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A Stormy Night's Tragedy

A Stormy Night's Tragedy


ALL who have read anything of Japanese history must have heard of Saigo Takamori, who lived between the years 1827 and 1877. He was a great Imperialist, fighting for the Emperor until 1876, when he gave over owing to his disapproval of the Europeanisation going on in the country and the abandonment of ancient national ways. As practical Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Army, Saigo fled to Kagoshima, where he raised a body of faithful followers, which was the beginning of the Satsuma Rebellion. The Imperialists defeated them, and in September of 1877 Saigo was killed--some say in the last battle, and others that he did 'seppuku,' and that his head was cut off and secretly buried, so that it should not fall into the hands of his enemies. Saigo Takamori was highly honoured even by the Imperialists. It is hard to call him a rebel. He did not rebel against his Emperor, but only against the revolting idea of becoming Europeanised. Who can say that he was not right? He was a man of fine sentiment and great loyalty. Should all of us follow meekly the Imperial order in England if we were told that we were to practise the manners and customs of South Sea Islanders? That would be hardly less revolting to us than Europeanisation was to Saigo.

In the first year of Meiji i868 the Tokugawa army had been badly beaten by Saigo at Fushimi, and Field-Marshal Tokugawa Keiki had the greatest difficulty in getting down to the sea and escaping to Yedo. The Imperial army proceeded along the Tokaido road, determined to break up the Tokugawa force. Their advance guard had reached Hiratsuka, under Mount Fuji, on the coast.

It was a spring day, the 5th of April, and the cherry trees were in full bloom. The country folk had come in to see the victorious troops, who formed the advance guard of those who had beaten the Tokugawa. There were many beggars about, together with pedlars and sellers of sweets, roasted potatoes, and what-not. Towards evening clouds carne over the skies; at five o'clock rain began; at six everyone was under cover.

At the principal inn were a party of the Headquarters' Staff officers, including the gallant Saigo. They were making the best of the bad weather, and not feeling particularly lively, when they heard the soft and melodious notes of the shakuhachi at the gate.

'That is the poor blind beggar we saw playing near the temple to-day,' said one. 'Yes: so it is,' said another. 'The poor fellow must be very wet and miserable. Let us call him in.'

'A capital idea,' assented all of them, among whom was Saigo Takamori. 'We will have him in and raise a subscription for him if he can raise our spirits in this weather.' They gave the landlord an order to admit the blind flute-player.

The poor man was led in by a side door and brought into the presence of the officers. 'Gentlemen,' said he, you have done me a very great honour, and a kindness, for it is not pleasant to stand outside playing in the rain with cotton clothes on. I think I can repay you, for I am said to play the shakuhachi well. Since I have been blind it has become my only pleasure, and not only that but also my only means of living. It is hard now in these unsettled days, when everything is upside-down, to earn a living. Not many travelers come to the inns while the Imperial troops occupy them. These are hard days, gentlemen.'

'They may be hard days for you, poor blind fellow; but say nothing against the Imperial troops, for we have to be suspicious, there being spies of the Tokugawa. Three eyes, indeed, does each of us need in his head.'

'Well, well, I have no wish to say aught against the Imperial troops,' said the blind man. 'All I have to say is that it is precious hard for a blind man to earn enough rice wherewith to fill his stomach. Only once a-week on an average am I called to play to private parties or to shampoo some rheumatic person such as this wet weather produces--the blessing of the Gods be on it!'

'Well, we will see what we can do for you, poor fellow,' said Saigo. 'Go round the room, and see what you can collect, and then we will start the concert.'

Matsuichi did as he was bid, and returned to Saigo some ten minutes later with five or six yen, to which Saigo added, saying:

'There, poor fellow: what do you think of that? Say no more that the Imperial troops cause you to have an empty belly. Say, rather, that if you lived near them long the skin of your belly might become so overstretched as to cause you perforce to open your eyes, and then indeed you might find yourself put about for a trade. But let us hear your music. We are dull of spirit to-night, and want enlivening.'

'Oh, gentlemen, this is too much, far too much, for my poor music! Take some of it back.'

'No, no,' they answered. 'We are troops and officers of the Imperial Army: our lives are uncertain from day to day. It is a pleasure to give, and to enjoy music when we can.'

The blind man began to play, and he played long and late. Sometimes his airs were lively, and at other times as mournful as the spring wind which blew through the cherry trees; but his manner was enchanting, and all were grateful to him for having afforded a night's amusement. At eleven o'clock the concert finished and they went to rest; the blind beggar left the inn; and Kato Shichibei, the proprietor, locked it up, in spite of the sentries posted outside.

The inn was surrounded by hedges, and several clumps of bamboos stood in the corners. At the far end was an artificial mountain with a lake at its foot, and near the lake a little summer-house over which towered a huge and ancient pine tree, one of the branches of which stretched right back over the roof of the inn. At about one o'clock in the morning the form of a man might have been seen stealthily climbing this huge tree until he had reached the branch which hung over the inn. There he stretched himself flat, and began squirming along, evidently intent upon reaching the upper floor of the house. Unfortunately for himself, he cracked a small branch of dead wood, and the sound caused a sentry to look up. 'Who goes there?' cried he, bringing his musket round; but there was no answer. The sentry shouted for help, and it was not more than twenty seconds before the whole house was up and out. No escape for the man on the tree was possible. He was taken prisoner. Imagine the astonishment of all when they found that he was the blind beggar, but now not blind at all; his eyes flashed fire of indignation at his captors, for the great plan of his young life was dead.

'Who is he?' cried one and all, 'and why the trickery of being blind last evening?'

'A spy--that is what he is! A Tokugawa spy,' said one. 'Take him to Headquarters, so that the chief officers may interrogate him; and be careful to hold his hands, for he has every appearance of being a samurai and a fighter.'

And so the prisoner was led off to the Temple of Hommonji, where the Headquarters of the Staff temporarily were.

The prisoner was brought into the presence of Saigo Takamori and four other Imperial officers, one of whom was Katsura Kogoro. He was made to kneel. Then Saigo, who was the Chief, said, 'Hold your head up and give us your name.'

The prisoner answered:

'I am Watanabe Tatsuzo. I am one of those who have the honour of belonging to the bodyguard of the Tokugawa Government.'

'You are bold,' said Saigo. 'Will you have the goodness to tell us why you have been masquerading as a blind beggar, and why you were caught in an attempt to break into the inn?'

'I found that the Imperial Ambassador was sleeping there, and our cause is not bettered by killing ordinary officers!'

'You are a fool,' answered Saigo. 'How much better would you find yourself off if you killed Yanagiwara, Hashimoto, or Katsura?'

'Your question is stupid,' was the unabashed answer. 'Every man of us does his little. My efforts are only a fragment; but little by little we shall gain our ends.'

'Have you a comrade here?' asked Saigo.

'Oh, no,' answered the prisoner. 'We act individually as we think best for the cause. It was my intention to kill any one of importance whose death might strengthen us. I was acting entirely as I thought best.'

And Saigo said:

'Your loyalty does you credit, and I admire you for that; but you should recognise that after the last victory of the Imperial troops at Fushimi the Tokugawa's tenure of office, extending over three hundred years, has come to an end. It is only natural that the Imperial family should return to power. Your intention is presumably to support a power that is finished. Have you never heard the proverb which says that "No single support can hold a falling tower"? Now tell me truthfully the absurd ideas which appear to exist in your mind. Do you really think that the Tokugawa have any further chance?'

'If you were any other than the heroic or admirable Saigo I should refuse to answer these questions,' said the prisoner; 'but, as you are the great Saigo Takamori and I admire your loyalty and courage, I will confess that after our defeat some two hundred of us samurai formed into a society swearing to sacrifice our lives to the cause in any way that we were able. I regret to say that nearly all ran away, and that I am (as far as I am able to judge) about the only one left. As you will execute me, there will be none.'

'Stop,' cried Saigo: 'say no more. Let me ask you: Will you not join us? Look upon the Tokugawa as dead. Too many faithful but ignorant samurai have died for them. The Imperial family must reign: nine-tenths of the country demand it. Though your guilt stands confessed, your loyalty is admirable, and we should gladly take you to our side. Think before you answer.'

No thought was necessary. Watanabe Tatsuzo answered instantly.

'No--never. Though alone, I will not be unfaithful to my cause. You had better behead me before the day dawns. I see the strength of your arguments that the Imperial family must and should reign; but that cannot alter my decision with regard to my own fate;

Saigo stood up and said:

'Here is a man whom we must respect. There are many Tokugawa who have joined our cause through fear; but they retain hate in their hearts. Look, all of you, at this Watanabe, and forget him not, for he is a noble man and true to the death.' So saying, Saigo bowed to Watanabe, and then, turning to the guard, said:

'Take the prisoner to the Sambon matsu, [230:1] and behead him as soon as the day dawns.'

Watanabe Tatsuzo was led forth and executed accordingly.

There is a cross-road on the way leading to Mariko, to the right of the Nitta Ferry, some five or six cho from the hill where is the Hommonji Temple, Ikegami, in Ebaragun, Tokio fu, where there is a little grave with a tombstone over it and the characters:

written thereon. They mean Tomb of Futetsu-shi, and it is here that Watanabe Tatsuzo is said to have been buried.


^223:1 -A Stormy Night's Tragedy - Fukuga told me this story and vouches for its accuracy.

^230:1 Three Pines.

Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, by Richard Gordon Smith, [1918], at

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