A Japanese story from real life
Kyoto, 24th April, 1888
Spring is of all seasons the most delightful in Japan.
To winter's rigours, which in the flimsy dwellings of the Japanese are nothing short of severe, succeed two or three months of generally pleasant weather.
Lit by a warm sun, and no longer swept by Siberian blasts, the land bursts of a sudden into a beauty peculiarly its own.
Maple-sprouts begin to blush in the woods; several kinds of flowering trees successively put forth their exquisite blossoms; and many-hued varieties of camellia and azalea deck the gardens with a blaze of colour.
To all classes of the nature-loving Japanese this floral epoch is a time of festival.
While the higher ranks of society, from the Sovereign downwards, exhibit the glories of their private grounds to parties of invited guests, every city and town has what may be called its natural flower-shows open to all comers.
In the parks, gardens, and temple-grounds, by river and lake margins, and at choice spots in the suburbs, are to be found groves of flowering plum, peach, and cherry trees, which from early March until late in April are thronged by happy swarms of admiring visitors, clad in holiday raiment and bent on genuine but simple pleasure.
Young men and maidens, old folks and children, alike flock to these gatherings, which form one of the most attractive and characteristic feaures of the national life.
To a stranger unaccustomed to Japanese crowds the scene is full of novelty and interest.
He must be a poor observer indeed who fails to be struck by the singular capacity for innocent enjoyment that is displayed by those around him - by their love of natural beauties, their wonderful politeness to one another, their pleasant ripple of conversation, and their picturesque appearance.
And to the watchful looker-on there will surely be manifested something of the happy and tender relation between parents and children which is the fruit partly of their sunshiny disposition, and partly of that most hallowed of all aritcles of Japanese faith, the doctrine of filial reverence.
Among such people and in such a scene, at the famed Gion Temple in this "city of gardens", there happened very lately a dramatic incident in which the dying embers of an old feudal practice flashed into momentary brightness.
The world may never hear again a tale from life in this country so strangely connecting the present with the past.
Let me, then, tell it to the readers of The Times in the style of the Japanese narrator.
A few days ago, a Japanese named Suda Tomojiro, advanced in years, went for a day's outing, to see the cherry-blossoms at Gion (Kyoto), accompanied by his daughter Kuni, a charming girl of eighteen or nineteen.
After a long stroll, spent in admiring the beautiful flowers, they sat down to rest beneath a fine cherry-tree outside the temple-gates, where Suda was not sorry to refresh himself from the sake bottle which Japanese generally take with them on such occasions.
Hard by, and similarly occupied, was another Japanese, about forty-five years old, accompanied by a lad just out of his teens.
As soon as this stranger cast his eyes on Suda, his features underwent an extraordinary change; and, although his young companion, seemingly apprehensive of some evil, sought to divert his attention, his gaze was kept intently rivetted on the features of his elderly neighbour.
At length, after scrutinising Suda in this wise for a space of some minutes, he enquired in an excited tone whether his name was not Suda Tomojiro.
The latter, assenting, asked him, with some surprise, what his business might be.
To this the stranger replied, "I am a younger brother of Maeda Hironda, formerly a samurai of Hikone, whom you, his fellow-clansman, slew.
To avenge my dead brother I have for long years sought you far and near, but always wihout success, until this auspicious day which has brought us together.
Do you not remember that affair? "
"I indeed it was," answered Suda, who slew your brother, but I slew him justly because he offered me insult - a provocation which no samurai could brook.
If you seek revenge, think not that I, a samirai of the old time, shall evade you: we will cross swords as becomes men of our birth. Take revenge on me if you can. I am ready at any time."
The two samurai then arranged to meet in combat that very night, at Reizan, and were about to solemnize their agreement with a libation of sake, when the agony of Kuni, hitherto suppresed, broke forth.
Bursting into tears, and seizing her parent's hand, she conjured him not to pledge himself to this terrible duel, and besought him at least to reflect on what would become of her were she to lose the father whom she so loved and to whom she owed so much.
At this appeal, the stranger, by name Kakujiro, was greatly moved, and hung down his head.
"It was some thirteen years ago," he at length said, "that business brought me to this city, together with my wife and our litte daughter who was then six years old. We went to worship at the Kitano shrine, and lost our child in the crowd; nor, in spite of the utmost efforts, were we ever able to find her again. My wife soon afterwards died, broken-hearted at this sad calamity.
Were our child living now, she would be grown as this your daugther."
During Kakujiro's narrative Suda's face displayed unusual interest. At its close he drew near to the narrator, and said, "You have told me you lost your daughter at Kitano when she was six years old. Now this little maid, it so happens, is not my real daughter, but a lost child, found by my wife near the Kitano shrine about the very time of which you speak. Never having been blessed with our own children, we adopted her as our own daughter. But it seems not at all impossible that she is the very child whom you lost."
"I have heard my wife say," replied Kakujiro, "that our daughter wore at the time a small bag containing three charms, by which she could easlly be identified".
Almost before he had finished speaking, Kuni produced from her bosom a little bag, out of which she eagerly drew three charms, asking whether they corresponded with those of the lost child.
Kakujiro at once recognised them, and in the joy of this great discovery, the duel was forgotten, until Kuni, reverting to it, entreated her newly-found father to abandon all thought of revenge upon one to whom she owed the deepest debt of gratitude.
He, unable to insist, was silent, when the lad in his company for the first time spoke, avowing, not only that the case was clearly one for reconcilation, but that revenge after the manner of feudal times was now a thing of the past.
This declaration satisfied both sides-Suda because he had only accepted the contest when forced upon him, Kakujiro because of the discovery that Suda was his own child's foster-father.
So the little party went happily away, to celebrate the joyful discovery of the long lost daughter, and to vow ties of future relationship between the two men whom but a few minutes before had been resolved on mortal combat.
The Times-Jun. 2nd.
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