Yei Theodora Ozaki.

Warriors of old Japan : and other stories online

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each there were only two fingers. The feathers of long wings at each
side peeped from under the creature's robes, and he looked like a
gigantic goblin. Fearful indeed was this apparition. But Ushiwaka was a
brave and spirited youth and the son of a soldier, and he was not to be
daunted by anything. Without moving a muscle of his face he gripped his
sword more tightly and simply asked: "Who are you, sirrah?"

The goblin laughed aloud and said: "I am the King of the Tengu,[1] the
elves of the mountains, and I have made this valley my home for many a
long year. I have admired your perseverance in coming to this place
night after night for the purpose of practising fencing all by
yourself, and I have come to meet you, with the intention of teaching
you all I know of the art of the sword."

Ushiwaka was delighted when he heard this, for the Tengu have
supernatural powers, and fortunate indeed are those whom they favour. He
thanked the giant elf and expressed his readiness to begin at once. He
then whirled up his sword and began to attack the Tengu, but the elf
shifted his position with the quickness of lightning, and taking from
his belt a fan made of seven feathers parried the showering blows right
and left so cleverly that the young knight's interest became thoroughly
aroused. Every night he came out for the lesson. He never missed once,
summer or winter, and in this way he learned all the secrets of the art
which the Tengu could teach him.

The Tengu was a great master and Ushiwaka an apt pupil. He became so
proficient in fencing that he could overcome ten or twenty small Tengu
in the twinkling of an eye, and he acquired extraordinary skill and
dexterity in the use of the sword; and the Tengu also imparted to him
the wonderful adroitness and agility which made him so famous in

Now Ushiwaka was about fifteen years old, a comely youth, and tall for
his age. At this time there lived on Mount Hiei, just outside the
capital, a wild bonze named Musashi Bo Benkei, who was such a lawless
and turbulent fellow that he had become notorious for his deeds of
violence. The city rang with the stories of his misdeeds, and so well
known had he become that people could not hear his name without fear and


Benkei suddenly made up his mind that it would be good sport to steal a
thousand swords from various knights.

No sooner did the wild idea enter his head than he began to put it into
practice. Every night he sauntered forth to the Gojo Bridge of Kyoto,
and when a knight or any man carrying a sword passed by, Benkei would
snatch the weapon from his girdle. If the owners yielded up their blades
quietly, Benkei allowed them to pass unhurt, but if not, he would strike
them dead with a single blow of the huge halberd he carried. So great
was Benkei's strength that he always overcame his victim, - resistance
was useless, - and night by night one and sometimes two men met death at
his hands on the Gojo Bridge. In this way Benkei gained such a terrible
reputation that everybody far and near feared to meet him, and after
dark no one dared to pass near the bridge he was known to haunt, so
fearful were the tales told of the dreaded robber of swords.

At last this story reached the ears of Ushiwaka, and he said to himself:
"What an interesting man this must be! If it is true that he is a bonze,
he must be a strange one indeed; but as he only robs people of their
swords, he cannot be a common highwayman. If I could make such a strong
man a retainer of mine, he would be of great assistance to me when I
punish my enemies, the Taira clan. Good! To-night I will go to the Gojo
Bridge and try the mettle of this Benkei!"

Ushiwaka, being a youth of great courage, had no sooner made up his mind
to meet Benkei than he proceeded to put his plan into execution. He
started out that same evening. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and
taking with him his favourite flute he strolled forth through the
streets of the sleeping city till he came to the Gojo Bridge. Then from
the opposite direction came a tall figure which appeared to touch the
clouds, so gigantic was its stature. The stranger was clad in a suit of
coal-black armour and carried an immense halberd.

"This must be the sword-robber! He is indeed strong!" said Ushiwaka to
himself, but he was not in the least daunted, and went on playing his
flute quite calmly.

Presently the armed giant halted and gazed at Ushiwaka, but evidently
thought him a mere youth, and decided to let him go unmolested, for he
was about to pass him by without lifting a hand. This indifference on
the part of Benkei not only disappointed but angered Ushiwaka. Having
waited in vain for the stranger to offer violence, our hero approached
Benkei, and, with the intention of picking a quarrel, suddenly kicked
the latter's halberd out of his hand.

Benkei, who had first thought to spare Ushiwaka on account of his youth,
became very angry when he found himself insulted by a lad to whom he had
been intentionally kind. In a fury he exclaimed, "Miserable stripling!"
and raising his halberd struck sideways at Ushiwaka, thinking to slice
him in two at the waist and to see his body fall asunder. But the young
knight nimbly avoided the blow which would have killed him, and
springing back a few paces he flung his fan[2] at Benkei's head and
uttered a loud cry of defiance. The fan struck Benkei on the forehead
right between the eyes, making him mad with pain. In a transport of rage
Benkei aimed a fearful blow at Ushiwaka, as if he were splitting a log
of wood with an axe. This time Ushiwaka sprang up to the parapet of the
bridge, clapped his hands, and laughed in derision, saying:

"Here I am! Don't you see? Here I am!" and Benkei was again thwarted

Benkei, who had never known his strokes miss before, had now failed
twice in catching this nimble opponent. Frantic with chagrin and baffled
rage, he now rushed furiously to the attack, whirling his great halberd
round in all directions till it looked like a water-wheel in motion,
striking wildly and blindly at Ushiwaka. But the young knight had been
taught tricks innumerable by the giant Tengu of Kuramayama, and he had
profited so well by his lessons that the King Tengu had at last said
that even he could teach him nothing more, and now, as it may well be
imagined, he was too quick for the heavy Benkei. When Benkei struck in
front, Ushiwaka was behind, and when Benkei aimed a blow behind,
Ushiwaka darted in front. Nimble as a monkey and swift as a swallow,
Ushiwaka avoided all the blows aimed at him, and, finding himself
outmatched, even the redoubtable Benkei grew tired.

Ushiwaka saw that Benkei was played out. He kept up the game a little
longer and then changed his tactics. Seizing his opportunity, he knocked
Benkei's halberd out of his hand. When the giant stooped to pick his
weapon up, Ushiwaka ran behind him and with a quick movement tripped him
up. There lay the big man on all fours, while Ushiwaka nimbly strode
across his back and pressing him down asked him how he liked this kind
of play.

All this time Benkei had wondered at the courage of the youth in
attacking and challenging a man so much larger than himself, but now he
was filled with amazement at Ushiwaka's wonderful strength and

"I am indeed astonished at what you have done," said Benkei. "Who in the
world can you be? I have fought with many men on this bridge, but you
are the first of my antagonists who has displayed such strength. Are you
a god or a _tengu_? You certainly cannot be an ordinary human being!"

Ushiwaka laughed and said: "Are you afraid for the first time, then?"

"I am," answered Benkei.

"Will you from henceforth be my retainer?" demanded Ushiwaka.

"I will in very truth be your retainer, but may I know who you are?"
asked Benkei meekly.

Ushiwaka now felt sure that Benkei was in earnest. He therefore allowed
him to get up from the ground, and then said: "I have nothing to hide
from you. I am the youngest son of Minamoto Yoshitomo and my name is

Benkei started with surprise when he heard these words and said: "What
is this I hear? Are you in truth a son of the Lord Yoshitomo of the
Minamoto clan? That is the reason I felt from the first moment of our
encounter that your deeds were not those of a common person. No wonder
that I thought this! I am only too happy to become the retainer of such
a distinguished and spirited young knight. I will follow you as my lord
and master from this very moment, if you will allow me. I can wish for
no greater honour."

So there and then, on the Gojo Bridge in the silver moonlight, the bonze
Benkei vowed to be the true and faithful vassal of the young knight
Ushiwaka and to serve him loyally till death, and thus was the compact
between lord and vassal made. From that time on, Benkei gave up his wild
and lawless ways and devoted his life to the service of Ushiwaka, who
was highly pleased at having won such a strong liegeman to his side.

Although Ushiwaka had now secured Benkei, it was impossible for only two
men, however strong, to think of fighting the Taira clan, so they both
decided that the cherished plan must wait till the Minamoto were
stronger. While thus waiting they heard a report to the effect that a
descendant of Tawara Toda Hidesato[3] named Hidehira was now a famous
general in Kaiwai of the Ashu Province, and that he was so powerful that
no one dared oppose him. Hearing this, Ushiwaka thought that it would be
a good plan to pay the general a visit and try to interest him, if
possible, in the fortunes of the House of Minamoto. He consulted with
Benkei, who encouraged the young knight in his scheme of enlisting the
General Hidehira as a partisan, and the two therefore left Kyoto
secretly and journeyed as quickly as possible to Oshu on this errand.

On the way there, Ushiwaka and Benkei came to the Temple of Atsuta, and
as they considered it important that the young knight should look older
now, Ushiwaka performed the ceremony of Gembuku at the shrine. This was
a rite performed in olden times when youths reached the age of manhood,
They then had to shave off the front part of their hair and to change
their names as a sign that they had left childhood behind. Ushiwaka now
took the name of Yoshitsune. As he was the eighth son, it would have
been more correct for him to have assumed the name of Hachiro, but as
his uncle Tametomo the Archer, of whom you have already read, was named
Hachiro, he purposely did not take this name. From this time forth our
hero is known as Yoshitsune, and this name he has glorified forever by
his wonderful bravery and many heroic exploits. In Japanese history he
is the knight without fear and without reproach, the darling of the
people, to them almost an incarnation of Hachiman, the popular God of
War. And as for Benkei, never can you find in all history a vassal who
was more true or loyal to his master than Benkei. He was Yoshitsune's
right hand in everything, and his strength and wisdom carried them
successfully through many a dire emergency.

From Kyoto to Oshu is a long journey of about three hundred miles, but
at length Yoshitsune (as we must now call him) and Benkei reached their
destination and craved the General Hidehira's assistance. They found
that Hidehira was a warm adherent of the Minamoto cause, and under the
late Lord Yoshitomo he and his family had enjoyed great favour. When the
general learned, therefore, that Yoshitsune was the son of the
illustrious Minamoto chief, his joy knew no bounds, and he made
Yoshitsune and Benkei heartily welcome and treated them both as guests
of honour and importance.

Just at this time Yoshitsune's eldest brother, Yoritomo, who had been
banished to an island in Idzu, collected a great army and raised his
standard against the Taira. When the news about Yoritomo reached
Yoshitsune, he rejoiced, for he felt that the hour had at last come when
the Minamoto would be revenged on the Taira for all the wrongs they had
suffered at the hands of the latter.

With the help of Hidehira and the faithful Benkei, he collected a small
army of warriors and at once marched over to his brother's camp in Idzu.
He sent a messenger ahead to inform Yoritomo that his youngest brother,
now named Yoshitsune, was coming to aid him in his fight against the

Yoritomo was exceedingly glad at this unexpected good news, for all that
helped to swell his forces now brought nearer the day when he would be
able to strike his long-planned blow at the power of the hated Taira.
As soon as Yoshitsune reached Idzu, Yoritomo arranged for an immediate
meeting. Although the two men were brothers, it must be remembered that
their father had been killed, and the family utterly scattered, when
they were mere children, Yoshitsune being at that time but an infant in
his mother's arms. As this was therefore the first time they had met
Yoritomo knew nothing of his young brother's character.

One of Yoshitsune's elder brothers had come with him, and Yoritomo being
a shrewd general wished to test them both to see of what mettle they
were made. He ordered his retainers to bring a brass basin full of
boiling water. When it was brought, Yoritomo ordered Noriyori, the elder
of the two, to carry it to him first. Now brass being a good conductor
of heat, the basin was very hot and Noriyori stupidly let it fall.
Yoritomo ordered it to be filled again and bade Yoshitsune bring it to
him. Without moving a muscle of his handsome face Yoshitsune took hold
of the almost unbearably hot vessel and carried it with due ceremony
slowly across the room. This exhibition of nerve and endurance filled
Yoritomo with admiration and he was favourably struck with Yoshitsune's
character. As for Noriyori, who had been unable to hold a hot basin for
a few moments, he had no use for him at all, except as a common soldier.

Yoritomo begged Yoshitsune to become his right-hand man and zealously
to espouse his cause. Yoshitsune declared that this had been his
lifelong ambition ever since he could remember, - as they both were sons
of the same father, so was their cause and destiny one. Yoritomo made
Yoshitsune a general of part of his army and ordered him in the name of
his father Yoshitomo to chastise the Taira.

Delighted beyond all words at the wonderfully auspicious turn events
were taking, Yoshitsune hastened his preparations for the march. The
longed-for hour had come to which through his whole childhood and youth
he had looked forward, and for which his whole being had thirsted for
many years. He could now fulfil the last words of his unhappy mother,
and punish the Taira for all the evil they had wrought against the
Minamoto. All the wild restlessness of his youth, which had driven him
forth to wield his wooden sword against the rocks in the Kuramayama
Valley and to try his strength against Benkei on the Gojo Bridge, now
found vent in action most dear to a born warrior's heart. With several
thousands of troops under him, Yoshitsune marched up to Kyoto and waged
war against the Taira, and defeated them in a series of brilliant

The stricken Taira multitudes fled before the avenger like autumn leaves
before the blast, and Yoshitsune pursued them to the sea. At Dan-no-Ura
the Taira made a last stand, but all in vain. Their lion leader,
Kiyomori, was dead, and there was no great chieftain to rally them in
the disordered retreat that now ensued. Yoshitsune came sweeping down
upon them, and they and their fleet and their infant Emperor likewise,
with their women and children, sank beneath the waves. Only a scattered
few lived to tell the tale of the terrible destruction that overtook
them on the sea.

Thus did Yoshitsune become a great warrior and general. Thus did he
fulfil the ambitions of his youth and avenge his father Yoshitomo's
death. He was without a rival in the whole country for his marvellous
bravery and successive victories. He was adored by the people as their
most popular hero and darling, and throughout the length and breadth of
the land his praise was sung by every one.

Even to this day there is no one in Japan who has not heard the name of
Yoshitsune. The next story, "The Story of Benkei," will tell you more of
Yoshitsune, for the two lives are linked together in the fame and glory
of noble deeds done, of dangers passed, of troubles and reverses borne,
and of honours earned and joy and victory shared together - to be told
and remembered forever.

[1] The Tengu are strange creatures with very long noses; sometimes they
have the head of a hawk and the body of a man.

[2] The fighter's fan was always made of metal and was often used as a

[3] See in the story of "My Lord Bag of Rice," _The Japanese Fairy Book_
(Constable, London).



Those who have read the story of the great warrior Yoshitsune will
certainly remember that his retainer Benkei was a gigantic bonze as
remarkable for his physical strength as he was for his original
character. In the story of Yoshitsune very little was said about Benkei;
you may therefore like to hear something more about the famous man who
is so favourite a hero with Japanese children and so greatly respected
in Japan for his faithfulness to his master.

Benkei was the son of a Buddhist priest named Bensho, High Steward of
the Temple of Gongen at Kumano, a famous shrine from ancient times, and
his mother was the daughter of a high Court official of the second rank.

Benkei was no ordinary mortal. Most children come into the world within
ten months, but Benkei kept his mother waiting one year and six months
for him; and when he was born he already had teeth and a luxuriant
growth of hair, and was so strong and big that he could walk from the
first as well as most children of two or three years of age.

Seeing how extraordinarily big and strong he was, the family were lost
in amazement; but their wonder quickly changed to dismay, for the mother
died soon after giving birth to her son. The father, Bensho, was very
angry at this, and took an aversion to the child who had brought, he
said, so great a misfortune upon him. He even wished to abandon the boy
altogether, believing that, as Benkei's birth had cost his mother's
life, he would in after years only prove a curse to the family.

Now the boy's aunt (who was married to a man named Yama-no-i), hearing
this, pitied her little nephew Benkei, and going to her brother said:
"If you are going to treat the child so cruelly as to cast him away,
please give him to me. I have no children and will bring him up as my
own child. He is not responsible for his mother's death. It is fate, and
there is no help for it!"

Bensho consented to her taking the child, saying that he did not care
what happened to him so long as he was kept out of his sight, for he
could no longer bear to see him. So Benkei was adopted by his aunt, who
took him away to the capital of Kyoto.

The child rewarded her care and grew to be a fine boy beyond all
expectation. He was exceedingly strong and healthy; at five or six
years of age he was equal in size and strength to boys of ten or twelve,
and gave promise of unusual intelligence and cleverness.

Unfortunately his face was as fierce as that of a demon and he looked so
truly savage and ugly that he gradually earned for himself the nickname
of Oni-Waka, or Demon Youth.

In a few years his uncle thought that it was time to send the boy to
school, and he accordingly sent Benkei to the monastery of Eizan and
placed him under the tutorship of the famous priest Kwankei. In Japan as
in England in those times all learning was in the hands of the priests,
and the temples were the only schools.

When Benkei arrived at Kwankei's temple he was taught the reading and
writing of Chinese characters, and as he was at first docile and
diligent, and obedient to all set over him, he made rapid progress, and
not only satisfied but pleased his teacher, who commended his industry;
but after a time he chafed at the restraint of his new surroundings and
began to give trouble. Not content with being unruly himself, he would
lead the other novices away from their studies into the mountains and
play all kinds of rough games with them, and, of course, being by nature
much stronger and bigger than any of them, none of his companions could
stand against him. It therefore happened that in every contest he
invariably gained the victory, and this elated him so much that he
thought of nothing but his sports and his triumphs, and, neglecting his
lessons entirely, practised athletic games day after day, quite
forgetting everything else.

Oni-Waka's teacher, Kwankei, hearing about the youth's wild doings, and
considering them as unseemly, sent for him and told him that such
behaviour not only grieved his guardians but brought disgrace upon the
holy temple; but his rebuke fell upon deaf ears and did no good at all.
While he was being scolded, Benkei listened respectfully enough; but as
soon as the reverend teacher turned his back he would forthwith be as
wild, if not wilder, than ever. His conduct grew worse and worse, till
at last, losing all patience, the master priest forbade him to go out of
the house, and then enforced his order by shutting him up in a

This punishment Oni-Waka deeply resented, and one night, eluding the
vigilance of his gaolers, he stole out quietly, and picking up a great
log of wood began to destroy everything he could. First he smashed the
gateway; then the fences all round the temple; then he broke the
shutters and the sliding screens inside; indeed everything he could
reach, he wrecked. The bonzes, roused from their slumbers by the
unexpected noise, which sounded as if a troop of robbers were at work,
were all so frightened that they could do nothing to stop the whirlwind
of destruction. When Oni-Waka had done all the mischief he could he felt
that, after this last mad prank, the Temple of Eizan was no place for
him, so he fled from the spot forever. He was now just seventeen years
of age, and he called himself Musashi Bo Benkei.

Oni-Waka showed a sense of humour when he called himself Musashi Bo
Benkei. In olden times there lived in Eizan a man named Musashi, who was
turbulent and wild in his youth, and yet became a famous bonze and lived
until the ripe age of sixty-one. Oni-Waka, having heard about this
famous man, made up his mind to be like him, and therefore called
himself Musashi Bo, or Musashi the Bonze. The first syllable - "Ben" - of
_Ben_kei was taken from the first character of his father's name
(Bensho), and the second - "kei" - was the last syllable of his teacher's
name (Kwankei). The name Benkei was therefore a combination of the names
of his father and teacher.

Ashamed to return home to his uncle and aunt after his behaviour at the
monastery, Benkei made up his mind to travel. This he did much after the
fashion of German apprentices at about the same period in Europe.
Leaving Kyoto, he came to Osaka; from Osaka he went to the province of
Awa in the island of Shikoku; he then travelled all through that
island, and thence wandered back to the mainland, where in the province
of Harima he came at last to a monastery called Shosa. This monastery
was as large as that of Eizan, and Benkei thought that he would like to
stay there for a time as a student. With the consent of the abbot,
Benkei was enrolled as an acolyte of this temple.

Among the numerous novices in the temple there was one named Kaien, who
was nearly as fond of mischief as Benkei himself, and he was known in
the neighbourhood for a troublesome fellow, no one young or old being
safe from his foolish pranks. One day soon after Benkei's arrival, Kaien
found the newcomer taking a nap, so for fun he wrote on Benkei's cheek
the Chinese character for _geta_, or "clog."

When Benkei woke up and went into the courtyard he noticed that
everybody he came near seemed to be laughing at him, though nobody would
say why.

Thinking that there must be something strange in his appearance he
glanced into a bowl of water and at once discovered the cause of the
merriment. Angry at the trick played on him, he seized a thick stick and
rushing into the midst of his fellow novices shouted: "You rogues! I
suppose you thought that you were doing something clever when you
scribbled on my face. Now just come here, one by one, and kneel down and
beg my pardon. If you do not you will soon be sorry for yourselves."

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Online LibraryYei Theodora OzakiWarriors of old Japan : and other stories → online text (page 5 of 14)