Iyeyasu had given his granddaughter in marriage to Hideyori, the son and heir of his late chief and brother-in-law Hideyoshi, but this did not prevent him from making himself regent. Many of the great daimio saw that they would have even less power under the new regent than they had possessed under the "Lord of the Golden Water Gourds," and so they conspired against Iyeyasu under pretense of defending Hideyori's rights. Among these lords was the daimio of Tosa (toh-sah). He followed the fortunes of Iyeyasu's grandson, and when his party was defeated, fell into the hands of the victor. Iyeyasu had him put in prison, and treated him as a common criminal. But Japanese of the warrior class are not easily daunted, and Tosa persisted in upbraiding his conqueror until Iyeyasu ordered his hands cut off, which was the greatest disgrace he could inflict upon him. So far from humbling Tosa, this only served to exasperate him; and at last he was beheaded by order of the angry regent, and his estate was confiscated.
Tosa left a son, nine years old. Young as he was, this child understood the disgrace which his father had suffered, and even at that early age, thought of nothing but revenge. But Iyeyasu had taken proper precaution, and he, and his heirs after him, were too firmly established and too powerful to be easily disturbed. Years passed by, the boy grew to manhood, and was noted for his skill and strength in arms. He appeared to have completely forgotten the cause and circumstances of his father's death, but this attitude was only assumed to confirm the fancied security of his enemy. Still he had no opportunity to satisfy his revenge until the great-grandson of Iyeyasu, named Iyemitsu (ee-yay-meets), succeeded as regent. The lawful heir of Tosa was then appointed commander of the pikemen of the new regent's uncle, and thought that the moment had arrived to gratify his sole object in life.
By some means he discovered that the regent's uncle had no great affection for the new ruler, and when he sounded this uncle's former tutor, a man of humble birth but of great ability, he found ready sympathy. His plan was to destroy the whole race of Iyeyasu and to divide the empire between himself and the tutor. Strange as it seems, it appears that the regent's uncle knew and approved of the conspiracy, although he was probably not aware of the fate in store for him if the plans of the conspirators were crowned with success.
As I have told you in another chapter, the spy system had been brought to a rare degree of perfection, and although Tosa had kept his secret hidden in his heart for almost fifty years, the approach of success seems to have rendered him more careless. An incautious remark caused suspicion, and careful investigations led to the disclosure of his scheme. Orders were given to arrest him and the tutor, but, in order that the names of the other conspirators might be discovered, it was decided to take him by surprise.
One evening when Tosa was at home, happy in the thought of the near approach of the longed-for revenge, an alarm of fire was sounded near his door. Without any suspicion of trickery he ran out to see if there was any immediate danger; and was suddenly surrounded and attacked: He defended himself bravely, cutting down two of his assailants, but was at length overpowered by numbers and taken prisoner. His wife had heard the noise and suspected the cause. While the fight was going on, she went to the place where her husband kept his papers, and burned them. When the officers entered to search for the list of the conspirators' names, they could not find it. Tosa's wife, for this act, is held in the highest esteem, even by the Japanese of to-day, and the greatest flattery that can be bestowed upon a woman of that country is to compare her to Tosa's wife.
The regent now gave orders to arrest Tosa's intimate friends. The tutor escaped capture by committing hara-kiri. Two of the prisoners, upon being examined, at once confessed their share in the conspiracy, but sternly refused to reveal the names of their friends.
These two men, together with Tosa, were then given over to torture. I shall not describe in detail the shocking ordeal through which they passed; it would have shamed even the horrible ingenuity of the North American Indian. But the fortitude of the Japanese samurai character was such that when they were laid upon hot ashes, after being plastered all over with wet clay, one of the prisoners said: "I have had a long journey, and this warming is good for my health; it will supple my joints, and render my limbs more active." Other and more dreadful tortures were applied, and Tosa, urged by the judge to reveal his accomplices, to avoid further suffering, replied scornfully: "Scarcely had I completed my ninth year when I resolved to avenge my father and seize the throne. My courage thou canst no more shake than a wall of iron. I defy thy ingenuity! Invent new tortures; my fortitude is proof against them all!"
Since no information could be obtained from them, the prisoners were condemned to death, and the day for the execution was appointed. According to Japanese law of those days the wife and mother of Tosa, with five other women, were also to suffer the death penalty. The condemned numbered thirty-four, and, headed by Tosa, they were led in procession through the streets of Yedo. When they had reached the execution grounds, a well-dressed man whose two gold-hilted swords announced his rank, made his way through the crowd, and approached the minister of justice whose duty it was to be present at capital punishment. Making the customary salutation to the representative of the law, he said: "I am a friend of Tosa, and of the tutor. As I live at a great distance, I have but lately heard that their conspiracy has been discovered, and I came at once to Yedo. I remained in hiding, hoping that the regent would pardon Tosa. But now, as he is about to die, I come to bid him farewell, and, if necessary, to die with him."
"You are a worthy man," replied the minister, "and I wish that every one were like you. It is not necessary that I should request the regent to grant your wish. Go and bid farewell to your friend Tosa."
The two friends were allowed to communicate without being interfered with. Tosa thanked his friend for coming to see him once more, at so great a risk. His friend took a sad farewell and in parting said: "Our body in this world resembles a magnificent flower, which, blooming at early dawn, fades and dies as soon as the sun has risen. But after death we shall be in a better world, where we may without interruption enjoy each other's society." Having said this, he left, after thanking the minister for his kindness.
The prisoners were then fastened to separate crosses, and there killed by the sword. Tosa's wife suffered death with no less fortitude than her husband.
I, have told you this story to give you an idea of Japanese manners, in the days of Iyeyasu and his successors. But it was only in certain cases that men of the class to which Tosa and his friends belonged, were publicly executed. Treason against the regent was one of these. He knew that the power wielded by him in Yedo was not lawfully his, and that any noble, with sufficient forces, could cause his downfall and make himself regent. Public execution involved not only disgrace, but also loss of all property. Hara-kiri prevented both, while it elevated the name and family of the suicide. The samurai, while showing no sign of dissatisfaction when one of their number was condemned to kill himself, were apt to murmur when one was publicly disgraced. And no man, whatever his rank and influence in Japan, could afford to arraign this most powerful class against him.
Tosa's wife was not examined when her husband's papers were missed; for in Japan a woman was legally incapable of giving testimony, and even if the names of the conspirators had been wrung from her under torture, the government could not have made use of her confession, because it was given by a woman. She was condemned to death, not because she had burned important papers, but because she belonged to Tosa. If there had been any children, they also would have suffered the same penalty, regardless of age or sex. Such was the law of Japan until within recent years.
Before I close this chapter, you will like to hear what became of Tosa's brave friend who visited him just before his death. He stopped to witness the execution, and, when all was over, he returned once more to the minister, to whom he presented his two swords, saying: "I am indebted to you for the last conversation with my lost friend; and now I beg of you that you will report me to the regent, for I wish to die like Tosa."
"I will not do so," replied the minister, "for you deserve a better fate than that. You bravely came forward to bid him farewell, while others remained in hiding, anxious only to save their worthless lives."
The regent's uncle also was suspected, and so grave was the suspicion against him that he was in danger of being arrested. And now occurred one of those instances of loyalty of which we read so often in Japanese books. The secretary of this daimio came forward and declared that he, and he only, knew of the conspiracy, and that his lord was guiltless. And to prove his statement, he resorted to the usual method,—he committed hara-kiri, and thereby saved his master's life and estate.