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

The Messenger

The intruder, if he may be so called, mounted the steps and, entering the room, saluted in the usual manner. He was invited to approach, and, clapping his hands, Kano ordered the servant to bring in another cushion, and fresh tea. When these had been brought, and the visitor was seated, Kano said:

"When did you leave Yedo?"

"Just a week ago."

"Is there anything new?"

"Why, I think so. It is said openly by Tokugawa men that the foreign devils, with whom the Go rojiu have made a treaty, will be permitted to settle down at Yokohama."

"Settle down! What do you mean?" exclaimed Hattori.

"Where is Yokohama?" asked Kano.

Ito replied first to the question of his host.

"Yokohama is a little distance from the Tokaido, near Kanagawa, the last post station at this side of Yedo." Then, turning toward Hattori, he continued:—"Yes; the new treaty permits them to buy land and to build houses."

"But," said Hattori, aghast, "that means that Japan is invaded. These foreign devils have come with their fire ships and guns, and by threats have accomplished their purpose. What has become of the Tokugawa? Have they lost their manhood, to submit to such a disgrace!"

"Softly!" said Kano. "There may be reasons why the Go rojiu has permitted them to come so close to Yedo. It must be so. It must be a trap to destroy the intruders in such a manner that others like them will think twice before they come again."

"I wish I could think so," said Ito. "No! I believe that the Tokugawa are afraid of an invasion. Their samurai, with the exception of those of Mito and Aidzu, are not worth their salt. Have you ever seen, during your residence in Yedo, a Tokugawa Knight practising at arms. They are quick enough to draw their swords upon a beggar or a merchant, but when they meet one of the samurai of the southern clans, they fly to cover. No! Since Ii Naosuke is regent, he has looked closely into the forces which the Tokugawa can muster, if a war should break out, and he thinks that it must be avoided at any cost. Of course, he expects that the samurai of the great clans will be furious, and he has sent a large number of spies to report what is said. One of these gentry was sent here. I heard of it in time to follow him, and I came on to warn you."

Both Kano and Hattori expressed their thanks, and Kano said:

"But if the Tokugawa are not able to prevent a handful of foreigners from landing, how can they expect that the great southern clans will obey them?"

"Oh!" replied Ito, smiling grimly; "we have been obedient for so many years, trembling when the Go rojiu frowned, that the regent believes it will continue forever. He had a meeting of all the daimiyo connected with his clan, and tried to convince them that we must now receive these foreigners, and try to learn all that they know. Then, when we can handle their fire ships and their cannon, we may expect to drive them into the sea."


A Japanese Family.

Hattori put his hand upon his dagger, but Kano, with a friendly motion of his hand, calmed him. "There may be something in that," he said thoughtfully. "Mind you!" he continued, "I do not underrate Japanese courage, but we do not know the strength of these barbarians. We have been living like frogs in a well. It is easy enough to engage in war, but it is best to know the number of the enemy, before you engage in what may prove too heavy odds. Such a thing would be foolish. But we may come to a settlement with the Tokugawa. If indeed, their samurai have lost their courage, then my lord of Choshiu may recover the land from which he was robbed, and I may avenge my ancestor's death. When will the councillors of the clan meet?"

"The day after to-morrow," replied Hattori.

Kano clapped his hands, and ordered the servant to send up dinner for his guests and himself. Hattori and Ito made some excuses, but were easily induced to remain.

Small tables were brought in and placed before each man. First sake or wine made from rice, was served hot, and a small stone bottle placed near each person; then there was suimono, a sort of vegetable soup, after which rice was ladled out into cups or bowls. A number of side dishes, such as pickled daikon, a sort of giant radish, tsubo  or stewed sea-weed, and soy, a sauce, were enjoyed by the samurai.

The conversation had been interrupted when the servants entered, and was not resumed. The men spoke of the ceremony to take place the next day; and Ito was invited. Before leaving, however, Kano told Hattori that he would ask the councillors of the clan to remain after the reception was over, so that they might discuss their plans for the future.

Ito and Hattori bowed good-bye, as they were going in different directions. Each carried a lantern, for it was dark, and there was no street lighting in Japan at that time. At the corner of the street, Ito stopped as if in doubt. Then, after a few moments, he seemed to make up his mind, for he turned to the left, and went hastily toward the castle entrance. The heavy gate was closed, but the little side gate stood ajar. Ito entered, and giving his name to the officer of the guard, went along the barracks where many of the samurai of lower rank dwelt. At last he stopped before a small door, and knocked softly. He heard a shuffling of feet, and a woman's voice demanded who was there.

"Is Mr. Inouye in?" he asked.


"Tell him that Ito Saburo wishes to see him."

The woman seemed satisfied, for the door slid open, and Ito entered. Without waiting he mounted the steps, and opening a sho ji, stepped into a room, dimly lit by a rushlight placed in a paper lantern. Ito fell on his knees, and saluted in the usual manner, which salute was returned by the owner of the room, a man of Ito's age, but of more slender build.

The two men had not met for two years; for Ito had been ordered to remain at the Choshiu yashiki in Yedo, and Inouye's duties had kept him at Nagato. But they had corresponded by every courier carrying letters to and from the capital, for they had been friends ever since they were little boys. Yet when they met after such a long absence, there was no glad "Helloh!" with a hearty clasp of the hand, as we would meet an old friend. Pleased as they were to see each other again, they had been taught that good breeding demands that gentlemen should always show courtesy and respect to others of their own rank. Certain sentences must be uttered before any ordinary conversation can begin. Therefore Ito said:

"I was very rude the last time we met, but I hope you have forgiven me."

"No," replied Inouye, "it was I who was rude, and I pray you to overlook it."

It is needless to say that neither of them had really been rude, but custom demanded that this should be said, and the same custom prevails in Japan to-day. We think that it is foolish, and the Japanese think us very rude, because we do not obey that custom.

After these customs had been observed, the two friends sat down, and Ito said:

"Has any progress been made in your studies of the barbarian nations?"

"Nothing worth boasting. I have been twice to Nagasaki to try if I could pick up some of the books of the Hollanders, but the Tokugawa officers will not permit any stranger to approach the island of Deshima, unless they are bribed with more money than I possess. Still, I have learned enough to know that Japan is not in a condition to fight the barbarians, and I am afraid, I think, that the regent was right in submitting to their demands."

"I do not think so," replied Ito. "Right! What right has the Tokuwaga to sell an inch of Japan's soil. It does not belong to them. It is the property of Tenshi Sama, if it belongs to anybody. It makes me angry to think that we can no longer boast that

POEM The foot of the invader has never trod our soil."

"There will be no invasion," said Inouye. "These men only want to trade. If they had intended to use force, they would have done so when they came the second time, with a large fleet. No! I do not believe that our country is in danger, at least not for some years. But they may come as spies to find out what opportunity there is to obtain possession of Japan. The Yedo government should try to discover what the intentions of the barbarians really are."

"The Yedo government is only anxious to make money. You do not know, Inouye, how good it feels to breathe the pure air of Nagato. It is stifling at Yedo. Spies, spies are everywhere. The Tokugawa samurai seem to have forgotten that they are gentlemen, and how a samurai should behave. They are quick enough to draw their swords upon men who cannot defend themselves, but they are nimble with their feet when hard blows may be expected. If Japan must go to war, we, the samurai of the south will do the fighting. The day of the Tokuwaga is past."

There was a brief silence, when Inouye said:

"I have not yet asked you what brings you here. I had not heard that you had been relieved from duty at Yedo."

"I was not relieved. But we were informed that the Go rojiu intended to send new spies to the southern diamiyo, and I was ordered to inform the councillors of the clan. It seems that Sawa, the chief spy, arrived just before me. I suppose I shall be told to return to Yedo, but I hope not. At any rate I shall see you before I leave."

After the usual salutations Ito rose and lit his candle. After leaving the door, he went through the grounds to the opposite barracks, where his mother lived. Knocking at the little wicket, he was admitted with many bows and glad exclamations. These he returned with some pleasant words, and entered the sitting-room. Presently his mother entered, and both knelt down and saluted in the respectful and courteous manner of their people. There was no kissing or even handshaking: both were, of course, very happy, but Japanese law forbade showing joy, even in the expression of the face. Ito would have obeyed at once any order his mother might have given him; but she considered him as the head of the family, and showed that she looked upon him as the master of the house.

They chatted for half an hour about their acquaintances and then retired. Ito's mother, suffering from rheumatism, to receive a massage treatment from one of the servants.


Ito's mother, suffering from rheumatism, to receive a massage treatment from one of the servants.

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