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

Kano's Journey to Yedo

The 1st of July, 1859, had come and gone, and the barbarians had been admitted into the Country of the Gods. They were only a handful; so few that Choshiu's samurai could have pushed them into the bay by sheer force of numbers. While the Japanese people continued to toil, and cared nothing if there were any barbarians in the country or not, the samurai were getting more and more angry. Still, there was much curiosity mixed with this anger. The barbarians were so few in number; how could the Tokugawa, able to call an army of 80,000 men under arms, be afraid of them.

That puzzled Choshiu's councillors. They had not succeeded in their attempts to obtain books and a teacher at Nagasaki, and it had been decided that another effort should be made at Yokohama. This time the enterprise was thought so important, that it was determined to send one of the councillors, and the choice fell upon Kano. He accepted the commission.

When the councillors separated, Kano requested his friend Hattori to call that evening, as he wished to consult him. Hattori agreed to do so, and punctually to the time appeared at the Kano yashiki.

When the two friends were seated, Kano said. "I have been thinking how I shall go. At first I thought of asking a Go rojiu passport through our honest  friend Sawa, who will do anything we ask of him, as soon as he sees our gold. But I am afraid it will not do. The Go rojiu must, by this time, have grown suspicious at the excellent reports furnished by their metsuké, and I should certainly be as they heard that one of Choshiu's councillors was visiting the Kwantô. With spies constantly at my heels, I could not do anything: therefore, nobody except you, must know of my absence. I must, of course, trust my household, but I know that I can do that, I have decided to fall suddenly ill and call for a physician who will tell me that it is a slow fever. So I shall not want him again, since he cannot cure me anyhow. You must call two or three times a week, and spread the report that I am neither better nor worse. If our fellow-councillors ask for me, tell them that I intend to start at an early day."

"But how will you pass the barriers on the Tokaido and the Nakasendo?"

"I shall probably go by sea from Hyogo. I know that this journey is one of danger, but I must not risk the clan. I have, therefore, written to My Lord that I am no longer one of his samurai, but a rônin. You must keep this paper and deliver it to the Council only in case I am arrested."

Hattori bowed in assent, took the paper and hid it within the folds of his kimono. He then asked: "Are you going alone?"

"No. I must take a trusty young fellow with me, if something should happen to me. First I thought of Ito, but he is in Tokyo, and may be watched. I have sent for his friend Inouye, who, I am sure, has his wits about him."

"I hardly think that a man like Inouye, who is more given to studying than to tramping about, will like such an adventure," said Hattori, smiling. "But if he consents, you could have no better man."

"That is what I thought. He has, moreover, this advantage, that he can not be known to any Tokugawa officer, since he has never been at Yedo."

"When will you leave?"

"The sooner the better, to-night, if I can induce my intended companion to leave his books so soon. All! here he is!"

A servant had announced the visitor by opening a sho ji, and permitting him to enter. The customary salutations passed, and Inouye was requested to join the two friends. Kano scanned him closely, and, evidently pleased with the result, said:

"Mr. Inouye, you can serve the clan; are you willing to do so, even though it involves considerable danger?"

"With all my heart," replied Inouye simply.

"Thank you, in name of the clan. How long will it take you to get ready for a long journey?"

"I can go now."

Both Kano and Hattori smiled with pleasure at the young man's brief replies, and the former explained his scheme in all its bearings. When he had finished Inouye said:

"I thank you, Mr. Councillor, very much for having thought me worthy of this honor, and I shall try not to disappoint you. If you permit me, I shall now write a similar letter to My Lord Mori, and perhaps Mr. Hattori will do me the favor to keep it with that of your honor."

Hattori bowed, and Kano, begging to be excused, withdrew while Inouye was writing his letter. Kano went directly to the room where his wife was. He entered, and, without forgetting to pay her due respects, he said:

"I am leaving on a long journey, but I want people to think that I am ill. I shall, therefore, lie down, and do you send for a physician. Before he comes, send for Mr. Fujii, I shall tell him what to do in my absence."

Kano's instructions were followed. The physician went home very proud at having discovered at once the councillor's sickness. He was sorry that he had been dismissed, but felt that Kano was right. All his medicines could not cure such a fever. And when he thought of the fee in his pocket, his heart almost leaped for joy. It was more than he had received in six months.

The following morning, long before sunrise and while everybody in the Yashiki was fast asleep, Mr. Fujii cautiously opened the little gate, and two samurai, with their faces half hidden in a cloth wrapped around their heads, stepped briskly out. They wore straw sandals, so that their footsteps were inaudible. Fujii bowed deeply, and received a parting bow in return, but not a word was spoken. After passing across the moat, they came to the great highway and turned eastward. When the sun rose they had covered ten miles, and decided to stop for breakfast at the first yadoya they should see.

After six days' traveling without meeting any adventure, although they had met several ruffian-looking rônin, they approached Hyogo. They had carefully discussed their plans and decided to take passage in some trading junk, bound for Yedo or Kanagawa. If they could not do so, they would hire a boat. Kano had been many times along this road, in charge of Mori's procession, and knew Hyogo well. But as he knew that passports were demanded from every traveler stopping at an inn, they decided to pass the night at a village yadoya, and proceed to Hyogo on the following morning.

They found what they wanted two miles west of Hyogo. After securing their rooms, they had their bath, and ordered dinner. Presently they heard the shrill voice of the landlady scolding somebody roundly.

"You little lout" (hyakusho), she shouted, "I sent you for fresh fish, and you come back to tell me that there was none. No fresh fish in Hyogo! Just think of it! And here are two honorable gentlemen, who have ordered their supper! You shall go right back, you blockhead, and bring me fish, fresh fish, do you hear?"

Kano was amused, but Inouye whispered to him, "Suppose we ask that little hyakusho to find out if there is any ship sailing for Yedo. Those little fellows who look so stupid, are often keen enough, if they know that there is some cash for them. Shall I see him?"

Kano nodded assent, and Inouye descended to the ground floor. The boy, a strong built lad of fifteen or sixteen, was receiving the last instructions, and Inouye strolled slowly on the road toward Hoyogo. He had not gone a hundred yards, when he heard steps behind him, and turning round saw the boy coming at a great pace. As the boy was about to pass him, Inouye said:

"Wait a moment.'' The boy stopped and bowed. Inouye continued:

"You are going to Hyogo, are you not?" The boy bowed again and muttered: "I am, your honor."

"Very well. My brother and myself are stopping at yonder hotel. We have had a long march and are tired, but we must go to Yedo as soon as we can. Can you find out if any ships are leaving, and if they take any passengers? You are a sharp boy, and can find out if you try. If you do your errand well, slip upstairs so that the landlady does not see it, and I shall pay you well."

The boy looked up when he heard himself called a sharp boy, and Inouye felt that he had struck the right chord. He returned to the yadoya, where he found Kano fast asleep. He, too, stretched himself out upon the soft mats, and closed his eyes.

They awoke at the shuffling of feet, and the noise of dishes being brought in. Both enjoyed their supper. It was dark and the rain doors had been closed; but they opened them to enjoy the soft sea breeze. Neither of them spoke, when a whisper came from under the balcony: "Sir, sir, I have brought him."

Inouye recognized the boy's voice. Quietly measuring the height, he took one of the comforters serving as bed, and fastening one end to the railing strung himself over, holding the other end in his hand. A man was standing near the boy, and Inouye asked who he was. The boy told him that he was a sendo. He had found a ship that would leave for Tokyo at dawn, and told her master that two gentlemen at his inn wished to take passage. This sailor had been ordered to show them the way, and to carry their baggage.

Kano and Inouye were highly pleased. They left enough money to pay their bill handsomely, and, after Kano had joined his friend, rewarded the boy. Preceded by the sendo, they made their way to Hyogo and reached the junk in safety. They secured sleeping accommodations, and when they awoke the following morning, and went on deck, they saw that they had left Hyogo far behind.

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