Gateway to the Classics: A Boy of Old Japan by Robert van Bergen
A Boy of Old Japan by  Robert van Bergen

Battle and Defeat

It was a sullen procession which filed out of Choshiu's yashiki on that 30th of September, and it was well for the Tokugawa that no armed opposition was offered to them. Twelve hundred deeply insulted samurai could make sad havoc among any force, and these men hoped for the fray. They had marched in close ranks with seven norimono, well guarded between them. Kano was on horseback and had assumed command. He, too, had thought of the possibility of a conflict; but Ekichi had discovered that Satsuma had also been expelled, and that Choshiu would have to face the united power of Tokugawa. Loyalty to his clan, and the responsibility for the safety of the kugé imposed self-restraint; but they did not prevent him from being exasperated.

Past Fushimi they marched, and on to Osaka where they remained over night. The next morning they stopped at Hyogo; it was eight days after they had left Kyoto when they were within their own province, and shortly after Mori in his state dress received the highly honored guests, and bade them make themselves at home.

Kano heard that Sawa had disappeared. That was well. Choshiu's samurai might not have liked to see the Tokugawa crest among them, and the blood of such a poor worthless creature could not further the cause. But Choshiu thirsted for vengeance, and drilling went on from morning till night. Nagato was an armed camp.

Thus passed the winter and spring of the year 1864. Kano heard that the number of rônin multiplied at a frightful rate, and that many were congregating in the suburbs of Kyoto. Several young samurai applied for leave of absence, and, when they received a refusal, sent in their resignations and disappeared.

The men were exasperated. On the 4th of August a courier from Kyoto brought news which caused Kano to call an extra meeting of the Council. When they had cone together, Kano informed them that in the beginning of July a body of rônin had petitioned Tenshi Sama to remove the decree of arrest from Mori, and to recall the seven kugé and restore them to honor; but the Council of the Gosho, now wholly under the influence of Aidzu had not even vouchsafed a reply. Several hundred Choshiu men had joined the rônin, and were preparing to march upon Aidzu.

This was serious news. What if Aidzu, in triumph at its success, should secure a decree of Choteki  against Mori from the servile court. That must be prevented at any cost! Kano and Hattori were commissioned to proceed in all haste to Kyoto, and to restrain their clansmen. They arrived at the capital on the 15th, and, appealing to the loyalty of their men, succeeded in bringing them back under Choshiu's banner.

Aidzu did not appreciate this self-control. On the 19th a Court messenger delivered a notification at the yashiki that Mori was to be punished for contumacy, and that Tokugawa Keiki would command the loyal army commissioned to enforce the Court's order.

Kano and Hattori deliberated long and earnestly. There was not much choice. It was either to submit to punishment, which would strike their innocent lord the hardest of all, or trust to the spirit of unrest and leave the decision to the sword. The latter alternative was chosen, and Kano prepared a proclamation. He demonstrated the justice of his cause and mentioned the crimes committed by the Tokugawa since the arrival of Perry; he called upon the samurai of Japan to aid him in punishing Aidzu, who was desecrating the private grounds of Tenshi Sama, and implored the pardon of the Son of Heaven "for creating a disturbance so near the wheels of the Chariot."

The number of Choshiu men had increased to 1300. Kano had divided his men in three divisions, and, at dawn of the 20th of August, marched to the attack. His intention was to surround the flower garden of the palace where Aidzu's troops were encamped. They were opposed by the samurai of Aidzu who had been reenforced by those of Echizen, Kuwana, Hikone, and other Tokugawa clans. There were some cannon and muskets; but most of the men were in armor, and trusted to the keen native sword. With terrible odds against them, and no clan coming to their assistance, Choshiu maintained the fight for two days. A native historian states that 811 streets, 18 palaces, 44 large yashiki, 630 small yashiki, 112 Buddhist temples, and 27,000 houses were destroyed. The same historian says: "The city, surrounded by a ninefold circle of flowers, entirely disappeared in one morning in the smoke of the flames of a war fire. The Blossom Capital became a scorched desert." The end was such as might have been expected. The Choshiu men were utterly defeated. Thirty-seven men were taken prisoner and beheaded in prison. Kano died in battle, and his body was probably cremated, for it was not found.

When the fugitives began to arrive in Nagato, there was almost a panic among the samurai. Ito and Inouye, now recognized as leaders, restored quiet. It was not the defeat which had the effect of frightening men for whom pain nor death has any terror: it was the term choteki, which rendered their arm nerveless. It was only when Inouye proved to them that it was Aidzu and not Tenshi Sama who had inflicted this disgrace upon them that their courage returned together with their self-control.

The clan would soon stand in need of it. By Kano's order they had continued to fire upon vessels entering the Strait of Shimonoseki. They had Tenshi Sama's mandate to do so, and it had not been revoked. On the 5th of September a fleet of powerful vessels appeared, and bombarded Choshiu's forts. The men stood to their guns like heroes, but again the odds were against them. The batteries were blown about their ears, and when landing parties attacked the forts, individual daring backed by swords, could not stand before the withering fire of trained troops. The clan despatched Ito and Inouye to make peace, and the terms hard as they were, were accepted.

It was two days after the bombardment, and a meeting of the Council had been called in the great hall of the castle. Ito and Inouye, both Councillors now, were present. After all were seated, Ito opened the meeting.

"Gentlemen," he said, "there is little use in mourning for losses, since it will not repair them. But losses may be turned into an advantage, if we profit by the lessons we may derive from them.

"The foreign fleet which attacked us had such heavy metal, that our guns and gunners could not stand before it. It was a hail storm of iron and we went down before the blast. But when I saw that the barbarians were landing men, I thought that we were going to have our turn. They were but a handful, those barbarians, and man for man, our samurai would have made short work of them. But we could not get near them. They moved as one man and in the thickest of the fight a word of command was obeyed as if it was a machine instead of a body of men. It was their discipline and drill that defeated us, gentlemen, and we must acquire that same order and skill.

"We have met two foes, and twice we have been defeated. The barbarians will not molest us so long as we do not molest them, and, for the present at least, we shall leave that to other clans who may wish to pay for some experience. We stand face to face with another foe, and we are fighting for our very existence. Tokugawa would have us Choteki, gentlemen, and we must turn the tables upon them. We can do it, never fear! But first we must learn the drill and tactics from the barbarians that we may give Aidzu a surprise as the foreigners surprised us. For that purpose we must engage instructors and purchase arms. I now propose that Mr. Inouye be appointed with full authority to act in this matter, and that the treasurer of the clan furnish him with money."

"But," objected one of the older members, "the barbarian instructors will have to live among us; will they be safe? We do not want any more trouble with them now."

"Your lordship speaks well. We do not want any more trouble with them now. The next time we have trouble with them, it will not be we who pay the bills. They will be as safe here as in their own homes. Our samurai shall know why they are here. They shall know that we must dissemble; pretend that we are pleased with our defeat, and that we love the men who invaded our soil. But this dissembling will not last forever, and a time shall come when this defeat is wiped out. May we live to see it!"

The order was then passed and Ito resumed: "The next thing that must  be done is to come to an understanding with Satsuma and the other Southern clans. Yes, I know, gentlemen, the dish is not palatable, but there is nothing for it but to eat it." A feud existed between Satsuma and Choshiu and to the older Councillors this advice was extremely repugnant. "We have no choice. Choshiu alone can not reduce the united Tokugawa Clans, and Tokugawa must be deposed unless we wish to see the barbarian our master. Satsuma, after all, is of our blood, and has the same interests. Tosa too, must join. I propose then that I undertake this disagreeable work; somebody must do it, and I do not suppose that any one cares for the honor."

There was a silence. At last one of the Councillors spoke: I suppose that Mr. Ito is right. Let it be as he wishes. I agree with him that of the two, Satsuma is preferable to the barbarians.

The order was entered upon the books and the council adjourned. The two friends left together. Inouye said he would start the next day.

"Have you any objection if I take Ekichi with me?"

Ito looked up, smiled, and said: "None at all."

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