home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



"Monkey! Monkey!"

"It's my bee!"

"It's mine!"

"Liar!"

Seven or eight young boys swept across the fields like a whirlwind, swinging sticks back and forth through the yellow mustard blossoms and pure-white radish flowers, looking for the bees with honey sacs, called Korean bees. Yaemon's son, Hiyoshi, was six years old, but his wrinkled face looked like a pickled plum. He was smaller than the other boys, but second to none among the village children when it came to pranks and wild behavior.

"Fool!" he yelled as he was knocked down by a bigger boy while fighting over a bee. Before he could get to his feet, another boy stepped on him. Hiyoshi tripped him.

"The bee belongs to the one who caught it! If you catch it, it's your bee!" he said, nimbly jumping up and snatching a bee out of the air. "Yow! This one's mine!"

Clutching the bee, Hiyoshi took another ten steps before opening his hand. Breaking off the head and the wings, he popped it into his mouth. The bee's stomach was a sac of sweet honey. To these children, who had never known the taste of sugar, it was a marvel that anything could taste so sweet. Squinting, Hiyoshi let the honey run down his throat and smacked his lips. The other children looked on, their mouths watering.

"Monkey!" shouted a large boy nicknamed Ni'o, the only one for whom Hiyoshi no match. Knowing this, the others joined in.

"Baboon!"

"Monkey!"

"Monkey, monkey, monkey!" they chorused. Even Ofuku, the smallest boy, joined in. He was said to be eight years old, but he was not much bigger than the six-year old Hiyoshi. He was much better looking, however; his complexion was fair, and his eyes and nose were nicely set in his face. As the child of a wealthy villager, Ofuku was the only one who wore a silk kimono. His real name was probably something like Fukutaro or Fukumatsu, but it had been shortened and prefaced with the letter o in imitation of a practice common among the sons of wealthy families.

"You had to say it too, didn't you!" Hiyoshi said, glaring at Ofuku. He did not care when the other boys called him monkey, but Ofuku was different. "Have you forgotten that I'm the one who always sticks up for you, you spineless jellyfish!"

Thus chastened, Ofuku could say nothing. He lost courage and bit his nails. Although he was only a child, being called an ingrate made him feel much worse than being called a spineless jellyfish. The others looked away, their attention shifting from honey bees to a cloud of yellow dust rising at the far end of the fields. "Look, an army!" cried one of the boys. "Samurai!" said another. "They've come back from battle." The children waved and cheered.

The lord of Owari, Oda Nobuhide, and his neighbor, Imagawa Yoshimoto, were bitter enemies, a situation that led to constant skirmishing along their common border. One year, Imagawa troops crossed the border, set fire to the villages, and trampled the crops. The Oda troops rushed out of the castles of Nagoya and Kiyosu and routed the enemy, cutting them down to the last man. When the following winter came, both food and shelter were lacking, but the people did not reproach their lord. If they starved, they starved; if they were cold, they were cold. In fact, contrary to Yoshimoto's expectations, their hardships only served to harden their hostility toward him.

The children had seen and heard about such things from the time they were born. When they saw their lord's troops, it was as if they were seeing themselves. It was in their blood, and nothing excited them more than the sight of men-at-arms.

Lets go see!

The boys headed toward the soldiers, breaking into a run, except for Ofuku and Hiyoshi, who were still glaring at one another. The weak-spirited Ofuku wanted to run with the others, but he was held by Hiyoshi's stare.

"I'm sorry." Ofuku nervously approached Hiyoshi's side and put his hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, all right?"

Hiyoshi flushed angrily and jerked away his shoulder, but seeing Ofuku on the brink tears, he softened. "It's just because you ganged up with the others and said bad things about me," he reproached him. "When they tease you, they always call you names, like : Chinese kid.' But have I ever made fun of you?"

"No."

"Even a Chinese kid, when he becomes a member of our gang, is one of us. That's what I always say, right?"

"Yeah." Ofuku rubbed his eyes. Mud dissolved in his tears, making little splotches around his eyes.

Dummy! It's because you cry that they call you 'the Chinese kid.' Come on, let's go the warriors. If we don't hurry, they'll be gone." Taking Ofuku by the hand, Hiyoshi ran after the others.

War-horses and banners loomed out of the dust. There were some twenty mounted samurai and two hundred foot soldiers. Trailing behind was a motley group of bearers: pike, spear, and bow carriers. Cutting across the Inaba Plain from the Atsuta Road, they began to climb the embankment of the Shonai River. The children outstripped the horses and scampered up the embankment. Eyes gleaming, Hiyoshi, Ofuku, Nio, and the other snotty-nosed kids picked roses and violets and other wildflowers and threw them in the air, all the time yelling at the top of their voices, "Hachiman! Hachiman!" invoking the god of war, and, "Victory for our valiant, glorious warriors!" Whether in the village or on the roads, the children were quick to yell this whenever they saw warriors.

The general, the mounted samurai, and the common soldiers dragging their feet were all silent, their strong faces set like masks. They did not warn the children about getting too close to the horses, nor did they favor them with so much as a grin. These troops seemed to be part of the army that had withdrawn from Mikawa, and it was clear that the battle had been bitterly fought. Both horses and men were exhausted. Blood-smeared wounded leaned heavily on the shoulders of their comrades. Dried blood glistene black as lacquer, on armor and spear shafts. Their sweaty faces were so caked with dust that only their eyes shone through.

"Give the horses water," ordered an officer. The samurai on horseback passed the order along in loud voices. Another order went out to take a rest. The horsemen dismounted, and the foot soldiers stopped dead in their tracks. Breathing sighs of relief, they dropped wordlessly onto the grass.

Across the river, Kiyosu Castle looked tiny. One of the samurai was Oda Nobuhides younger brother, Yosaburo. He sat on a stool, gazing up at the sky, surrounded by half a dozen silent retainers.

Men bound up arm and leg wounds. From the pallor of their faces it was clear they had suffered a great defeat. This did not matter to the children. When they saw blood, they themselves became heroes bathed in blood; when they saw the glitter of spears and pikes, they were convinced that the enemy had been annihilated, and they were filled with pride and excitement.

"Hachiman! Hachiman! Victory!"

When the horses had drunk their fill of water, the children threw flowers at them, too, cheering them on.

A samurai standing beside his horse spotted Hiyoshi and called, "Yaemon's son! How is your mother?"

"Who, me?"

Hiyoshi walked up to the man and looked straight up at him with his grimy face. With a nod, the man put his hand on Hiyoshi's sweaty head. The samurai was no more than twenty years old. Thinking this man had just come from battle, and feeling weight of the hand in its chain-mail gauntlet on his head, Hiyoshi was overwhelmed by a feeling of glory.

Does my family really know such a samurai? he wondered. His friends, who lined up nearby, watching him, could see how proud he was.

"You're Hiyoshi, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"A good name. Yes, a good name."

The young samurai gave Hiyoshi's head a final pat, then struck the waistband of his leather armor and straightened up a bit, studying Hiyoshi's face all the while. Something lade him laugh.

Hiyoshi was quick to make friends, even with adults. To have his head touched by a strangerand a warrior at thatmade his big eyes shine with pride. He quickly became his usual talkative self.

"But you know, nobody calls me Hiyoshi. The only ones who do are my mother and father."

"Because of what you look like, I suppose."

"A monkey?"

"Well, it's good that you know it."

"That's what everyone calls me."

"Ha, ha!" The samurai had a loud voice and a laugh to match. The other men joined the laughter, while Hiyoshi, trying to look bored, took a millet stalk from his jacket and began chewing on it. The grassy-smelling juice in the stalk tasted sweet.

He carelessly spat out the chewed-up stalk.

"How old are you?"

"Six."

"Is that so?"

"Sir, where are you from?"

"I know your mother well."

"Huh?"

"Your mother's younger sister often comes to my house. When you go home, give my regards to your mother. Tell her Kato Danjo wishes her good health."

When the rest break was over, the soldiers and horses got back in line and crossed the shallows of the Shonai River. With a backward glance, Danjo quickly mounted his horse. Wearing his sword and armor, he radiated an air of nobility and power.

"Tell her that when the fighting's over, I'll be stopping by Yaemon's." Danjo gave a yell, spurred his horse, and entered the river's shallows to catch up with the line. White water lapped at his horse's legs.

Hiyoshi, remnants of the millet juice still in his mouth, gazed after him as if in a trance.

* * *

Every trip she made to the storage shed left Hiyoshi's mother sorely depressed. She went there to fetch pickles, grain, or firewood, and was always reminded that supplies often ran out. Thinking of the future brought a lump to her throat. There were only the children, Hiyoshi, six, and his nine-year-old sister, Otsumineither, of course, old enough to do any real work. Her husband, wounded in battle, was capable of nothing but sitting by the hearth and staring into the space beneath the hanging teakettle, even in summer when there was no fire.

Those things I'd feel better if they were burned, she thought.

Leaning against a wall of the shed was a spear with a black oak shaft, above which hung a foot-soldier's helmet and what seemed to be part of an old suit of armor. In the days when her husband had gone off to battle, this equipment had been the best he had. It was now covered with soot and, like her husband, useless. Every time she looked at she felt nothing but disgust. The thought of war made her shudder.

No matter what my husband says, Hiyoshi is not going to become a samurai, she resolved.

At the time of her marriage to Kinoshita Yaemon, she had thought it best to pick samurai for a husband. The house in Gokiso where she was born, while small, was that of a samurai family, and although Yaemon was just a foot soldier, he was a retainer of Oda Nobuhide. When they had become husband and wife, vowing that "in the future, well earn a thousand bushels of rice," the armor had been a symbol of their hopes and had taken precedence over the household goods she had wanted. There was no denying that it brought back happy memories of their marriage. But the contrast between their youthful dreams and the present was not worth a moment's thought. It was a curse eating away at her heart. Her husband had been crippled before he could distinguish himself in battle. Because he was no more than a foot soldier, he had been forced to leave his lord's service. Making a living had been difficult in the first six months, and he had ended up becoming a farmer. Now he was not even capable of that.

Help had come from a woman's hand. Taking the two children with her, Yaemons wife had picked mulberry leaves, plowed fields, threshed millet, and warded off poverty all these years. But what of the future? Wondering if the strength of her slender arms would hold out, her heart felt as cold and gloomy as the storage shed. Finally she put the food for the evening mealmillet, a few strips of dried radishinto a bamboo basket and left the storage shed. She was not yet thirty years old, but Hiyoshi's birth had not been an easy one, and ever since, her skin had been the pale color of an unripe peach.

"Mother." It was Hiyoshi's voice. He came around the side of the house, looking for her. His mother laughed softly. She had one bright hope: to bring up Hiyoshi and make him the kind of son and heir who would grow up quickly and be able to present her husband with at least a bit of sake every day. The thought made her feel better.

"Hiyoshi, I'm over here."

Hiyoshi ran toward his mother's voice, then took hold of the arm that held the basket.

"Today, at the riverbank, I met someone who knows you."

"Who?"

"A samurai! Kato something. He said he knew you, and he sent you his regards. He patted my head and asked me questions!"

"Well, that must be Kato Danjo."

"He was with a big group of warriors just coming back from a battle. He was riding a good horse, too! Who is he?"

"Well, Danjo lives near the Komyoji Temple."

"Yes?"

"He is engaged to my little sister."

"Engaged?"

'My, you're persistent!"

'But I don't understand."

'They're going to be married."

"What? You mean he's going to be my mother's little sister's husband?" Hiyoshi seemed satisfied, and laughed.

His mother, when she looked at his toothy, impudent grin, even though he was her own child, could only think of him as a precocious little brat.

Mother, there's a sword about this big in the storage shed, isn't there?"

There is. What do you want with it?"

Won't you let me have it? It's all beat up, and Father doesn't use it anymore."

Playing war games again?"

It's all right, isn't it?"

Absolutely not!"

Why not?"

What's going to happen if a farmer's son gets used to wearing a sword?"

Well, one day I'm going to be a samurai." He stamped his foot like a spoiled child, thinking the matter closed. His mother glared at him, and her eyes filled with tears.

Fool!" she scolded him, and, clumsily wiping away her tears, she pulled him along by the hand. "Just for a bit, try to be a help to your sister and draw some water." Dragging him along by force, she went back to the house.

No! No!" Hiyoshi fought her, yelling and digging his heels into the dirt. "No! I hate you! You're stupid! No!"

His mother pulled him along, imposing her will. Just then the sound of a cough, mixed with smoke from the hearth, came through the bamboo-screened window. When he heard his father's voice, Hiyoshi's shoulders shrank and he became silent. Yaemon was only about forty, but, condemned to spend his days as a cripple, he had the raspy, coughing voice of a man past fifty.

Ill tell your father you're giving me too much trouble," his mother said, loosening her grip. He covered his face with his hands and wiped his eyes as he cried softly.

Looking at this little boy who was too hard to handle, his mother wondered what was to become of him?

Onaka! Why are you shouting at Hiyoshi again? It's unbecoming. What business do you have fighting with your own child and crying like that?" asked Yaemon through the window, in the shrill voice of a sick man.

You should scold him then," Onaka said reproachfully.

Yaemon laughed. "Why? Because he wants to play with my old sword?"

Yes."

He was just playing."

Yes, and he shouldn't be doing that."

He's a boy, and my son, too. Is it really so bad? Give him the sword!"

Onaka looked toward the window in amazement and bit her lip in frustration.

I won! Hiyoshi exulted, enjoying his victory, but only for a moment. As soon as he saw the tears streaming down his mother's pale cheeks, his victory felt hollow.

Oh, stop crying! I don't want the sword anymore. I'll go help my sister." He ran off to the kitchen, where his sister was bent over, blowing into the clay oven through a bamboo stalk to bring the firewood to life.

Hiyoshi bounded in, saying, "Hey, shall I fetch the water?"

"No, thank you," Otsumi answered, timidly looking up in surprise. Wondering what he was up to, she shook her head.

Hiyoshi lifted the lid off the water jar and peered inside. "It's already full. Shall I mash up the bean paste?"

"No! Don't be a bother!"

"A bother? All I want to do is help. Let me do something for you. Shall I fetch the pickles?"

"Didn't Mother go and get them just now?"

"Well, what can I do?"

"If you only behaved yourself, that'd make Mother happy."

"Why, aren't I behaving now? Is there a fire in the oven? I'll start it for you. Move over."

"I'm doing fine!"

"If you'd just move"

"Look what you did! You put it out!"

"Liar! You're the one who put it out!"

"That's not so."

"Loudmouth!"

Hiyoshi, impatient with the firewood that wouldn't ignite, slapped his sister on the cheek. Otsumi cried loudly and complained to her father. Since they were next to the living room, very soon their father's voice thundered in Hiyoshi's ears.

"Don't hit your sister! It doesn't do for a man to hit women! Hiyoshi, come in here this minute!"

On the other side of the partition, Hiyoshi swallowed hard and glared accusingly at Otsumi. His mother came in and stood by the entrance, dismayed that this was happening yet again.

Yaemon was frightening, the most frightening father in the world. Hiyoshi did as he was told. He sat straight and looked up at his father.

Kinoshita Yaemon was sitting in front of the hearth. Behind him was the staff that he needed to use to walk. Without it he was unable to go anywhere, even to the toilet. His elbow rested on a wooden box that he used for spinning and collecting hemp, a sideline he worked at when he felt so inclined. Disabled though he was, he could help a little with the family finances.

"Hiyoshi!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Don't be a nuisance to your mother."

"Yes."

"And don't argue with your sister. Think of the impression you make. What should your conduct as a man be, and how should you behave toward women, who are to be protected?"

"Well, I-I didn't"

Quiet! I have ears. I know where you are and what you're doing, even though I never leav e this room." Hiyoshi shuddered. He believed what his father was saying.

However, Yaemon could not repress the affection he felt for his only son. His own leg and arm could never be as they were before, but he believed that through this child his blood would go on for a hundred years. Then he looked at Hiyoshi again, and his mood changed. A father was supposed to be the best judge of his son, but even at his most optimistic, Yaemon could not see how this strange-looking, snotty-nosed little brat was going to rise above his parents and wash away the disgrace from their name. Still, Hiyoshi was his only son, and Yaemon rested impossible hopes in him. "The sword in the storage sheddo you want it, Hiyoshi?"

"Well" Hiyoshi shook his head.

"You don't want it?"

"I want it, but"

"Why don't you say so, then?"

"Mother said absolutely not."

"That's because women hate swords. Wait here."

Taking his staff, he limped into the other room. Unlike the house of a poor farmer, this one had several rooms. Hiyoshi's mother's relatives had once lived here. Yaemon had relatives, but his wife had family in the neighborhood.

Hiyoshi had not been scolded, but he still felt uneasy. Yaemon returned, carrying a short sword wrapped in cloth. It was not the one rusting away in the storage shed.

"Hiyoshi, this is yours. Wear it whenever you like."

"Mine? Really?"

"But considering your age, I'd rather you didn't wear it in public. If you do, people laugh at you. Hurry and grow old enough so you can wear it and not make people laugh. Will you do that for me? Your grandfather had this sword made." After a pause, Yaemon went on. His eyes were heavy, and he spoke slowly. "Your grandfather was a farmer. When he tried to raise his station in life and make something of himself, he had a swordsmith make this for him. We Kinoshita had a record of our family tree once, but it was destroyed in a fire. And long before your grandfather could accomplish anything, he was killed. Those were turbulent times, and many people suffered the same fate."

A lamp was lit in the next room, but the room they were in was brightened by the flame of the hearth. Hiyoshi listened to his father while staring at the red flames. Whether Hiyoshi understood or not, Yaemon felt that he could not speak of such things to his wife or daughter.

"If the Kinoshita family tree still existed, I could tell you about your ancestors, but it burned to ashes. There's a living family tree, though, and it's been transmitted to you. It is this." Yaemon stroked the blue veins in his wrist. Blood.

This was his teaching. Hiyoshi nodded, then grasped his own wrist. He had such blood vessels in his own body, too. There could be no doubt! No family tree was more alive than this.

'I don't know who our ancestors were before your grandfather's time, but I'm sure that some of them were great men. I suppose there were samurai, maybe scholars. The blood of such men continues to flow, and it's been transmitted from me to you."

"Yes." Hiyoshi nodded again.

"However, I'm not great. In the end I'm just a cripple. Therefore, Hiyoshi, you must become a great man!"

"Father," Hiyoshi said, opening his eyes wide, "to become great, what kind of man should I become?"

"Well, there's no limit to what you can achieve. If, at the very least, you become a courageous warrior and wear this keepsake from your grandfather, I'll have no regrets when I die."

Hiyoshi said nothing, looking confused. He lacked self-confidence, and he avoided his father's stare.

After all, it's only naturalhe's a child, Yaemon thought, noticing his son's unworthy reaction. Maybe it's not in the blood after all, but in the surroundings. And his heart flooded over with grief.

Hiyoshi's mother had prepared their evening meal and was waiting silently in the corner for her husband to finish his talk. Her thoughts and her husband's were completely at odds. That her husband would push the child to become a samurai was hateful to her. She prayed silently for Hiyoshi's future. This is such an unreasonable thing to say to a child. Hiyoshi, your father speaks such words out of bitterness, she wanted to say. It would be wrong for you to follow in his footsteps. If you are a fool, then be a fool, but please become a farmer, even if you only have one small plot of land. Aloud she said, "Well, let's eat. Hiyoshi and Otsumi, come a little closer to the hearth." Starting with the children's father, she passed around the chopsticks and bowls.

Even though it was their usual meala bowl of thin millet soupevery time Yaemon looked at it, he felt a bit sadder, because he was a father who could not satisfy the needs of wife and children. Hiyoshi and Otsumi took up their bowls, their cheeks and noses turning red, and they sucked up the food with gusto, hardly thinking of it as poor at all. For them, there was no wealth beyond this.

"There's the bean paste we got from the master of the pottery shop at Shinkawa, and there are dried vegetables and dried chestnuts in the storage shed, so both Otsumi and Hiyoshi should eat a lot," Onaka said, wanting to reassure her husband about money matters. She herself did not pick up her chopsticks until her children had full stomachs and her husband had finished eating. Once the evening meal was over, they went to bed. It was pretty much the same in every other house. No lights shone in Nakamura after nightfall.

When darkness fell, footsteps could be heard scurrying across the fields and along the roadsthe sounds of nearby battles. Ronin, fugitives, and messengers on secret missions all liked to travel at night.

Hiyoshi often had nightmares. Was it that he heard footsteps in the dead of night, or did the struggle for mastery over the land fill his dreams? That night he kicked Otsumi, who lay next to him on the sleeping mat, and when she cried out in surprise, he yelled, "Hachiman! Hachiman! Hachiman!"

Jumping up from the mat, he was instantly alert, and even though he was calmed by his mother, he remained half-awake and elated for a long time.

"It's a fever. Burn some moxa powder on his neck," Yaemon advised.

Hiyoshi's mother answered, "You shouldn't have shown him that sword, or told him stories about his ancestors."

* * *

The following year, the house was visited by a great change: Yaemon fell sick and died. Looking upon his dead father's face, Hiyoshi did not cry. At the funeral, he hopped and jumped around playfully.

In the autumn of Hiyoshi's eighth year, crowds of guests came to the house again. They spent the night making rice cakes, drinking sake, and singing. One of his relatives told Hiyoshi, "The groom is going to become your new father. He was once a friend of Yaemon's and also served the Oda clan. His name is Chikuami. You must be a good son to him, too."

Eating his rice cake, Hiyoshi went and peeked inside. His mother had made up her face and looked unusually pretty. She was with an older man he did not know, her eyes cast down. When he saw this, he became happy. "Hachiman! Hachiman! Throw flowers!" shouted Hiyoshi, who enjoyed himself more than anyone else that night.

Summer came around again. The corn grew high. Every day Hiyoshi and the other village children would swim naked in the river, and catch and eat the little red frogs in the fields. The meat of the red frog was even tastier than the honey sac of the Korean bee. Hiyoshi's mother had taught him about eating the frogs. She said they were a medicine children's disorders, and ever since then they had become his favorite food. It seemed that every time he was playing, Chikuami would come looking for him. Monkey! Monkey!" called his stepfather.

Chikuami was a hard worker. In less than a year he had put the family finances in order, and the days of hunger had gone. If Hiyoshi was in the house, he was always given chores to do from morning till night. If he was lazy or naughty, Chikuami's huge hand soon landed on his head. Hiyoshi hated this beyond endurance. He did not mind the work, but he tried to avoid attracting his stepfather's eye, even for a moment. Every day, without fail, Chikuami would take an afternoon nap. As soon as he could, Hiyoshi slipped out of the house. But before long Chikuami would go to fetch him back, shouting "Monkey! Where's our monkey gone?"

When his stepfather came looking for him, Hiyoshi dropped whatever he was doing and slipped in between the rows of millet. Chikuami would get tired of looking for him and start back. Hiyoshi would then jump out and let out a victorious shout. He never considered that when he returned home that night he would be given no dinner and punished. Carried away with his game, he couldn't help himself.

On this particular day, Chikuami was walking nervously through the millet, his eyes darting this way and that. "Where is the little devil?" Hiyoshi ran up the embankment toward the river.

When Chikuami got to the embankment, Ofuku was standing there alone. He was only one who wore clothes in the summertime, and he neither swam nor ate red frogs.

"Ah, aren't you the boy from the pottery shop? Do you know where our monkey is hiding?" Chikuami asked.

"I don't," Ofuku said, shaking his head a number of times. Chikuami intimidated him.

"If you lie to me, I'll go to your house and tell your father."

The cowardly Ofuku turned pale. "He's hiding in that boat." He pointed to a small river craft pulled up onto the bank. When his stepfather ran up to it, Hiyoshi leaped out like a river imp.

Chikuami sprang forward and knocked him down. As Hiyoshi fell forward, he hit his mouth against a stone. Blood ran between his teeth.

"Ow! That hurt!"

"Serves you right!"

"I'm sorry!"

After slapping Hiyoshi two or three times, Chikuami hoisted him up at arm's length and hurried back home. Although Chikuami called Hiyoshi "monkey," he did not dislike him. Because he was in a hurry to do away with their poverty, he felt he had to be strict with everyone, and he also wanted to improve Hiyoshi's characterby force if necessary.

"You're already nine years old, you little good-for-nothing," Chikuami scolded.

Once back home, he grabbed the boy by the arm and hit him several times more with his fist. Hiyoshi's mother tried to stop him. "You shouldn't be so easy on him," he barked at her.

When she started to cry, he gave the boy another beating.

"What are you crying about? I'm beating this twisted little monkey because I think it'll do him some good. He's nothing but trouble!"

At first, every time he was beaten, Hiyoshi would bury his head in his hands and beg for forgiveness. Now he just cried and criedalmost in deliriumand used abusive language.

"Why? Tell me why? You appear out of nowhere and pretend to be my father and swagger around. But mymy real father."

"How can you say such a thing!" His mother turned pale, gasped, and put her hand over her mouth. Chikuami redoubled his rage.

"Smartass little good-for-nothing!" He threw Hiyoshi into the storage shed and ordered Onaka not to give him any dinner. From then until it got dark, Hiyoshi's shrieking could be heard coming from the shed.

"Let me out! You fool! Stonehead! Is everybody deaf? If you don't let me out, I'll burn the place down!"

He went on crying, sounding like a howling dog, but around midnight he finally cried himself to sleep. Then he heard a voice calling his name from somewhere near his head. "Hiyoshi, Hiyoshi."

He was dreaming of his dead father. Half-awake, he called out, "Father!" Then he realized that the form standing in front of him was that of his mother. She had slipped out of the house and brought him some food.

"Eat this and calm down. Come morning, I'll apologize to your father for you."

He shook his head and clung to his mother's clothes. "It's a lie. He's not my father. Didn't my father die?"

"Now, now, why do you say such things? Why be unreasonable? I'm always telling you to be a good son to your father."

To his mother, it was like being cut by a knife. But Hiyoshi could not understand why she cried until her body shook.

The next day, Chikuami started yelling at Onaka from the time the sun came up. You went behind my back and gave him food in the middle of the night, didn't you? Because you're so soft, his character will never improve. Otsumi is not to go anywhere the storage shed today either."

The trouble between husband and wife lasted almost half a day, until finally Hiyoshi's mother went off alone, crying again. When the sun was about to set, she returned, accompanied by a priest from the Komyoji Temple. Chikuami did not ask his wife where shed been. Sitting outside with Otsumi and working on a straw mat, he frowned. "Chikuami," the priest said, "your wife came to the temple to ask us if we'd take your in as an acolyte. Do I have your consent?"

Chikuami looked silently at Onaka, who stood outside the back gate, sobbing.

"Hm, I suppose it might be all right. But doesn't he need a sponsor?"

"Happily, the wife of Kato Danjo, who lives at the foot of Yabuyama Hill, has agreed, and your wife are sisters, I believe."

"Ah, so she went to Kato's?" Chikuami's expression was bitter, although he did not object to Hiyoshi entering the temple. He tacitly agreed to the proposal, answering questions in monosyllables.

Giving an order to Otsumi, Chikuami went to put away his farm equipment, and worked for the rest of the day with a preoccupied air.

After he was let out of the storage shed, Hiyoshi received repeated warnings from his mother. All night long he'd been eaten up by mosquitoes, and his face was swollen. When he was going to serve at a temple, he burst into tears. But he quickly recovered.

"The temple'll be better," he declared.

While it was still light, the priest made the necessary preparations for Hiyoshi, and as the time for departure drew near, even Chikuami seemed a little sad. "Monkey, when you enter the temple, you must have a change of heart and discipline yourself," he told the boy. "Learn to read and write a bit, and let us see you become a full-fledged priest soon."

Hiyoshi mumbled a short word of assent and bowed. Once on the other side of the fence, he looked back time after time at the figure of his mother, who watched him disappear into the distance.

The small temple was on the top of a rise called Yabuyama, a bit removed from the village. A Buddhist temple of the Nichiren sect, its head priest was of advanced years and bedridden. Two young priests maintained the buildings and grounds. Because of the many years of civil war, the village was impoverished, and the temple had few parishes. Hiyoshi, responding quickly to his new surroundings, worked hard, as if he were a different person. He was quick-witted and energetic, and the priests treated him with affection, avowing that they would train him well. Every night they made him practice calligraphy and gave him elementary schooling, during which he displayed an unusual talent memorization.

One day a priest told him, "I met your mother on the road yesterday. I told her you're doing fine."

Hiyoshi did not understand his mother's sorrow very well, but whatever made her happy made him happy.

But when the autumn of his tenth year came around, he began to find the temple too confining. The two younger priests had gone to neighboring villages to beg for alms. In their absence, Hiyoshi got out a wooden sword he had hidden away, and a handmade staff. Then he stood at the top of the hill, yelling down to his friends, who were getting ready to play war games.

"You enemy troops, you're stupid. Come on, attack me from any direction you like!"

Although it was not at all the usual time, the huge bell suddenly rang out from the bell tower. People at the foot of the hill were taken by surprise and wondered what was going on. A stone went flying down the hill, then a tile, which hit and injured a girl working in a vegetable patch.

"It's that kid up at the temple. He's rounded up the village boys and they're playing al war again."

Three or four people climbed the hill and stood before the main hall of the temple The doors were wide open and the interior was covered with ashes. Both the transept and the sanctum were in a shambles. The incense burner had been broken. It looked as though the banners had been put to some questionable use, the gold brocade curtain had been ripped and tossed aside, and the drumhead was ripped.

"Shobo!" "Yosaku!" called parents looking for the children. Hiyoshi was nowhere to be seen; the other youngsters, too, had suddenly disappeared.

By the time the parents got back to the foot of the hill, there was some sort of tremor in the temple. The thickets rustled, stones flew, and the bell rang again. The sun went down, and the children, bruised and bloodied, limped down the hill.

Every night when the priests came back from begging for alms, the villagers would go to the temple and complain. But when the priests returned that evening, they could only stare at each other in shock. The incense burner in front of the altar had been split per fectly in two. The donor of this precious vessel was a man by the name of Sutejiro, who was a pottery merchant from the village of Shinkawa and one of the temple's few remaining parishioners. At the time he had made the gift to the temple, three or four year; earlier, he had said, "This incense burner was fired by my master, the late Gorodayu. I have cherished it as a keepsake. He decorated it from memory, and he took particular care in applying the blue pigment. In offering it to this temple, I assume it will be treatec as a treasured article until the end of time."

Ordinarily it was kept in a box, but just a week earlier Sutejiro's wife had visited the temple. The incense burner had been taken out and used, but had not been put away again.

The color drained from the priests' faces. Added to their worries was the possibility that if they reported this to the old head priest, his illness would worsen.

"It was probably Monkey," said one.

"Right," another agreed. "None of those other little devils could do this kind of evil.

"What can we do?"

They dragged Hiyoshi in and thrust the pieces of the broken vessel in his face. Hiyoshi could not remember breaking the incense burner, but said, "I'm sorry."

The apology made the priests even angrier, because the boy spoke calmly and seemed to be without a trace of remorse. "Heathen!" they called him, and tied his hands behind his back and bound him to one of the large pillars of the temple.

"We're going to leave you here for a few days. Maybe you'll get eaten by rats," the priests said.

This sort of thing happened to Hiyoshi all the time. When his friends came the next day, he thought bitterly, he would not be able to play with them. And when they did come, they saw he was being punished and ran off.

Untie me," he called out after them. "If you don't, I'm going to beat you up."

Elderly pilgrims and the village women who made their way up to the temple made fun of him. "Say, isn't that a monkey?"

At one point he was calm enough to mutter to himself, "I'll show you." His small body, pressed against the great temple pillar, was suddenly filled with a feeling of great power. He kept his lips shut about such things and, well aware of his predicament, put on a defiant face, cursing his fate.

He fell into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by his own drooling. The day was frightfully long. Thoroughly bored, he gazed at the broken incense burner. The potter had written an inscription in small characters on the bottom of the vessel: "Made with good omen, Gorodayu."

The nearby village of Seto and, in fact, the entire province was famous for pottery. This had never interested him before, but looking at the painted landscape on the incense burner, his imagination took off.

Where is that, I wonder?

Mountains and stone bridges, towers and people, clothing and boats, the like of which he had never seen before, were painted in indigo on the white porcelain. It all left him deeply puzzled.

What country is that? he wondered.

He could not guess. He had a young boy's cleverness and thirst for knowledge and, desperate for an answer, he strained his imagination for an answer that would fill this emtiness.

Could there really be such a country?

While he was thinking hard about this, something flashed in his headsomething he had been taught or had heard, but had forgotten. He racked his brains.

China! That's it! It's a picture of China!

He was pleased with himself. As he looked at the glazed porcelain, he flew to China in his imagination.

At long last the day came to an end. The priests returned from their begging. Instead of finding Hiyoshi in tears, as they had expected, they saw that he was grinning.

Even punishment is useless. He's beyond our help. We'd better send him back to his parents.

That evening, one of the priests gave Hiyoshi some supper and took him down the hill to the house of Kato Danjo.

Kato Danjo lay down next to the lamp. He was a samurai, used to being exposed to battle morning and night. On those rare days when he could relax, he found staying at home much too peaceful. Tranquillity and relaxation were things to be fearedhe might become used to them.

"Oetsu!"

"Yes?" Her voice came from the direction of the kitchen.

"Somebody's knocking at the gate."

"It's not the squirrels again?"

"No, somebody's out there."

Wiping her hands, she went to the gate and came back right away, saying, "It's a priest from the Komyoji. He's brought Hiyoshi." A look of distress swept over her young face.

"Aha!" Danjo, who had expected this, said, laughing, "It seems that Monkey has gotten a leave of absence." Danjo listened to the priest's recital of recent events. Having sponsored Hiyoshi's entrance into the temple, he now apologized to all concerned and took charge of Hiyoshi.

"If he is unfit to be a priest, there's nothing to be done. We'll send him back home to Nakamura. You should no longer feel under any obligation to keep him. I'm sorry he's been nothing but trouble."

"Please explain the matter to his parents," the priest said, and as he turned to go, his step became lighter, as if a heavy load had been lifted from his shoulders. Hiyoshi cut a lonely figure. He looked around curiously, wondering whose house he had come to. He had not stopped here on his way to the temple, nor had he been told that relatives lived close by.

"Well, little boy, have you had anything to eat?" Danjo asked with a smile. Hiyoshi shook his head.

"Have some cakes, then."

While he was munching on the cakes, Hiyoshi eyed the spear suspended over the door, and the crest on the armor chest, then looked hard at Danjo.

Is there really something wrong with this boy? Danjo asked himself. He had his doubts. He stared back, but Hiyoshi neither turned his eyes away nor looked down. There was no trace of the imbecile in him. He smiled rather charmingly at Danjo.

Danjo laughed as he gave in. "You've gotten quite big, haven't you? Hiyoshi, do you remember me?"

This focused a hazy memory in Hiyoshi's mind of a man who had patted him on the head when he was six.

As was the custom with samurai, Danjo almost always slept at the castle at Kiyosu, or on the battlefield. The days he was able to stay at home with his wife had been few. He had returned unexpectedly the day before, and would go back to Kiyosu the next day. Oetsu wondered how many months would pass before they spent another day together.

A troublesome child! Oetsu thought. Hiyoshi's arrival was inopportune. She looked up, embarrassed. What would her in-laws think? Could this really be her sister's child?

She could hear Hiyoshi's screechy voice from her husband's sitting room: "It was you with all those samurai on the riverbank that day, riding a horse."

"You remember, do you?"

"Sure." He went on in a familiar tone of voice, "If that's the case, you're a relative of mine. You and my mother's younger sister are engaged."

Oetsu and the maid went to the living room to get out serving trays. Oetsu felt uncomfortably cold, listening to Hiyoshi's language and his loud country boy's voice, Opening the sliding door, she called to her husband.

"Dinner's ready."

She saw that her husband was arm-wrestling with Hiyoshi, whose face was bright red, buttocks raised like a hornet's tail. Danjo, too, was acting like a child.

"Dinner?" he said absently.

"The soup is going to get cold."

"Go ahead and eat by yourself. This kid is playing for keeps. We're having a good time. Ha, ha! He's a strange one."

Danjo, totally absorbed, seemed to be taken in completely by Hiyoshi's artlessness. The boy, always quick to make friends, was almost leading his uncle by the nose. From arm-wrestling they went to finger puppets, then mimicry, playing children's games until njo was holding his sides with laughter.

The next day, as he was about to leave, Danjo said to his wife, who seemed depressed, If his parents allow it, how about keeping him here? I doubt he'd be much use, but I suppose it'd be better than keeping a real monkey."

Oetsu was less than pleased with the idea. Going with her husband as far as the garden1 gate, she said, "No. He would annoy your mother. That would never do."

"Whatever you say."

Oetsu knew that whenever Danjo was away from home, his mind dwelt on his lord and on battles. Would he come back alive? she wondered. Was it such a big thing for a man to make a name for himself? Oetsu watched his retreating figure and thought of the many months of loneliness ahead. Then she finished her housework and set off with Hiyoshi for Nakamura.

"Good morning, madam," said a man coming from the opposite direction. He seemed to be a merchant, probably the master of a large establishment. He wore a resplendent half coat, a short sword, and, on his feet, leather socks with a design of small cherry blossoms. He was about forty and genial-looking.

"Aren't you Master Kato's wife? Where are you off to?"

"To my sister's house in Nakamura, to take this child home." She held Hiyoshi's hand tde tighter.

"Ah, this little gendeman. This is the lad expelled from the Komyoji."

"You've heard already?"

"Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, I've just come from the temple."

Hiyoshi looked around restlessly. Never before had he been called a "little gentleman." Ashamed, he felt himself blush. Oh, my, you've been to the temple because of him?"

"Yes, the priests came to my house to apologize. I was told that an incense burner I had donated to the temple was broken in two."

"This little devil did that!" said Oetsu.

"Come now, you shouldn't say such things. These things happen."

"I heard it was a very rare, famous piece."

"Most regrettably, it was the work of Gorodayu, whom I served during his travels to the country of the Ming."

"Doesn't he also use the name Shonzui?"

"Yes, but he fell ill and passed away some time ago. In recent years, many pieces of blue-and-white porcelain bearing the seal 'Made by Shonzui Gorodayu' have been made, but they are fakes. The only man who has ever been to the country of the Ming and brought back their pottery-making techniques is now in the next world."

"I've heard that you've adopted Master Shonzui's son, Ofuku."

"That's right. Children tease him by calling him 'the Chinese kid.' Lately he's been refusing to go outside at all." The merchant gazed down at Hiyoshi. The boy, unexpectedly hearing Ofuku's name, wondered about the man's business.

"You know," the merchant continued, "it turns out that Hiyoshi here is the only one who ever defended Ofuku. So when Ofuku heard about this latest incident, he asked me to intercede. Many other things are supposed to have happened. The priests told me about his bad behavior, and I couldn't persuade them to take him back again." His chest puffed up with laughter.

"His parents must have ideas about what to do with him," the man said, "but when he's to be placed somewhere else again, if his parents think an establishment like mine would be appropriate, I'd like to be of assistance. Somehow, he seems to hold promise."

With a polite farewell, he took his leave. Holding on to Oetsu's sleeve, Hiyoshi looked back at him several times.

"Tell me, Auntie, who was that man?"

"His name is Sutejiro. He's a wholesaler who handles pottery from many countries."

Hiyoshi was silent for a while as they trudged along.

"The country of the Ming, where is that?" he asked suddenly, thinking of what he had just heard.

"That means China."

"Where is it? How big is it? Are there castles and samurai and battles there, too?"

"Don't be such a nuisance. Be quiet, won't you?" Oetsu shook her sleeve irritably, but a scolding by his aunt had no more effect on Hiyoshi than a gentle breeze. He craned his neck upward and gazed fixedly at the blue sky. It was so wondrous he could hardly stand it. Why was it so incredibly blue? Why were human beings earthbound? If people were able to fly like birds, he himself could probably travel to the country of the Ming. Indeed, the birds depicted on the incense burner were the same as those in Owari. The people's clothes were different, he remembered, as were the shapes of the ships, but the birds were the same. It must be that birds had no countries; heaven and earth were all one country to them.

I'd like to visit different countries, he mused.

Hiyoshi had never noticed how small and poor a house he was returning to. But when he and Oetsu peered inside, he realized for the first time that even at midday it was as dark as a cellar. Chikuami was nowhere to be seen; maybe he was out attending to some business.

"Nothing but trouble," Onaka said, after hearing of Hiyoshi's latest escapades. She let out a deep sigh. His expression was nonchalant. As she looked at him, there was no blame in her eyes. Rather, she was impressed by how much he had grown in two years, Suspiciously, Hiyoshi eyed the infant sucking at his mother's breast. At some point his family had increased by one member. Without warning, he took the child's head, wresting rom the nipple, and peered at it.

"When was this baby born?" he asked.

Instead of answering, his mother said, "You've become a big brother. You'll have to behave."

"What's his name?"

"Kochiku."

"That's a strange name," he said excitedly, at the same time experiencing a feeling of power over the small child: the will of an older brother could be imposed on a younger brother.

"Starting tomorrow, I'll carry you on my back, Kochiku," he promised. But he was hadling the baby clumsily, and Kochiku began to cry.

His stepfather appeared just as Oetsu was leaving. Onaka had told her sister that Chikuami had grown tired of trying to wipe out their poverty. He sat around drinking sake, and his face was flushed now as he entered the house. Spying Hiyoshi, he let out a yel1.

"You scoundrel! You were expelled from the temple and you come back here?"


Characters and Places | Taiko | Tenzo the Bandit