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A Boy of Old Japan by  Robert van Bergen

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A CONFERENCE

[171] A FEW days after the experience gained in the conflict, Kano decided to go to Kyoto. He announced his decision to the Council, where no opposition was made. Indeed, several members, Hattori among the number, declared that they too would go. They felt that the Clan had thrown down the gauntlet, and that there must be victory or annihilation. There had been a steady emigration of the young samurai, and even Ekichi had besought his father to let him go. It was decided that all should be recalled and ordered to report at Choshiu's yashiki at Kyoto.

When Kano, accompanied by his friends, and escorted by a corps of six hundred well-armed samurai arrived at the Capital, he could [172] scarcely credit his senses. The quiet and almost solemn city had changed apparently into a garrison town. Everywhere samurai were met. The crests of Satsuma, Choshiu, Tosa. Hizen, and Kaga, jostled with those of the Tokugawa, with the result that brawls and street fights were common, and peaceable citizens scarcely dared leave their houses. The shout of Sonno-Joï was heard everywhere and at all hours. A revolution was imminent.

It was not long after Kano was installed in his apartments of the yashiki when an attendant announced a visitor, who declined giving his name. Receiving directions to admit him, a samurai in rônin dress, that is without crest and his face concealed by a cloth entered. After saluting, the visitor discarded his disguise, and Kano recognized the features of Karassu Maru.

"Well, Mr. Councillor," said the Kugé after they were seated, "you have indeed heeded my advice of pulling the ground from under the court; you have produced chaos, my friend. What has struck Aidzu, I can not conceive. [173] Our chairs go in and out of the palace gates and, instead of being stopped and turned back, we are politely saluted by the guard. There must be more of this, and I believe Tenshi Sama will order the Phœnix Car, and promenade in the city. But how do you propose to restore order out of this chaos?"

Kano did not confide enough in his visitor to disclose his plans. He replied: "Before building a new house, my lord, it is best to clear away the debris, especially after a conflagration. But, as your lordship knows, I have been at Nagato for some time, and am very anxious to know what has happened. I shall feel much relieved if you will inform me."

"I do not know how it came to pass, but after Iyemochi's visit it was easier for the palace attendants to secure passports, and finally they were no longer demanded. Sanjo, Iwakura, and myself, went in and out as we pleased, and I met a great many rônin, all good fellows. Sometimes we had a little bout, and swords were drawn. Taken altogether, there is a very [174] pleasant change in our condition, and I only hope it will last."

Kano saw that Karassu Maru would not help him much in his scheme. When his visitor departed, he called Inouye:

"Have you still the haori which Karassu Maru lent you?"

"I have, my lord."

"Very well; I have mine. Let us see if they will carry us past the gates of the Gosho."

The two gentlemen went out. Although they met numerous parties of boisterous samurai, they were not molested, since the crests they wore was known as that of a kugé. When they came to the gate, Kano walked boldly in, followed by Inouye.

"Your tablets, please, gentlemen." said one of the guards, bowing.

"How now, fellow," cried Kano haughtily, "who has dared instruct you to address gentlemen of our quality? Take his name," he said to Inouye, but the man disappeared, and they passed in.

[175] Kano remembered the way, and, arriving at the house where they had met before, he inquired for Sanjo. He found, however, that this was the residence of Iwakura, and requested to be announced. After waiting a few moments, he found himself in the presence of the man who was one of the chief instruments in the re-organization of the empire.

"I am glad to see you. Mr. Councillor," said the kugé, "and you come at an opportune time. Some of us who are interested in the present movement, were going to meet later on. But I will request them to come as soon as possible." He clapped his hands, and gave some directions to the kneeling attendant. Presently a handsome screen was brought in and placed behind Kano; then he heard the opening of the sho ji behind the screen, and surmised that the meeting would be attended by a person of so exalted a rank as to be invisible to him.

Iwakura entertained his visitors in that charming manner, peculiar to the highbred Japanese. It appeared only a few minutes to [176] Kano, when norimono began to arrive, and he and his friend were presented to the possessors of names, familiar to every Japanese, high or low. Ichijo, Nijo, Higashi Kuze, all historic names, appeared. At last a norimono arrived, and Iwakura himself hastened to receive this visitor, who, with his attendants was ushered into the room behind. The other kugé kept up their conversation, but Kano noticed from the terms of self-debasement, and the frequent drawing of the breath, that the last caller must be, indeed, near to the throne. At last Iwakura reappeared, and took his seat.

"My lords," he said, "we have the unexpected but very gratifying pleasure of having as visitor the man who really started the movement which led to such surprising results. Mr. Kano is the trusted Councillor of our friend Mori of Nagato, and this gentleman, Mr. Inouye, he tells me, is his right hand. He has also informed me, while waiting for your lordships to arrive, that he has a thousand brave and devoted samurai at hand, ready to do His [177] Majesty's bidding, and declares himself ready to answer any question it may please your lordships to ask."

Five minutes passed in performing the prostrations incident to this introduction, and Nijo, as the oldest of the kugé present, spoke:—

"I do not understand quite, Mr. Councillor, why the peace of the Gosho should he interrupted. His Lordship Iwakura tells us that you are the cause, and I doubt not that you have good reasons. At the same time, I protest that all these proceedings are highly improper, and that there is no precedent for them. I am told that the barbarians are at our door. Well, so they were six hundred years ago; but His Majesty, as in duty bound, visited the shrine at Isé, and implored the aid of the divine ancestors. The result is well-known. But the Gosho was not disturbed. To guard his country properly, His Majesty needs repose and contemplation. We like it not, Mr. Councillor, that his sacred presence should he disturbed."

Kano and Inouye bowed low, and were silent. [178] After some moments of decorous silence, the kugé next in years spoke:—

"I agree with my lord Nijo. Why does not the Shogun expel the barbarians, as is his duty? The Court has ordered him to do so, and he has replied that he will do it as soon as the necessary preparations are made. So that matter is settled, it seems to me. I do not see what Mori, Shimadzu, and other captains have to do with it. His Majesty issues his commands to the Shogun who executes them reverently. These proceedings are highly improper, as my Lord Nijo said. If Mori desires any favor from the Fount of All Honor, let him apply to Iyemochi, and when his request, properly endorsed, reaches us through the proper channel, it will be considered and answered in due time."

It was now Sanjo's turn. "I have listened, my lords, with profound satisfaction to the lessons drawn from the ripe experience of my seniors. But I submit that our visitors be heard, since, having the misfortune to be mere soldiers, they may not be able to appreciate to [179] the full extent the wisdom concentrated within the Council of Kugé."

At this appeal to their forbearance, the kugé bowed, and Kano, seizing his fan, began in a low but distinct voice:—

"I feel deeply, my lords, my own unworthiness, and appreciate the honor of being admitted to this august assembly." Here he prostrated himself, and remained fully three minutes, his head resting upon his outstretched hands. He then recovered his position, and continued:—

"Only a few years ago the country of the gods was at peace, thanks to Tenshi Sama and his intercession with the divine ancestors, and the repose of the Son of Heaven was undisturbed. Suddenly black ships appeared near the capital of the Tokugawa, and, being ordered to withdraw, refused to obey this reasonable behest. What did Tokugawa do? Smite the disobedient barbarians and hurl them back to their own desolate country? No! Tokugawa was afraid. The strangers departed [180] but returned with reinforcements the next year. There had been ample time to call upon the clans to prepare for their visit, but Tokugawa was afraid. The Go rojiu pretended to be unprepared, and conceded all that the barbarians saw fit to ask. It was not much, but it was only the beginning of their demands. Four years later they asked more They wanted land and the Tokugawa sold what was not his to sell. It was only a few tsubo, in a poor fishing village, but it was soil of the country of the gods, part of the inheritance of the Son of Heaven. What did the divine ancestors say about this alienation of their sacred soil? My lords, you lay the blame of the disturbance of the sacred bosom upon me. I and my clan are ready to expiate our sin, if by doing so we can restore peace to the Light of our Day, to Tenshi Sama. But that peace can be restored only by placating His Majesty's ancestors, when they receive back their own."

Unconsciously, for Kano was not acting but meant every word he said, he stopped and al- [181] lowed time for his words to sink into their breasts. No one lost his decorum, still, a movement of the fan, or a readjustment of the haori, bertayed the uneasiness of the kugé.

Kano resumed suddenly, with a slightly elevated voice:—

"Aye, the divine ancestors must be placated, peace must be restored within the sacred walls of the Gosho, but the barbarians must be expelled before it can be accomplished. Hark ye! my lords. Myriads of samurai have come to this capital, and there is but one shout: Sonno-Joï! Revere the Emperor! Expel the foreigners! The breeze from the ocean gently fans our cheeks, so long as the gods look placidly down, while we, their humble servants, pay them our dues in respectful homage. But sometimes we fail in our duty. The breeze turns into a wind, the wind into a tai-fu, and it sweeps all before it, the hovel of the laborer and the roof of the temple. What mortal can bid it refrain? The Yamato Damashii is the lovable zephyr of our country, but the presence [182] of these insolent barbarians has converted it into a mighty wind. Hark ye, my lords, do you hear it swell? Sonno-Joï! It is turning into a tai-fu now!"

Assuming the plaintive and appealing voice to which the language lends itself so well, Kano continued as if in self-commune:—

"We heed it not. The storm centres in our beloved land where the sun rises, but there is no rift in the clouded sky. The sun smiles upon the myriads of ships, cleaving the blue waters, and hurrying to the shores of our land. It is one long procession. Their spies have told the barbarians in their inhospitable regions of the one country where the gods love to dwell. From tens of rude, insolent men, they have increased to hundreds; they are now thousands and will soon be myriads. Tokugawa is no longer a vassal of Tenshi Sama, he is a servant to men scarce better than brutes. Hyogo and Osake, are in their possession. The two roads to the sacred capital are crowded with them. Ye gods! will ye not at least preserve the [183] Goshô and your child? They press against the wall, it gives way. Where is the peace and contemplation of the sacred enclosure now!

His sighing voice melted into the silence, when in a strident tone that made them start, he concluded:—

"No! Sonno-Joï roars out of a myriad throats. Myriads of brawny hands clasp the swords of Japan. Tenshi Sama has spoken through his brave miya and kugé. Clan after clan marches on, sun of victory for Yamato Damashii has come forth from behind the clouds and inspired Dai Nippon's sons. The Tokugawa has paid the penalty of treason; the barbarians have fled before the edge of the Soul of Samurai. Peace is restored and flowers innumerable and of brilliant colors delight the eye. After the tempest calm. Not that treacherous, oppressive air, forerunner of disaster. But the bright atmosphere which succeeds the storm as surely as prosperous peace will follow the tempest raging now, and which is the punishment for our neglect of duty."


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