Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 17 • Spring 2006 • Featured Lodestar Writer • Fiction

The Tragic Love of Two Enemies

Ihara Saikaku
Translation by E. Powys Mathers
Edited by Patrick Ryan

The shogun of the province Etjigo was Jibudayu Mashikura. One day his chief minister, Gyobu Tokuzawa, summoned the household's first page, Senpatji Akanashi, who was in the waiting room with the other young samurai, and whispered, "I have something to say to you, Akanashi. Come with me."

The minister led Senpatji to a hidden place behind trees in the garden and continued, "Our master ordered me to choose someone very skilled to kill his courtier Shingokei Dizaki. I can think of no one better fit than you for his mission. Go to Shingokei's house and kill him. I'm sure that our master, in his wisdom, has excellent reasons for having him executed."

Senpatji asked, "What's his offense?" But the minister didn't know. Senpatji reasoned, "I have confidence in your word, but I wish to hear the order from our master's own mouth." So the minister brought Senpatji before the shogun, who repeated his orders, "Senpatji, you must kill Shingokei, just as my minister has already told you."

Senpatji returned to his apartment depressed at having to kill Shingokei, who was one of his best friends. Nevertheless, he went to his friend's house that night, and after a short conversation, killed him, announcing afterward, "This is the command of my master." Shingokei's slaves even tried to seize the murderer, but Senpatji calmed them, saying, "I've acted upon my master's orders, and just as I must obey him, so you must obey him."

The shogun confiscated all of dead Shingokei's property and his wealth. His widow was inconsolable. She was the daughter of a retired samurai from a neighboring province, and had married Shingokei the year before with all of the customary rites. Shingokei and her father were old friends. The couple loved each other tenderly, and her husband's death stunned her. She wanted to die with him and follow him into the other world, but she was pregnant and couldn't kill herself with Shingokei's unborn child still in her womb. So she fled from the province, bitterly grieving her husband's and her own sad destiny. After a long and solitary journey full of hardship she came to another remote province in the mountains, and decided to live there. Some time after, quite alone and without any nurse maids or relatives to assist, she gave birth to a son. Afterward, she devoted her life to the child's well-being, working with needles to earn their living, because in the whole village there was no other woman who could sew.

Time passed, and her son was fourteen years old, with features and manners that were gentle and refined, and he recalled to his mother that cherished husband she'd lost. Her parents had given her a Korean harp and two swords fashioned by Kunimune, the celebrated Japanese blacksmith. When she felt sad, she would play the harp to distract herself.

The destiny of man is so inconstant and awesome. The samurai, Senpatji Akanashi, was banished by his shogun for some minor offense, and after traveling through several provinces, he settled in a town near the hut in which the mother and son lived. They'd never met each other, and neither suspected that they lived their new lives so close together. But one day Senpatji was invited by his friend Kurobatji Toriyama to hunt birds. Returning home, they happened to pass the widow's hut, and heard the melancholy tune of a Korean harp. They were charmed by this heartfelt music and stopped on the roadway. They even went so far as to squeeze through a hole in the hedge, then popped through a large crack in the bamboo wall.

A beautiful woman was playing the harp. She was likely thirty or thirty-five. Her manner suggested that she'd been born from an honored family of high nobility, and she'd simply disguised herself inside the wretched hovel. Sitting by her side was her son, Shynosuke, who was studying characters which his mother had written. He was extremely handsome. The eavesdroppers were so surprised to have discovered such distinguished persons in this lonely village. Senpatji leaned so hard against the door that it opened, to the woman and her child's surprise, and the samurai apologized profusely and tried to explain their sudden, unkind intrusion.

Senpatji was struck by the beauty of the woman's son; and he returned to the hut the next day, and the day after that, and for weeks, becoming the intimate friend of its inhabitants. In fact, little by little, Senpatji and Shynosuke conceived a deep love for each other, and Senpatji took both mother and son to his apartment in the town. They were both treated as family. They no longer had to share one room. A year went peacefully.

Through things that had been said here and there in their long conversations, the mother realized that Senpatji's stories sounded very similar to those of the man who had killed her husband. One day she questioned Senpatji concerning his family and past life, after which she became certain that he was the assassin of her husband and father of Shynosuke. The next day she said to the boy, "Senpatji killed your father before you were born. But he was compelled to do so by command of his master, who was also your father's master. Nonetheless, son, he is your father's murderer. Kill him and avenge your father."

Her son was at first struck dumb with astonishment. Then he reasoned with his mother, "Senpatji did not kill my father out of personal enmity. He bore my father no hatred. He couldn't act otherwise since the shogun commanded it. He is not really my father's enemy. If you want vengeance, it's the Lord Jibudayu whom I ought to kill, not my friend Senpatji. We owe him gratitude for his kindness. Think, mother. I can't murder him. We have no right to kill him."

But his mother was angry, and cried, "I know that you cannot kill him. You are too cowardly and soft. If I had known that he was my husband's murderer I would never have accepted his money and food. I would've starved to death rather than allow your friendship with him to blossom. But I tell you, you're wrong to abandon your revenge because of your love, and if you do so, you smudge the honor of a samurai. If you are such a coward I no longer know you. I will avenge him." She seized her dagger.

Her son caught her by the sleeve, and said, "If you are so firmly determined to avenge my father, there's nothing for me to do but to obey you. I shall kill him with my own hands. I pray you not to do it yourself, mother. I beg you to be calm."

He made ready his vengeance. His love with Senpatji had already lasted more than two years, and yet now he was compelled to murder the man to whom he'd vowed affection and service forever. He could not, however, kill him without telling him his reason for doing so. So that evening, he invited Senpatji to his room. He was pale and weighted with sorrow. Senpatji at once perceived this, accustomed to his behaviors, and said, "Beautiful Shynosuke, you seem very sad this evening. Are you in trouble? Tell it to me, so that I may share it."

Shynosuke sighed, touched by these gentle words. Senpatji again urged him to open his heart. Then Shynosuke confessed, "Life so despises me! I am the son of Shingokei Dizaki, my brother, and you know for yourself what you did to my father. I am aware that you could not do otherwise, that you acted at your master's command, but as the son of a samurai I cannot overlook this matter. When my father died, I was in my mother's womb. I swear to you, I'm sorry to kill you, brother, because you've been so good to my mother and myself. I'm so sickened by it all, brother."

Senpatji sighed, "It's such a strange world, isn't it? I never once suspected that you were his son. Yes, I killed your father. But I will be happy, oh my precious Shynosuke, to die at your hands. Come, kill me, avenge your father." He threw down his swords and bared his neck to Shynosuke.

Shynosuke cried, "No, take your sword and fight with me. I cannot kill anyone who has been so good to us in cold blood." His mother was watching from the next room, and finally, she interrupted them, calling Shynosuke into her room. "I admire both you and Senpatji," she admitted. "Each of you is a man of deep honor. Love each other again for this one night. I wish to grant it to you. Celebrate before your separation, but tomorrow without fail, Shynosuke, you must stand fast and avenge your father."

Shynosuke brought dishes and wine, and the two rejoiced, savoring the pleasure of each other's time. Though the mother slept in the next room, Senpatji and Shynosuke made love. When the woman woke up in the morning, they remained silent, lying together in the same bed. She called, "Rise up, lazy boy!" But there was no answer. She walked into their room and turned back the blanket which covered their bodies, and saw that Shynosuke had stabbed through Senpatji's heart with his sword, but had stabbed through his own breast, too, and the bloodied tip poked out his back.

His mother stood there for a long time, overwhelmed at the sight of the lovers' bodies, and then, in sorrow and distress, in that same room, she killed herself, too.

Ihara Saikaku

Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693) was one of 17th-century Japan's most illustrious writers. He excelled in describing the life of the samurai. Among his books translated into English are Five Women Who Loved Love, an erotic novel first published in 1686, and This Scheming World, a humorous look at the common people of Japan's Edo period.

Go To: Issue 17 or Lodestar Quarterly home page