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The Blind Beauty
NEARLY three hundred years ago (or, according to my story-teller, in the second year of Kwanei, which would be 1626, the period of Kwanei having begun in 1624 and ended in 1644) there lived at Maidzuru, in the province of Tango, a youth named Kichijiro.
Kichijiro had been born at the village of Tai, where his father had been a native; but on the death of the father he had come with his elder brother, Kichisuke, to Maidzuru. The brother was his only living relation except an uncle, and had taken care of him for four years, educating him from the age of eleven until fifteen; and Kichijiro was very grateful, and determined that now he had reached the age of fifteen he must no longer be a drag on his brother, but must begin to make a way in the world for himself.
After looking about for some weeks, Kichijiro found employment with Shiwoya Hachiyemon, a merchant in Maidzuru. He worked very hard, and soon gained his master's friendship; indeed, Hachiyemon thought very highly of his apprentice; he favoured him in many ways over older clerks, and finally entrusted him with the key of his safes, which contained documents and much money.
Now, Hachiyemon had a daughter of Kichijiro's age, of great beauty and promise, and she fell desperately in love with Kichijiro, who himself was at first unaware of this. The girl's name was Ima, O Ima San, and she was one of those delightful ruddy, happy-faced girls whom only Japan can produce--a mixture of yellow and red, with hair and eyebrows as black as a raven. Ima paid Kichijiro compliments now and then; but he was a boy who thought little of love. He intended to get on in the world, and marriage was a thing which had not yet entered into his mind.
After Kichijiro had been some six months in the employment of Hachiyemon he stood higher than ever in the master's estimation; but the other clerks did not like him. They were jealous. One was specially so. This was Kanshichi, who hated him not only because he was favoured by the merchant but also because he himself loved O Ima, who had given him many a rebuff when he had attempted to make love to her. So great did this secret hate become, at last Kanshichi vowed that he would be revenged upon Kichijiro, and if necessary upon his master Hachiyemon and his daughter O Ima as well; for he was a wicked and scheming man.
One day an opportunity occurred.
Kichijiro had so far secured confidence that the master had sent him off to Kasumi, in Tajima Province, there to negotiate the purchase of a junk. While he was away Kanshichi broke into the room where the safe was kept, and took therefrom two bags containing money in gold up to the value of 200 ryo. He effaced all signs of his action, and went quietly back to his work. Two or three days later Kichijiro returned, having successfully accomplished his mission, and, after reporting this to the master, set to his routine work again. On examining the safe, he found that the 200 ryo of gold were missing, and, he having reported this, the office and the household were thrown into a state of excitement.
After some hours of hunting for the money it was found in a koro (incense-burner) which belonged to Kichijiro, and no one was more surprised than he. It was Kanshichi who had found it, naturally, after having put it there himself; he did not accuse Kichijiro of having stolen the money--his plans were more deeply laid. The money having been found there, he knew that Kichijiro himself would have to say something. Of course Kichijiro said he was absolutely innocent, and that when he had left for Kasumi the money was safe--he had seen it just before leaving.
Hachiyemon was sorely distressed. He believed in the innocence of Kichijiro; but how was he to prove it? Seeing that his master did not believe Kichijiro guilty, Kanshichi decided that he must do something which would render it more or less impossible for Hachiyemon to do otherwise than to send his hated rival Kichijiro away. He went to the master and said:
'Sir, I, as your head clerk, must tell you that, though perhaps Kichijiro is innocent, things seem to prove that he is not, for how could the money have got into his koro? If he is not punished, the theft will reflect on all of us clerks, your faithful servants, and I myself should have to leave your service, for all the others would do so, and you would be unable to carry on your business. Therefore I venture to tell you, sir, that it would be advisable in your own interests to send poor Kichijiro, for whose misfortune I deeply grieve, away.'
Hachiyemon saw the force of this argument, and agreed. He sent for Kichijiro, to whom he said:
'Kichijiro, deeply as I regret it, I am obliged to send you away. I do not believe in your guilt, but I know that if I do not send you away all my clerks will leave me, and I shall be ruined. To show you that I believe in your innocence, I will tell you that my daughter Ima loves you, and that if you are willing, and after you can prove your innocence, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have you back as my son-in--law. Go now. Try and think how you can prove your innocence. My best wishes go with you.'
Kichijiro was very sad. Now that he had to go, he found that he should more than miss the companionship of the sweet O Ima. With tears in his eyes, he vowed to the father that he would come back, prove his innocence, and marry O Ima; and with O Ima herself he had his first love scene. They vowed that neither should rest until the scheming thief had been discovered, and they were both reunited in such a way that nothing could part them.
Kichijiro went back to his brother Kichisuke at Tai village, to consult as to what it would be best for him to do to re-establish his reputation. After a few weeks, he was employed through his brother's interest and that of his only surviving uncle in Kyoto. There he worked hard and faithfully for four long years, bringing much credit to his firm, and earning much admiration from his uncle, who made him heir to considerable landed property, and gave him a share in his own business. Kichijiro found himself at the age of twenty quite a rich man.
In the meantime calamity had come on pretty O Ima. After Kichijiro had left Maidzuru, Kanshichi began to pester her with attentions. She would have none of him; she would not even speak to him; and so exasperated did he become at last that he used to waylay her. On one occasion he resorted to violence and tried to carry her away by force. Of this she complained to her father, who promptly dismissed him from his service.
This made villain Kanshichi angrier than ever. As the Japanese proverb says, 'Kawaisa amatte nikusa ga hyakubai,'--which means, 'Excessive love is hatred.' So it was with Kanshichi: his love turned to hatred. He thought of how he could be avenged on Hachiyemon and O Ima. The most simple means, he thought, would be to burn down their house, the business offices, and the stores of merchandise: that must bring ruin. So one night Kanshichi set about doing these things and accomplished them most successfully--with the exception that he himself was caught in the act and sentenced to a heavy punishment. That was the only satisfaction which was got by Hachiyemon, who was all but ruined; he sent away all his clerks and retired from business, for he was too old to begin again.
With just enough to keep life and body together, Hachiyemon and his pretty daughter lived in a little cheap cottage on the banks of the river, where it was Hachiyemon's only pleasure to fish for carp and jakko. For three years he did this, and then fell ill and died. Poor O Ima was left to herself, as lovely as ever, but mournful. The few friends she had tried to prevail on her to marry somebody--anybody, they said, sooner than live alone,--but to this advice the girl would not listen. 'It is better to live miserably alone,' she said, 'than to marry one for whom you do not care; I can love none but Kichijiro, though I shall not see him again.'
O Ima spoke the truth on that occasion, without knowing it, for, true as it is that it never rains but it pours, O Ima was to have more trouble. An eye sickness came to her, and in less than two months after her father's death the poor girl was blind, with no one to attend to her wants but an old nurse who had stuck to her through all her troubles. Ima had barely sufficient money to pay for rice.
It was just at this time that Kichijiro's success was assured: his uncle had given him a half interest in the business and made a will in which he left him his whole property. Kichijiro decided to go and report himself to his old master at Maidzuru and to claim the hand of O Ima his daughter. Having learned the sad story of downfall and ruin, and also of Ima's blindness, Kichijiro went to the girl's cottage. Poor O Ima came out and flung herself into his arms, weeping bitterly, and crying: 'Kichijiro, my beloved! this is indeed almost the hardest blow of all. The loss of my sight was as nothing before; but now that you have come back, I cannot see you, and how I long to do so you can but little imagine! It is indeed the saddest blow of all. You cannot now marry me.'
Kichijiro petted her, and said, 'Dearest Ima, you must not be too hasty in your thoughts. I have never ceased thinking of you; indeed, I have grown to love you desperately. I have property now in Kyoto; but should you prefer to do so, we will live here in this cottage. I am ready to do anything you wish. It is my desire to re-establish your father's old business, for the good of your family; but first and before even this we will be married and never part again. We will do that tomorrow. Then we will go together to Kyoto and see my uncle, and ask for his advice. He is always good and kind, and you will like him--he is sure to like you.'
Next day they started on their journey to Kyoto, and Kichijiro saw his brother and his uncle, neither of whom had any objection to Kichijiro's bride on account of her blindness. Indeed, the uncle was so much pleased at his nephew's fidelity that he gave him half of his capital there and then. Kichijiro built a new house and offices in Maidzuru, just where his first master Hachiyemon's place had been. He re-established the business completely, calling his firm the Second Shiwoya Hachiyemon, as is often done in Japan (which adds much to the confusion of Europeans who study Japanese Art, for pupils often take the names of their clever masters, calling themselves the Second, or even the Third or the Fourth).
In the garden of their Maidzuru house was an artificial mountain, and on this Kichijiro had erected a tombstone or memorial dedicated to Hachiyemon, his father-in-law. At the foot of the mountain he erected a memorial to Kanshichi. Thus he rewarded the evil wickedness of Kanshichi by kindness, but showed at the same time that evil-doers cannot expect high places. It is to be hoped that the spirits of the two dead men became reconciled.
They say in Maidzuru that the memorial tombs still stand.
Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, by Richard Gordon Smith, , at sacred-texts.com
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