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

The Council of the Clan

Before he seated himself, Kano called his chief samurai, and told him to have the sho ji put in so as to make the apartment of the usual size. He also ordered him to have several men patrol the garden, and to see that no one could approach the house, while he himself was to move noiselessly through the adjoining rooms, and answer for it that there should be no listener. Knowing that his orders would be obeyed, he sat down, ordered tea and hibachi to be brought, and without further ceremony opened the meeting.

"Honorable Councillors," he said, "two messengers have come from Yedo. You have, no doubt, noticed them, for both were here during the ceremony in my humble house. The first one is the new metsuké, Sawa, whom it has pleased the Go rojiu to appoint to our clan. When Mr. Hattori informed me of his arrival, I could not understand the cause of his appointment. Our clan has had no trouble with the Tokugawa for many years; and, although there can he no friendship between the house of Iyeyasu and that of Mori, there has been no open hostility.

"The arrival of the second messenger explains the situation. The Go rojiu has entered into a new treaty with the barbarians, and permitted them to dwell at Yokohama, near Kanagawa on the Tokaido. This fine piece of news is discussed openly at Yedo, and there is no doubt of its truth. The Regent, naturally I think, feels somewhat anxious as to how the great clans will receive it, and has probably sent metsuké to other model clans besides Choshiu. The news is so important that our friend Hattori agreed with me to ask you to discuss it here privately, so that we may decide upon the policy of our clan. Honorable Mr. OKubo, what is your opinion?"

The person thus addressed was the oldest of the councillors, a man grown gray in the service of his clan. He was silent for some moments, gravely sipping his tea. Then he said:

"These questions are not for me to answer. I am only acquainted with Old Japan, as it has existed for hundreds of years, and I am afraid the arrival of these barbarians is a menace to our country. I don't know them, and do not wish to know them; but I do know that, before the Tokugawa were thought of, the barbarians came, and were received kindly by the children of the gods. What was their gratitude? They began to teach a cult which destroyed the relations between parent and child, master and servant, lord and retainer. They were finally expelled, but it cost years of strife, and myriads of lives before their teaching was rooted out of the country. Since then order has been restored, and we have had peace. Now the barbarians will be admitted again, and fresh troubles will commence. Younger and stronger heads than mine will be needed to save our clan and the house of Mori, although, if it comes to war, I shall claim the honor of dying fighting for our lord."

All bowed but protested that OKubo was strong and able enough to lead the councils of the clan; but he replied that his time of usefulness was past, and Kano, out of respect for his wish, addressed the councillor next in years. That gentleman did not see any danger to the clan. Yokohama was a long distance from Nagato, and if there was to be trouble with the barbarians, the Tokugawa would be the first sufferers, for it was within the territory belonging to the Shogun. As to the metsuké, why, they must do as they had done before with such fellows, surround him with spies of their own.

Thus every councillor spoke in turn, the opinion of each being received with grave courtesy. A little more interest was shown when Hattori began to speak. It was known that he was in Kano's confidence, and it was a standing joke that Kano's advice was always adopted.

"Honorable Councillors," said Hattori, bowing deeply, "it ill becomes a man of my age to dispute the opinions of the leaders who for many years have guided the policy of our clan with brilliant success. If I venture to differ with them, it may be from lack of wisdom and experience, but I shall be glad if I am corrected. It is only by the kind teaching of such men as the honorable councillors, that men of my age can be prepared to follow in their footsteps.

"I am afraid that the coming of the barbarians promises evil days, not only for the Tokugawa, but for all the clans. You, gentlemen, remember, how the arrival of the fireships and the signing of the first treaty was followed by incessant earthquakes, how the ocean rose in its fury, and overwhelmed the barbarian ship, supposed to be safely at anchor at Shimoda. Surely, gentlemen, the gods of Japan themselves fought for our country. But the Go rojiu was blind. Was not the Shogun Iyeyoshi himself killed for not defying the barbarians by expelling them? 'We are not strong enough,' says the Regent. There was a time when the countless hosts of Kublai Khan, the conqueror of the world, were hurled upon our shores. What became of them? Tenshi Sama prayed to his ancestors and they, the gods of our country, destroyed the invader. We have nothing to fear, except our own faint-heartedness. Are we, the samurai of Japan, unworthy of our ancestors? Have our muscles grown weak that we can no longer wield the sword? Out upon us, then, for cowards! If the Tokugawa be a coward, out upon the Tokugawa. Choshiu, Raga, Satsuma, and Tosa, ought to be able to dispose of the foreigners and at the same time of the Tokugawa brood. Let us send confidential messengers to those clans, and, after we have arranged with them, send Mr. Sawa back to Yedo, securely packed in a box labeled: This side up; handle with care!"

A smile of approbation passed through the assembly; only Kano's face showed no sign. It was now his turn to speak, and, after toying with his fan, as if collecting his thoughts, he began:

"Honorable Councillors, I agree with the last speaker that the arrival of the foreigners bodes evil for our country. I do not believe that they will try to make war upon us, unless indeed, we provoke it ourselves. At the present time, at any rate, we are not in a condition to provoke a quarrel. For the past two hundred years the world has moved, and we have stood still: that is why we are helpless. We have found out something. These barbarians possess ships which go wherever they want them, without regard to tide and wind. We must have such ships and learn how to handle them. We, sons of Japan, are not naturally brainless; we can learn what the barbarians have learned, and by hard work, we may be able to surpass them. There may be some trouble with the Tokugawa, but I do not think so, unless they send us another metsuké besides Mr. Sawa. I have taken the measure of that gentleman, and do not think that it would take much gold to make him deaf and blind. But we need not take him into our confidence. We should send a trusty messenger to Nagasaki, and at whatever cost buy some of the books of the Hollanders. Surely, some merchants will be found there who understand that language and teach us. Besides, we must repair our forts, and buy new cannon. Our samurai must practice with their arms during every moment of leisure. Then, gentlemen, when the time comes, we shall be prepared, be it to avenge Sekigahara and the Castle of Osaka, or to drive the barbarian into the sea. My honored ancestor gave the same advice to our illustrious lord's forefather. Oh! that it had been accepted. Mori looks now upon Kii and Owari, and grinds his teeth at the thought that their people, once his property, are now arraigned among his foes. Kano's arm and muscle are as ready for the fray, as those of the youngest warrior, and he will not be the last to unsheath his sword, nor the first to return it to its scabbard. Self-restraint is often much more difficult than exposure to danger.

"The advice of Mr. Hattori supposes that the councillors of Kaga, Satsuma, and Tosa are of our opinion. But we have a feud with Satsuma, who might seize such an opportunity to bring all the power of the Tokugawa down upon us. It is said, and I believe it from what I have seen at Yedo, that the samurai of the Shogun have lost their courage. But what of Mito, Aidzu, Kii, Owari and the host of other daimiyo ready to march at the Go rojiu's bidding. Gentlemen, an excuse for the Tokugawa to fall upon us at this time, would mean ruin for our clan. We cannot even entertain the thought. But we must watch for our opportunity, and when it comes We must be prepared to strike. At present, let it be understood that Mr. Sawa must be perfectly safe in whatever part of Choshiu's domain, but let him be followed, and let his every step be dogged. Every word he utters, even in his sleep, and every syllable he writes must be known to us. Mr. Hattori, will you please, see to it that this is done."

The council agreed with Kano, as it had always done; and it was decided that a sum of money should he placed at Kano's disposal to procure the necessary books and a teacher at Nagasaki. These resolutions were drawn up, and sent to the adviser of the daimiyo to be sealed, after which they became a law.

And the daimiyo? Oh he was a Great Name  only. He never interfered with the affairs of the clan, and did not know anything about them. It was the same with the Shogun at Yedo. His seal was used, and laws were made of which he had never heard; and so it was with Tenshi Sama at Kyoto. All these men, Daimiyo, Shogun, and Tenshi Sama were considered as gods, and nobody but their highest servants were ever allowed to look upon them. If any of them was compelled to travel, they were placed in a norimono, with close blinds, and men ran ahead crying: Shita ni iru! Down on your knees. Very few people knew the names of the councillors who did rule in Japan, but the names of those who did not rule, were generally known.

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