end of the story.]

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



Online LibraryAlgernon Bertram Freeman-MitfordTales of Old Japan → online text (page 17 of 31)