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

Friendship or Hatred?

Six weeks had passed. It was in the evening after supper, when three samurai were sitting in the room overlooking the garden of Choshiu's yashiki in Yedo. Guards were stationed within easy distance, so as to encircle the principal building, one room of which was occupied by Kano, in virtue of his influence within the clan. It was known that the Go rojiu had scattered more spies about the yashiki of the great southern clans. Kano, who, had arrived only that morning, had immediately ordered the captain of the guard, to produce a list of every person living within the yashiki or its grounds. Together they had scanned every name, and those who were not personally known to the Councillor or the Captain, were served with a notice to depart, and had been escorted to the gate. Kano had also given orders that a report should be prepared at once, explaining who was responsible for their presence. Until this had been sifted to the bottom, a number of young samurai of known loyalty had been selected to guard the palace, in turn, and they had received orders to cut down any one found prowling in the grounds. A search was made under the palace, and it was only when satisfied that floor nor ceiling had been tampered with, that Kano felt he could speak without fear of being reported.

After he was satisfied of his privacy, he had sent word to the guard at the gate that, when Mr. Inouye should arrive, he was to proceed immediately to the palace. The answer was that Inouye was in the yashiki, and in the apartments of Mr. Ito. Kano had then sent a request to the two friends to visit him in his room. They had returned with the messenger, and had taken supper together. The servants had brought tea and tobacco, and had been dismissed.

"Gentlemen." said Kano, "we shall now proceed to business. Mr. Ito, your friend has probably informed you of what has brought him to Yedo?

"Beyond mentioning incidentally that his visit was connected with business of the clan, he has not done so, your honor."

That is entirely like my friend  Inouye. It was like a true samurai, although, in this case, so much caution was superfluous. I am, however, pleased, because I shall have the satisfaction of enlarging upon the merits of our friend."

Inouye bowed to the ground, and protested that he had only acted as every samurai of Choshiu would have done. Kano then proceeded to unfold the events leading to their mission, and their adventures, until the time when they entered upon their novel experiences, while Ito, although deeply interested and astonished, preserved the same placid countenance. Kano continued:—

"We met, as agreed upon, every fifth day. It was, I confess, a relief to me to see a face I could trust, but I would not permit our friend to tell me his experience. It was because I desired facts, and not mere impressions. The investigation regarded the welfare of the clan, hence, of course, no sacrifice could be too great. Above all, the council desired impartial accounts; justice, full justice, must be done to the barbarians and to the Tokugawa, and that the judgment might be unbiased, time nor expense should he taken into account. I am, even now, sorry that an accident drew the attention of the Tokugawa spies upon me, and compelled me to leave suddenly. It was not difficult to baffle those dogs, and I am quite sure that they lost all traces of me. They are probably burying my body now. It was owing to my supposed death that I could warn our friend here, who will now, I am sure, entertain us with his experience."

Inouye bowed and said: "If I had been permitted to give your honor my impressions, when I was first engaged by that good  man, the American physician, they would not vary materially from what I can now state as my knowledge. From first to last, he and his family treated me with the greatest kindness. I was known to him as Tomori, the kodz'kai; yet when he requested  me to do something, it was always with a 'please!' and he invariably thanked me. He observed that I was anxious to acquire his language, perhaps Mr. Tanaka, his interpreter, had told him so. The first day, when the work was done, he sent for me, and, taking a book from his shelves, began to teach me. Thanks to his patience, I can now fairly read and speak his language.

"The work was light; to be sure, it was not the work of a samurai, but I was not made to feel that I was a menial. At first I was shocked when I saw that his wife was really the master in the house, and that he paid her marked deference whenever they met. They ate together and walked out together. But I found out very quickly that, while she directed the affairs of the household, and looked after the children, she did not interfere with his work, except to help him. She looked after all of us, to see that we were made comfortable, and often, when my morning's work was finished, she would say: 'Tomori San, bring your books; perhaps I may be able to help you.' Truly, she is a good woman, as her husband is a good man.

"Everybody in the house was required to come in the dining-room, in the morning before breakfast, and in the evening after supper. When Tanaka came for me the first morning, and I asked him what this meant, he only smiled, and told me to ask again, in about two weeks. I thought it was part of my duty, and, of course, I went. I watched Tanaka, and did as he did. We sat down, and the physician read to us in his own language; what it was, I could not understand. Then they all fell on their knees, while he spoke aloud; at last, he and his family sang, and then we were dismissed. I saw that Tanaka was unwilling to explain, and did not press him. In about two weeks I began to understand some of the words, and then it dawned upon me with horror, that this physician belonged to the jashui mono, the corrupt sect. Then I remembered the edict of Iyeyasu:— 'The Christians have come to Japan to disseminate an evil law, to overthrow right doctrine, so that they may change the government of the country and obtain possession of the land. If they are not prohibited, the safety of the state will surely be imperiled; and if those charged with the government of the nation do not extirpate the evil, they will expose themselves to Heaven's rebuke.' I was horror-struck, and felt that, indeed, I was running in danger for the sake of the clan. But that same thought calmed me. What was the danger compared to the clan. And as I grew calmer, I remembered that I did not see any crosses, and that the priests of Iyeyasu's time were not permitted to marry. Still, as my duty permitted me to go into any room, at any time of the day or evening, I watched the physician, his wife and children so closely that they could do nothing without it being known to me. I had my pains for my trouble. I discovered nothing, because there was nothing concealed. I kept watching, I never relaxed until the time I left, because it was my duty to the clan. I have since discovered that the physician and his wife are Christians, but surely there has been either a terrible mistake made, or there are two sorts of Christians. At any rate, they do not belong to any corrupt sect.

"I will now sum up my experience. I have learned their language to a considerable extent. I have learned that there are many foreign nations, differing in language, habits, customs, as much as we differ from those of China and Korea. I have also received from the physician a book which gives the size of each country, the population, the army, navy, and a great many other interesting facts; but I would doubt its accuracy, only the physician tells me that it is very nearly correct. What made me doubt is that, in referring to Dai Nippon, which they called Japan, it is stated that we have two emperors, one spiritual and one temporal, whom they name Tai Kun. When I showed this to the physician, he smiled, and said that it was our fault that foreigners knew so little of our country, because we had never permitted them to come and enjoy its beauty."

Inouye then produced one of the large geographies used in our schools. He showed them the map of the world, and the size of Japan compared with that of other nations. The map of the United States was closely examined, as well as that of the ocean which separates it from Japan. All this was new to Kano and Ito, and both were absorbed in the subject. Inouye explained as much as his limited knowledge of English would permit; although his progress in that language, considering the time he had been able to devote to its study, was simply marvelous. At last Kano requested Inouye to put the book up until some other opportunity. The geography was then carefully wrapped up in cotton, and again in embroidered silk, showing the great value attached to it. Both Kano and Ito asked minutely about the daily life of the physician, whom they did no longer mention as "barbarian," but Oishasan, Honorable Mr. Physician, a token of the favorable impression made upon them by Inouye's simple account. All these questions were answered promptly, and it was past midnight when Kano broke up the meeting with the words:

"Gentlemen, this has been a very pleasant evening to me, none the less because I am surprised. My experience is very different from that of Mr. Inouye. I intended to give it to you this evening, but he has beguiled us with his interesting account. The clan will appreciate what he has done: the knowledge he has acquired will be of great usefulness, and his loyalty to the clan deserves recognition."

Kano called a guard to conduct the two friends to their quarters, and all retired to rest.

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