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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Modern Literature under the Tokugawa Shōgunate

By Japanese Literature

  • 1600–1850 A.D.

    Closing Scene from the ‘Chiushingura’
  • [This story, ‘Chiushingura,’ records the celebrated fidelity of the “Forty-seven Ronin,” the great heroes of feudal Japan, 1701–2. Translation by Frederick Victor Dickins. It embodies the dearest ideals of a large part of the Japanese people. In dramatic form it receives repeated rendering in Japanese theatres. Mr. Dickins’s translation follows the modified text of a famous dramatist, Takeda Izumo, who shares with Chikamatsu a wide popularity.]

  • ANOTHER moment, and the body of Moronao lay on the floor, covered with wounds.

    The conspirators crowded round it, wild with excitement, shouting:—

    “Oh, rare sight! Oh, happy fortune! Happy are we as the móki when he found his waif, fortunate as though we gazed upon the flower of the udonge, that blossoms but once in three thousand years.”

    Cutting off their enemy’s head with the dagger with which their dead master had committed seppuku, they resumed their orgy, exclaiming:—

    “We deserted our wives, we abandoned our children, we left our aged folk uncared-for, all to obtain this one head. How auspicious a day is this!”

    They struck at the head in their frenzy, gnashed at it, shed tears over it; their grief and fury, poor wretches, beggared description.

    Yuranosuke, drawing from his bosom the ihai of his dead master, placed it reverently on a small stand at the upper end of the room; and then set the head of Moronao, cleansed from blood, on another opposite to it. He next took a perfume from within his helmet, and burnt it before the tablet of his lord, prostrating himself and withdrawing slowly, while he bowed his head reverently three times, and then again thrice three times.

    “O thou soul of my liege lord, with awe doth thy vassal approach thy mighty presence, who art now like unto him that was born of the lotos-flower, to attain a glory and eminence beyond the understanding of men! Before the sacred tablet tremblingly set I the head of thine enemy, severed from his corpse by the sword thou deignedst to bestow upon thy servant in the hour of thy last agony. O thou that art now resting amid the shadows of the tall grass, look with favor on my offering.” Bursting into tears, the Karō of Yenya thus adored the memory of his lord.

    “And now, comrades,” he resumed after a pause, “advance each of you, one after the other, and burn incense before the tablet of your master.”

    “We would all,” cried Yoshida, “venture to ask our chief first among us to render that honor to our lord’s memory.”

    “Nay,” answered the Karō, “’tis not I who of right should be the first. Yazama Jiutarō, to you of right falls that honor.”

    “Not so,” cried Yazama: “I claim no such favor. Others might think I had no right to it, and troubles might thus arise.”

    “No one will think that,” exclaimed Yuranosuke. “We have all freely ventured our lives in the struggle to seize Moronao, but to you,—to you fell the glory of finding him, and it was you who dragged him here alive, into our presence. ’Twas a good deed, Yazama, acceptable to the spirit of our master; each of us would fain have been the doer of it. Comrades, say I not well?”

    Yoshida assented on behalf of the rest.

    “Delay not, Yazama,” resumed Yuranosuke; “for time flies fast.”

    “If it must be so,” cried Yazama, as he passed forward, uttering gomen in a low tone, and offered incense the first of the company.

    “And next our chief,” exclaimed Yoshida.

    “Nay,” said the Karō, “there is yet one who should pass before me.”

    “What man can that be?” asked Yoshida wonderingly, while his comrades echoed his words.

    The Karō, without replying, drew a purse made of striped stuff from his bosom. “He who shall precede me,” cried the Karō, “is Hayano Kampei. A negligence of his duty as a vassal prevented him from being received into our number; but, eager to take at least a part in the erection of a monument to his liege lord, he sold away his wife, and thus became able to furnish his share toward the expense. As his father-in-law had the money, and was murdered, and I caused the subscription to be returned to him, mad with despair he committed seppuku and died—a most miserable and piteous death. All my life I shall never cease to regret having caused the money to be returned to him; never for a moment will be absent from my memory that through my fault he came to so piteous an end. During this night’s struggle the purse has been among us, borne by Heiyemon. Let the latter pass forward, and in the name of his sister’s dead husband, burn incense before the tablet of our lord.”

    Heiyemon, thus addressed, passed forward, exclaiming, “From amidst the shadows of the tall grass blades the soul of Kampei thanks you for the unlooked-for favor you confer upon him.” Laying the purse upon the censer, he added:—

    “’Tis Hayano Kampei who, second in turn, offers incense before the tablet of his liege lord.”

    The remainder followed, offering up in like manner—amid loud cries of grief, and with sobs and tears, and trembling in the anguish of their minds—incense before the tablet of their master.

    Suddenly the air is filled with the din of the trampling of men, with the clatter of hoofs, and with the noise of war drums.

    Yuranosuke does not change a feature.

    “’Tis the retainers of Moronao who are coming down upon us: why should we fight with them?”

    The Karō is about to give the signal to his comrades to accomplish the final act of their devotion, by committing seppuku in memory of their lord, when Momonoi Wakasanosuke appears upon the scene, disordered with the haste he had used, in his fear of being too late.

    “Moroyasu, the young brother of Moronao, is already at the great gate,” cries Momonoi. “If you commit seppuku at such a moment it will be said that you were driven to it by fear, and an infamous memory will attach to your deed. I counsel you to depart hence without delay, and betake yourselves to the burial-place of your lord, the Temple of Kōmyo.”

    “So shall it be,” answered Yuranosuke after a pause. “We will do as you counsel us, and will accomplish our last hour before the tomb of our ill-fated lord. We would ask you, Sir Wakasanosuke, to prevent our enemies from following us.”

    Hardly had Yuranosuke concluded, when Yakushiji Jirōzayemon and Sagisaka Bannai suddenly rushed forth from their hiding-places, shouting—“Oboshi, villain, thou shalt not escape!” and struck right and left at the Karō. Without a moment’s delay Rikiya hastened to his father’s assistance, and forced the wretches to turn their weapons against himself. The struggle did not last long. Avoiding a blow aimed at him by Yakushiji, Rikiya cut the fellow down, and left him writhing in mortal agony upon the ground. Bannai met with a similar fate: a frightful gash upon the leg brought him to his knee,—a pitiable spectacle enough,—and a few moments afterward the wretch breathed his last.

    “A valiant deed, a valiant deed!”

    Forever and ever shall the memory endure of these faithful clansmen; and in the earnest hope that the story of their loyalty—full bloom of the bamboo leaf—may remain a bright example as long as the dynasty of our rulers shall last, has the foregoing tale of their heroism been writ down.

  • Opening to ‘Glimpses of Dreamlands’
  • [This extract from the preface to one of Bakin’s famous novels, published 1809–10, is part of a translation by Ludovic Mordwin, who characterizes Bakin as a rationalist of the most modern Teutonic type; and his grim satire and good-tempered cynicism best remind us alternately of Carlyle and Thackeray.]

  • THE LENGTH of man’s life is fifty years, and even in ancient times men rarely reached seventy. A merely limited life is received from Heaven-and-Earth by man, but his passions have no limit. He is bound like a slave to the cent which he wears his nails to the very quick to obtain. Before the six-monthly term days arrive, payments and receipts are being briskly carried on, pleadings for grace or money, and loud lamentations; men borrowing with the meek, downcast look of a stone saint, yet rushing off to evil deeds with it whenever they grasp the desired treasure, and then repaying their loan with visage scowling like the King of Hell when he has his mouth smeared with red incense.

    The popular proverb that “even in hell sins are estimated in money” is, alas! esteemed a golden saying. “My property,” and “this or the other man’s,” although receiving the titles of their owners, remain but a little time, like a passing traveler who tarries for a night; for if there is income there is also expenditure. Eating and drinking, after all, are the pegs which give strength and continuity to life; and when you are really hungry perhaps nothing tastes nasty. Barbarous foreigners buy the first bonitos of the season with a golden koban, and when they have devoured them still crave for more. If you try to fare on plain rice flavored only with tea, it will travel but about three inches down your throat, and soon all will find its way to the public boats. A tight little house that you can get your knees into is quite large enough. The grand palace of the Chinese Emperor Shikō and a straw hovel differ only in being spacious or narrow, and in being placed in the country or in the capital. If you have but a room which a single mat covers, and in which you can just manage to stretch your legs, your body will be completely protected. So again, when you have packed your five feet of carcass into clothes, they form a convenient temporary skin to your frame; while the finest brocade or the coarsest rags differ only in being brilliant or dirty. When men die and become mere clay, no one by looking at their flayed [unclothed] bodies only can tell which of them wore the grandest raiment during life. A waist-cloth made of silk crape is after all only a waist-cloth. When the true principles which ought to regulate these things have been apprehended, our shoulders and knees will no doubt be covered with such patches of all sorts and hues as may first come to hand; but when one knowing of any costly article for which he has no special purpose strikes a bargain on the condition of two six-monthly payments, adorns himself with a borrowed wadded gown, and points his toes to the pawn-shop, it is really a most pitiful state of affairs!

    According to the kind of costume they wear, men are divided into great and mean; and if one follows simply the laws of etiquette in regard to the cut and color of his clothes, putting on even tattered pants and carrying a rusty sword in his girdle, though his possessions may be slender, still he can pay his debts. Performing all the duties assigned to him by Heaven, seizing the opportunity which a little leisure affords to turn over the green covers of an old book, viewing the ways and manners of the ancients, and resolving henceforth to mend his own ways, this is better far than purchasing pain with money. The Religion of Heaven does not give superabundantly. If a man has money he may have no children to bestow it upon; if his family is large his means may be small; handsome men are often fools, ugly men clever; taking sorts of fellows are frequently lascivious, and men poor in speech are strong in will.

  • On Painting
  • [This illustration of art criticism is from the ‘Tamagatsuma’ (Wicker Basket) of Motoori, an entertaining miscellany by this modern master of Japanese prose. Basil Hall Chamberlain, translator of the extract given here, says that “as a stylist Motoori stands quite alone amongst Japanese writers. His elegance is equaled only by his perspicuity…. This greatest scholar and writer of modern Japan” was born in Matsuzaka in Ise in the year 1730, and died in 1801. “To him more than to any other one man is due the movement which has restored the Mikado to his ancestral rights.”]

  • THE GREAT object in painting any one is to make as true a likeness of him as possible,—a likeness of his face (that is of course the first essential), and also of his figure, and even of his very clothes. Great attention should therefore be paid to the smallest details of a portrait. Now in the present day, painters of the human face set out with no other intention than that of showing their vigor of touch, and of producing an elegant picture. The result is a total want of likeness to the subject. Indeed, likeness to the subject is not a thing to which they attach any importance. From this craving to display vigor and to produce elegant pictures there results a neglect of details. Pictures are dashed off so sketchily that not only is there no likeness to the face of the person painted, but wise and noble men are represented with an expression of countenance befitting none but rustics of the lowest degree. This is worthy of the gravest censure. If the real features of a personage of antiquity are unknown, it should be the artist’s endeavor to represent such a personage in a manner appropriate to his rank or virtues. The man of great rank should be represented as having a dignified air, so that he may appear to have been really great. The virtuous man, again, should be painted so as to look really virtuous. But far from conforming to this principle, the artists of modern times, occupied as they are with nothing but the desire of displaying their vigor of touch, represent the noble and virtuous alike as if they had been rustics or idiots.

    The same ever-present desire for mere technical display makes our artists turn beautiful women’s faces into ugly ones. It will perhaps be alleged that a too elegant representation of mere beauty of feature may result in a less valuable work of art; but when it does so the fault must lie with the artist. His business is to paint the beautiful face, and at the same time not to produce a picture artistically inferior. In any case, fear for his own reputation as an artist is a wretched excuse for turning a beautiful face into an ugly one. On the contrary, a beautiful woman should be painted as beautiful as possible; for ugliness repels the beholder. At the same time it often happens in such pictures as those which are sold in the Yedo shops, that the strained effort to make the faces beautiful ends in excessive ugliness and vulgarity, to say nothing of artistic degradation.

    Our warlike paintings (that is, representations of fierce warriors fighting) have nothing human about the countenances. The immense round eyes, the angry nose, the great mouth, remind one of demons. Now, will any one assert that this unnatural, demoniacal fashion is the proper way to give an idea of the very fiercest warrior’s look? No! The warrior’s fierceness should indeed be depicted, but he should at the same time be recognized as a simple human being. It is doubtless to such portraits of warriors that a Chinese author alludes, when, speaking of Japanese paintings, he says that the figures in them are like those of the anthropophagous demons of Buddhist lore. As his countrymen do not ever actually meet living Japanese, such of them as read his book will receive the impression that all our countrymen resemble demons in appearance. For though the Japanese, through constant reading of Chinese books, are well acquainted with Chinese matters,—the Chinese, who never read our literature, are completely ignorant on our score, and there can be little doubt that the few stray allusions to us that do occur are implicitly believed in. This belief of foreigners in our portraits as an actual representation of our people will have the effect of making them imagine—when they see our great men painted like rustics and our beautiful women like frights—that the Japanese men are really contemptible in appearance and all the Japanese women hideous. Neither is it foreigners alone who will be thus misled. Our own very countrymen will not be able to resist the impression that the portraits they see of the unknown heroes of antiquity do really represent those heroes’ faces.