victimhood, revenge, forgiveness and mindset

Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan
Image by syvwlch via Flickr

Published in the 1920’s, The Tales of the Samurai was a collection of stories transcribed by Asataro Miyamori and was subtitled “Stories Illustrating Bushido, the Moral Principles of Japanese Knighthood”.It has recently been released for “fair-use” non-comercial purposes so I will be utilizing it as a source from time to time.

The following story is titled Ungo-Zenji . It takes an interesting perspective on what it means to be a victim, how the desire for revenge can take over ones life and how even such base desires can be used as a tool to transcend and improve oneself if you look at life from a different perspective.

IT was snowing fast.

Already as far as eye could see the world was covered with a vast silvery sheet. Hill and dale, tree and field, all alike clothed in virgin white. Caring nothing for the bitter cold, but loving the beautiful, Date Masamune determined to go out to enjoy the scene. Accordingly, accompanied by a few attendants, he wended his way to a pavilion set on a low hill in the castle grounds whence an extensive view, embracing the whole of his little fief of Osaki, could be obtained.

In later life Masamune distinguished himself by signal service rendered to the state, eventually becoming one of the greatest daimios in Japan, under lyeyasu, the first Shogun, but at this time Osaki was his sole estate, and his income did not exceed 1 00,000 koku of rice a year. “What an enchanting picture! What can compare with a snow landscape? ” he exclaimed, as he stood enraptured, gazing with delight from the balcony of the pavilion at the pure loveliness of the scene before him. “It is said that snow foretells a fruitful year. When the harvest is abundant great is the rejoicing of the people, and peace and prosperity reign over the land! ”

While his lordship thus soliloquized, Heishiro, the sandal-bearer Makabe Heishiro as he was called from his birthplace, Makabe in Hitachi, a surname being a luxury unknown to the third estate waited without. Having adjusted his master’s footgear there was nothing more to do till he should come out again. But presently Heishiro observed that the snovvflakes fell and lay somewhat thick on his valuable charge. He hastened to brush them off with his sleeve, but more flakes fell, and again the geta (clogs) were covered with icy particles. ”

This will never do,” he said to himself. ” His lordship disdains to wear tabi (socks) even in the coldest weather, deeming it a mark of effeminacy ; should he place his bare feet on these damp geta he will assuredly catch cold. I must keep them warm and dry for him.” So the good fellow in the kindness of his simple heart took up the heavy wooden clogs, and putting them in the bosom of his garment next his skin, continued his patient waiting.

“His lordship comes!”

Heishiro had just time to put the geta straight on the large stone step at the entrance before the double doors slid open right and left and Masamune appeared, young, imperious.

He slipped his feet on to the geta. How was this? They felt warm to his touch! How could that be in such freezing weather? There could be but one explanation. That lazy lout of a sandal-bearer had been using them as a seat sitting on the honourable footgear of his august master! The insufferable insolence of the fellow!

In a passion at the supposed insult he caught the offender by the nape of his neck, and shook him violently, exclaiming between his set teeth, ” You scoundrel ! How dared you defile my geta by sitting on them! You have grossly insulted me behind my back! Villian, take that!”

Catching up one of the clogs which he had kicked off, he struck the poor servitor a heavy blow between the eyes, which caused him to reel stunned and bleeding to the ground. Then hurling the companion geta at his prostrate victim, he strode proudly back to the castle, barefooted, for he was in too great a rage to wait until another pair of geta could be brought. No one stayed to look after Heishiro. None cared what became of him. For some time he lay as he had fallen, but presently the cold brought him back to consciousness, and he rose slowly and with difficulty to his feet.

He picked up the geta with which he had been struck, and with tears mingling with the blood on his face gazed at it mournfully for a few moments. Then, as the thought of his master’s injustice came over him, he gnashed his teeth in impotent rage.

“Haughty brute, that you are, Masamune,” he muttered,” you shall pay for this! The bond between us as lord and vassal has snapped for ever. I have been one of the most devoted of your humble servants, but now I will never rest till I have had my revenge on you for this cruel treatment! ”

Then Heishiro again put the geta into his bosom, though with how different an intention from before, and descending the hill on the side furthest from the castle, limped painfully away.

From that time forth the man had but one idea to wreak condign vengeance on the arrogant noble who had so abused his kindness.

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