Yei Theodora Ozaki.

Warriors of old Japan : and other stories online

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will read you my commission written by the High Priest himself in the
first pages of the subscription-book."

With these words, speculating upon the ignorance of the guard, with
great dignity he drew out a scroll, and pressing it with reverence to
his forehead, began to improvise and read out an imaginary letter from
the High Priest of the Todaiji Temple for the rebuilding of a shrine for
the Daibutsu, at Nara. At the first mention of the name of the priest,
so famous and so highly revered throughout the country, the captain of
the guard, it is said, fell respectfully upon his knees and listened,
face bent to the earth in humble awe, to the contents of the letter. So
well did Benkei play his part that the sentry was convinced of the
genuine character of the commission and said: "I am satisfied. There is
no reason to detain you. You may pass!"

Benkei was overjoyed, and thought that at length all difficulties had
been overcome. At the head of the fugitive band, with Yoshitsune
disguised as an attendant in the rear, he was moving forward to pass
through the barrier when the captain suddenly darted forward and stopped
Yoshitsune, saying in a loud voice: "Wait a moment, you coolie! Wait a
moment!"

"We are discovered," thought Benkei; and even he, dauntless and cool in
the face of all danger hitherto, felt his heart beating violently in the
intense excitement of this momentous crisis.

But it was no time for hesitation, and recognizing that the whole
situation hung upon that very moment, Benkei, with his usual pluck and
daring, pulled himself together and coolly asked: "Have you anything to
say to this coolie whom you have stopped?"

"Of course I have, and that is why I have stopped him," replied the
sentry.

"And may I ask what your business with him is?" inquired Benkei.

"This coolie," answered the captain, "is said by my soldiers to resemble
Lord Yoshitsune, and I stopped him so that I might examine him."

"What!" shouted Benkei, pretending to be overcome with laughter at the
idea, "this coolie resembles Lord Yoshitsune? Ha! ha! ha! Oh, this is
indeed too comical for anything! I wondered why you arrested him, but
never thought of his being stopped for such an absurd reason. But as a
matter of fact he has been mistaken for Lord Yoshitsune over and over
again by several people, and you are by no means the only one who has
had his suspicions aroused. You see the fellow is handsome and has a
very white skin like an aristocrat, and that's all the good there is
about him, but on that account I have had an immense amount of trouble
with him."

Then Benkei turned to Yoshitsune, saying: "Wretched creature! it is all
your fault that we come under suspicion all the time. You shuffle along
in such a cowardly manner and put on such strange airs that people
naturally suspect you. In future be more careful, and walk along like a
man and not in such a mincing way, you fool!"

Thus Benkei feigned to lose his temper, and after scolding Yoshitsune
roughly, finally lifted his staff and gave him several blows across the
back, telling him to fall upon his knees and not presume to remain
standing in the presence of the guard.

The captain of the guard had been watching this scene for some moments,
and when he saw Benkei start in and thrash Yoshitsune, his doubts were
completely allayed; for he thought that if the apparent servant were
really Yoshitsune and the mendicant priest the latter's retainer, the
vassal would never dare to assault his master in this fashion.

"Ah! it was my fault and carelessness. Evidently it was an entire
mistake on our part to think this coolie was Lord Yoshitsune, and it is
not the poor fellow's fault, so pray do not beat him any more! Continue
your journey at once and take him with you."

Benkei's trick thus succeeded completely. The captain reentered the
guard-house and the young lord and his vassals passed at last unhindered
through the strictly guarded gate, saved as ever by the quick-wittedness
of Benkei.

Now some say that the captain of the guard was not deceived; that he
knew that the disguised priests and attendant were Yoshitsune and his
party, but his whole sympathy was with the hunted hero and his brave few
and he allowed them to pass. For a _samurai_ must ever show mercy and
sympathy, especially to his fellows and to those in distress. The strict
examination he insisted upon was a farce he played to satisfy the
authorities at Kamakura.

Yoshitsune and his followers were filled with admiration at the wisdom
of Benkei, and great were the praise and thanks they rendered him on
this occasion; but Benkei, full of reverence and devotion to his master,
never ceased to deplore the necessity which drove him to beat his own
lord and apologized with great humility. Whenever the story was told, he
would shed tears of sorrow and declare that he would rather have been
beaten to death himself than have been obliged by circumstances to
strike Yoshitsune.

Thus once by force of arms he put to flight the would-be assassins of
Yoshitsune at Kyoto; by reciting Buddhist prayers he laid the ghosts of
the Taira warriors in the sea at Dan-no-Ura; and by sheer wit and
sagacity he brought his party across the dangerous frontier; and at
length he managed to arrive safely with his beloved master at the Oshu
residence of the famous General Hidehira.

He now thought that all troubles were over; but unfortunately this story
soon reached Kamakura City, and Yoritomo, furious at Yoshitsune's
daring, despatched a large army to chastise him.

At this time Yoshitsune's camp was pitched beside the river Koromo, and
the army from Kamakura, swarming up in countless thousands on the
opposite bank, discharged volley after volley of arrows at the brave but
ill-fated band. Yoshitsune's handful of men were entirely unable to face
the overwhelming numbers, and fled in confusion, seeking shelter in the
neighbouring woods and valleys or hiding themselves in the mountains.
But Benkei, despising flight, refused to budge, and stood without moving
while showers of arrows fell like rain around him. At length the enemy
saw that Benkei stood immovable with his seven weapons on his back,
grasping his great halberd in both hands. Wondering at the sight, they
drew near for the purpose of solving the mystery. As they approached,
the giant still remained standing; not an eyelid flinched, as his eyes,
wide open, glared fiercely at the soldiers. No wonder that the giant did
not stir, for arrows were sticking all over his body like quills on a
porcupine, and it was evident that he had died standing with his face to
the enemy.

This story is known far and wide throughout Japan, and you can imagine
what a brave sturdy warrior he must have been to have died in this way,
fighting to the last.

Another story tells how the enemy came up to the wonderful figure of
Benkei and found it to be but a straw dummy, and that by this device
Benkei gained time for his beloved lord, with whom he escaped into the
North, leaving their enemies far behind. Such is the story of Benkei,
and the story does not end here; for tradition relates with much
circumstance, as traditions always do, that Benkei's master became the
conqueror of Northern Asia, known to after ages as the famous Genghis
Khan.


[Illustration: DIED STANDING WITH HIS FACE TO THE ENEMY]




THE GOBLIN OF OYEYAMA


Long, long ago in Old Japan, in the reign of the Emperor Ichijo, the
sixty-sixth Emperor, there lived a very brave general called
Minamoto-no-Raiko. Minamoto was the name of the powerful clan to which
he belonged, and in England it would be called his surname, and Raiko,
or Yorimitsu,[1] was his own name.

In those times it was the custom for generals to keep as a body-guard
four picked knights renowned for their daring spirit, their great
strength, and their skill in wielding the sword. These four braves were
called Shitenno, or Four Kings of Heaven, and they participated in all
the exploits and martial expeditions of their chief, and vied with one
another in excelling in bravery and dexterity.

Minamoto-no-Raiko was no exception to the general rule of those ancient
leaders of Japan, and he had under him Usui-Sadamitsu, Sakata Kintoki,
Urabe Suetake, and Watanabe Tsuna (the clan or surname comes first in
Japan). Search the wide world from north to south and from east to west,
and no braver warriors than the Shitenno of Minamoto-no-Raiko could you
find. Each one of the four was said to be a match single-handed for a
thousand men. They lived for adventure, and their delight was in war.

Now it happened about this time that Kyoto, the capital, was ringing
with the stories of the doings of a frightful demon that lived in the
fastnesses of a high mountain called Mount Oye, in the province of
Tamba. This goblin or demon's name was Shutendoji. To look upon the
creature was a horrible thing, and those who once caught sight of him
never forgot the sight to their dying day. He sometimes took upon him
the form of a human being, and leaving his den would steal into the
capital and haunt the streets and carry off precious sons and beloved
daughters of the Kyoto homes. Having seized these treasures and flowers
of the people, he would drag them to his castle in the wilds of Mount
Oye, and there he would make them work and wait upon him till he was
ready to devour them, then he would tear them limb from limb.

For a long time the flower of the youth of the capital had been
kidnapped in this way; many homes had been made desolate. For a long,
long time no one had the least idea of what happened to the sons and
daughters thus stolen, but at the period when this story begins, the
dread news of the cannibal Shutendoji and his mountain den began to be
noised abroad.

Now at the Court there was an official, Knight Kimitaka by name, who was
thrice happy in the possession of a beautiful daughter. She was his only
child, and upon her he and his wife doted. One day the darling of the
family disappeared, and no trace whatsoever of the beautiful girl could
be found. The household was plunged into the deepest grief and misery.
The mother at last determined to consult a soothsayer, and, bidding an
attendant follow her, she repaired to the house of a famous
fortune-teller and diviner, who revealed to her that her daughter had
been stolen away by the goblin of Mount Oye. The mother hastened home
terror-stricken, and the father, when he was told the dire news, was
dumb with grief. He gave up going on duty at the Palace, for he was so
broken-hearted that he could do nothing but weep night and day over the
loss of his only daughter. To lose her was bad enough, but the thought
of the horrible hands into which she had fallen was unendurable, and all
who loved the poor child, even her own father, were powerless to save
her. Oh! the bitter, bitter grief!

At last the Emperor heard of the sorrow that had overtaken Kimitaka,
and his wrath was great to think that the hateful goblin had dared to
enter the precincts of the sacred capital without permission, and had
dared to steal away his subjects in this manner. And in his royal
indignation he sprang to his feet and threw down his tasselled fan and
cried aloud: "Is there no one in my domains who will punish this goblin
and destroy him utterly, and avenge the wrongs he has done my people and
this city, and so set my heart at ease?"

Then the Emperor called his Council together, and put the matter before
them and asked them what it were best to do, for the city must at all
costs be rid of this terrible scourge.

"How dare he haunt my dominions and lay hands on my people in the very
precincts of my Palace?" cried the distressed Emperor.

Then the Ministers respectfully answered the Emperor and said: "There
are numbers of brave warriors in Your Majesty's realm, but there are
none so able to do your bidding as Minamoto-no-Raiko. We would humbly
advise our August Emperor, the Son of Heaven, to send for the knight and
command him to slay the demon. Our poor counsel may not find favour in
the Son of Heaven's sight, but at the present moment we can think of
nothing else to suggest!"

This advice pleased the Emperor Ichijo, and he answered that he had
often heard of Raiko as a valiant knight and true, who knew not what
fear was, and he had no doubt that, as his Ministers said, he was just
the man for the adventure. And so the Emperor summoned Raiko to the
Palace at once.

The warrior, on receiving the royal and unexpected summons, hastened to
the Palace, wondering what it could mean. When he was told what was
wanted of him, he prostrated himself before the throne in humble
acquiescence to the royal command. Indeed Raiko was right glad at the
thought of the adventure in store for him, for it had been quiet for
some time in Kyoto, and he and his braves had chafed at the enforced
idleness.

The more he realized the awful difficulty of his task, the higher his
courage and his spirits rose to face it and the more he determined to do
it or die in the attempt.

He went home and thought out a plan of action.

As the enemy was no human being, but a formidable goblin, he thought
that the wisest course would be to resort to stratagem instead of an
open encounter, so he decided to take with him a few of his most trusted
men rather than a great number of soldiers. He then called together his
four braves, Kintoki, Sadamitsu, Suetake, and Tsuna, and besides these
another knight, by name Hirai Yasumasa, nicknamed Hitori, which meant,
as applied to him, "the only warrior."

Raiko told them of the expedition, and explained that, as the demon was
no common foe, he thought it wise that they should go to his mountain in
disguise; in this way they would the more likely and the more easily
overcome the goblin. They all agreed to what their chief said and set
about making their preparations with great joy. They polished up their
armour and sharpened their long swords and tried on their helmets,
rejoicing in the prospect of the action confronting them. Before
starting on this dangerous enterprise, they thought it wise to seek the
protection and blessing of the gods, so Raiko and Yasumasa went to pray
for help at the Temple of Hachiman, the God of War, at Mount Otoko,
while Tsuna and Kintoki went to the Sumiyoshi Shrine of the Goddess of
Mercy, and Sadamitsu and Suetake to the Temple of Gongen at Kumano. At
each shrine the six knights offered up the same prayer for divine help
and strength, and on bended knees and with hands laid palm to palm they
besought the gods to grant them success in their expedition and a safe
return to the capital.

Then the brave band disguised themselves as mountain priests. They wore
priests' caps and sacerdotal garments and stoles; they hid their armour
and their helmets and their weapons in the knapsacks they carried on
their backs; in their right hands they carried a pilgrim's staff, and
in their left a rosary, and they wore rough straw sandals on their
feet. No one meeting these dignified, solemn-looking priests would have
thought that they were on the way to attack the goblin of Mount Oye, and
no one would have dreamt that the leader of the band was the warrior
Raiko, who for courage and strength had not his peer in the whole of the
Island Empire.

In this way Raiko and his men travelled across the country till at last
they reached the province of Tamba and came to the foot of the mountain
of Oye. Now as the goblin had chosen Mount Oye as his place of abode,
you can imagine how difficult of access it was! Raiko and his men had
often travelled in mountainous districts, but they had never experienced
anything like the steepness of Mount Oye. It was indescribable. Great
rocks obstructed the way, and the branches of the trees were so thickly
interlaced overhead that the light of day could not penetrate through
the foliage even at midday, and the shadows were so black that the
warriors would have been glad of lanterns. Sometimes the path led them
over precipices where they could hear the water rushing along the deep
ravines beneath. So deep were these chasms that as Raiko and his men
passed them they were overcome with giddiness. For the first time they
realized now the dangers and difficulties of the task they had
undertaken, and they were somewhat disheartened. At times they rested
themselves on the roots of trees to gain breath, sometimes they stopped
to quench their thirst at some trickling spring, catching the water up
in their hands. They did not, however, allow themselves to be
discouraged long, but pushed their way deeper and deeper into the
mountain, encouraging each other with brave words of cheer when they
felt their spirits flagging. But the thought sometimes crossed their
minds, though they one and all kept it to themselves, "What if
Shutendoji, or some of his demons, should be lurking behind any of the
rocks or cliffs?"

Suddenly from behind a rock three old men appeared. Now Raiko, who was
as wise as he was brave, and who at that very moment had been thinking
of what he should do were they to encounter the goblin unexpectedly,
thought that sure enough here were some of the goblins, who had heard of
his approach. They had simply disguised themselves as these venerable
old men so as to deceive him and his men! But he was not to be outwitted
by any such prank. He made signs with his eyes to the men behind him to
be on their guard, and they in obedience to his gesture put themselves
in attitudes of defence.

The three old men saw at once the mistake Raiko had made, for they
smiled at him and then drawing nearer, they bowed before him, and the
foremost one said: "Do not be afraid of us; we are not the goblins of
this mountain. I am from the province of Settsu. My friend is from Kii,
and the third lives near the capital. We have all been bereft of our
beloved wives and daughters by Shutendoji the goblin. Because of our
great age we can do nothing to help them, though our sorrow for their
loss, instead of growing less, grows greater day by day. We have heard
of your coming, and we have awaited you here, so that we might ask you
to help us in our distress. It is a great favour we ask, but we entreat
you if you encounter Shutendoji to show him no mercy, but to slay him
and so avenge the wrongs of our wives and children and many others who
have been torn away from their homes in the Flower Capital."

Raiko listened attentively to all the old man said, and then answered:
"Now that you have told me so much, I need not reserve the truth from
you"; and he went on to tell them of the order he had received from the
Emperor to destroy Shutendoji and his den, and the warrior did his best
to comfort the old men and to assure them that he would do all in his
power to restore their kidnapped wives and daughters.

Then the old men expressed great joy; their faces beamed like the sun as
they thanked Raiko warmly for his kind sympathy, and they presented him
with ajar of _saké_, saying as they bowed low: "As a token of our
gratitude we wish to present you with this magic wine. It is called
Shimben-Kidoku-Shu.' The name means, 'a cordial for men but a poison to
goblins.' Therefore if a demon drinks of this wine, all his strength
will go from him, and he will be as one paralyzed. Before you attack
Shutendoji, give him to drink of this wine, and for the rest you will
find no difficulty."

And with these words the venerable spokesman handed the warrior a small
white stone jar containing the wine. As soon as Raiko had taken the jar
into his hands, a radiance like that of sunlight suddenly shone round
the old men, and they vanished upwards from sight till their shining
figures were lost in the clouds.

The warriors were struck with astonishment. They gazed upwards as if
stupefied. But Raiko was the first to recover from his surprise. He
clapped his hands and laughed as he said: "Be not afraid at what you
have seen! Be sure that the three who thus appeared to us are none other
than the gods of the shrines we visited before starting on this perilous
enterprise. The old man who said he was from Settsu must have been the
deity of Sumiyoshi, the one from the province of Kii was the divinity of
Kumano, and the one from the capital the god Hachiman of Mount Otoko.
This is a most propitious sign. The three deities have taken us under
their special protection. This _saké_ is their gift, and it will surely
be of magic power in helping us to overcome the demons. We must,
therefore, render thanks to Heaven for the protection vouchsafed to us."

Then Raiko and his five knights knelt down on the mountain pass and
bowed themselves to the ground and prayed for some minutes in silence,
overcome with awe at the thought that the three gods whose aid they had
invoked had visited them. Raiko sprang to his feet and lifted the jar of
_saké_ reverently above his head, then he placed it with his armour and
weapons in the box he carried on his back. Having done this, they all
proceeded on their way, but oh! how safe and confident they now felt.
Raiko with his magic wine felt more than a match for any demon now.
There is a proverb which says, "A giant with an iron rod," which means
strength added to strength, and this was fully illustrated in the case
of Raiko. The goblin Shutendoji was now to be pitied; it would surely go
hard with him!

As they sped on their way they came to a mountain stream, and here they
found a damsel washing a blood-stained garment, and as she washed and
beat the garment against the current, they saw that she often had to
stop and wipe the tears away with her sleeve, for she was weeping
bitterly. Raiko's heart was stirred with pity at her distress, and he
went up to her and said: "This is a goblin-haunted mountain; how is it
that I find a damsel such as you here?"

The Princess (for such she was) looked up in his face wonderingly and
said: "It is indeed true that this is a goblin-haunted mountain, and
hitherto inaccessible to mortals. How is it that you have managed to get
here?" and she looked from Raiko to his men.

Then Raiko said: "I will tell you the truth quite frankly. The Emperor
has commanded us to slay the demon; that is why we are here!"

Without waiting to hear any more, the Princess ran up to Raiko in her
joy and clung to him, crying out in broken sentences: "Are you indeed
the great Raiko of whom I have so often heard? How thankful I am that
you have come. I will be your guide to the goblin's den. Hasten, Knight
Raiko, and kill the demons! I already feel that I am saved!"

When they heard these words the warriors knew that she was one of the
goblin's victims. The Princess turned and led the way up the hill.
Presently they saw a large iron gate guarded by two demons. The demon on
the right was red and the demon on the left was black, and each was
armed with a great iron stick or club. The Princess whispered to Raiko:
"Behold the home of the demon. Enter the gates, and you will find a
beautiful palace, built of black iron from the foundations to the roof.
It is therefore called the Palace of Black Iron or Kurogane. It is
large, and the inside is as beautiful as a great Daimio's palace. Within
the walls of the Palace of Black Iron, Shutendoji holds a feast night
and day. He is waited upon by maidens such as I, whom he has carried off
from the capital and from the provinces to be his slaves. The wine he
drinks, poured out in crimson lacquer cups, is the blood of human
beings, and the food of those feasts is the flesh of his victims who are
slain in turn. What numbers have I seen disappear, alas! all murdered to
supply the awful food and wine of those cannibal feasts. How I have
prayed to Heaven to punish this monster! But when I saw the fate of my
friends, how could I hope to live? I knew not when my turn would come.
But since I have met you I feel that we shall all be saved and great is
my joy and gratitude!"

By this time they had reached the gate, and the Princess went forward
and said to the red and black demon sentinels: "These poor travellers
have lost their way on this mountain. I took compassion on them and
brought them here, so that they may rest for a while before going on
their journey. I hope you will be kind to them."

When the Princess first began to speak the demons looked and saw Raiko
and his fellow priests. Little dreaming who these men were, and that in
admitting them they were letting in the bravest knights in the whole of
Japan, and still less suspecting their purpose, the demons laughed in
their hearts. Good prey had indeed fallen into their hands; they would
surely be allowed a share in the feast that these fresh victims would


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Online LibraryYei Theodora OzakiWarriors of old Japan : and other stories → online text (page 7 of 14)