Yei Theodora Ozaki.

Warriors of old Japan : and other stories online

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woods.

As she looked about her, she saw near by a little shrine, and, overcome
with the terror of all that had befallen her within the last two days,
she made her way towards it with trembling steps, and kneeling down
offered up a fervent prayer for help and for her brother's and father's
safety.

An old man who was cutting down trees in the forest saw her weeping
there, and his heart filled with pity for the young girl. He drew near
and asked her to tell him what was the matter. On hearing her sad story
he led her to his home, saying that he would take care of her.

It was a quiet mountain place in the woods. The ground was covered with
pine needles, the chrysanthemums round the humble cottage were fading,
and the bell-insects were feebly tinkling in the grass, for the last
days of autumn were passing.

Here in this retired spot Shiragiku lived in peace. The old wood-cutter
and his wife, having no children of their own, loved her as a daughter,
for such she seemed to them, so amiable, patient, and helpful in all her
ways was she, and they told her that they hoped she would remain with
them to the end of their days. Shiragiku did her utmost to show her
gratitude to the old couple for their kindness to her, but she never
ceased to think of her father and brother and to look forward to the
time when they would once more be a united family. In spite of all
discouragements she cherished this hope. Now and again she implored the
old man to let her go and look for them; but he would not permit this,
saying that it was not safe for an unprotected girl to roam the hills,
that if she did so she would be sure to fall into the hands of robbers
again, and that it was far wiser for her to wait till her father and
brother found her than for her to seek them, not knowing where they
were. Her reverence for old age made her obey him, and she waited in
patience, hoping each day she rose that her father and brother would
find her before the evening came.

During these quiet years she grew in beauty day by day and passed from
girlhood into the bloom of early womanhood. The poor cotton robe - all
that the wood-cutter could give her-in no wise hid her loveliness. She
was like a fine chrysanthemum shining among the wild flowers of the
plain.

She was soon the acknowledged beauty of the place, and one spring the
village chief sought her in marriage. The wood-cutter, out of respect to
the suitor's position, at once gave his consent.

When, however, the old man told Shiragiku of what he planned for her,
her dismay was great. She begged him with tears to make excuses for her;
she told him that she could not think of marriage till she had found her
father. But he would not listen, saying that it was the best thing for
her now to be settled in life.

That night the girl covered her face with her sleeves and wept long and
bitterly when she lay down to rest.

"How can I obey the old man?" she sobbed to herself. "No, never-never! I
remember now more vividly than ever what my mother told me when she was
dying. 'You are not my own child, Shiragiku,' she said; 'one day many
years ago I was returning from a visit to a temple. When passing through
a field, I found a little baby crying in the midst of some white
chrysanthemums. Who can have been so wicked as to forsake such a lovely
child? I said to myself; there must be some reason for this! I carried
the little one home and brought her up as my own child. You are that
child. Praying for blessings on you, I named you _Shira-Giku_, because
I found you in a bed of white chrysanthemums. There is also something
else I must tell you before I die. There is some one in the world to
whom you must look as your brother and husband; he is none other than
our son, who ran away rather than meet the anger of his father. We have
never heard of him since he left, but if he is still living I am sure he
will come back to his family. Your father and I - your adopted
parents - have always destined you for him; it is my last behest that you
should refuse all other men and wait to marry our son, for come back I
am sure he will one day; then live a happy life together in the old
home, praying for our souls when we have left this world.' My mother's
words are still in my ears. I hear them more clearly than ever," she
sobbed to herself. "I owe her my life; how can I disobey her bidding?
And yet how can I refuse to do as the old wood-cutter asks, for he has
been as a parent to me these last three years? What shall I do? Oh! what
shall I do?"

Day by day the old man pressed her to accept the suitor and day by day
in great perplexity she put him off. At last, seeing no way of escape
from being unfilial to the memory of her mother and from fulfilling the
old man's wish, she made up her mind to die and put an end to the
struggle.

At this time the _nakodo_ (go-between) of the marriage came and
presented her with a roll of brocade for the _obi_ (wide sash) and of
damask silk for the _kimono_, the betrothal gift of the bridegroom. The
old man and his wife rejoiced at what they considered her good fortune
and regarded the matter as settled, and the neighbours came to
congratulate them and to catch a glimpse of the chosen bride of their
chief.

Shiragiku, however, had made up her mind. That night during a rainstorm
she stole out from the wood-cutter's cottage. She looked back wistfully
many times at the place which had fed and sheltered her for so long; but
she told herself that there was no other way than this, for she must
hold as sacred law her mother's last behest. In the despair of the last
few weeks, when this unexpected marriage was being forced upon her, she
had lost the hope of finding her father and brother again; but she would
die rather than marry a stranger against her foster mother's dying wish.

The night was dark, for the sky was clouded. Down the empty street of
the village Shiragiku hurried with the tightly closed thatch-roofed
cottages on either side. Out across the silent stretches of rice-fields
she ran till she reached the blackness of a pine wood, seeking for some
spot where she could die.

The roar of water at last reached her ears, and she knew that she had
come to a river. The moaning of the wind in the pine trees sounded to
her like the voices of pursuers. She stopped to look around, but there
was no one to be seen. The path leading down to the river grew rougher
and darker as she entered the shadow of the trees, but Shiragiku never
faltered in her determination to reach its bank. At last the water
glimmered like a wide white ribbon in the gloom of night.

"I will now die," said Shiragiku, weeping; "but alas! how sad my father
and brother will be when they hear of my death. Forgive me," she cried
aloud, "oh, my father, oh, elder brother, that I die first. I will await
your coming beside my mother in Heaven."

Shiragiku now reached the edge of the bank and was about to dash down
into the river with a prayer to Buddha on her lips when she found
herself caught from behind and a familiar voice said to her: "Wait a
moment! Tell me who you are and why you seek to take your life."

It was her brother Akihide. She gazed up at him in the dim light of the
moon just coming forth from the clouds. They both clasped each other by
the arms and burst into tears.

"Little sister!" "Elder brother!" cried the sister and brother both
together in that shock of simultaneous recognition. In the speechless
moments which followed they heard the sound of a flute from the village
near by break the silence of the night - they watched the rain cease and
the stars shine out one by one. Akihide led Shiragiku to a large
stone; here they sat down and told each other all that had happened
since they last parted.

[Illustration: SHIRAGIKU WAS ABOUT TO DASH DOWN INTO THE RIVER]

While they were talking the day broke; together they watched the sun
rise in splendour and glisten and glow in thousands of rain-drops on the
trees and grass around them.

"Let us go and tell the kind old wood-cutter and his wife all that has
happened," said White Chrysanthemum, smiling through her tears; "I must
bid him farewell and we must thank him, for indeed I owe him my life."

They walked to the village and went at once to the old man and told him
their story. Shiragiku begged him to forgive her for not doing as he
wished. Then Akihide told him that it had been his mother's dying wish
that he should marry White Chrysanthemum and keep up the family name.
With tears the brother and sister thanked the old couple for their
ever-to-be-remembered kindness to White Chrysanthemum in her distress.
They promised to come and see them whenever they could and to let them
know all that happened to them in the future, a promise which they
faithfully kept. They at last took leave with many gentle words on both
sides.

Then Akihide and Shiragiku began a happy journey homewards, walking over
the hills by day, and passing the night at some farmhouse or cottage
they came to on their way.

When the brother and foster sister reached the little house in the
valley at the foot of Mount Aso, it was early in the month of May; the
cuckoos were singing, and the air was fragrant with the scent of
orange-blossoms. In spite of the years of desertion and neglect, the
tiny home still stood safe and firm as when Shiragiku had left it,
though the grass had grown tall and thick in the garden and moss covered
the roof. The sun was shining brightly over all, and the balm and
gladness of the spring morning rested on their young souls.

For a moment White Chrysanthemum paused at the bamboo gate and said:
"This is our home, elder brother!" Then quickly they ran down the
garden, quickly they pushed back the paper screen of the entrance and
entered. Were they waking or were they dreaming? Who should they see
coming forward to meet them but their father, whom they had almost given
up as dead. For a moment they were all silent. It seemed as if their
hearts must burst with inexpressible joy.

"Father! Father!" cried Akihide and Shiragiku together, "is it really
you? Are you safe and well?"

"Children, my children!" cried the astonished father, "have I found you
at last?"

Then Akihide knelt before his father, and with his face bowed to the
ground, confessed everything, and begged his father's forgiveness for
the past. He told him all - how bitterly he had repented his behaviour,
how hard he had tried to make a new life for himself, how long he had
searched for his parents in vain, his one wish being to make amends, how
wonderfully he had met Shiragiku when he had at last despaired of ever
finding any one of his family again, of all that had happened since her
coming to the temple.

The father listened gravely to the long sad story; then with gentle
words he forgave his son; he bade him to cease all self-reproach, and as
he spoke the kind words his eyes grew dark with unshed tears. When
Shiragiku told her story he commended her filial piety, her courage, and
her patience. Now that they had as by a miracle of the gods found each
other again, nothing should ever separate them.

Thus the little family found again the vanished happiness of other
years.

Shiragiku now busied herself preparing the evening meal, and as she
filled her father's and her brother's wine-cup the father told them all
that had happened to him.

"When I went out hunting three years ago, I fell over a precipice, and
found myself at the bottom of a chasm a hundred or more feet deep. I was
quite unable to get out, so I lived on wild fruits and stream water for
many days.

"One morning I chanced to see a band of monkeys climbing the chasm by
means of a large wistaria-vine which formed a bridge from side to side.
I followed their example and soon found myself free on the hillside once
more. I returned here with all haste, only to find that Shiragiku had
disappeared. Imagine my distress. I inquired of every one in the
village, but no one had seen her go away, and there was no one who could
tell me anything about her. There was but one thing left for me to do
and that was to try and find her. So I set out walking through province
after province, looking for her, but all in vain. At last I gave up my
quest as hopeless and returned here only yesterday."

The joy of the little family was great beyond all words. This unexpected
meeting - the utmost desire of their souls - was a happiness which took
away their breath and left them silent with wonder and thankfulness.
Only one thing saddened them - that the good mother, who had died of
grief and anxiety, could not be present to share in this joyous reunion,
and to know that her prayer was answered and that the long-lost son had
returned to his family. But she was not forgotten - they spoke of her and
missed her. Shiragiku rose and opened the little shrine standing in a
closed recess at the end of the room, and taking some sticks of incense
set them burning before the name-tablet set up in memory of her mother;
for though Shiragiku now knew that she was not really her own mother,
yet she always thought of her as such, for she had known no other.
Father and son and adopted daughter then knelt and with hands clasped
and bowed heads prayed before the little altar.

Shiragiku now fetched and tuned her _koto_ (harp) and sang the songs she
knew her father liked to hear. This done, she accompanied her brother,
while he paced through some stately measures of the classic dance. The
father, calling Akihide and Shiragiku to his side, told them that he
wished them to marry, as his wife had always planned.

He was now an old man, he said, and could not expect to live much
longer, and before his death it was his ardent wish to see his house
established.

He then named an early date for the wedding. Akihide, having only
entered upon a religious novitiate, was able to obey his father without
breaking any vows. He bowed his willingness and Shiragiku blushed
happily. She was content in fulfilling her good foster mother's last
behest.

Now the sun set, a crane cried on the hill at the back of the house, and
the stars came out one by one in the soft and darkening turquoise of a
May twilight, and peace and joy reigned in the home and the hearts of
the three wanderers.


[1] The war of the Restoration.

[2] An autumn grass (Miscanthus sinensis).




THE PRINCESS OF THE BOWL


Long, long ago, in old Japan, there lived near Katano, in the Kawachi
Province, a prince named Bitchu-no-Kami Minetaka or Lord Minetaka, as we
should say in English. He was not only a very wealthy man, but it was
reported that his house was full of rare and wonderful treasures. He was
also a learned man and the master of many accomplishments. His life was
passed in the luxurious leisure of the rich, and he knew nothing of care
or want - perhaps he hardly realized what such words meant.

But above all the treasures in his storehouse, beyond the wealth of his
revenue which came pouring in year by year in bushels of rice, he prized
his only child, his daughter. The prince and his wife brought this
daughter up with great love and tenderness as if she were some rare
flower or fragile butterfly. So beautiful indeed was the young girl that
in looking at her their friends and relations wondered whether the Sun
Goddess Amaterasu had not come to earth again in the form of the little
Princess.

Nothing came to mar the happiness of this united little family till the
daughter was fifteen years of age. Then suddenly the mother, who had
never known a day's illness in her whole life, was taken ill. At first
it seemed to be but a slight cold, but her health, instead of getting
better, only grew worse and worse. She felt that she would never recover
and that her end was very near, so she called her daughter beside her
pillow, and, taking a large lacquer bowl from the bedside, she placed it
on her daughter's head, saying: "My poor little child, I want you always
to wear this bowl. At your innocent age you can understand nothing of
the world in which I must leave you motherless. I pity you with all my
heart; ah! if you were at least seventeen or eighteen years old I could
die with more peace of mind. I am indeed loath to go, leaving you behind
so young. Try to be a good daughter and never forget your mother."

The woman's tears fell fast as she spoke, and her voice was broken with
sobs while she stroked her little girl's hand. But things are not as one
wishes in this life. All the doctor's skill could not save the mother;
she died and left her daughter behind motherless in the world.

Words cannot tell the grief of the bereaved father and child, it was so
great. At last, after some time had passed and the ordinary routine of
life in Prince Minetaka's household was resumed, the father noticed the
bowl which his daughter wore on her head and which fell so low as
completely to hide her face; and calling her to him tried to take off
the unsightly head gear. But his efforts were in vain. All the retainers
and then the servants were summoned to see what they could do, but no
one could remove the bowl; it stuck fast to the child's head. No one
could understand the mystery. The bowl had been put on most simply; why
could it not be as easily taken off? This was the question which the
whole household asked again and again.

And the young Princess, besides sorrowing for the loss of her mother,
was greatly troubled at the knowledge that, though born physically
perfect, she was now quite disfigured for life in having to wear the
ugly bowl which her mother for some unknown reason had placed on her
head. If no one succeeded in taking the bowl off, she might have to wear
it her whole life. That would indeed be a terrible affliction. But in
spite of all she never forgot her mother even for a moment, but carried
in her heart the memory of her love and care through every hour of the
livelong day. Every morning, as soon as she rose from her bed on the
mats, she placed the little cup of tea and the bowl of rice before the
tablet bearing her mother's name in the household shrine, and having set
the incense burning she would kneel and pray for the happiness of her
mother's soul.

The days passed into weeks, the weeks grew into months, yet the dutiful
daughter never failed morning or evening thus to pray for her lost
mother.

In the mean time the family relations often came to advise her father,
Prince Minetaka, to marry again.

"It is not good for you to be alone," they said. "Marry a suitable woman
and entrust her with the keeping of your house and the care of your
young daughter, who is now of an age when she most needs a woman's
care."

At first Prince Minetaka would not listen to them, the memory of his
dead wife was too fresh and his sorrow too keen for him to be able to
lend a willing ear to their persuasion. He felt that it was a reproach
to her he had loved even to think of putting another woman in her place.
But as the months went by he found himself much tried with the affairs
of the household, and was often so perplexed that he thought perhaps it
might be better to listen to the advice of his meddling relations. So
without thinking much about the future he decided to take a second wife.

His friends were glad to find that their persuasions were of avail at
last, and with the help of go-betweens they arranged that he should
marry a certain lady of noble family whom they deemed worthy and
suitable in all respects.

So the soothsayers were consulted and a lucky day chosen for the
marriage, and the new wife was then installed in Prince Minetaka's home
amidst the congratulations of both families. The little Princess alone
was sorrowful in her inmost heart at seeing some one take her mother's
place; but it would be unfilial to her father to show that for one
instant she did not approve of his second marriage, so she hid her
unhappiness and smiled.

On seeing the little Princess for the first time, the stepmother was
shocked at the deformity of the bowl, and said to herself that never had
she even dreamed that there could be any one in the world doomed to be
such an ugly cripple. She not only despised but hated her stepchild from
the moment that she saw her. This new wife was indeed a very different
woman from her predecessor, whose heart was so good and kind towards all
who came near her that the idea of disliking, much less hating any one
was impossible to her.

A year passed by and the stepmother gave birth to a child. Jealousy for
her own infant daughter now made her hate her stepchild more and more.
It was her great desire to see her own daughter first in Prince
Minetaka's affection, and in order to attain her utterly selfish end she
knew she must oust her stepchild from the house. To begin with, she
determined to estrange the father from the little Princess by telling
him unfavourable stories of her behaviour and her character. It is
needless to say that she invented these stories.

The Bowl-Wearing Princess soon understood that her stepmother hated her.
Her grief and anxiety seemed to her more than she could bear. There was
no one in the house in whom she could confide, and she knew that to
complain of her stepmother to any one, even to her father, would be
undutiful. What was she to do in her trouble? To whom could she go but
to her own mother? So as often as she could she went to her grave. Here
she would kneel and pour out the woe that filled her heart.

"O mother, why must I live on in the world with this ugly bowl on my
head? My stepmother truly has a reason for hating such a child about the
house. Now that she has a daughter of her own, all the more must she
want to get rid of me! And my father, who used to love me so much, he
too will surely soon give all his love to his new daughter and forget
me! Alas! Alas! the only place that is left to me to come to without
fear of dislike is the side of my own dead mother. O mother, sitting
upon the lotus leaves in Paradise, receive me now upon the same leaf.
Oh! that I might thus escape the sorrow of this world and enter upon the
way of Buddha!"

But the Boundary of Life and Death separated the mother and child, and
though she prayed earnestly and with tears, lifting her whole heart and
soul up in her despair, no answer came to her eagerly listening ear. As
she knelt in the little graveyard only the sound of the wind sighing in
the pine trees answered her. But the thought that she had told her
mother everything comforted her as she returned home.

The stepmother was told of her stepdaughter's frequent visits to the
graveyard, and instead of being touched with pity for the motherless
girl, she made use of the occasion still further to slander the child to
her husband.

"I am told that the Bowl-Wearer, your daughter, goes to her mother's
grave and curses me and my child because of her jealousy! What do you
think of that? Hasn't she a wicked heart?"

Day by day she watched the little girl wend her way from the house to
the graveyard and day by day she repeated in her husband's ear her
pretended fears. In her heart she knew quite well that it was only love
and unhappiness that sent her unfortunate stepchild to the grave of her
mother. At last she said that she was afraid of the evil that might
befall her and her child through the Bowl-Wearer's malice; she had
decided that they could no longer live together in the same house.

The father, who had hitherto never listened much to his wife's tales,
was at last persuaded by her importunity into believing them true. So in
an evil hour he summoned his daughter and said: "What is this I hear,
wicked daughter? Your deformity has long since been a source of
irritation to me, but as long as you behaved well, I put up with it. Now
I am told that you go every day to the grave of your mother to curse my
wife and her innocent little child. It is impossible for me to keep
under my roof any one who is so crippled not only in body but in mind as
you are. Go wherever you will from to-day, but longer in this house you
shall not stay!"

While the father was speaking these terrible words the stepmother sat
behind him, smiling in derision at the poor little Princess and in
triumph at the success of her wicked stratagem.

"Woe to the Bowl-Wearing Princess!"

The servants, at the command of her father, took off her silken robes
and put on her a miserable common cotton gown, such as beggars wear, and
drove her out into the road.

The Princess was altogether bewildered at the suddenness of her
misfortune.

She felt like a wanderer in an unknown land, lost in the darkness of
night. So distracted was she at first that she could only stand still in


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Online LibraryYei Theodora OzakiWarriors of old Japan : and other stories → online text (page 11 of 14)