Ana Musashi


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The classic samurai novel about the real exploits of the most famous swordsman.

Miyamoto Musashi was the child of an era when Japan was emerging from decades of civil strife. Lured to the great Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 by the hope of becoming a samurai--without really knowing what it meant--he regains consciousness after the battle to find himself lying defeated, dazed and wounded among thousands of the dead and dying. On his way home, he commits a rash act, becomes a fugitive and brings life in his own village to a standstill--until he is captured by a weaponless Zen monk.

The lovely Otsu, seeing in Musashi her ideal of manliness, frees him from his tortuous punishment, but he is recaptured and imprisoned. During three years of solitary confinement, he delves into the classics of Japan and China. When he is set free again, he rejects the position of samurai and for the next several years pursues his goal relentlessly, looking neither to left nor to right.

Ever so slowly it dawns on him that following the Way of the Sword is not simply a matter of finding a target for his brute strength. Continually striving to perfect his technique, which leads him to a unique style of fighting with two swords simultaneously, he travels far and wide, challenging fighters of many disciplines, taking nature to be his ultimate and severest teacher and undergoing the rigorous training of those who follow the Way. He is supremely successful in his encounters, but in the Art of War he perceives the way of peaceful and prosperous governance and disciplines himself to be a real human being

He becomes a reluctant hero to a host of people whose lives he has touched and been touched by. And, inevitably, he has to pit his skill against the naked blade of his greatest rival.

Musashi is a novel in the best tradition of Japanese story telling. It is a living story, subtle and imaginative, teeming with memorable characters, many of them historical. Interweaving themes of unrequited love, misguided revenge, filial piety and absolute dedication to the Way of the Samurai, it depicts vividly a world Westerners know only vaguely. Full of gusto and humor, it has an epic quality and universal appeal.
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Generalized Linear Models With Examples in R

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By Eiji Yoshikawa

Translated from the Japanese by Charles S. Terry

Foreword by Edwin O. Reischauer

Kodansha International

Tokyo • New York • London

Poem on page 477, from The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, translated by Witter Bynner from the texts of Kiang Kang-Hu, Copyright 1929 and renewed by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Publication of this book was assisted by a grant from the Japan Foundation. First published in the Japanese language, © Fumiko Yoshikawa 1971.

Distributed in the United States by Kodansha America, Inc., and in the United Kingdom and continental Europe by Kodansha Europe Ltd.

Published by Kodansha International Ltd., 17-14 Otowa 1-chome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 1128652, and Kodansha America, Inc.

Copyright © 1981 by Fumiko Yoshikawa. All rights reserved. Printed in Japan.

LCC 80-8791

ISBN-13: 978-4-7700-1957-8

ISBN-10: 4-7700-1957-2

First edition, 1981

First this edition, 1995

12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15



by Edwin O. Reischauer


The Little Bell

The Comb

The Flower Festival

The Dowager's Wrath

The Art of War

The Old Cryptomeria Tree

The Rock and the Tree

The Birth of Musashi


The Yoshioka School

The Wheel of Fortune

Encounter and Retreat

The Water Sprite

A Spring Breeze

The Hōzōin

Hannya Plain

The Koyagyū Fief

The Peony

Jōtarō's Revenge

The Nightingales


Sasaki Kojirō

Reunion in Osaka

The Handsome Young Man

The Seashell of Forgetfulness

A Hero's Passing

The Drying Pole

Eagle Mountain

The Mayfly in Winter

The Pinwheel

The Flying Horse

The Butterfly in Winter

The Announcement

The Great Bridge at Gojō Avenue


The Withered Field

A Man of Parts

Too Many Kojirōs

The Younger Brother

A Mother's Love

The Urbane Craftsman

Reverberations in the Snow

The Elegant People

The Broken Lute

A Sickness of the Heart

The Scent of A; loeswood

The Gate

A Toast to the Morrow

The Death Trap

A Meeting in the Moonlight

Stray Geese

The Spreading Pine

An Offering for the Dead

A Drink of Milk

Entwining Branches

The Male and Female Waterfalls


The Abduction

The Warrior of Kiso

Poisonous Fangs

A Maternal Warning

A One-Night Love Affair

A Gift of Money

A Cleansing Fire

Playing with Fire

A Cricket in the Grass

The Pioneers

Slaughter by the Riverside


The Owl

A Plate of Loaches

Like Teacher, Like Pupil

Mountain Devils

First Planting

The Flies

The Soul Polisher

The Fox

An Urgent Letter

Filial Piety

Spring Shower in Red

A Block of Wood

The Deserted Prophet

The Talk of the Town


A Chat with the Men

Buzzing Insects

The Eagle

Green Persimmons


Four Sages with a Single Light

The Locust Tree

Tadaaki's Madness

The Poignancy of Things

Two Drumsticks

The Demon's Attendant

Brother Disciples

The Pomegranate

Land of Dreams

The Challenge

The Gateway to Glory

The Sound of Heaven


The Runaway Ox

Hemp Seed

Sweepers and Salesmen

A Pear Blossom

The Port

The Writing Teacher

The Circle

Shikama Blue

The Mercy of Kannon

The Tides of Life

The Evening Boat

A Falcon and a Woman

Before the Thirteenth Day

At Daybreak

The Marriage

The Soul of the Deep


by Edwin O. Reischauer

Edwin O. Reischauer was born in Japan in 1910. He was a professor at Harvard University and was Professor Emeritus until his death in 1990. He was the United States Ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966, and was one of the best-known authorities on the country. Among his numerous works are Japan: The Story of a Nation and The Japanese.

Musashi might well be called the Gone with the Wind of Japan. Written by Eiji Yoshikawa (1892-1962), one of Japan's most prolific and best-loved popular writers, it is a long historical novel, which first appeared in serialized form between 1935 and 1939 in the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's largest and most prestigious newspaper. It has been published in book form no less than fourteen times, most recently in four volumes of the 53-volume complete works of Yoshikawa issued by Kodansha. It has been produced as a film some seven times, has been repeatedly presented on the stage, and has often been made into television mini-series on at least three nationwide networks.

Miyamoto Musashi was an actual historical person, but through Yoshikawa's novel he and the other main characters of the book have become part of Japan's living folklore. They are so familiar to the public that people will frequently be compared to them as personalities everyone knows. This gives the novel an added interest to the foreign reader. It not only provides a romanticized slice of Japanese history, but gives a view of how the Japanese see their past and themselves. But basically the novel will be enjoyed as a dashing tale of swashbuckling adventure and a subdued story of love, Japanese style.

Comparisons with James Clavell's Shōgun seem inevitable, because for most Americans today Shogun, as a book and a television mini-series, vies with samurai movies as their chief source of knowledge about Japan's past. The two novels concern the same period of history. Shogun, which takes place in the year 1600, ends with Lord Toranaga, who is the historical Tokugawa Ieyasu, soon to be the Shōgun, or military dictator of Japan, setting off for the fateful battle of Sekigahara. Yoshikawa's story begins with the youthful Takezō, later to be renamed Miyamoto Musashi, lying wounded among the corpses of the defeated army on that battlefield.

With the exception of Blackthorne, the historical Will Adams, Shōgun deals largely with the great lords and ladies of Japan, who appear in thin disguise under names Clavell has devised for them. Musashi, while mentioning many great historical figures under their true names, tells about a broader range of Japanese and particularly about the rather extensive group who lived on the ill-defined borderline between the hereditary military aristocracy and the commoners—the peasants, tradesmen and artisans. Clavell freely distorts historical fact to fit his tale and inserts a Western-type love story that not only flagrantly flouts history but is quite unimaginable in the Japan of that time. Yoshikawa remains true to history or at least to historical tradition, and his love story, which runs as a background theme in minor scale throughout the book, is very authentically Japanese.

Yoshikawa, of course, has enriched his account with much imaginative detail. There are enough strange coincidences and deeds of derring-do to delight the heart of any lover of adventure stories. But he sticks faithfully to such facts of history as are known. Not only Musashi himself but many of the other people who figure prominently in the story are real historical individuals. For example, Takuan, who serves as a guiding light and mentor to the youthful Musashi, was a famous Zen monk, calligrapher, painter, poet and tea-master of the time, who became the youngest abbot of the Daitokuji in Kyoto in 1609 and later founded a major monastery in Edo, but is best remembered today for having left his name to a popular Japanese pickle.

The historical Miyamoto Musashi, who may have been born in 1584 and died in 1645, was like his father a master swordsman and became known for his use of two swords. He was an ardent cultivator of self-discipline as the key to martial skills and the author of a famous work on swordsmanship, the Gorin no sho. He probably took part as a youth in the battle of Sekigahara, and his clashes with the Yoshioka school of swordsmanship in Kyoto, the warrior monks of the Hōzōin in Nara and the famed swordsman Sasaki Kojirō, all of which figure prominently in this book, actually did take place. Yoshikawa's account of him ends in 1612, when he was still a young man of about 28, but subsequently he may have fought on the losing side at the siege of Osaka castle in 1614 and participated in 1637-38 in the annihilation of the Christian peasantry of Shimabara in the western island of Kyushu, an event which marked the extirpation of that religion from Japan for the next two centuries and helped seal Japan off from the rest of the world.

Ironically, Musashi in 1640 became a retainer of the Hosokawa lords of Kumamoto, who, when they had been the lords of Kumamoto, had been the patrons of his chief rival, Sasaki Kojirō. The Hosokawas bring us back to Shōgun, because it was the older Hosokawa, Tadaoki, who figures quite unjustifiably as one of the main villains of that novel, and it was Tadaoki's exemplary Christian wife, Gracia, who is pictured without a shred of plausibility as Blackthorne's great love, Mariko.

The time of Musashi's life was a period of great transition in Japan. After a century of incessant warfare among petty daimyō, or feudal lords, three successive leaders had finally reunified the country through conquest. Oda Nobunaga had started the process but, before completing it, had been killed by a treacherous vassal in 1582. His ablest general, Hideyoshi, risen from the rank of common foot soldier, completed the unification of the nation but died in 1598 before he could consolidate control in behalf of his infant heir. Hideyoshi's strongest vassal, Tokugawa Ieyasu, a great daimyō who ruled much of eastern Japan from his castle at Edo, the modern Tokyo, then won supremacy by defeating a coalition of western daimyō at Sekigahara in 1600. Three years later he took the traditional title of Shōgun, signifying his military dictatorship over the whole land, theoretically in behalf of the ancient but impotent imperial line in Kyoto. Ieyasu in 1605 transferred the position of Shōgun to his son, Hidetada, but remained in actual control himself until he had destroyed the supporters of Hideyoshi's heir in sieges of Osaka castle in 1614 and 1615.

The first three Tokugawa rulers established such firm control over Japan that their rule was to last more than two and a half centuries, until it finally collapsed in 1868 in the tumultuous aftermath of the reopening of Japan to contact with the West a decade and a half earlier. The Tokugawa ruled through semi-autonomous hereditary daimyō, who numbered around 265 at the end of the period, and the daimyō in turn controlled their fiefs through their hereditary samurai retainers. The transition from constant warfare to a closely regulated peace brought the drawing of sharp class lines between the samurai, who had the privilege of wearing two swords and bearing family names, and the commoners, who though including well-to-do merchants and land owners, were in theory denied all arms and the honor of using family names.

During the years of which Yoshikawa writes, however, these class divisions were not yet sharply defined. All localities had their residue of peasant fighting men, and the country was overrun by rōnin, or masterless samurai, who were largely the remnants of the armies of the daimyō who had lost their domains as the result of the battle of Sekigahara or in earlier wars. It took a generation or two before society was fully sorted out into the strict class divisions of the Tokugawa system, and in the meantime there was considerable social ferment and mobility.

Another great transition in early seventeenth century Japan was in the nature of leadership. With peace restored and major warfare at an end, the dominant warrior class found that military prowess was less essential to successful rule than administrative talents. The samurai class started a slow transformation from being warriors of the gun and sword to being bureaucrats of the writing brush and paper. Disciplined self-control and education in a society at peace was becoming more important than skill in warfare. The Western reader may be surprised to see how widespread literacy already was at the beginning of the seventeenth century and at the constant references the Japanese made to Chinese history and literature, much as Northern Europeans of the same time continually referred to the traditions of ancient Greece and Rome.

A third major transition in the Japan of Musashi's time was in weaponry. In the second half of the sixteenth century matchlock muskets, recently introduced by the Portuguese, had become the decisive weapons of the battlefield, but in a land at peace the samurai could turn their backs on distasteful firearms and resume their traditional love affair with the sword. Schools of swordsmanship flourished. However, as the chance to use swords in actual combat diminished, martial skills were gradually becoming martial arts, and these increasingly came to emphasize the importance of inner self-control and the character-building qualities of swordsmanship rather than its untested military efficacy. A whole mystique of the sword grew up, which was more akin to philosophy than to warfare.

Yoshikawa's account of Musashi's early life illustrates all these changes going on in Japan. He was himself a typical rōnin from a mountain village and became a settled samurai retainer only late in life. He was the founder of a school of swordsmanship. Most important, he gradually transformed himself from an instinctive fighter into a man who fanatically pursued the goals of Zen-like self-discipline, complete inner mastery over oneself, and a sense of oneness with surrounding nature. Although in his early years lethal contests, reminiscent of the tournaments of medieval Europe, were still possible, Yoshikawa portrays Musashi as consciously turning his martial skills from service in warfare to a means of character building for a time of peace. Martial skills, spiritual self-discipline and aesthetic sensitivity became merged into a single indistinguishable whole. This picture of Musashi may not be far from the historical truth. Musashi is known to have been a skilled painter and an accomplished sculptor as well as a swordsman.

The Japan of the early seventeenth century which Musashi typified has lived on strongly in the Japanese consciousness. The long and relatively static rule of the Tokugawa preserved much of its forms and spirit, though in somewhat ossified form, until the middle of the nineteenth century, not much more than a century ago. Yoshikawa himself was a son of a former samurai who failed like most members of his class to make a successful economic transition to the new age. Though the samurai themselves largely sank into obscurity in the new Japan, most of the new leaders were drawn from this feudal class, and its ethos was popularized through the new compulsory educational system to become the spiritual background and ethics of the whole Japanese nation. Novels like Musashi and the films and plays derived from them aided in the process.

The time of Musashi is as close and real to the modern Japanese as is the Civil War to Americans. Thus the comparison to Gone with the Wind is by no means far-fetched. The age of the samurai is still very much alive in Japanese minds. Contrary to the picture of the modern Japanese as merely group oriented "economic animals," many Japanese prefer to see themselves as fiercely individualistic, high-principled, self-disciplined and aesthetically sensitive modern-day Musashis. Both pictures have some validity, illustrating the complexity of the Japanese soul behind the seemingly bland and uniform exterior.

Musashi is very different from the highly psychological and often neurotic novels that have been the mainstay of translations of modern Japanese literature into English. But it is nevertheless fully in the mainstream of traditional Japanese fiction and popular Japanese thought. Its episodic presentation is not merely the result of its original appearance as a newspaper serial but is a favorite technique dating back to the beginnings of Japanese storytelling. Its romanticized view of the noble swordsman is a stereotype of the feudal past enshrined in hundreds of other stories and samurai movies. Its emphasis on the cultivation of self-control and inner personal strength through austere Zen-like self-discipline is a major feature of Japanese personality today. So also is the pervading love of nature and sense of closeness to it. Musashi is not just a great adventure story. Beyond that, it gives both a glimpse into Japanese history and a view into the idealized self-image of the contemporary Japanese.

January 1981

Book I • EARTH

The Little Bell

Takezō lay among the corpses. There were thousands of them.

"The whole world's gone crazy," he thought dimly. "A man might as well be a dead leaf, floating in the autumn breeze."

He himself looked like one of the lifeless bodies surrounding him. He tried to raise his head, but could only lift it a few inches from the ground. He couldn't remember ever feeling so weak. "How long have I been here?" he wondered.

Flies came buzzing around his head. He wanted to brush them away, but couldn't even muster the energy to raise his arm. It was stiff, almost brittle, like the rest of his body. "I must've been out for quite a while," he thought, wiggling one finger at a time. Little did he know he was wounded, with two bullets lodged firmly in his thigh.

Low, dark clouds shifted ominously across the sky. The night before, sometime between midnight and dawn, a blinding rain had drenched the plain of Sekigahara. It was now past noon on the fifteenth of the ninth month of 1600. Though the typhoon had passed, now and then fresh torrents of rain would fall on the corpses and onto Takezō's upturned face. Each time it came, he'd open and close his mouth like a fish, trying to drink in the droplets. "It's like the water they wipe a dying man's lips with," he reflected, savoring each bit of moisture. His head was numb, his thoughts the fleeting shadows of delirium.

His side had lost. He knew that much. Kobayakawa Hideaki, supposedly an ally, had been secretly in league with the Eastern Army, and when he turned on Ishida Mitsunari's troops at twilight, the tide of battle turned too. He then attacked the armies of other commanders—Ukita, Shimazu and Konishi—and the collapse of the Western Army was complete. In only half a day's fighting, the question of who would henceforth rule the country was settled. It was Tokugawa Ieyasu, the powerful Edo daimyō.

Images of his sister and the old villagers floated before his eyes. "I'm dying," he thought without a tinge of sadness. "Is this what it's really like?" He felt drawn to the peace of death, like a child mesmerized by a flame. Suddenly one of the nearby corpses raised its head. "Takezō."

The images of his mind ceased. As if awakened from the dead, he turned his head toward the sound. The voice, he was sure, was that of his best friend. With all his strength he raised himself slightly, squeezing out a whisper barely audible above the pelting rain. "Matahachi, is that you?" Then he collapsed, lay still and listened.

"Takezō! Are you really alive?"

"Yes, alive!" he shouted in a sudden outburst of bravado. "And you? You'd better not die either. Don't you dare!" His eyes were wide open now, and a smile played faintly about his lips.

"Not me! No, sir." Gasping for breath, crawling on his elbows and dragging his legs stiffly behind him, Matahachi inched his way toward his friend. He made a grab for Takezō's hand but only caught his small finger with his own. As childhood friends they'd often sealed promises with this gesture. He came closer and gripped the whole hand.

"I can't believe you're all right too! We must be the only survivors."

"Don't speak too soon. I haven't tried to get up yet."

"I'll help you. Let's get out of here!"

Suddenly Takezō pulled Matahachi to the ground and growled, "Play dead! More trouble coming!"

The ground began to rumble like a caldron. Peeking through their arms, they watched the approaching whirlwind close in on them. Then they were nearer, lines of jet-black horsemen hurtling directly toward them.

"The bastards! They're back!" exclaimed Matahachi, raising his knee as if preparing for a sprint. Takezō seized his ankle, nearly breaking it, and yanked him to the ground.

In a moment the horses were flying past them—hundreds of muddy lethal hooves galloping in formation, riding roughshod over the fallen samurai. Battle cries on their lips, their armor and weapons clinking and clanking, the riders came on and on.

Matahachi lay on his stomach, eyes closed, hoping against hope they would not be trampled, but Takezō stared unblinkingly upward. The horses passed so close they could smell their sweat. Then it was over. Miraculously they were uninjured and undetected, and for several minutes both remained silent in disbelief.

"Saved again!" exclaimed Takezō, reaching his hand out to Matahachi. Still hugging the ground, Matahachi slowly turned his head to show a broad, slightly trembling grin. "Somebody's on our side, that's for sure," he said huskily.

The two friends helped each other, with great difficulty, to their feet. Slowly they made their way across the battlefield to the safety of the wooded hills, hobbling along with arms around each other's shoulders. There they collapsed but after a rest began foraging for food. For two days they subsisted on wild chestnuts and edible leaves in the sodden hollows of Mount Ibuki. This kept them from starving, but Takezō's stomach ached and Matahachi's bowels tormented him. No food could fill him, no drink quench his thirst, but even he felt his strength returning bit by bit.

The storm on the fifteenth marked the end of the fall typhoons. Now, only two nights later, a cold white moon glared grimly down from a cloudless sky.

They both knew how dangerous it was to be on the road in the glaring moonlight, their shadows looming like silhouette targets in clear view of any patrols searching for stragglers. The decision to risk it had been Takezō's. With Matahachi in such misery, saying he'd rather be captured than continue trying to walk, there really didn't seem to be much choice. They had to move on, but it was also clear that they had to find a place to lie low and rest. They made their way slowly in what they thought was the direction of the small town of Tarui.

"Can you make it?" Takezō asked repeatedly. He held his friend's arm around his own shoulder to help him along. "Are you all right?" It was the labored breathing that worried him. "You want to rest?"

"I'm all right." Matahachi tried to sound brave, but his face was paler than the moon above them. Even with his lance for a walking stick, he could barely put one foot in front of the other.

He'd been apologizing abjectly over and over. "I'm sorry, Takezō. I know it's me who's slowing us down. I'm really sorry."

The first few times Takezō had simply brushed this off with "Forget it." Eventually, when they stopped to rest, he turned to his friend and burst out, "Look, I'm the one who should be apologizing. I'm the one who got you into this in the first place, remember? Remember how I told you my plan, how I was finally going to do something that would really have impressed my father? I've never been able to stand the fact that to his dying day he was sure I'd never amount to anything. I was going to show him! Ha!"

Takezō's father, Munisai, had once served under Lord Shimmen of Iga. As soon as Takezō heard that Ishida Mitsunari was raising an army, he was convinced that the chance of a lifetime had finally arrived. His father had been a samurai. Wasn't it only natural that he would be made one too? He ached to enter the fray, to prove his mettle, to have word spread like wildfire through the village that he had decapitated an enemy general. He had wanted desperately to prove he was somebody to be reckoned with, to be respected—not just the village troublemaker.

Takezō reminded Matahachi of all this, and Matahachi nodded. "I know. I know. But I felt the same way. It wasn't just you."

Takezō went on: "I wanted you to come with me because we've always done everything together. But didn't your mother carry on something awful! Yelling and telling everybody I was crazy and no good! And your fiancée Otsū, and my sister and everybody else crying and saying village boys should stay in the village. Oh, maybe they had their reasons. We are both only sons, and if we get ourselves killed there's no one else to carry on the family names. But who cares? Is that any way to live?"

They had slipped out of the village unnoticed and were convinced that no further barrier lay between themselves and the honors of battle. When they reached the Shimmen encampment, however, they came face to face with the realities of war. They were told straightaway they would not be made samurai, not overnight nor even in a few weeks, no matter who their fathers had been. To Ishida and the other generals, Takezō and Matahachi were a pair of country bumpkins, little more than children who happened to have got their hands on a couple of lances. The best they could wangle was to be allowed to stay on as common foot soldiers. Their responsibilities, if they could be called that, consisted of carrying weapons, rice kettles and other utensils, cutting grass, working on the road gangs and occasionally going out as scouts.

"Samurai, ha!" said Takezō. "What a joke. General's head! I didn't even get near an enemy samurai, let alone a general. Well, at least it's all over. Now what are we going to do? I can't leave you here all alone. If I did, I could never face your mother or Otsū again."

"Takezō, I don't blame you for the mess we're in. It wasn't your fault we lost. If anybody's to blame, it's that two-faced Kobayakawa. I'd really like to get my hands on him. I'd kill the son of a bitch!"

A couple of hours later they were standing on the edge of a small plain, gazing out over a sea of reed like miscanthus, battered and broken by the storm. No houses. No lights.

There were lots of corpses here too, lying just as they had fallen. The head of one rested in some tall grass. Another was on its back in a small stream. Still another was entangled grotesquely with a dead horse. The rain had washed the blood away, and in the moonlight the dead flesh looked like fish scales. All around them was the lonely autumn litany of bellrings and crickets.

A stream of tears cleared a white path down Matahachi's grimy face. He heaved the sigh of a very sick man.

"Takezō, if I die, will you take care of Otsū?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I feel like I'm dying."

Takezō snapped, "Well, if that's the way you feel, you probably will." He was exasperated, wishing his friend were stronger, so he could lean on him once in a while, not physically, but for encouragement. "Come on, Matahachi! Don't be such a crybaby."

"My mother has people to look after her, but Otsū's all alone in the world. Always has been. I feel so sorry for her, Takezō. Promise you'll take care of her if I'm not around."

"Get hold of yourself! People don't die from diarrhea. Sooner or later we're going to find a house, and when we do I'll put you to bed and get some medicine for you. Now stop all this blubbering about dying!"

A little farther on, they came to a place where the piles of lifeless bodies made it look as if a whole division had been wiped out. By this time they were callous to the sight of gore. Their glazed eyes took in the scene with cold indifference and they stopped to rest again.

While they were catching their breath, they heard something move among the corpses. Both of them shrank back in fright, instinctively crouching down 6 with their eyes peeled and senses alerted.

The figure made a quick darting movement, like that of a surprised rabbit. As their eyes focused, they saw that whoever it was was squatting close to the ground. Thinking at first it was a stray samurai, they braced themselves for a dangerous encounter, but to their amazement the fierce warrior turned out to be a young girl. She seemed to be about thirteen or fourteen and wore a kimono with rounded sleeves. The narrow obi around her waist, though patched in places, was of gold brocade; there among the corpses she presented a bizarre sight indeed. She looked over and stared at them suspiciously with shrewd catlike eyes.

Takezō and Matahachi were both wondering the same thing: what on earth could bring a young girl to a ghost-ridden, corpse-strewn field in the dead of night?

For a time they both simply stared back at her. Then Takezō said, "Who are you?"

She blinked a couple of times, got to her feet and sped away.

"Stop!" shouted Takezō. "I just want to ask you a question. Don't go!"

But gone she was, like a flash of lightning in the night. The sound of a small bell receded eerily into the darkness.

"Could it have been a ghost?" Takezō mused aloud as he stared vacantly into the thin mist.

Matahachi shivered and forced a laugh. "If there were any ghosts around here, I think they'd be those of soldiers, don't you?"

"I wish I hadn't scared her away," said Takezō. "There's got to be a village around here somewhere. She could've given us directions."

They went on and climbed the nearer of the two hills ahead of them. In the hollow on the other side was the marsh that stretched south from Mount Fuwa. And a light, only half a mile away.

When they approached the farmhouse, they got the impression that it wasn't of the run-of-the-mill variety. For one thing, it was surrounded by a thick dirt wall. For another, its gate verged on being grandiose. Or at least the remains of the gate, for it was old and badly in need of repair.

Takezō went up to the door and rapped lightly. "Is anybody home?"

Getting no answer, he tried again. "Sorry to bother you at this hour, but my friend here is sick. We don't want to cause any trouble—he just needs some rest."

They heard whispering inside and, presently, the sound of someone coming to the door.

"You're stragglers from Sekigahara, aren't you?" The voice belonged to a young girl.

"That's right," said Takezō. "We were under Lord Shimmen of Iga." "Go away! If you're found around here, we'll be in trouble."

"Look, we've very sorry to bother you like this, but we've been walking a long time. My friend needs some rest, that's all, and—"

"Please go away!"

"All right, if you really want us to, but couldn't you give my friend some medicine? His stomach's in such bad shape it's hard for us to keep moving." "Well, I don't know. ..."

After a moment or two, they heard footsteps and a little tinkling sound receding into the house, growing fainter and fainter.

Just then they noticed the face. It was in a side window, a woman's face, and it had been watching them all along.

"Akemi," she called out, "let them in. They're foot soldiers. The Tokugawa patrols aren't going to be wasting time on them. They're nobodies."

Akemi opened the door, and the woman, who introduced herself as Okō, came and listened to Takezō's story.

It was agreed that they could have the woodshed to sleep in. To quiet his bowels, Matahachi was given magnolia charcoal powder and thin rice gruel with scallions in it. Over the next few days, he slept almost without interruption, while Takezō, sitting vigil by his side, used cheap spirits to treat the bullet wounds in his thigh.

One evening about a week later, Takezō and Matahachi sat chatting. "They must have a trade of some kind," Takezō remarked.

"I couldn't care less what they do. I'm just glad they took us in."

But Takezō's curiosity was aroused. "The mother's not so old," he went on.

"It's strange, the two of them living alone here in the mountains." "Umm. Don't you think the girl looks a little like Otsū?"

"There is something about her that puts me in mind of Otsū, but I don't think they really look alike. They're both nice-looking, that's about it. What do you suppose she was doing the first time we saw her, creeping around all those corpses in the middle of the night? It didn't seem to bother her at all. Ha! I can still see it. Her face was as calm and serene as those dolls they make in Kyoto. What a picture!"

Matahachi motioned for him to be quiet.

"Shh! I hear her bell."

Akemi's light knock on the door sounded like the tapping of a woodpecker. "Matahachi, Takezō," she called softly.


"It's me."

Takezō got up and undid the lock. She came in carrying a tray of medicine and food and asked them how they were.

"Much better, thanks to you and your mother."

"Mother said that even if you feel better, you shouldn't talk too loud or go outside."

Takezō spoke for the two of them. "We're really sorry to put you to so much trouble."

"Oh, that's okay, you just have to be careful. Ishida Mitsunari and some of the other generals haven't been caught yet. They're keeping a close watch on this area and the roads are crawling with Tokugawa troops."

"They are?"

"So even though you're only foot soldiers, Mother said that if we're caught hiding you, we'll be arrested."

"We won't make a sound," Takezō promised. "I'll even cover Matahachi's face with a rag if he snores too loudly."

Akemi smiled, turned to go and said, "Good night. I'll see you in the morning."

"Wait!" said Matahachi. "Why don't you hang around and talk awhile?" "I can't."

"Why not?"

"Mother'd be angry."

"Why worry about her? How old are you?"


"Small for your age, aren't you?"

"Thanks for telling me."

"Where's your father?"

"I don't have one anymore."

"Sorry. Then how do you live?"

"We make moxa."

"That medicine you burn on your skin to get rid of pain?"

"Yes, the moxa from hereabouts is famous. In spring we cut mugwort on Mount Ibuki. In summer we dry it and in fall and winter make it into moxa. We sell it in Tarui. People come from all over just to buy it."

"I guess you don't need a man around to do that."

"Well, if that's all you wanted to know, I'd better be going."

"Hold on, just another second," said Takezō. "I have one more question." "Well?"

"The other night, the night we came here, we saw a girl out on the battlefield and she looked just like you. That was you, wasn't it?"

Akemi turned quickly and opened the door.

"What were you doing out there?"

She slammed the door behind her, and as she ran to the house the little bell rang out in a strange, erratic rhythm.

The Comb

At five feet eight or nine, Takezō was tall for people of his time. His body was like a fine steed's: strong and supple, with long, sinewy limbs. His lips were full and crimson, and his thick black eyebrows fell short of being bushy by virtue of their fine shape. Extending well beyond the outer corners of his eyes, they served to accentuate his manliness. The villagers called him "the child of a fat year," an expression used only about children whose features were larger than average. Far from an insult, the nickname nonetheless set him apart from the other youngsters, and for this reason caused him considerable embarrassment in his early years.

Although it was never used in reference to Matahachi, the same expression could have been applied to him as well. Somewhat shorter and stockier than Takezō, he was barrel-chested and round-faced, giving an impression of joviality if not downright buffoonery. His prominent, slightly protruding eyes were given to shifting when he talked, and most jokes made at his expense hinged on his resemblance to the frogs that croaked unceasingly through the summer nights.

Both youths were at the height of their growing years, and thus quick to recover from most ailments. By the time Takezō's wounds had completely healed, Matahachi could no longer stand his incarceration. He took to pacing the woodshed and complaining endlessly about being cooped up. More than once he made the mistake of saying he felt like a cricket in a damp, dark hole, leaving himself wide open to Takezō's retort that frogs and crickets are supposed to like such living arrangements. At some point, Matahachi must have begun peeping into the house, because one day he leaned over to his cellmate as if to impart some earth-shattering news. "Every evening," he whispered gravely, "the widow puts powder on her face and pretties herself up!" Takezō's face became that of a girl-hating twelve-year-old detecting defection, a budding interest in "them," in his closest friend. Matahachi had turned traitor, and the look was one of unmistakable disgust.

Matahachi began going to the house and sitting by the hearth with Akemi and her youthful mother. After three or four days of chatting and joking with them, the convivial guest became one of the family. He stopped going back to the woodshed even at night, and the rare times he did, he had sake on his breath and tried to entice Takezō into the house by singing the praises of the good life just a few feet away.

"You're crazy!" Takezō would reply in exasperation. "You're going to get us killed, or at least picked up. We lost, we're stragglers—can't you get that through your head? We have to be careful and lie low until things cool down."

He soon grew tired of trying to reason with his pleasure-loving friend, however, and started instead to cut him short with curt replies:

"I don't like sake," or sometimes: "I like it out here. It's cozy."

But Takezō was going stir-crazy too. He was bored beyond endurance, and eventually showed signs of weakening. "Is it really safe?" he'd ask. "This neighborhood, I mean? No sign of patrols? You're sure?"

After being entombed for twenty days in the woodshed, he finally emerged like a half-starved prisoner of war. His skin had the translucent, waxen look of death, all the more apparent as he stood beside his sun-and-sake-reddened friend. He squinted up at the clear blue sky, and stretching his arms broadly, yawned extravagantly. When his cavernous mouth finally came closed, one noticed that his brows had been knit all the while. His face wore a troubled air.

"Matahachi," he said seriously, "we're imposing on these people. They're taking a big risk having us around. I think we should start for home."

"I guess you're right," said Matahachi. "But they're not letting anyone through the barriers unchecked. The roads to Ise and Kyoto are both impossible, according to the widow. She says we should stay put until the snow comes. The girl says so too. She's convinced we should stay hidden, and you know she's out and about every day."

"You call sitting by the fire drinking being hidden?"

"Sure. You know what I did? The other day some of Tokugawa's men—they're still looking for General Ukita—came snooping around. I got rid of the bastards just by going out and greeting them." At this point, as Takezō's eyes widened in disbelief, Matahachi let out a rolling belly laugh. When it subsided, he went on. "You're safer out in the open than you are crouching in the woodshed listening for footsteps and going crazy. That's what I've been trying to tell you." Matahachi doubled up with laughter again, and Takezō shrugged.

"Maybe you're right. That could be the best way to handle things."

He still had his reservations, but after this conversation he moved into the house. Okō, who obviously liked having people, more specifically men, around, made them feel completely at home. Occasionally, however, she gave them a jolt by suggesting that one of them marry Akemi. This seemed to fluster Matahachi more than Takezō, who simply ignored the suggestion or countered it with a humorous remark.

It was the season for the succulent, fragrant matsutake, which grows at the bases of pine trees, and Takezō relaxed enough to go hunting the large mushrooms on the wooded mountain just behind the house. Akemi, basket in hand, would search from tree to tree. Each time she picked up their scent, her innocent voice reverberated through the woods.

"Takezō, over here! Lots of them!"

Hunting around nearby, he invariably replied, "There are plenty over here too."

Through the pine branches, the autumn sun filtered down on them in thin, slanting shafts. The carpet of pine needles in the cool shelter of the trees was a soft dusty rose. When they tired, Akemi would challenge him, giggling. "Let's see who has the most!"

"I do," he'd always reply smugly, at which point she'd begin inspecting his basket.

This day was no different from the others. "Ha, ha! I knew it!" she cried. Gleefully triumphant, the way only girls that young can be, with no hint of self-consciousness or affected modesty, she bent over his basket. "You've got a bunch of toadstools in your batch!" Then she discarded the poisonous fungi one by one, not actually counting out loud, but with movements so slow and deliberate Takezō could hardly ignore them, even with his eyes closed. She flung each one as far as she could. Her task completed, she looked up, her young face beaming with self-satisfaction.

"Now look how many more I have than you!"

"It's getting late," Takezō muttered. "Let's go home."

"You're cross because you lost, aren't you?"

She started racing down the mountainside like a pheasant, but suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, an expression of alarm clouding her face. Approaching diagonally across the grove, halfway down the slope, was a mountain of a man; his strides were long and languorous, and his glaring eyes were trained directly on the frail young girl before him. He looked frighteningly primitive. Everything about him smacked of the struggle to survive, and he had a distinct air of bellicosity: ferocious bushy eyebrows and a thick, curling upper lip; a heavy sword, a cloak of mail, and an animal skin wrapped around him.

"Akemi!" he roared, as he came closer to her. He grinned broadly, showing a row of yellow, decaying teeth, but Akemi's face continued to register nothing but horror.

"Is that wonderful mama of yours home?" he asked with labored sarcasm. "Yes," came a peep of a reply.

"Well, when you go home, I want you to tell her something. Would you do that for me?" He spoke mock politely.


His tone became harsh. "You tell her she's not putting anything over on me, trying to make money behind my back. You tell her I'll be around soon for my cut. Have you got that?"

Akemi said nothing.

"She probably thinks I don't know about it, but the guy she sold the goods to came straight to me. I bet you were going to Sekigahara too, weren't you, little one?"

"No, of course not!" she protested weakly.

"Well, never mind. Just tell her what I said. If she pulls any more fast ones, I'll kick her out of the neighborhood." He glared at the girl for a moment, then lumbered off in the direction of the marsh.

Takezō turned his eyes from the departing stranger and looked at Akemi with concern. "Who on earth was that?"

Akemi, her lips still trembling, answered wearily, "His name is Tsujikaze. He comes from the village of Fuwa." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "He's a freebooter, isn't he?"


"What's he so worked up about?"

She stood there without answering.

"I won't tell anybody," he assured her. "Can't you even tell me?"

Akemi, obviously miserable, seemed to be searching for words. Suddenly she leaned against Takezō's chest and pleaded, "Promise you won't tell anyone?"

"Who am I going to tell? The Tokugawa samurai?"

"Remember the night you first saw me? At Sekigahara?"

"Of course I remember."

"Well, haven't you figured out yet what I was doing?"

"No. I haven't thought about it," he said with a straight face.

"Well, I was stealing!" She looked at him closely, gauging his reaction.


"After a battle, I go to the battlefield and take things off the dead soldiers: swords, scabbard ornaments, incense bags—anything we can sell." She looked at him again for a sign of disapproval, but his face betrayed none. "It scares me," she sighed, then, turning pragmatic, "but we need the money for food and if I say I don't want to go, Mother gets furious."

The sun was still fairly high in the sky. At Akemi's suggestion, Takezō sat down on the grass. Through the pines, they could look down on the house in the marsh.

Takezō nodded to himself, as if figuring something out. A bit later he said, "Then that story about cutting mugwort in the mountains. Making it into moxa. That was all a lie?"

"Oh, no. We do that too! But Mother has such expensive tastes. We'd never be able to make a living on moxa. When my father was alive, we lived in the biggest house in the village—in all seven villages of Ibuki, as a matter of fact. We had lots of servants, and Mother always had beautiful things."

"Was your father a merchant?"

"Oh, no. He was the leader of the local freebooters." Akemi's eyes shone with pride. It was clear she no longer feared Takezō's reaction and was giving vent to her true feelings, her jaw set, her small hands tightening into fists as she spoke. "This Tsujikaze Temma—the man we just met—killed him. At least, everyone says he did."

"You mean your father was murdered?"

Nodding silently, she began in spite of herself to weep, and Takezō felt something deep inside himself start to thaw. He hadn't felt much sympathy for the girl at first. Though smaller than most other girls of sixteen, she talked like a grown woman much of the time, and every once in a while made a quick movement that put one on guard. But when the tears began to drop from her long eyelashes, he suddenly melted with pity. He wanted to hug her in his arms, to protect her.

All the same, she was not a girl who'd had anything resembling a proper upbringing. That there was no nobler calling than that of her father seemed to be something she never questioned. Her mother had persuaded her that it was quite all right to strip corpses, not in order to eat, but in order to live nicely. Many out-and-out thieves would have shrunk from the task.

During the long years of feudal strife, it had reached the point where all the shiftless good-for-nothings in the countryside drifted into making their living this way. People had more or less come to expect it of them. When war broke out, the local military rulers even made use of their services, rewarding them generously for setting fire to enemy supplies, spreading false rumors, stealing horses from enemy camps and the like. Most often their services were bought, but even when they were not, a war offered a host of opportunities; besides foraging among corpses for valuables, they could sometimes even wangle rewards for slaying samurai whose heads they'd merely stumbled upon and picked up. One large battle made it possible for these unscrupulous pilferers to live comfortably for six months or a year.

During the most turbulent times, even the ordinary farmer and woodcutter had learned to profit from human misery and bloodshed. The fighting on the outskirts of their village might keep these simple souls from working, but they had ingeniously adapted to the situation and discovered how to pick over the remains of human life like vultures. Partly because of these intrusions, the professional looters maintained strict surveillance over their respective territories. It was an ironclad rule that poachers—namely, brigands who trespassed on the more powerful brigands' turf—could not go unpunished. Those who dared infringe on the assumed rights of these thugs were liable to cruel retribution.

Akemi shivered and said, "What'll we do? Temma's henchmen are on their way here, I just know it."

"Don't worry," Takezō reassured her. "If they do show up, I'll greet them personally."

When they came down from the mountain, twilight had descended on the marsh, and all was still. A smoke trail from the bath fire at the house crept along the top of a row of tall rushes like an airborne undulating snake. Okō, having finished applying her nightly makeup, was standing idly at the back door. When she saw her daughter approaching side by side with Takezō, she shouted, "Akemi, what have you been doing out so late?"

There was sternness in her eye and voice. The girl, who had been walking along absentmindedly, was brought up short. She was more sensitive to her mother's moods than to anything else in the world. Her mother had both nurtured this sensitivity and learned to exploit it, to manipulate her daughter like a puppet with a mere look or gesture. Akemi quickly fled Takezō's side and, blushing noticeably, ran ahead and into the house.

The next day Akemi told her mother about Tsujikaze Temma. Okō flew into a rage

"Why didn't you tell me immediately?" she screamed, rushing around like a madwoman, tearing at her hair, taking things out of drawers and closets and piling them all together in the middle of the room.

"Matahachi! Takezō! Give me a hand! We have to hide everything."

Matahachi shifted a board pointed to by Oka and hoisted himself up above the ceiling. There wasn't much space between the ceiling and the rafters. One could barely crawl about, but it served Okō's purpose, and most likely that of her departed husband. Takezō, standing on a stool between mother and daughter, began handing things up to Matahachi one by one. If Takezō hadn't heard Akemi's story the day before, he would've been amazed at the variety of articles he now saw.

Takezō knew the two of them had been at this for a long time, but even so, it was astonishing how much they had accumulated. There was a dagger, a spear tassel, a sleeve from a suit of armor, a helmet without a crown, a miniature, portable shrine, a Buddhist rosary, a banner staff. . . . There was even a lacquered saddle, beautifully carved and ornately decorated with gold, silver and mother-of-pearl inlay.

From the opening in the ceiling Matahachi peered out, a perplexed look on his face. "Is that everything?"

"No, there's one thing more," said Okō, rushing off. In a moment she was back, bearing a four-foot sword of black oak. Takezō started passing it up to Matahachi's outstretched arms, but the weight, the curve, the perfect balance of the weapon impressed him so deeply that he could not let it go.

He turned to Okō., a sheepish look on his face. "Do you think I could have this?" he asked, his eyes showing a new vulnerability. He glanced at his feet, as if to say he knew he'd done nothing to deserve the sword.

"Do you really want it?" she said softly, a motherly tone in her voice. "Yes . . . Yes . . . I really do!"

Although she didn't actually say he could have it, she smiled, showing a dimple, and Takezō knew the sword was his. Matahachi jumped down from the ceiling, bursting with envy. He fingered the sword covetously, making Okō laugh.

"See how the little man pouts because he didn't get a present!" She tried to placate him by giving him a handsome leather purse beaded with agate. Matahachi didn't look very happy with it. His eyes kept shifting to the black-oak sword. His feelings were hurt and the purse did little to assuage his wounded pride.

When her husband was alive, Okō had apparently acquired the habit of taking a leisurely, steaming hot bath every evening, putting on her makeup, and then drinking a bit of sake. In short, she spent the same amount of time on her toilette as the highest-paid geisha. It was not the sort of luxury that ordinary people could afford, but she insisted on it and had even taught Akemi to follow the same routine, although the girl found it boring and the reasons for it unfathomable. Not only did Okō like to live well; she was determined to remain young forever.

That evening, as they sat around the recessed floor hearth, Okō poured Matahachi's sake and tried to persuade Takezō to have some as well. When he refused, she put the cup in his hand, seized him by the wrist and forced him to raise it to his lips.

"Men are supposed to be able to drink," she chided. "If you can't do it alone, I'll help."

From time to time, Matahachi stared uneasily at her. Okō, conscious of his gaze, became even more familiar with Takezō. Placing her hand playfully on his knee, she began humming a popular love song.

By this time, Matahachi had had enough. Suddenly turning to Takezō, he blurted out, "We ought to be moving on soon!"

This had the desired effect. "But . . . but ... where would you go?" Okō stammered.

"Back to Miyamoto. My mother's there, and so is my fiancée."

Momentarily taken by surprise, Okō swiftly regained her composure. Her eyes narrowed to slits, her smile froze, her voice turned acid. "Well, please accept my apologies for delaying you, for taking you in and giving you a home. If there's a girl waiting for you, you'd better hurry on back. Far be it from me to keep you!"

After receiving the black-oak sword, Takezō was never without it. He derived an indescribable pleasure from simply holding it. Often he'd squeeze the handle tightly or run its blunt edge along his palm, just to feel the perfect proportion of the curve to the length. When he slept, he hugged it to his body. The cool touch of the wooden surface against his cheek reminded him of the floor of the dōjō where he'd practiced sword techniques in winter. This nearly perfect instrument of both art and death reawakened in him the fighting spirit he had inherited from his father.

Takezō had loved his mother, but she had left his father and moved away when he was still small, leaving him alone with Munisai, a martinet who wouldn't have known how to spoil a child in the unlikely event that he had wanted to. In his father's presence, the boy had always felt awkward and frightened, never really at ease. When he was nine years old, he'd so craved a kind word from his mother that he had run away from home and gone all the way to Harima Province, where she was living. Takezō never learned why his mother and father had separated, and at that age, an explanation might not have helped much. She had married another samurai, by whom she had one more child.

Once the little runaway had reached Harima, he wasted no time in locating his mother. On that occasion, she took him to a wooded area behind the local shrine, so they wouldn't be seen, and there, with tear-filled eyes, hugged him tightly and tried to explain why he had to go back to his father. Takezō never forgot the scene; every detail of it remained vividly in his mind as long as he lived.

Of course, Munisai, being the samurai he was, had sent people to retrieve his son the moment he learned of his disappearance. It was obvious where the child had gone. Takezō was returned to Miyamoto like a bundle of firewood, strapped on the back of an unsaddled horse. Munisai, by way of greeting, had called him an insolent brat, and in a state of rage verging on hysteria, caned him until he could cane no more. Takezō remembered more explicitly than anything else the venom with which his father had spat out his ultimatum: "If you go to your mother one more time, I'll disown you."

Not long after this incident, Takezō learned that his mother had fallen ill and died. Her death had the effect of transforming him from a quiet, gloomy child into the village bully. Even Munisai was intimidated eventually. When he took a truncheon to the boy, the latter countered with a wooden staff. The only one who ever stood up to him was Matahachi, also the son of a samurai; the other children all did Takezō's bidding. By the time he was twelve or thirteen, he was almost as tall as an adult.

One year, a wandering swordsman named Arima Kihei put up a gold-emblazoned banner and offered to take on challengers from the village. Takezō killed him effortlessly, eliciting praise for his valor from the villagers. Their high opinion of him, however, was short-lived, since as he grew older, he became increasingly unmanageable and brutal. Many thought him sadistic, and soon, whenever he appeared on the scene, people gave him a very wide berth. His attitude toward them grew to reflect their coldness.

When his father, as harsh and unrelenting as ever, finally died, the cruel streak in Takezō widened even more. If it had not been for his older sister, Ogin, Takezō would probably have gotten himself into something far over his head and been driven out of the village by an angry mob. Fortunately, he loved his sister and, powerless before her tears, usually did whatever she asked.

Going off to war with Matahachi was a turning point for Takezō. It indicated that somehow he wanted to take his place in society alongside other men. The defeat at Sekigahara had abruptly curtailed such hopes, and he found himself once again plunged into the dark reality from which he thought he had escaped. Still, he was a youth blessed with the sublime lightheartedness that flourishes only in an age of strife. When he slept, his face became as placid as an infant's, completely untroubled by thoughts of the morrow. He had his share of dreams, asleep or awake, but he suffered few real disappointments. Having so little to begin with, he had little to lose, and although he was in a sense uprooted, he was also unfettered by shackles.

Breathing deeply and steadily, holding on to his wooden sword tightly, Takezō at this moment may well have been dreaming, a faint smile on his lips as visions of his gentle sister and his peaceful hometown cascaded like a mountain waterfall before his closed, heavily lashed eyes. Okō, carrying a lamp, slipped into his room. "What a peaceful face," she marveled under her breath; she reached out and lightly touched his lips with her fingers.

Then she blew out the lamp and lay down beside him. Curling up catlike, she inched closer and closer to his body, her whitened face and colorful nightgown, really too youthful for her, hidden by the darkness. The only sound that could be heard was that of dewdrops dripping onto the windowsill.

"I wonder if he's still a virgin," she mused as she reached out to remove his wooden sword.

The instant she touched it, Takezō was on his feet and shouting, "Thief! Thief!"

Okō was thrown over onto the lamp, which cut into her shoulder and chest.

Takezō was wrenching her arm without mercy. She screamed out in pain. Astonished, he released her. "Oh, it's you. I thought it was a thief." "Oooh," moaned Okō. "That hurt!"

"I'm sorry. I didn't know it was you."

"You don't know your own strength. You almost tore my arm off." "I said I was sorry. What are you doing here, anyway?"

Ignoring his innocent query, she quickly recovered from her arm injury and tried to coil the same limb around his neck, cooing, "You don't have to apologize. Takezō . . ." She ran the back of her hand softly against his cheek.

"Hey! What are you doing? Are you crazy?" he shouted, shrinking away from her touch.

"Don't make so much noise, you idiot. You know how I feel about you." She went on trying to fondle him, with him swatting at her like a man attacked by a swarm of bees.

"Yes, and I'm very grateful. Neither of us will ever forget how kind you've been, taking us in and all."

"I don't mean that, Takezō. I'm talking about my woman's feelings—the lovely, warm feeling I have for you."

"Wait a minute," he said, jumping up. "I'll light the lamp!"

"Oh, how can you be so cruel," she whimpered, moving to embrace him again.

"Don't do that!" he cried indignantly. "Stop it—I mean it!"

Something in his voice, something intense and resolute, frightened Okō into halting her attack.

Takezō felt his bones wobbling, his teeth rattling. Never had he encountered such a formidable adversary. Not even when he'd looked up at the horses galloping past him at Sekigahara had his heart palpitated so. He sat cringing in the corner of the room.

"Go away, please," he pleaded. "Go back to your own room. If you don't, I'll call Matahachi. I'll wake the whole house up!"

Okō did not budge. She sat there in the dark, breathing heavily and staring at him with narrowed eyes. She wasn't about to be rebuffed. "Takezō," she cooed again. "Don't you understand how I feel?"

He made no reply.

"Don't you?"

"Yes, but do you understand how I feel, being snuck up on in my sleep, frightened to death and mauled by a tiger in the dark?"

It was her turn to be silent. A low whisper, almost a growl, emerged from a deep part of her throat. She said each syllable with a vengeance. "How can you embarrass me so?"

"I embarrass you?"

"Yes. This is mortifying."

They were both so tense they hadn't noticed the knocking at the door, which had apparently been going on for some time. Now the pounding was punctuated by shouts. "What's going on in there? Are you deaf? Open the door!"

A light appeared in the crack between the sliding rain shutters. Akemi was already awake. Then Matahachi's footsteps thudded toward them and his voice called, "What's going on?"

From the hallway now, Akemi cried out in alarm, "Mother! Are you in there? Please answer me!"

Blindly Okō scrambled back into her own room, just adjoining Takezō's, and answered from there. The men outside appeared to have pried open the shutters and stormed into the house. When she reached the hearth room she saw six or seven pairs of broad shoulders crowded into the adjacent, dirt-floored kitchen, which was a big step down, since it was set at a lower level than the other rooms.

One of the men shouted, "It's Tsujikaze Temma. Give us some light!"

The men barged rudely into the main part of the house. They didn't even stop to remove their sandals, a sure sign of habitual uncouthness. They began poking around everywhere—in the closets, in the drawers, under the thick straw tatami covering the floor. Temma seated himself royally by the hearth and watched as his henchmen systematically ransacked the rooms. He thoroughly enjoyed being in charge but soon seemed to tire of his own inactivity.

"This is taking too long," he growled, pounding his fist on the tatami. "You must have some of it here. Where is it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," replied Okō, folding her hands over her stomach forbearingly.

"Don't give me that, woman!" he bellowed. "Where is it? I know it's here!" "I don't have a thing!"



"Well, then, maybe you don't. Maybe I have the wrong information. . . . "He eyed her warily, tugging and scratching at his beard. "That's enough, men!" he thundered.

Okō had meanwhile sat down in the next room, with the sliding door wide open. She had her back to him, but even so she looked defiant, as though telling him he could go ahead and search wherever he had a mind to.

"Okō," he called gruffly.

"What do you want?" came the icy reply.

"How about a little something to drink?"

"Would you like some water?"

"Don't push me . . ." he warned menacingly.

"The sake's in there. Drink it if you want to."

"Aw, Okō," he said, softening, almost admiring her for her coldhearted stubbornness. "Don't be that way. I haven't been to visit for a long time. Is this any way to treat an old friend?"

"Some visit!"

"Now, take it easy. You're partly to blame, you know. I've been hearing about what the 'moxa man's widow' has been up to from too many different people to think it's all lies. I hear you've been sending your lovely daughter out to rob corpses. Now, why would she be doing a thing like that?"

"Show me your proof!" she shrieked. "Where's the proof!"

"If I'd been planning to dig it out, I wouldn't have given Akemi advance warning. You know the rules of the game. It's my territory, and I've got to go through the motions of searching your house. Otherwise, everybody'd get the idea they could get away with the same thing. Then where'd I be? I've gotta protect myself, you know!"

She stared at him in steely silence, her head half turned toward him, chin and nose proudly raised.

"Well, I'm going to let you off this time. But just remember, I'm being especially nice to you."

"Nice to me? Who, you? That's a laugh!"

"Okō," he coaxed, "come here and pour me a drink."

When she showed no sign of moving, he exploded. "You crazy bitch! Can't you see that if you were nice to me, you wouldn't have to live like this?" He calmed down a bit, then advised her,

"Think it over for a while."

"I'm overcome by your kindness, sir," came the venomous reply.

"You don't like me?"

"Just answer me this: Who killed my husband? I suppose you expect me to believe that you don't know?"

"If you want to take revenge on whoever it was, I'll be happy to help. Any way I can."

"Don't play dumb!"

"What do you mean by that?"

"You seem to hear so much from people. Haven't they told you that it was you yourself who killed him? Haven't you heard that Tsujikaze Temma was the murderer? Everyone else knows it. I may be the widow of a freebooter, but I haven't sunk so low that I'd play around with my husband's killer."

"You had to go and say it, didn't you—couldn't leave well enough alone, eh!" With a rueful laugh, he drained the sake cup in one gulp and poured another. "You know, you really shouldn't say things like that. It's not good for your health—or your pretty daughter's!"

"I'll bring Akemi up properly, and after she's married, I'll get back at you. Mark my word!"

Temma laughed until his shoulders, his whole body, shook like a cake of bean curd. After he'd downed all the sake he could find, he motioned to one of his men, who was positioned in a corner of the kitchen, his lance propped vertically against his shoulder. "You there," he boomed, "push aside some of the ceiling boards with the butt of your lance!"

The man did as he was told. As he went around the room, poking at the ceiling, Okō's treasure trove began falling to the floor like hailstones.

"Just as I suspected all along," said Temma, getting clumsily to his feet. "You see it, men. Evidence! She's broken the rules, no question about it. Take her outside and give her her punishment!"

The men converged on the hearth room, but abruptly came to a halt. Okō stood statuesquely in the doorway, as though daring them to lay a hand on her. Temma, who'd stepped down into the kitchen, called back impatiently, "What are you waiting for? Bring her out here!"

Nothing happened. Okō continued to stare the men down, and they remained as if paralyzed. Temma decided to take over. Clicking his tongue, he made for Okō, but he, too, stopped short in front of the doorway. Standing behind Okō, not visible from the kitchen, were two fierce-looking young men. Takezō was holding the wooden sword low, poised to fracture the shins of the first comer and anyone else stupid enough to follow. On the other side was Matahachi, holding a sword high in the air, ready to bring it down on the first neck that ventured through the doorway. Akemi was nowhere to be seen.

"So that's how it is," groaned Temma, suddenly remembering the scene on the mountainside. "I saw that one walking the other day with Akemi—the one with the stick. Who's the other one?"

Neither Matahachi nor Takezō said a word, making it clear that they intended to answer with their weapons. The tension mounted.

"There aren't supposed to be any men in this house," roared Temma. "You two . . . You must be from Sekigahara! You better watch your step—I'm warning you."

Neither of them moved a muscle.

"There isn't anybody in these parts who doesn't know the name of Tsujikaze Temma! I'll show you what we do to stragglers!"

Silence. Temma waved his men out of the way. One of them backed straight into the hearth, in the middle of the floor. He let out a yelp and fell in, sending a shower of sparks from the burning kindling up to the ceiling; in seconds, the room filled completely with smoke.


As Temma lunged into the room, Matahachi brought down his sword with both hands, but the older man was too fast for him and the blow glanced off the tip of Temma's scabbard. Okō had taken refuge in the nearest corner while Takezō waited, his black-oak sword horizontally poised. He aimed at Temma's legs and swung with all his strength. The staff whizzed through the darkness, but there was no thud of impact. Somehow this bull of a man had jumped up just in time and on the way down threw himself at Takezō with the force of a boulder.

Takezō felt as though he were tangling with a bear. This was the strongest man he had ever fought. Temma grabbed him by the throat and landed two or three blows that made him think his skull would crack. Then Takezō got his second wind and sent Temma flying through the air. He landed against the wall, rocking the house and everything in it. As Takezō raised the wooden sword to come down on Temma's head, the freebooter rolled over, jumped to his feet, and fled, with Takezō close on his tail.

Takezō was determined to not let Temma escape. That would be dangerous. His mind was made up; when he caught him, he was not going to do a halfway job of killing him. He would make absolutely certain that not a breath of life was left.

That was Takezō's nature; he was a creature of extremes. Even when he was a small child, there had been something primitive in his blood, something harking back to the fierce warriors of ancient Japan, something as wild as it was pure. It knew neither the light of civilization nor the tempering of knowledge. Nor did it know moderation. It was a natural trait, and the one that had always prevented his father from liking the boy. Munisai had tried, in the fashion typical of the military class, to curb his son's ferocity by punishing him severely and often, but the effect of such discipline had been to make the boy wilder, like a wild boar whose true ferocity emerges when it is deprived of food. The more the villagers despised the young roughneck, the more he lorded it over them.

As the child of nature became a man, he grew bored with swaggering about the village as though he owned it. It was too easy to intimidate the timid villagers. He began to dream of bigger things. Sekigahara had given him his first lesson in what the world was really like. His youthful illusions were shattered—not that he'd really had many to begin with. It would never have occurred to him to brood over having failed in his first "real" venture, or to muse on the grimness of the future. He didn't yet know the meaning of self-discipline, and he'd taken the whole bloody catastrophe in stride.

And now, fortuitously, he'd stumbled onto a really big fish—Tsujikaze Temma, the leader of the freebooters! This was the kind of adversary he had longed to lock horns with at Sekigahara.

"Coward!" he yelled. "Stand and fight!"

Takezō was running like lightning through the pitch-black field, shouting taunts all the while. Ten paces ahead, Temma was fleeing as if on wings. Takezō's hair was literally on end, and the wind made a groaning noise as it swept past his ears. He was happy—happier than he'd ever been in his life. The more he ran, the closer he came to sheer animal ecstasy.

He leapt at Temma's back. Blood spurted out at the end of the wooden sword, and a bloodcurdling scream pierced the silent night. The freebooter's hulking frame fell to the ground with a leaden thud and rolled over. The skull was smashed to bits, the eyes popped out of their sockets. After two or three more heavy blows to the body, broken ribs protruded from the skin.

Takezō raised his arm, wiping rivers of sweat from his brow.

"Satisfied, Captain?" he asked triumphantly.

He started nonchalantly back toward the house. An observer new on the scene might have thought him out for an evening stroll, with not a care in the world. He felt free, no remorse, knowing that if the other man had won, he himself would be lying there, dead and alone.

Out of the darkness came Matahachi's voice. "Takezō, is that you?" "Yeah," he replied dully. "What's up?"

Matahachi ran up to him and announced breathlessly, "I killed one! How about you?"

"I killed one too."

Matahachi held up his sword, soaked in blood right down to the braiding on the hilt. Squaring his shoulders with pride, he said, "The others ran away. These thieving bastards aren't much as fighters! No guts! Can only stand up to corpses, ha! Real even match, I'd say, ha, ha, ha."

Both of them were stained with gore and as contented as a pair of well-fed kittens. Chattering happily, they headed for the lamp visible in the distance, Takezō with his bloody stick, Matahachi with his bloody sword.

A stray horse stuck his head through the window and looked around the house. His snorting woke the two sleepers. Cursing the animal, Takezō gave him a smart slap on the nose. Matahachi stretched, yawned and remarked on how well he'd slept.

"The sun's pretty high already," said Takezō.

"You suppose it's afternoon?"

"Couldn't be!"

After a sound sleep, the events of the night before were all but forgotten. For these two, only today and tomorrow existed.

Takezō ran out behind the house and stripped to the waist. Crouching down beside the clean, cool mountain stream, he splashed water on his face, doused his hair and washed his chest and back. Looking up, he inhaled deeply several times, as though trying to drink in the sunlight and all the air in the sky. Matahachi went sleepily into the hearth room, where he bid a cheery good morning to Okō and Akemi.

"Why, what are you two charming ladies wearing sour pusses for?" "Are we?"

"Yes, most definitely. You look like you're both in mourning. What's there to be gloomy about? We killed your husband's murderer and gave his henchmen a beating they won't soon forget."

Matahachi's dismay was not hard to fathom. He thought the widow and her daughter would be overjoyed at news of Temma's death. Indeed, the night before, Akemi had clapped her hands with glee when she first heard about it. But Okō had looked uneasy from the first, and today, slouching dejectedly by the fire, she looked even worse.

"What's the matter with you?" he asked, thinking she was the most difficult woman in the world to please. "What gratitude!" he said to himself, taking the bitter tea that Akemi had poured for him and squatting down on his haunches.

Okō smiled wanly, envying the young, who know not the ways of the world. "Matahachi," she said wearily, "you don't seem to understand. Temma had hundreds of followers."

"Of course he did. Crooks like him always do. We're not afraid of the kind of people who follow the likes of him. If we could kill him, why should we be afraid of his underlings? If they try to get at us, Takezō and I will just—"

"—will just do nothing!" interrupted Okō.

Matahachi pulled back his shoulders and said, "Who says so? Bring on as many of them as you like! They're nothing but a bunch of worms. Or do you think Takezō and I are cowards, that we're just going to slither away on our bellies in retreat? What do you take us for?"

"You're not cowards, but you are childish! Even to me. Temma has a younger brother named Tsujikaze Kōhei, and if he comes after you, the two of you rolled into one wouldn't have a chance!"

This was not the kind of talk Matahachi especially liked to hear, but as she went on, he started thinking that maybe she had a point. Tsujikaze Kōhei apparently had a large band of followers around Yasugawa in Kiso, and not only that: he was expert in the martial arts and unusually adept at catching people off their guard. So far, no one Kōhei had publicly announced he would kill had lived out his normal life. To Matahachi's way of thinking, it was one thing if a person attacked you in the open. It was quite another thing if he snuck up on you when you were fast asleep.

"That's a weak point with me," he admitted. "I sleep like a log."

As he sat holding his jaw and thinking, Okō came to the conclusion that there was nothing to do but abandon the house and their present way of life and go somewhere far away. She asked Matahachi what he and Takezō would do.

"I'll talk it over with him," replied Matahachi. "Wonder where he's gone off to?"

He walked outside and looked around, but Takezō was nowhere in sight. After a time he shaded his eyes, looked off into the distance and spotted Takezō riding around in the foothills, bareback on the stray horse that had woken them with his neighing.

"He doesn't have a care in the world," Matahachi said to himself, gruffly envious. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he shouted, "Hey, you! Come home! We've got to talk!"

A little while later they lay in the grass together, chewing on stalks of grass, discussing what they should do next.

Matahachi said, "Then you think we should head home?"

"Yes, I do. We can't stay with these two women forever."

"No, I guess not."

"I don't like women." Takezō was sure of that at least.

"All right. Let's go, then."

Matahachi rolled over and looked up at the sky. "Now that we've made up our minds, I want to get moving. I suddenly realized how much I miss Otsū, how much I want to see her. Look up there! There's a cloud that looks just like her profile. See! That part's just like her hair after she's washed it." Matahachi was kicking his heels into the ground and pointing to the sky.

Takezō's eyes followed the retreating form of the horse he had just set free. Like many of the vagabonds who live in the fields, stray horses seemed to him to be good-natured things. When you're through with them, they ask for nothing; they just go off quietly somewhere by themselves.

From the house Akemi summoned them to dinner. They stood up. "Race you!" cried Takezō.

"You're on!" countered Matahachi.

Akemi clapped her hands with delight as the two of them sped neck and neck through the tall grass, leaving a thick trail of dust in their wake.

After dinner, Akemi grew pensive. She had just learned that the two men had decided to go back to their homes. It had been fun having them in the house, and she wanted it to go on forever.

"You silly thing!" chided her mother. "Why are you moping so?" Okō was applying her makeup, as meticulously as ever, and as she scolded the girl, she stared into her mirror at Takezō. He caught her gaze and suddenly recalled the pungent fragrance of her hair the night she invaded his room.

Matahachi, who had taken the big sake jar down from a shelf, plopped down next to Takezō and began filling a small warming bottle, just as though he were master of the house. Since this was to be their last night all together, they planned to drink their fill. Okō seemed to be taking special care with her face.

"Let's not leave a drop undrunk!" she said. "There's no point in leaving it here for the rats."

"Or the worms!" Matahachi chimed in.

They emptied three large jars in no time. Okō leaned against Matahachi and started fondling him in a way that made Takezō turn his head in embarrassment.

"I . . . I . . . can't walk," mumbled Okō drunkenly.

Matahachi escorted her to her pallet, her head leaning heavily on his shoulder. Once there, she turned to Takezō and said spitefully, "You, Takezō, you sleep over there, by yourself. You like sleeping by yourself. Isn't that right?"

Without a murmur, he lay down where he was. He was very drunk and it was very late.

By the time he woke up, it was broad daylight. The moment he opened his eyes, he sensed it. Something told him the house was empty. The things Okō and Akemi had piled together the day before for the trip were gone. There were no clothes, no sandals—and no Matahachi.

He called out, but there was no reply, nor did he expect one. A vacant house has an aura all its own. There was no one in the yard, no one behind the house, no one in the woodshed. The only trace of his companions was a bright red comb lying beside the open mouth of the water pipe.

"Matahachi's a pig!" he said to himself.

Sniffing the comb, he again recalled how Okō had tried to seduce him that evening not long ago. "This," he thought, "is what defeated Matahachi." The very idea made him boil with anger.

"Fool!" he cried out loud. "What about Otsū? What do you plan to do about her? Hasn't she been deserted too many times already, you pig?"

He stamped the cheap comb under his foot. He wanted to cry in rage, not for himself, but out of pity for Otsū, whom he could picture so clearly waiting back in the village.

As he sat disconsolately in the kitchen, the stray horse looked in the doorway impassively. Finding that Takezō would not pat his nose, he wandered over to the sink and began lazily to lick some grains of rice that had stuck there.

The Flower Festival

In the seventeenth century, the Mimasaka highroad was something of a major thoroughfare. It led up from Tatsuno in Harima Province, winding through a terrain proverbially described as "one mountain after another." Like the stakes marking the Mimasaka-Harima boundary, it followed a seemingly endless series of ridges. Travelers emerging from Nakayama Pass looked down into the valley of the Aida River, where, often to their surprise, they saw a sizable village.

Actually, Miyamoto was more a scattering of hamlets than a real village. One cluster of houses lay along the riverbanks, another huddled farther up in the hills, and a third sat amid level fields that were stony and hence hard to plow. All in all, the number of houses was substantial for a rural settlement of the time.

Until about a year before, Lord Shimmen of Iga had maintained a castle not a mile up the river—a small castle as castles go, but one that nonetheless attracted a steady stream of artisans and tradespeople. Farther to the north were the Shikozaka silver mines, which were now past their prime but had once lured miners from far and wide.

Travelers going from Tottori to Himeji, or from Tajima through the mountains to Bizen, naturally used the highroad. Just as naturally, they stopped over in Miyamoto. It had the exotic air of a village often visited by the natives of several provinces and boasted of not only an inn, but a clothing store as well. It also harbored a bevy of women of the night, who, throats powdered white as was the fashion, hovered before their business establishments like white bats under the eaves. This was the town Takezō and Matahachi had left to go to war.

Looking down on the rooftops of Miyamoto, Otsū sat and daydreamed. She was a wisp of a girl, with fair complexion and shining black hair. Fine of bone, fragile of limb, she had an ascetic, almost ethereal air. Unlike the robust and ruddy farm girls working in the rice paddies below, Otsū's movements were delicate. She walked gracefully, with her long neck stretched and head held high. Now, perched on the edge of Shippōji temple porch, she was as poised as a porcelain statuette.

A foundling raised in this mountain temple, she had acquired a lovely aloofness rarely found in a girl of sixteen. Her isolation from other girls her age and from the workaday world had given her eyes a contemplative, serious cast which tended to put off men used to frivolous females. Matahachi, her betrothed, was just a year older, and since he'd left Miyamoto with Takezō the previous summer, she'd heard nothing. Even into the first and second months of the new year, she'd yearned for word of him, but now the fourth month was at hand. She no longer dared hope.

Lazily her gaze drifted up to the clouds, and a thought slowly emerged. "Soon it will have been a whole year."

"Takezō's sister hasn't heard from him either. I'd be a fool to think either of them is still alive." Now and then she'd say this to someone, longing, almost pleading with her voice and eyes, for the other person to contradict her, to tell her not to give up. But no one heeded her sighs. To the down-to-earth villagers, who had already gotten used to the Tokugawa troops occupying the modest Shimmen castle, there was no reason in the world to assume they'd survived. Not a single member of Lord Shimmen's family had come back from Sekigahara, but that was only natural. They were samurai; they had lost. They wouldn't want to show their faces among people who knew them. But common foot soldiers? Wasn't it all right for them to come home? Wouldn't they have done so long ago if they had survived?

"Why," wondered Otsū, as she had wondered countless times before, "why do men run off to war?" She had come to enjoy in a melancholy way sitting alone on the temple porch and pondering this imponderable. Lost in wistful reverie, she could have lingered there for hours. Suddenly a male voice calling "Otsū!" invaded her island of peace.

Looking up, Otsū saw a youngish man coming toward her from the well. He was clad in only a loincloth, which barely served its purpose, and his weathered skin glowed like the dull gold of an old Buddhist statue. It was the Zen monk who, three or four years before, had wandered in from Tajima Province. He'd been staying at the temple ever since.

"At last it's spring," he was saying to himself with satisfaction. "Spring—a blessing, but a mixed one. As soon as it gets a little warm, those insidious lice overrun the country. They're trying to take it over, just like Fujiwara no Michinaga, that wily rascal of a regent." After a pause, he went on with his monologue.

"I've just washed my clothes, but where on earth am I going to dry this tattered old robe? I can't hang it on the plum tree. It'd be a sacrilege, an insult to nature to cover those flowers. Here I am, a man of taste, and I can't find a place to hang this robe! Otsū! Lend me a drying pole."

Blushing at the sight of the scantily clad monk, she cried, "Takuan! You can't just walk around half naked till your clothes dry!"

"Then I'll go to sleep. How's that?"

"Oh, you're impossible!"

Raising one arm skyward and pointing the other toward the ground, he assumed the pose of the tiny Buddha statues that worshipers anointed once a year with special tea.

"Actually, I should have just waited till tomorrow. Since it's the eighth, the Buddha's birthday, I could have just stood like this and let the people bow to me. When they ladled the sweet tea over me, I could've shocked everyone by licking my lips." Looking pious, he intoned the first words of the Buddha: "In heaven above and earth below, only I am holy."

Otsū burst out laughing at his irreverent display. "You do look just like him, you know!"

"Of course I do. I am the living incarnation of Prince Siddhartha."

"Then stand perfectly still. Don't move! I'll go and get some tea to pour over you."

At this point, a bee began a full-scale assault on the monk's head and his reincarnation pose instantly gave way to a flailing of arms. The bee, noticing a gap in his loosely hung loincloth, darted in, and Otsū doubled up with laughter. Since the arrival of Takuan Sōhō, which was the name he was given on becoming a priest, even the reticent Otsū went few days without being amused by something he'd do or say.

Suddenly, however, she stopped laughing. "I can't waste any more time like this. I have important things to do!"

As she was slipping her small white feet into her sandals, the monk asked innocently, "What things?"

"What things? Have you forgotten too? Your little pantomime just reminded me. I'm supposed to get everything ready for tomorrow. The old priest asked me to pick flowers so we can decorate the flower temple. Then I have to set everything up for the anointing ceremony. And tonight I've got to make the sweet tea."

"Where are you going flower-picking?"

"Down by the river, in the lower part of the field."

"I'll come with you."

"Without any clothes on?"

"You'll never be able to cut enough flowers by yourself. You need help. Besides, man is born unclothed. Nakedness is his natural state."

"That may be, but I don't find it natural. Really, I'd rather go alone."

Hoping to elude him, Otsū hurried around to the rear of the temple. She strapped a basket on her back, picked up a sickle and slipped out the side gate, but only moments later turned to see him close behind her. Takuan was now swathed in a large wrapping cloth, the kind people used to carry their bedding.

"Is this more to your liking?" he called with a grin.

"Of course not. You look ridiculous. People will think you're crazy!"


"Never mind. Just don't walk next to me!"

"You never seemed to mind walking beside a man before."

"Takuan, you're perfectly horrible!" She ran off ahead, with him following in strides that would have befitted the Buddha descending from the Himalayas. His wrapping cloth flapped wildly in the breeze.

"Don't be angry, Otsū! You know I'm teasing. Besides, your boyfriends won't like you if you pout too much."

Eight or nine hundred yards down from the temple, spring flowers were blooming profusely along both banks of the Aida River. Otsū put her basket down and, amid a sea of fluttering butterflies, began swinging her sickle in wide circles, cutting the flowers off near their roots.

After a while, Takuan grew reflective. "How peaceful it is here," he sighed, sounding both religious and childlike. "Why, when we could live out our lives in a flower-filled paradise, do we all prefer to weep, suffer and get lost in a maelstrom of passion and fury, torturing ourselves in the flames of hell? I hope that you, at least, won't have to go through all that."

Otsū, rhythmically filling her basket with yellow rape blossoms, spring chrysanthemums, daisies, poppies and violets, replied, "Takuan, instead of preaching a sermon, you'd better watch out for the bees."

He nodded his head, sighing in despair. "I'm not talking about bees, Otsū. I simply want to pass on to you the Buddha's teaching on the fate of women." "This woman's fate is none of your business!"

"Oh, but you're wrong! It's my duty as a priest to pry into people's lives. I

agree it's a meddlesome trade, but it's no more useless than the business of a merchant, clothier, carpenter or samurai. It exists because it is needed." Otsū softened. "I suppose you're right."

"It does happen, of course, that the priesthood has been on bad terms with womankind for some three thousand years. You see, Buddhism teaches that women are evil. Fiends. Messengers of hell. I've spent years immersed in the scriptures, so it's no accident that you and I fight all the time."

"And why, according to your scriptures, are women evil?"

"Because they deceive men."

"Don't men deceive women too?"

"Yes, but . . . the Buddha himself was a man."

"Are you saying that if he'd been a woman, things would be the other way around?"

"Of course not! How could a demon ever become a Buddha!"

"Takuan, that doesn't make any sense."

"If religious teachings were just common sense, we wouldn't need prophets to pass them on to us."

"There you go again, twisting everything to your own advantage!" "A typical female comment. Why attack me personally?"

She stopped swinging her sickle again, a world-weary look on her face. "Takuan, let's stop it. I'm not in the mood for this today."

"Silence, woman!"

"You're the one who's been doing all the talking."

Takuan closed his eyes as if to summon patience. "Let me try to explain. When the Buddha was young, he sat under the bo tree, where she-demons tempted him night and day. Naturally, he didn't form a high opinion of women. But even so, being all-merciful, he took some female disciples in his old age."

"Because he'd grown wise or senile?"

"Don't be blasphemous!" he warned sharply. "And don't forget the Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, who hated—I mean feared—women as much as the Buddha did. Even he went so far as to praise four female types: obedient sisters, loving companions, good mothers and submissive maidservants. He extolled their virtues again and again, and advised men to take such women as wives."

"Obedient sisters, loving companions, good mothers and submissive maidservants . . . I see you have it all worked out to men's advantage."

"Well, that's natural enough, isn't it? In ancient India, men were honored more and women less than in Japan. Anyway, I'd like you to hear the advice Nagarjuna gave women."

"What advice?"

"He said, 'Woman, marry thyself not to a man—"'

"That's ridiculous!"

"Let me finish. He said, 'Woman, marry thyself to the truth."'

Otsū looked at him blankly.

"Don't you see?" he said, with a wave of his arm. "'Marry thyself to the truth' means that you shouldn't become infatuated with a mere mortal but should seek the eternal."

"But, Takuan," Otsū asked impatiently, "what is 'the truth'?"

Takuan let both arms fall to his sides and looked at the ground. "Come to think of it," he said thoughtfully, "I'm not really sure myself."

Otsū burst out laughing, but Takuan ignored her. "There is something I know for certain. Applied to your life, wedding honesty means that you shouldn't think of going off to the city and giving birth to weak, namby-pamby children. You should stay in the country, where you belong, and raise a fine, healthy brood instead."

Otsū raised her sickle impatiently. "Takuan," she snapped, exasperated, "did you come out here to help me pick flowers or not?"

"Of course I did. That's why I'm here."

"In that case, stop preaching and grab this sickle."

"All right; if you don't really want my spiritual guidance, I won't impose it on you," he said, pretending hurt.

"While you're busy at work, I'll run over to Ogin's house and see if she's finished the obi I'm supposed to wear tomorrow."

"Ogin? Takezō's sister? I've met her, haven't I? Didn't she come with you once to the temple?" He dropped the sickle. "I'll come with you."

"In that outfit?"

He pretended not to hear. "She'll probably offer us some tea. I'm dying of thirst."

Totally spent from arguing with the monk, Otsū gave a weak nod and together they set out along the riverbank.

Ogin was a woman of twenty-five, no longer considered in the bloom of youth but by no means bad-looking. Although suitors tended to be put off by her brother's reputation, she suffered no lack of proposals. Her poise and good breeding were immediately evident to everyone. She'd turned down all offers thus far simply on the grounds that she wanted to look after her younger brother a bit longer.

The house she lived in had been built by their father, Munisai, when he was in charge of military training for the Shimmen clan. As a reward for his excellent service, he'd been honored with the privilege of taking the Shimmen name. Overlooking the river, the house was surrounded by a high dirt wall set on a stone foundation and was much too large for the needs of an ordinary country samurai. Although once imposing, it had become run down. Wild irises were sprouting from the roof, and the wall of the dōjō where Munisai once taught martial arts was completely plastered with white swallow droppings.

Munisai had fallen from favor, lost his status, and died a poor man, not an uncommon occurrence in an age of turmoil. Soon after his death, his servants had left, but since they were all natives of Miyamoto, many still cropped in. When they did, they would leave fresh vegetables, clean the unused rooms, fill the water jars, sweep the path, and in countless other ways help keep the old house going. They would also have a pleasant chat with Munisai's daughter.

When Ogin, who was sewing in an inner room, heard the back door open, she naturally assumed it was one of these former servants. Lost in her work, she gave a jump when Otsū greeted her.

"Oh," she said. "It's you. You gave me a fright. I'm just finishing your obi now. You need it for the ceremony tomorrow, don't you?"

"Yes, I do. Ogin, I want to thank you for going to so much trouble. I should have sewn it myself, but there was so much to do at the temple, I never would have had time."

"I'm glad to be of help. I have more time on my hands than is good for me. If I'm not busy, I start to brood."

Otsū, raising her head, caught sight of the household altar. On it, in a small dish, was a flickering candle. By its dim light, she saw two dark inscriptions, carefully brush-painted. They were pasted on boards, an offering of water and flowers before them:

The Departed Spirit of Shimmen Takezō, Aged 17.

The Departed Spirit of Hon'iden Matahachi, Same Age.

"Ogin," Otsū said with alarm. "Have you gotten word they were killed?" "Well, no . . . But what else can we think? I've accepted it. I'm sure they met their deaths at Sekigahara."

Otsū shook her head violently. "Don't say that! It'll bring bad luck! They aren't dead, they aren't! I know they'll show up one of these days."

Ogin looked at her sewing. "Do you dream about Matahachi?" she asked softly.

"Yes, all the time. Why?"

"That proves he's dead. I dream of nothing but my brother."

"Ogin, don't say that!" Rushing over to the altar, Otsū tore the inscriptions from their boards. "I'm getting rid of these things. They'll just invite the worst."

Tears streamed down her face as she blew out the candle. Not satisfied with that, she seized the flowers and the water bowl and rushed through the next room to the veranda, where she flung the flowers as far as she could and poured the water out over the edge. It landed right on the head of Takuan, who was squatting on the ground below.

"Aaii! That's cold!" he yelped, jumping up, frantically trying to dry his head with an end of the wrapping cloth. "What're you doing? I came here for a cup of tea, not a bath!"

Otsū laughed until fresh tears, tears of mirth, came. "I'm sorry, Takuan. I really am. I didn't see you."

By way of apology, she brought him the tea he'd been waiting for. When she went back inside, Ogin, who was staring fixedly toward the veranda, asked, "Who is that?"

"The itinerant monk who's staying at the temple. You know, the dirty one. You met him one day, with me, remember? He was lying in the sun on his stomach with his head in his hands, staring at the ground. When we asked him what he was doing, he said his lice were having a wrestling match. He said he'd trained them to entertain him."

"Oh, him!"

"Yes, him. His name's Takuan Sōhō."

"Kind of strange."

"That's putting it mildly."

"What's that thing he's wearing? It doesn't look like a priest's robe." "It isn't. It's a wrapping cloth."

"A wrapping cloth? He is eccentric. How old is he?"

"He says he's thirty-one, but sometimes I feel like his older sister, he's so silly. One of the priests told me that despite his appearance, he's an excellent monk."

"I suppose that's possible. You can't always judge people by their looks. Where's he from?"

"He was born in Tajima Province and started training for the priesthood when he was ten. Then he entered a temple of the Rinzai Zen sect about four years later. After he left, he became a follower of a scholar-priest from the Daitokuji and traveled with him to Kyoto and Nara. Later on he studied under Gudō of the Myōshinji, Laō of Sennan and a whole string of other famous holy men. He's spent an awful lot of time studying!"

"Maybe that's why there's something different about him."

Otsū continued her story. "He was made a resident priest at the Nansōji and was appointed abbot of the Daitokuji by imperial edict. I've never learned why from anyone, and he never talks about his past, but for some reason he ran away after only three days."

Ogin shook her head.

Otsū went on. "They say famous generals like Hosokawa and noblemen like Karasumaru have tried again and again to persuade him to settle down. They even offered to build him a temple and donate money for its upkeep, but he's just not interested. He says he prefers to wander about the countryside like a beggar, with only his lice for friends, I think he's probably a little crazy."

"Maybe from his viewpoint we're the ones who are strange."

"That's exactly what he says!"

"How long will he stay here?"

"There's no way of knowing. He has a habit of showing up one day and disappearing the next."

Standing up near the veranda, Takuan called, "I can hear everything you're saying!"

"Well, it's not as though we're saying anything bad," Otsū replied cheerfully.

"I don't care if you do, if you find it amusing, but you could at least give me some sweet cakes to go with my tea."

"That's what I mean," said Otsū. "He's like this all the time."

"What do you mean, I'm 'like this'?" Takuan had a gleam in his eye. "What about you? You sit there looking as though you wouldn't hurt a fly, acting much more cruel and heartless than I ever would."

"Oh, really? And how am I being cruel and heartless?"

"By leaving me out here helpless, with nothing but tea, while you sit around moaning about your lost lover—that's how!"

The bells were ringing at the Daishōji and the Shippōji. They had started in a measured beat just after dawn and still rang forth now and then long past noon. In the morning a constant procession flowed to the temples: girls in red obis, wives of tradesmen wearing more subdued tones, and here and there an old woman in a dark kimono leading her grandchildren by the hand. At the Shippōji, the small main hall was crowded with worshipers, but the young men among them seemed more interested in stealing a glimpse of Otsū than in taking part in the religious ceremony.

"She's here, all right," whispered one.

"Prettier than ever," added another.

Inside the hall stood a miniature temple. Its roof was thatched with lime leaves and its columns were entwined with wild flowers. Inside this "flower temple," as it was called, stood a two-foot-high black statue of the Buddha, pointing one hand to heaven and the other to earth. The image was placed in a shallow clay basin, and the worshipers, as they passed, poured sweet tea over its head with a bamboo ladle. Takuan stood by with an extra supply of the holy balm, filling bamboo tubes for the worshipers to take home with them for good luck. As he poured, he solicited offerings.

"This temple is poor, so leave as much as you can. Especially you rich folks—I know who you are; you're wearing those fine silks and embroidered obis. You have a lot of money. You must have a lot of troubles too. If you leave a hundredweight of cash for your tea, your worries will be a hundredweight lighter."

On the other side of the flower temple, Otsū was seated at a black-lacquered table. Her face glowed light pink, like the flowers all around her. Wearing her new obi and writing charms on pieces of five-colored paper, she wielded her brush