Three extraordinary visits have been made to my house this
The first was that of the professional well-cleaners. For once every
year all wells must be emptied and cleansed, lest the God of Wells,
Suijin-Sama, be wroth. On this occasion I learned some things relating
to Japanese wells and the tutelar deity of them, who has two names,
being also called Mizuha-nome-no-mikoto.
Suijin-Sama protects all wells, keeping their water sweet and cool,
provided that house-owners observe his laws of cleanliness, which are
rigid. To those who break them sickness comes, and death. Rarely the
god manifests himself, taking the form of a serpent. I have never seen
any temple dedicated to him. But once each month a Shinto priest
visits the homes of pious families having wells, and he repeats certain
ancient prayers to the Well-God, and plants nobori, little paper flags,
which are symbols, at the edge of the well. After the well has been
cleaned, also, this is done. Then the first bucket of the new water
must be drawn up by a man; for if a woman first draw water, the well
will always thereafter remain muddy.
The god has little servants to help him in his work. These are the
small fishes the Japanese call funa. One or two funa are kept in
every well, to clear the water of larvae. When a well is cleaned, great
care is taken of the little fish. It was on the occasion of the coming
of the well-cleaners that I first learned of the existence of a pair of
funa in my own well. They were placed in a tub of cool water while the
well was refilling, and thereafter were replunged into their solitude.
The water of my well is clear and ice-cold. But now I can never drink
of it without a thought of those two small white lives circling always
in darkness, and startled through untold years by the descent of
The second curious visit was that of the district firemen, in full
costume, with their hand-engines. According to ancient custom, they
make a round of all their district once a year during the dry spell,
and throw water over the hot roofs, and receive some small perquisite
from each wealthy householder. There is a belief that when it has not
rained for a long time roofs may be ignited by the mere heat of the
sun. The firemen played with their hose upon my roofs, trees, and
garden, producing considerable refreshment; and in return I bestowed on
them wherewith to buy saké.
The third visit was that of a deputation of children asking for some
help to celebrate fittingly the festival of Jizō, who has a shrine on
the other side of the street, exactly opposite my house. I was very
glad to contribute to their fund, for I love the gentle god, and I
knew the festival would be delightful. Early next morning, I saw that
the shrine had already been decked with flowers and votive lanterns.
A new bib had been put about Jizō’s neck, and a Buddhist repast set
before him. Later on, carpenters constructed a dancing-platform in the
temple court for the children to dance upon; and before sundown the
toy-sellers had erected and stocked a small street of booths inside the
precincts. After dark I went out into a great glory of lantern fires
to see the children dance; and I found, perched before my gate, an
enormous dragon-fly more than three feet long. It was a token of the
children’s gratitude for the little help I had given them,–a kazari, a
decoration. I was startled for the moment by the realism of the thing;
but upon close examination I discovered that the body was a pine branch
wrapped with colored paper, the four wings were four fire-shovels,
and the gleaming head was a little teapot. The whole was lighted by a
candle so placed as to make extraordinary shadows, which formed part of
the design. It was a wonderful instance of art sense working without a
speck of artistic material, yet it was all the labor of a poor little
child only eight years old!
 A sort of small silver carp.
_July_ 30. The next house to mine, on the south side,–a low, dingy
structure,–is that of a dyer. You can always tell where a Japanese
dyer is by the long pieces of silk or cotton stretched between bamboo
poles before his door to dry in the sun,–broad bands of rich azure, of
purple, of rose, pale blue, pearl gray. Yesterday my neighbor coaxed me
to pay the family a visit; and after having been led through the front
part of their little dwelling, I was surprised to find myself looking
from a rear veranda at a garden worthy of some old Kyōto palace. There
was a dainty landscape in miniature, and a pond of clear water peopled
by goldfish having wonderfully compound tails.
When I had enjoyed this spectacle awhile, the dyer led me to a small
room fitted up as a Buddhist chapel. Though everything had had to
be made on a reduced scale, I did not remember to have seen a more
artistic display in any temple. He told me it had cost him about
fifteen hundred yen. I did not understand how even that sum could have
There were three elaborately carven altars,-a triple blaze of gold
lacquer-work; a number of charming Buddhist images; many exquisite
vessels; an ebony reading-desk; a mokugyō; two fine bells,–in
short, all the paraphernalia of a temple in miniature. My host had
studied at a Buddhist temple in his youth, and knew the sutras, of
which he had all that are used by the Jōdō sect. He told me that he
could celebrate any of the ordinary services. Daily, at a fixed hour,
the whole family assembled in the chapel for prayers; and he generally
read the Kyō for them. But on extraordinary occasions a Buddhist priest
from the neighboring temple would come to officiate.
He told me a queer story about robbers. Dyers are peculiarly liable
to be visited by robbers; partly by reason of the value of the silks
intrusted to them, and also because the business is known to be
lucrative. One evening the family were robbed. The master was out
of the city; his old mother, his wife, and a female servant were the
only persons in the house at the time. Three men, having their faces
masked and carrying long swords, entered the door. One asked the
servant whether any of the apprentices were still in the building;
and she, hoping to frighten the invaders away, answered that the
young men were all still at work. But the robbers were not disturbed
by this assurance. One posted himself at the entrance, the other two
strode into the sleeping-apartment. The women started up in alarm,
and the wife asked, “Why do you wish to kill us?” He who seemed to be
the leader answered, “We do not wish to kill you; we want money only.
But if we do not get it, then it will be this”–striking his sword
into the matting. The old mother said, “Be so kind as not to frighten
my daughter-in-law, and I will give you whatever money there is in
the house. But you ought to know there cannot be much, as my son has
gone to Kyōto.” She handed them the money-drawer and her own purse.
There were, just twenty-seven yen and eighty-four sen. The head robber
counted it, and said, quite gently, “We do not want to frighten you.
We know you are a very devout believer in Buddhism, and we think you
would not tell a lie. Is this all?” “Yes, it is all,” she answered.
“I am, as you say, a believer in the teaching of the Buddha, and if
you come to rob me now, I believe it is only because I myself, in some
former life, once robbed you. This is my punishment for that fault,
and so, instead of wishing to deceive you, I feel grateful at this
opportunity to atone for the wrong which I did to you in my previous
state of existence.” The robber laughed, and said, “You are a good old
woman, and we believe you. If you were poor, we would not rob you at
all. Now we only want a couple of kimono and this,”–laying his hand on
a very fine silk overdress. The old woman replied, “All my son’s kimono
I can give you, but I beg you will not take that, for it does not
belong to my son, and was confided to us only for dyeing. What is ours
I can give, but I cannot give what belongs to another.” “That is quite
right,” approved the robber, “and we shall not take it.”
After receiving a few robes, the robbers said good-night, very
politely, but ordered the women not to look after them. The old servant
was still near the door. As the chief robber passed her, he said, “You
told us a lie,–so take that!”–and struck her senseless. None of the
robbers were ever caught.
 A hollow wooden block shaped like a dolphin’s head. It is tapped in
accompaniment to the chanting of the Buddhist sutras.
_August_ 29. When a body has been burned, according to the funeral
rites of certain Buddhist sects, search is made among the ashes for a
little bone called the Hotoke-San, or “Lord Buddha,” popularly supposed
to be a little bone of the throat. What bone it really is I do not
know, never having had a chance to examine such a relic.
According to the shape of this little bone when found after the
burning, the future condition of the dead may be predicted. Should the
next state to which the soul is destined be one of happiness, the bone
will have the form of a small image of Buddha. But if the next birth
is to be unhappy, then the bone will have either an ugly shape, or no
shape at all.
A little boy, the son of a neighboring tobacconist, died the night
before last, and to-day the corpse was burned. The little hone
left over from the burning was discovered to have the form of three
Buddhas,–San-Tai,–which may have afforded some spiritual consolation
to the bereaved parents.
 At the great temple of Tennōji, at Ōsaka, all such bones are
dropped into a vault; and according _to the sound each makes in
falling_, further evidence about the Gōsho is said to be obtained.
After a hundred years from the time of beginning this curious
collection, all these bones are to be ground into a kind of paste, out
of which a colossal statue of Buddha is to be made.
_September_ 13. A letter from Matsue, Izumo, tells me that the old
man who used to supply me with pipestems is dead. (A Japanese pipe,
you must know, consists of three pieces, usually,–a metal bowl large
enough to hold a pea, a metal mouthpiece, and a bamboo stem which is
renewed at regular intervals.) He used to stain his pipestems very
prettily: some looked like porcupine quills, and some like cylinders of
snakeskin. He lived in a queer narrow little street at the verge of the
city. I know the street because in it there is a famous statue of Jizō
called Shiroko-ō,–“White-Child-Jizō,”–which I once went to see. They
whiten its face, like the face of a dancing-girl, for some reason which
I have never been able to find out.
The old man had a daughter, O-Masu, about whom a story is told. O-Masu
is still alive. She has been a happy wife for many years; but she is
dumb. Long ago, an angry mob sacked and destroyed the dwelling and the
storehouses of a rice speculator in the city. His money, including a
quantity of gold coin (_koban_), was scattered through the street.
The rioters–rude, honest peasants–did not want it: they wished to
destroy, not to steal. But O-Masu’s father, the same evening, picked up
a koban from the mud, and took it home. Later on a neighbor denounced
him, and secured his arrest. The judge before whom he was summoned
tried to obtain certain evidence by cross-questioning O-Masu, then a
shy girl of fifteen. She felt that if she continued to answer she would
be made, in spite of herself, to give testimony unfavorable to her
father; that she was in the presence of a trained inquisitor, capable,
without effort, of forcing her to acknowledge everything she knew. She
ceased to speak, and a stream of blood gushed from her mouth. She had
silenced herself forever by simply biting off her tongue. Her father
was acquitted. A merchant who admired the act demanded her in marriage,
and supported her father in his old age.
_October_ 10. There is said to be one day–only one–in the life of a
child during which it can remember and speak of its former birth.
On the very day that it becomes exactly two years old, the child is
taken by its mother into the most quiet part of the house, and is
placed in a mi, or rice-winnowing basket. The child sits down in the
mi. Then the mother says, calling the child by name, “_Omae no zensé
wa, nande attakane?–iute, gōran._” Then the child always answers
in one word. For some mysterious reason, no more lengthy reply is
ever given. Often the answer is so enigmatic that some priest or
fortune-teller must be asked to interpret it. For instance, yesterday,
the little son of a copper-smith living near us answered only “Umé”
to the magical question. Now umé might mean a plum-flower, a plum,
or a girl’s name,–“Flower-of-the-Plum.” Could it mean that the boy
remembered having been a girl? Or that he had been a plum-tree? “Souls
of men do not enter plum-trees,” said a neighbor. A fortune-teller this
morning declared, on being questioned about the riddle, that the boy
had probably been a scholar, poet, or statesman, because the plum-tree
is the symbol of Tenjin, patron of scholars, statesmen, and men of
 “Thy previous life as for,–what was it? Honorably look [or,
_please_ look] and tell.”
_November_ 17. An astonishing book might be written about those things
in Japanese life which no foreigner can understand. Such a book should
include the study of certain rare but terrible results of anger.
As a national rule, the Japanese seldom allow themselves to show anger.
Even among the common classes, any serious menace is apt to take the
form of a smiling assurance that your favor shall be remembered, and
that its recipient is grateful. (Do not suppose, however, that this
is ironical, in our sense of the word: it is only euphemistic,–ugly
things not being called by their real names.) But this smiling
assurance may possibly mean death. When vengeance comes, it comes
unexpectedly. Neither distance nor time, within the empire, can offer
any obstacles to the avenger who can walk fifty miles a day, whose
whole baggage can be tied up in a very small towel, and whose patience
is almost infinite. He may choose a knife, but is much more likely
to use a sword,–a Japanese sword. This, in Japanese hands, is the
deadliest of weapons; and the killing of ten or twelve persons by one
angry man may occupy less than a minute. It does not often happen that
the murderer thinks of trying to escape. Ancient custom requires that,
having taken another life, he should take his own; wherefore to fall
into the hands of the police would be to disgrace his name. He has made
his preparations beforehand, written his letters, arranged for his
funeral, perhaps–as in one appalling instance last year–even chiseled
his own tombstone. Having fully accomplished his revenge, he kills
There has just occurred, not far from the city, at the village called
Sugikamimura, one of those tragedies which are difficult to understand.
The chief actors were, Narumatsu Ichirō, a young shopkeeper; his wife,
O-Noto, twenty years of age, to whom he had been married only a year;
and O-Noto’s maternal uncle, one Sugimoto Ivasaku, a man of violent
temper, who had once been in prison. The tragedy was in four acts.
Act I. _Scene: Interior of public bathhouse. Sugimoto Nasaku in the
bath. Enter Narumatsu Ichirō, who strips, gets into the smoking water
without noticing his relative, and cries out,_–
“_Aa!_ as if one should be in Jigoku, so hot this water is!”
(The word “Jigoku” signifies the Buddhist hell; but, in common
parlance, it also signifies a prison,–this time an unfortunate
_Kasaku_ (terribly angry). “A raw baby, you, to seek a hard quarrel!
What do you not like?”
_Ichirō_ (surprised and alarmed, but rallying against the tone of
Kasaku). “Nay! What? That I said need not by you be explained. Though I
said the water was hot, your help to make it hotter was not asked.”
_Kasaku_ (now dangerous). “Though for my own fault, not once, but twice
in the hell of prison I had been, what should there be wonderful in it?
Either an idiot child or a low scoundrel you must be!”
(_Each eyes the other for a spring, but each hesitates, although things
no Japanese should suffer himself to say have been said. They are too
evenly matched, the old and the young._)
_Kasaku_ (growing cooler as Ichirō becomes angrier). “A child, a raw
child, to quarrel with _me!_ What should a baby do with a wife? Your
wife is my blood, mine,–the blood of the man from hell! Give her back
to my house.”
_Ichirō_ (desperately, now fully assured Kasaku is physically the
better man). “Return my wife? You say to return her? Right quickly
shall she be returned, at once!”
So far everything is clear enough. Then Ichiro hurries home, caresses
his wife, assures her of his love, tells her all, and sends her, not to
Kasaku’s house, but to that of her brother. Two days later, a little
after dark, O-Noto is called to the door by her husband, and the two
disappear in the night.
Act II. _Night scene. House of Kasaku closed: light appears through
chinks of sliding shutters. Shadow of a woman approaches. Sound of
knocking. Shutters slide back._
_Wife of Kasaku_ (recognizing O-Noto). “_Aa! aa!_ Joyful it is to see
you! Deign to enter, and some honorable tea to take.”
_O-Noto_ (speaking very sweetly). “Thanks indeed. But where is Kasaku
_Wife of Kasaku._ “To the other village he has gone, but must soon
return. Deign to come in and wait for him.”
_O-Noto_ (still more sweetly). “Very great thanks. A little, and I
come. But first I must tell my brother.”
(_Bows, and slips off into the darkness, and becomes a shadow again,
which joins another shadow. The two shadows remain motionless._)
Act III. _Scene: Bank of a river at night, fringed by pines. Silhouette
of the house of Kasaku far away. O-Noto and Ichiro under the trees,
Ichirō with a lantern. Both have white towels tightly bound round their
heads; their robes are girded well up, and their sleeves caught back
with tasuki cords, to leave the arms free. Each carries a long sword._
It is the hour, as the Japanese most expressively say, “when the sound
of the river is loudest.” There is no other sound but a long occasional
humming of wind in the needles of the pines; for it is late autumn, and
the frogs are silent. The two shadows do not speak, and the sound of
the river grows louder.
Suddenly there is the noise of a plash far off,–somebody crossing
the shallow stream; then an echo of wooden sandals,–irregular,
staggering,–the footsteps of a drunkard, coming nearer and nearer. The
drunkard lifts up his voice: it is Kasaku’s voice. He sings,–
“_Suita okata ni suirarete_;
–a song of love and wine.
Immediately the two shadows start toward the singer at a run,–a
noiseless flitting, for their feet are shod with waraji. Kasaku still
sings. Suddenly a loose stone turns under him; he wrenches his ankle,
and utters a growl of anger. Almost in the same instant a lantern is
held close to his face. Perhaps for thirty seconds it remains there. No
one speaks. The yellow light shows three strangely inexpressive masks
rather than visages. Kasaku sobers at once,–recognizing the faces,
remembering the incident of the bathhouse, and seeing the swords. But
he is not afraid, and presently bursts into a mocking laugh.
“Hé! hé! The Ichirō pair! And so you take me, too, for a baby? What are
you doing with such things in your hands? Let me show you how to use
But Ichirō, who has dropped the lantern, suddenly delivers, with the
full swing of both hands, a sword-slash that nearly severs Kasaku’s
right arm from the shoulder; and as the victim staggers, the sword of
the woman cleaves through his left shoulder. He falls with one fearful
cry, “_Hitogoroshi!_” which means “murder.” But he does not cry again.
For ten whole minutes the swords are busy with him. The lantern, still
glowing, lights the ghastliness. Two belated pedestrians approach,
hear, see, drop their wooden sandals from their feet, and flee back
into the darkness without a word. Ichirō and O-Noto sit down by the
lantern to take breath, for the work was hard.
The son of Kasaku, a boy of fourteen, comes running to find his father.
He has heard the song, then the cry; but he has not yet learned fear.
The two suffer him to approach. As he nears O-Noto, the woman seizes
him, flings him down, twists his slender arms under her knees, and
clutches the sword. But Ichirō, still panting, cries, “No! no! Not the
boy! He did us no wrong!” O-Noto releases him. He is too stupefied to
She slaps his face terribly, crying, “Go!” He runs,–not daring to
Ichirō and O-Noto leave the chopped mass, walk to the house of Kasaku,
and call loudly. There is no reply;–only the pathetic, crouching
silence of women and children waiting death. But they are bidden not to
fear. Then Ichirō cries:–
“Honorable funeral prepare! Kasaku by my hand is now dead!”
“And by mine!” shrills O-Noto.
Then the footsteps recede.
Act IV. _Scene: Interior of Ichirō’s house. Three persons kneeling in
the guest-room: Ichirō, his wife, and an aged woman, who is weeping._
Ichirō. “And now, mother, to leave you alone in this world, though
you have no other son, is indeed an evil thing. I can only pray your
forgiveness. But my uncle will always care for you, and to his house
you must go at once, since it is time we two should die. No common,
vulgar death shall we have, but an elegant, splendid death,–_Rippana!_
And you must not see it. Now go.”
She passes away, with a wail. The doors are solidly barred behind her.
All is ready.
O-Noto thrusts the point of the sword into her throat. But she still
struggles. With a last kind word Ichiro ends her pain by a stroke that
severs the head.
Then he takes his writing-box, prepares the inkstone, grinds some ink,
chooses a good brush, and, on carefully selected paper, composes five
poems, of which this is the last:–
Yu dempō ga
Hay aha an chaku
Then he cuts his own throat perfectly well.
Now, it was clearly shown, during the official investigation of these
facts, that Ichirō and his wife had been universally liked, and had
been from their childhood noted for amiability.
The scientific problem of the origin of the Japanese has never yet been
solved. But sometimes it seems to me that those who argue in favor
of a partly Malay origin have some psychological evidence in their
favor. Under the submissive sweetness of the gentlest Japanese woman–a
sweetness of which the Occidental can scarcely form any idea–there
exist possibilities of hardness absolutely inconceivable without ocular
evidence. A thousand times she can forgive, can sacrifice herself in a
thousand ways unutterably touching: but let one particular soul-nerve
be stung, and fire shall forgive sooner than she. Then there may
suddenly appear in that frail-seeming woman an incredible courage,
an appalling, measured, tireless purpose of honest vengeance. Under
all the amazing self-control and patience of the man there exists an
adamantine something very dangerous to reach. Touch it wantonly, and
there can be no pardon. But resentment is seldom likely to be excited
by mere hazard. Motives are keenly judged. An error can be forgiven;
deliberate malice never.
In the house of any rich family the guest is likely to be shown some
of the heirlooms. Among these are almost sure to be certain articles
belonging to those elaborate tea ceremonies peculiar to Japan. A pretty
little box, perhaps, will be set before you. Opening it, you see only
a beautiful silk bag, closed with a silk running-cord decked with tiny
tassels. Very soft and choice the silk is, and elaborately figured.
What marvel can be hidden under such a covering? You open the bag, and
see within another bag, of a different quality of silk, but very fine.
Open that, and lo! a third, which contains a fourth, which contains
a fifth, which contains a sixth, which contains a seventh bag, which
contains the strangest, roughest, hardest vessel of Chinese clay that
you ever beheld. Yet it is not only curious but precious: it may be
more than a thousand years old.
Even thus have centuries of the highest social culture wrapped the
Japanese character about with many priceless soft coverings of
courtesy, of delicacy, of patience, of sweetness, of moral sentiment.
But underneath these charming multiple coverings there remains the
primitive clay, hard as iron;–kneaded perhaps with all the mettle of
the Mongol,–all the dangerous suppleness of the Malay.
 The meaning is, “Give to the beloved one a little more [wine].” The
“_Ya-ton-ton_” is only a burden, without exact meaning, like our own
“_With a hey! and a ho!_” etc.
 The meaning is about as follows: “If from the Meido it be possible
to send letters or telegrams, I shall write and forward news of our
speedy safe arrival there.”
_December_ 28. Beyond the high fence inclosing my garden in the
rear rise the thatched roofs of some very small houses occupied by
families of the poorest class. From one of these little dwellings there
continually issues a sound of groaning,–the deep groaning of a man in
pain. I have heard it for more than a week, both night and day, but
latterly the sounds have been growing longer and louder, as if every
breath were an agony. “Somebody there is very sick,” says Manyemon, my
old interpreter, with an expression of extreme sympathy.
The sounds have begun to make me nervous. I reply, rather brutally, “I
think it would be better for all concerned if that somebody were dead.”
Manyemon makes three times a quick, sudden gesture with both hands,
as if to throw off the influence of my wicked words, mutters a
little Buddhist prayer, and leaves me with a look of reproach. Then,
conscience-stricken, I send a servant to inquire if the sick person
has a doctor, and whether any aid can be given. Presently the servant
returns with the information that a doctor is regularly attending the
sufferer, and that nothing else can be done.
I notice, however, that, in spite of his cobwebby gestures, Manyemon’s
patient nerves have also become affected by those sounds. He has even
confessed that he wants to stay in the little front room, near the
street, so as to be away from them as far as possible. I can neither
write nor read. My study being in the extreme rear, the groaning is
there almost as audible as if the sick man were in the room itself.
There is always in such utterances of suffering a certain ghastly
timbre by which the intensity of the suffering can be estimated; and I
keep asking myself, How can it be possible for the human being making
those sounds by which I am tortured, to endure much longer?
It is a positive relief, later in the morning, to hear the moaning
drowned by the beating of a little Buddhist drum in the sick man’s
room, and the chanting of the _Namu myō ho renge kyō_ by a multitude
of voices. Evidently there is a gathering of priests and relatives
in the house. “Somebody is going to die,” Manyemon says. And he also
repeats the holy words of praise to the Lotus of the Good Law.
The chanting and the tapping of the drum continue for several hours.
As they cease, the groaning is heard again. Every breath a groan!
Toward evening it grows worse–horrible. Then it suddenly stops. There
is a dead silence of minutes. And then we hear a passionate burst of
weeping,–the weeping of a woman,–and voices calling a name. “Ah!
somebody is dead!” Manyemon says.
We hold council. Manyemon has found out that the people are miserably
poor; and I, because my conscience smites me, propose to send them the
amount of the funeral expenses, a very small sum. Manyemon thinks I
wish to do this out of pure benevolence, and says pretty things. We
send the servant with a kind message, and instructions to learn if
possible the history of the dead man. I cannot help suspecting some
sort of tragedy; and a Japanese tragedy is generally interesting.
_December_ 29. As I had surmised, the story of the dead man was worth
learning. The family consisted of four,–the father and mother, both
very old and feeble, and two sons. It was the eldest son, a man of
thirty-four, who had died. He had been sick for seven years. The
younger brother, a kurumaya, had been the sole support of the whole
family. He had no vehicle of his own, but hired one, paying five sen a
day for the use of it. Though strong and a swift runner, he could earn
little: there is in these days too much competition for the business
to be profitable. It taxed all his powers to support his parents
and his ailing brother; nor could he have done it without unfailing
self-denial. He never indulged himself even to the extent of a cup of
saké; he remained unmarried; he lived only for his filial and fraternal
This was the story of the dead brother: When about twenty years of age,
and following the occupation of a fish-seller, he had fallen in love
with a pretty servant at an inn. The girl returned his affection. They
pledged themselves to each other. But difficulties arose in the way of
The girl was pretty enough to have attracted the attention of a man of
some means, who demanded her hand in the customary way. She disliked
him; but the conditions he was able to offer decided her parents in his
favor. Despairing of union, the two lovers resolved to perform jōshi.
Somewhere or other they met at night, renewed their pledge in wine, and
bade farewell to the world. The young man then killed his sweetheart
with one blow of a sword, and immediately afterward cut his own throat
with the same weapon. But people rushed into the room before he had
expired, took away the sword, sent for the police, and summoned a
military surgeon from the garrison. The would-be suicide was removed to
the hospital, skillfully nursed back to health, and after some months
of convalescence was put on trial for murder.
What sentence was passed I could not fully learn. In those days,
Japanese judges used a good deal of personal discretion when dealing
with emotional crime; and their exercise of pity had not yet been
restricted by codes framed upon Western models. Perhaps in this case
they thought that to have survived a jōshi was in itself a severe
punishment. Public opinion is less merciful, in such instances, than
law. After a term of imprisonment the miserable man was allowed
to return to his family, but was placed under perpetual police
surveillance. The people shrank from him. He made the mistake of living
on. Only his parents and brother remained to him. And soon he became a
victim of unspeakable physical suffering; yet he clung to life.
The old wound in his throat, although treated at the time as skillfully
as circumstances permitted, began to cause terrible pain. After its
apparent healing, some slow cancerous growth commenced to spread
from it, reaching into the breathing-passages above and below where
the sword-blade had passed. The surgeon’s knife, the torture of the
cautery, could only delay the end. But the man lingered through seven
years of continually increasing agony. There are dark beliefs about
the results of betraying the dead,–of breaking the mutual promise to
travel together to the Meido. Men said that the hand of the murdered
girl always reopened the wound,–undid by night all that the surgeon
could accomplish by day. For at night the pain invariably increased,
becoming most terrible at the precise hour of the attempted shinjū!
Meanwhile, through abstemiousness and extraordinary self-denial, the
family found means to pay for medicines, for attendance, and for more
nourishing food than they themselves ever indulged in. They prolonged
by all possible means the life that was their shame, their poverty,
their burden. And now that death has taken away that burden, they weep!
Perhaps all of us learn to love that which we train ourselves to make
sacrifices for, whatever pain it may cause. Indeed, the question might
be asked whether we do not love most that which causes us most pain.