Yei Theodora Ozaki.

Warriors of old Japan : and other stories online

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him in his exile; he thought of how in their simple reverence for his
great strength they had almost worshipped him as a deified hero and had
looked up to him as their leader. No, - he would not, could not, bring
war and trouble and certain punishment upon these good folk, so for
their sake he decided not to fight more. He looked back with the keen
flight of thought that comes to mortals in moments of great crises, and
he remembered how with special mercy his life had been spared when he
was taken prisoner in the civil war. Since then he had enjoyed life for
over ten years. As a strong, brave man he could not grudge losing it
now. He had made himself owner of the islands and the people called him
their king; he felt that there was no shame or regret in dying when he
had reached the height of his glory. Therefore, with firm and quick
decision he made up his mind to die. He withdrew at once from the beach
and retired to his house, and here he committed suicide by harikiri,
thus saving himself from all dishonour and the islanders from all
trouble. He was only thirty-two years of age when he died. His death was
greatly regretted by all who loved him. But his glory did not die with
him. The people ever afterward honoured and reverenced him as a great

Such is one story of the death of Tametomo, but legend has created
another, still more interesting, about him. Instead of taking his own
life, this tradition says that he escaped from Oshima and reached
Sanuki. Here he visited the late Emperor's tomb and offered up prayers
for the illustrious dead. He then, believing that his day of usefulness
was over, prepared to kill himself; when suddenly, as in a dream, the
Emperor, Yorinaga, his father, and all those royalists who had fought
and died in the civil war, or had been taken prisoners and killed by
the victorious parties of the new Emperor, appeared to him in the clouds
and with a warning gesture prevented him from committing the dread deed
of harakiri. As Tametomo gazed wonderingly at the beautiful vision, the
bamboo curtain which hung before the ex-Emperor's palanquin lifted, and
as the sunshine and grace of His Majesty's smile fell upon the
awe-stricken man, the sword dropped from his hand and the wish to die
expired in his breast. He fell forward in humble prostration to the
ground. When Tametomo lifted his head, the vision had vanished within
the clouds; nothing remained to be seen of the royal array which had
saved him from his self-imposed death.

This wonderful visitation changed Tametomo's mind. He gave up all idea
of seeking death, and, leaving Sanuki, journeyed to Kiushiu, and took up
his abode on Mount Kihara. Here he collected a band of followers, and
with them embarked on board a ship with the intention of reaching the
capital and once more striking a blow at the arrogant and usurping House
of Taira. But misfortune followed him. He was overtaken by a storm, his
ship was wrecked, his men lost, while he only narrowly escaped with his
life to the island of Riukiu. Here he found the people in a state of
great excitement, for a party of rebels had risen against the King, who
was greatly oppressed by them, Tametomo put himself at the head of the
loyalists, rescued the King, who had been taken prisoner, subdued the
rebels, and then restored peace to the disturbed land. For these
meritorious services the King adopted him as his son, bestowed upon him
the title of Prince, and married him to one of the royal Princesses. At
last one day, when Tametomo had reached a good old age, happy in the
life of peace and bliss with which his later years had been crowned, as
he was walking along one of the spacious verandahs of the Palace, his
attendants noticed a trail of cloud coming towards their master from the
sky. As soon as the cloud touched Tametomo, he began to rise in the air
before their astonished gaze. Lost in speechless amazement, they watched
the hero mount higher and higher, till the clouds closed round him and
hid him from their view. Such is the pretty legend of the earthly end of
the brave archer Tametomo, one of the most interesting figures in
Japanese history, who conquered the trials and misfortunes of his youth,
and won through to bright days of prosperity. He left a son called
Shun-Tenno, who became King of Riukiu in due time.



Long, long ago in Japan there lived a brave knight named Gen Sanmi
Yorimasa. Yorimasa was his own name, while _Gen_ was the great clan to
which he belonged, the _Genji_, or _Minamoto_, famous in history, and
_Sanmi_ showed that he was a knight of the Third Rank at Court, from the
word _san_, which means "three."

Now Yorimasa is so celebrated a warrior that to this day his picture is
painted on the kites which the little boys of Japan fly at the New Year,
and if you visit the temple of the Goddess of Mercy, at Asakusa, in
Tokyo, you will see his portrait even there. And at the Boys' Festival,
on the fifth of the fifth month, when in every household where there are
sons the favourite heroes of the land are set out in the alcove of
honour of the guest-room, you will surely find amidst the martial show
of toys the figure of an archer clothed from head to foot in gay armour,
with a huge bow in his hand and a quiver full of arrows on his back.
That is Yorimasa of brave and dear memory.

Yorimasa was the fifth descendant of the Great Knight Raiko, who killed
the demons of Oyeyama about whom you will soon read. As a youth Yorimasa
was noted for his valour and his skill in archery, and he was soon
called to the Court and given the important post of Chief Guard of the
Imperial Palace.

Now, though Yorimasa was a man of ability and the greatest archer of his
time, and though he had done deeds of note which had brought him into
prominence, yet for some unaccountable reason his rank at Court remained
stationary, and he did not advance from the Fourth degree (_Shi-i_),
which he had when he first entered the sacred precincts of the Palace.
The humour of the situation caught Yorimasa's fancy, for he was very
quick-witted, and one day, smiling to himself, he sat down at his
writing-table and composed a poem lamenting his bad luck. From the
earliest ages the Japanese have trained themselves, at the times when
their feelings are stirred by some event which causes happiness or
sorrow or disappointment, not to give way to their emotions, but to
control their minds sufficiently to compose a poem on the subject.

Yorimasa's poem was of thirty-one syllables,[1] and in five short lines
he said gracefully that "one who has not the means of climbing upwards
remains under the tree and passes his life in picking up beechnuts." Now
in Japanese the word for beechnuts is _shi-i_, and this word also means
the Fourth Rank at Court. So that the couplet was a pun on his not being
promoted. Yorimasa read the poem laughingly to some of his friends, and
they, admiring his wit, repeated it and talked about it till it became
quite famous in the Palace, and at last reached the Emperor's ear. The
sympathy of His Majesty was aroused, and soon after this Yorimasa was
raised to the rank of the Third degree, _sanmi_, and by this title he
has ever afterwards been known.

Now it happened that at this time the Emperor became ill and could not
sleep at night. He complained of disturbance and a great sense of
oppression from sunset to sunrise. His courtiers, full of anxiety, sat
up to watch the night through, to see if they could discover the cause
of the Emperor's agitation. Some kept vigil in and round the Imperial
chamber, others on the wide-eaved verandahs, and some in the courtyard
of the Palace. Then the watchers on the verandahs and in the courtyard
noticed that as soon as the sun set a black cloud came from the eastern
horizon of the capital, and travelling across the city finally rested on
the roof of the Palace called the Purple Hall (_Shishinden_) of the
North Star, where the Emperor slept. As soon as this cloud alighted on
the Palace, the Emperor's sleep became disturbed, as if by frightful
nightmare. Those in attendance round the royal bed heard strange
scratchings and noises on the roof as if some dreadful beast were there.
These unusual sounds and the nightmare of the Imperial sleeper lasted
till dawn, when it was noticed that the black cloud always withdrew.

Now in the Palace there was great commotion. The Minister of the Right
and the Minister of the Left, whose duty it was to guard the Emperor
from all harm, held long and anxious consultation as to what should be
done. Every one in the Palace was of the opinion that the black cloud
hid some monster which for some unknown cause haunted the Emperor. It
was quite certain that unless the monster were killed, and that soon,
the Emperor's life would be endangered, for he was growing weaker and
thinner every day. The question was, who was brave enough to undertake
the task? The Palace sentinels were already scared, so it was useless to
expect help from them. The Ministers must seek for some brave _samurai_
well known for his daring and his skill as an archer and put him on
night-duty, charging him to kill the monster as soon as it should
appear. The courtiers, one and all, said that Yorimasa was the man. An
Imperial messenger was therefore at once sent to the knight, with a
letter telling him what was demanded of him.

Yorimasa, when he read the letter, looked very grave, for he felt the
responsibility of his new duty, which was different from all other work;
for on him now depended the recovery of the Emperor, who was visibly
growing worse and living through each day in terror of the nightmare
which haunted him in the darkness.

Yorimasa was a man of great courage and resource, and lost not a moment
in getting ready. He strung his best bow most carefully and placed his
quiver in two steel-headed arrows. He then put on his armour, and over
his armour he donned a hunting-dress, and to look more courtly he put on
a ceremonial cap instead of a helmet. He chose his favourite retainer,
the bravest and strongest of all his soldiers, to accompany him.
Yorimasa now set out as calmly and quietly as if he were simply going to
his every-day duty and nothing more. As soon as his arrival was made
known, he was summoned to the presence of the Ministers of the Right and
the Left and told of all that was happening at Court - how every night at
the hour of sunset a black cloud was seen to issue from the east,
approach the Palace, and finally cover the roof of the Purple Hall of
the North Star where the Emperor always slept. Then the Ministers told
the knight of the strange noises that were heard on the roof, of the
howlings and scratchings which lasted all night till the dawn broke. It
behoved him, they said, to do his best to kill the monster, if such it
was, for all the guards were now thoroughly frightened, and none of them
dared attack it in hand-to-hand fight, and none had skill enough to hit
it in the dark, though the Emperor's own body-guard of archers had tried
again and again.

Yorimasa listened to the strange story gravely. He saw that the whole
Palace was in a state of alarm and disturbance, but he did not lose
heart. With the greatest self-possession he waited for the end of the
day. As soon as the sun set, the night grew stormy; the wind blew a
hurricane, the lightning flashed, and the thunder roared. Nothing
daunted by the fury of the elements, the brave archer waited and waited.
It must have been near midnight when Yorimasa saw a thick black cloud
sweep down and settle on the roof of the Palace. He bade his retainer be
ready with sword and torch at any moment and to follow him closely. The
black cloud moved along the ridge of the grey-tiled roof till it stopped
at the northeast corner, just over the Imperial sleeping-chamber.

Yorimasa cautiously followed the movements of the cloud, his man just
behind him. Straining his eyes, Yorimasa saw, during a vivid flash of
lightning, the form of a large animal. Keeping his eyes on the spot
where he had seen the head, while the peals of thunder crashed like
cannon above, in the darkness which followed he caught the glare first
of one eye and then of the other as the creature moved along.

"This must be the monster who disturbs the Emperor's rest!" said
Yorimasa to himself.

With these words he fitted an arrow to the bow, and aiming to the left
of where he saw the left eye glare he pulled his bow as round as the
full moon and let fly. Yorimasa felt that his arrow had touched flesh.
At the same moment there was a frightful howl and a heavy thud, and the
writhing in agony of some animal on the ground, which showed that
Yorimasa had done his work well.

Now Yorimasa's retainer rushed upon the monster; in one hand he held a
blazing torch, in the other a short sword with which he stabbed the
creature nine times and quickly despatched him. Then they both raised
their voices and called to the sentinels and the courtiers to come and
look. A strange sight was in store for them. Never had any of them seen
anything like the monster that lay before them. The dreadful beast was
as large as a horse; it had the head of an ape, the body and claws of a
tiger, the tail of a serpent, the wings of a bird, and the scales of a
dragon. They had heard and read of such creatures in some of the old
books, but had always thought that such stories were old women's
fables, to be told and whispered by grey-haired dames round the
_hibachi_ (fire-brazier) to their wonder-struck grandchildren, but never
to be entertained seriously by men of sense. For a few moments they were
all struck dumb with astonishment; they gazed silently first at the
strange and horrible beast before them, then at Yorimasa, the slayer of
it. Exclamations of wonder burst from their lips. Then one and all
turned to the brave archer and congratulated him on his wonderful feat,
his courage and his marksmanship. It seemed as if they would never cease
applauding him.

The animal was flayed and its skin was carried to the Emperor, who
ordered it to be stored as a curiosity in the Imperial treasure-house.
His Majesty was highly pleased. He sent for Yorimasa and bestowed on him
a sword called _Shishi-Wo_, or the King of Lions. The time of the year
was the beginning of the fifth month; the crescent moon hung like a
silver bow in the twilight sky, and the cuckoo[2] was calling from the
trees near by; so the Minister of the Left who handed the sword to
Yorimasa improvised the first half of a stanza saying:

"O cuckoo of wonder, even your name
Climbs ever upward to the Heaven!"

Then Yorimasa, on his knees with uplifted hands and bowed head,
received the sword, and as he did so he completed the short poem with
these words: -

"Not through thine own: but through the merit of a moon-shaped bow!"

The Minister used the cuckoo then calling in the trees as simile of the
brave warrior whose fame was rising now at Court because of his brave
deeds, and Yorimasa modestly answered that all was due not to his skill,
but to his bow, which he likened to the crescent moon then reigning in
the sky. Both turned to the scenery of the moment for inspiration - the
Minister in expressing his praise and the warrior in receiving it with
becoming humility and grace.

The Emperor also considered this a fitting occasion to give Yorimasa the
Lady Ayame (Iris) for his wife, and about this incident there is a
pretty story.

The Lady Ayame was the most lovely lady-in-waiting in the Palace, and as
good as she was beautiful. Not only in beauty, but in mind and heart,
was she superior to all the other ladies-in-waiting, and both the
Emperor and Empress held her in high esteem. Many were the Court nobles
who fell in love with her, but all in vain; there was not one, however
great or rich or handsome, who could make her so much as grant him even
a fleeting smile. Time after time these noble suitors wrote her letters
and poems, telling her of their hopeless love and beseeching her to send
them but a single line in reply. But only her silence answered them. She
remained obdurate to all entreaties.

One day Yorimasa, when on duty in the Palace, caught a passing glimpse
of the Lady Ayame, and from that hour his heart knew no rest. He could
not forget the witching grace nor the modest beauty of her lovely face;
sleeping or waking the vision of his lady-love was always before his
eyes, and it seemed to grow more vivid as the days went by. Time after
time he wrote her letters and composed poems asking her to marry him,
but the Lady Ayame treated Yorimasa as she treated all her other
wooers - she vouchsafed him no reply. For three long years Yorimasa
waited and hoped and despaired, and waited and hoped again, content if
once in a way from a respectful distance he could catch a glimpse of
her. In spite of long and cold discouragement he loved her

The Emperor had heard of the knight's constancy, and now sent for his
favourite lady-in-waiting, thinking this the right time to reward
Yorimasa's prowess and the Lady Ayame's merit, and to make them both

As soon as Ayame appeared, His Majesty said: "Lady Ayame, is it true
that you have received many letters from the knight Yorimasa? Is it

At this the Lady Ayame blushed like a peach-blossom in the glow of dawn,
and hesitating a moment she replied: "May it please the Son of Heaven to
condescend to send for Yorimasa and ask him!"

His Majesty then commanded her to retire, and forthwith summoned
Yorimasa to his presence.

It was the fifth of May, the Spring Festival, and Yorimasa came robed in
gala attire. He presented himself below the dais on which the Emperor
was seated and prostrated himself before the throne.

"Is it true," and the Emperor smiled as he spoke, "that you love the
Lady Ayame?"

Yorimasa was bewildered by the suddenness of the question and knew not
what to reply, for he knew it to be strictly forbidden by Court
etiquette to write love-letters to any lady-in-waiting, and he had done
this persistently.

Now the Emperor saw Yorimasa's confusion and felt sorry for him. A
bright thought struck His Majesty. He would please and puzzle Yorimasa
and have some fun at his expense at the same time as well. He whispered
an order to the chief master of ceremony.

In a short time three ladies appeared, heralded by attendants. As they
moved across the mats of the immense hall, Yorimasa saw that they were
all dressed exactly alike, and that even their hair was done in the
same style, so that it would be impossible for any one who did not know
them well to distinguish one from the other.

Who were they? Was the Lady Ayame one of them?

Like maidens of Heaven (_tennin_) did the three noble damsels appear and
their robes were beautiful to behold. So alike were they, and their
beauty so extraordinary, that Yorimasa compared them to plum-blossoms on
a branch seen through a window.

"The Lady Ayame is here," said the Emperor. "Choose her from among three
ladies and take her."

Yorimasa bowed to the ground. He was overcome with the graciousness and
kindness of the Emperor. But the task laid upon him he felt to be too
difficult. Being a military man and inferior in rank to the Court
circle, Yorimasa had never had an opportunity of seeing any of the Court
ladies face to face. All he had seen of the Lady Ayame was sometimes a
glimpse of her from the courtyard, where he was stationed, as she passed
along the corridors of the Palace. Once at a poetical party, to which he
had been admitted as a great favour, he had seen her, at the further end
of the hall, glide with trailing robes of ceremony into her place behind
the silken screen which always hid the women from view at such
gatherings. That was all he had ever seen of her, so that now he could
not distinguish her from the rest.


The Emperor was pleased at the success of his pleasantry. He saw that
Yorimasa was fairly perplexed, and that he was unable to pick out his
lady-love from her companions.

"I am a soldier and no courtier," thought the knight, "I may not presume
to lift my eyes to a lady _above the clouds_.[3] Nor can I be sure which
is Ayame. Were I to make a mistake and choose the wrong lady, it would
be a lifelong disgrace and disappointment to me!"

The perplexity in his mind at once rose to his lips in the form of a
short poem, which he repeated: -

"In the rainy season when the waters overflow the banks of the lake, who
can gather the Iris?"

Such is the meaning of the verse.

By the rainy season Yorimasa meant his three years of hopeless courting,
during which his eyes had become dim with the tears of disappointment he
had shed, so that he could no longer see clearly enough to discover
which was the lady of his choice. In this way he excused himself for his
seeming stupidity, and showed a modest reserve which pleased all

The aptness and quickness of Yorimasa's verse won the Emperor's
admiration. The tears stood in the august eyes, for he thought of the
great love wherewith Yorimasa had loved the Lady Iris, and of the sorrow
and patience of his long wooing and waiting. His Majesty rose from his
throne, descended the steps of the dais, and going up to Ayame took her
by the hand and led her forth to Yorimasa.

"This is the Lady Ayame, I give her to you!" were the golden words of
the Emperor.

To Yorimasa it must have seemed too wonderful almost to be true. The
great desire of his life was given him by the Emperor himself!

Then Yorimasa led his beautiful lady-love away and married her, and we
are told that they lived as happily as fish in water; and it seemed as
if they had but one heart between them, so harmonious was their union.
In the Palace there was great rejoicing over the auspicious event, and
all the courtiers praised the merit of the verse which had finally given
Ayame to Yorimasa and won the Emperor's special commendation. The happy
couple received the congratulations of the Emperor and Empress, of the
courtiers and many noble people, and wedding-presents innumerable.
Surely at this time there was no one happier than Yorimasa in all the

There are many stories told of Yorimasa which show us that he was not
only a brave soldier and a man of learning and a poet, but also a man
of wit and tact who knew how to use men as he willed.

Now one day a band of discontented turbulent priests came to the Palace
Gate where Yorimasa was on guard, and demanded entrance. It must be
explained that in those days the Buddhist priests of Kyoto were a set of
wild and lawless men who often brought shame to their religion by their
wicked lives. They lived outside the city on Mount Hiei, which they made
their stronghold, and, forgetting the dignity of their religion, they
took sides in war and in politics. They gave trouble to those in
authority, especially to those who did not favour them. They used the
smallest event as an occasion for carrying swords and bows and arrows,
and it was their habit to go out equipped like soldiers going forth to

Yorimasa saw that the priests were all well armed, and only too anxious
to find a pretext for drawing their swords. They carried with them in
great state the sacred palanquin of their temple. In this palanquin
their patron god was supposed to dwell, and it was borne aloft on the
shoulders of fifty men. With loud shoutings and a wild display of
strength the priests rushed the car along, now lifting it high above
their heads, now staggering under its weight, as it seemed about to
crush them to the ground.

Now Yorimasa was in no mood for fighting that day, and it seemed to him
not worth his while to set his men - the best fighters and archers in the
realm - against a handful of priests whom he could disperse in a few
minutes; besides, these priests from Mount Hiei were troublesome fellows
and he did not wish to earn their enmity. So laughing quietly to himself
he said that he would have some fun at their expense.

When the procession stopped opposite the gate, Yorimasa with his
captains of the guard sallied forth to meet the noisy crowd, and coming
in front of the palanquin bowed in reverence before it with slow

The priests, who had expected and were prepared for a very difficult
reception, were surprised and somewhat taken aback. After some parley
amongst themselves, their spokesman advanced and asked leave to enter
the gate, saying they had a petition to present to the Emperor.

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Online LibraryYei Theodora OzakiWarriors of old Japan : and other stories → online text (page 3 of 14)