Mother Earth

Volume 1: The Poems of Youth

Chapter 1: Grass in a Mountain Recess

      It was growing dark in heaven and on earth. A cold wintry blast wailed while fine snow crept in unnoticed. Looming between the ashen sky and earth came a maiden in a travelling outfit. The darkened pupils of her eyes often turned around with fear, even at the mere sound of a crow fluttering its wings as it flew from the snow field.

      Her footsteps were heavy while walking westward over a high pass called Oi no Saka of the San-in Road on her way home from the Fushimi district of central Kyoto. After passing through the castle town of Kameoka [1], she stopped on the old Obata Bridge in Anao, west of Kameoka. Thin ice had narrowed either bank of the Inukai River, making the water run silently. She stroked the frosty rail of the bridge. Startled by an approaching local accent, she quickly crossed the

"Yone's Journey" by P. Sneyd
bridge and walked down three to four stone steps, and then another four to five steps before running through the stone torii gate of Obata Shrine into its precincts. A mountain hung over the small shrine. Instead of going to the shrine ahead, she hid behind a large cherry tree on her right and crouched there.
      I can't tell anyone I'm pregnant. I'm ashamed to death.

      It was at the tender age of nineteen [2] that this maiden, Yone, had travelled to her uncle's riverside inn in Fushimi as he had been expecting her to be his adopted daughter. She had yet to become used to the customs of the urban area. Her uncle was an influential man all over Fushimi and had close ties with imperial loyalists of the late Tokugawa period.

      There was this gentleman among those who had secret meetings at the riverside inn on early mornings or late nights. He was wrapped in a priestly garb with a deep hood over his head. Yone's uncle led him into an inner room right away as if he knew what he was doing, asked only Yone to serve him, and excluded other waitresses from ever contacting him. Her uncle and other like-minded people called this gentleman Wakamiya (Young Prince) with much admiration and affection. Yone had no idea who he was, but for some reason, he set his eyes on her as he came over several times and asked her name.


      One night Yone, trembling with surprise and fear, closed her eyes tightly as the prince drew her into his arms. He was irresistible. Besides, she had grown anxious to see the court noble whose name she even hesitated to call. Feeling embraced, she could not believe it was real. For her, it was something she would otherwise have come across. She felt as if she were in a mysterious dream.

      In time, the turbulent stream of history crushed Yone as it witnessed the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the ensuing birth of the Meiji government.

      Prince Wakamiya had gone beyond her reach since he led the eastern expedition of the imperial forces as its governor-general to quash Tokugawa resistance. Edo, the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate, was renamed Tokyo, and Japan's imperial era changed to Meiji. The Emperor broke with the time-honoured capital of Kyoto to head eastward for the new venue of Tokyo.

      A wasted, empty year had passed since the prince left Yone. Time had deadened her interest in the growing rumours of his triumphant return. One early morning after the new year season of Meiji 2 (1869), when it was still too early for cherry trees to blossom, the prince suddenly appeared right before Yone on the horse he was speeding in a drizzling rain. Their tryst ended all too soon. She simply sobbed against his chest in silence.
      I never dreamed I'd feel his embrace again...

      The prince often came all the way from central Kyoto to see Yone, who did nothing but await his visit. He remained in the historical capital while the Mikado discarded it. Summer passed into autumn — with the unforgettable last day of their tryst descending on a fine afternoon of October 27. Seeing his face, Yone sensed that something was distressing him.

      "This will be the last time to see you," sighed the prince. "The Mikado is calling me to Tokyo. I can't go against his will any more. If I take up residence there, I will have to get married," he confided to her, embracing her time and again.
      Even a naive country girl like Yone began to have a dim glimpse into his inner pain and suffering.
      "Have a happy life, Yone..."

      There was a rumour circulating among gossipy Kyotoites that Wakamiya got engaged to a daughter of the Tokugawa family in Mito north-east of Edo in obedience to the Mikado's will. But alas, he had been the fiancee of Princess Kazunomiya, a daughter of the 120th Emperor Ninko and a sister of the 121st Emperor Komei, since she was six. Wakamiya and Kazunomiya both grew up in the Imperial Palace. She had calligraphy lessons with his father, Prince Takahito. Sharing the same childhood memories, he cherished the young princess. He had waited for a decade until she came of age, and at long last, a date was about to be set for the wedding, when the politically expedient union of

the Court and the Shogunate tore them apart, forcing Kazunomiya to marry the 14th Shogun Iemochi Tokugawa. For all that was done, the tragic prince still loved with his whole heart the ill-starred princess in Edo, who earned a new name, Seikan-in no Miya (Princess Seikan-in), as she became widowed at the age of twenty-one.

      As governor-general of the eastern expedition of the imperial forces, Wakamiya pulled off the bloodless surrender of the Edo Castle, heralding the beginning of the Meiji era. Then he formally requested to Emperor Meiji that Princess Seikan-in, an aunt of the Emperor, be returned to the Imperial Palace and married to her former fiance. He even pleaded that he relegate himself to the simple status of a commoner for that end. Concerned about the still volatile sentiment of his people, the Emperor rejected the passionate plea the prince made in disregard of a potential target for gossip. Moreover, he intended to seek reunion with the overthrown Tokugawa family by marrying the prince to Shige-hime of the Tokugawa line. Wakamiya remained a bachelor for an unprecedented 35 years for an imperial prince simply out of his abiding love for Princess Seikan-in.

      The prince chose to remain in Kyoto, bowing out of the glorious imperial march for the transfer of the national capital to Tokyo and resigning from his official post. But how could he disobey the emperor if he called him over to his palace by imperial order?

      What was I for the prince? Yone wondered to herself. The moment it occurred to her, she shook it off her mind in denial. I hope I was a temporary comfort for his loneliness... I'm only too happy to serve his every wish.

      He left her, dressed in a light travelling outfit with only one attendant to serve him. His last image was still burned into her memory where he was galloping away on his horse along the bank of the river with a constant flow of ships coming and going. She was not aware of her pregnancy until December. This he did not know at all. He was probably tied up all day with governmental affairs as an aide of the Emperor under an eastern sky. There was virtually nothing she could do about it.

      One day, a co-worker who got wind of Yone's plight watched her furtively and warned her as if with intimidation.
      "If this bastard baby of the prince is a boy, it'll be whisked away and killed. You'd better watch out."
      "No, I'm not pregnant," Yone rebutted with strong denial, glaring back at her fellow, though with her lips turning blue. The panic-stricken Yone fled to seek refuge back home.

      Her uncle and aunt running the inn had no children. They had long wanted to adopt their elder sister's good-looking daughter as their own. But Yone had left Fushimi, shaking herself free of their entreaty to stay.

      Obsessed with her pregnancy, she returned to her home town in desperation. But she knew she could not easily knock on her family's door. So here she stopped at Obata Shrine on her way and prayed to her tutelary deity ubusuna-sama with her cold and numb hands pressed together, thinking she would stay here until it became dark.

      "Go to bed if you're tired."
      Uno spoke to her eldest daughter, Karu, with a pensive look. They were in the middle of a poor supper. Karu nodded and put down her wooden bowl wearily before disappearing into her bedroom with silent steps. Uno exchanged glances with her husband, Kichimatsu, and sighed.

      It was the spring of her twenty-third year when their second daughter, Fusa, married into the Iwasaki family in Nishitatsu, Kameoka-cho, Kyoto. Soon afterwards, 19-year-old Yone, their third and youngest daughter, left for Fushimi at the request of her uncle wishing to adopt her to help him run his riverside inn. Nearly two full years had passed since then, and here at home, their eldest daughter, Karu, aged 32, had long gone past marriageable age. She was in frail health and far from good-looking.

      Hunching his distinctly ageing back, Kichimatsu was bolting down the rice in quick gulps. The blades of the sickle and hoe he had carefully burnished shone coldly in the corner of the dirt floor against the dark and dull surroundings. Not a single sound could be heard except for the occasional cracking of the burning firewood in the irori hearth and the wind blowing through the tops of the Japanese kaya nutmeg trees at the rear of the house.

      Uno put down her chopsticks and rose from the table. She felt someone moving behind her, when the wooden door rattled and opened. A pale face came into view with the snow blowing into the house.

      Uno received her youngest daughter with mixed feelings of joy and anxiety and dusted the snow from her shoulders. Kichimatsu brought a thick piece of pine uneasily and put it in the hearth. The flame lit up the dining room, illuminating Yone's black kimono with red pinstripes and its matching black sash lined with silk crepe. She apparently had this attire tailored for her at her uncle's inn. A maidenly atmosphere faintly filled the house.

      "Where's my sister?" asked Yone.

      "She has just gone to bed," replied Uno. "Maybe she's not feeling well. Don't wake her up."

      Yone felt rather relieved at the absence of her still unmarried sister as she took off her straw sandals. The bases of her innermost toes, raw from rubbing against the sandals in the cold weather, had a piercing pain when she soaked her feet in a tub of clean water her mother offered.

      At a time like this, Kichimatsu felt restless as a male parent, not knowing what to do for his daughter.

      "Looks like she hasn't eaten yet," he told Uno. "Fix her something."

      "No thanks." Yone's troubled eyes startled Kichimatsu and Uno. Pale and cold, her cheeks and hands had turned stiff.

      "I wonder how they let you go," asked Uno casually, pouring her some hot bancha coarse tea. "They must be pretty busy at the end of the year."

      "I took leave," replied Yone.

      "Leave...?" said Uno with a puzzled frown. "Yone, it's not something you can easily ask for and get even from your uncle. Or, did you do something bad that made him angry and kick you out?"

      Yone looked down, not responding to her mother's accusing tone. The hand holding the cup trembled, and the tea spilt on her lap. Covering her moaning mouth, she crawled on her knees to the corner of the room and turned her back.

      "She must be exhausted from walking all the way home. Stop interrogating her and just let her sleep," Kichimatsu cut in rudely, but out of caring kindness for his daughter. "It can wait till tomorrow."

      A compulsive gambler, he threw dice into a teacup and turned it bottom up, betting on a cho even number combination.

      Staring at her daughter's heaving back, Uno was transfixed with gut-wrenching trepidation.

      "Are you having a baby... is that it?"

      Yone was startled, and her thin shoulders began to quiver. Not denying it, but simply writhing in grief, she lay her head down on her mother's sinewy lap. Who can imagine how much she had been obsessed with her pregnancy since she first noticed it? At a loss how to act, she returned home in desperate search of her beloved mother. But once under questioning, she burst into sobbing about the gravity of the poignant secret.

      "The baby's father...," said Uno, her voice lower. "Wasn't he with you?"

      "He's in Tokyo.... He's not going to come back. He'll get a wife there...."

      "This no-good son of a bitch found out about your pregnancy, dumped you and ran away," shouted Kichimatsu, his face blanching.

      "He doesn't know," said Yone. "Mom, he's not that kind of person."

      "Don't kid yourself!" roared Kichimatsu. "To hell with this asshole. Whoever he is, if he's the baby's father, I'll go to Edo or Ezo, or wherever to drag him back right here. C'mon, Yone, you gotta stop sobbing. I'll work things out."

      Though enraged, Kichimatsu and Uno were both trying to keep their voices low lest Karu overhear it. Yone, desperately suppressing her worked-up emotions, wiped her tears and sat up straight.

      "The day before he left for Tokyo, his servants came to Fushimi and gave this to me," said Yone as she untied the furoshiki wrapping cloth, put the things on the tatami rush mat and thrust them toward her mother.

      Right before their eyes were a fascinatingly elegant kosode short-sleeved kimono made of white rinzu wadded silk with an unfamiliar crest named "yokomi kikuguruma," and to Uno's gasping surprise, a dagger with a plain wooden handle rolled up in a brocade bag.

      "This dagger he gave me for protection," said Yone. "And this money too..."

      The fine-clothed kinchaku pouch had the same chrysanthemum crest as the kosode. Yone scooped up the kosode and caressed it in her arms, blushing for its gorgeous silk texture, when something slipped out of the robe. Kichimatsu picked it up and glanced at it before he handed it to his wife. He was not good with characters — or rather, he was totally illiterate. Uno gave it a solemn stare without making a fuss.

      It was a fancy tanzaku strip of paper with a 31-syllable waka poem written in a beautiful hand. Fixing her eyes on the flowing characters, Uno read it aloud in a husky voice:

            My romance is grass in a deep mountain recess
            Though growing lush with passion, it is left unnoticed.

      Turning over the tanzaku, she uttered a low exclamation of surprise. She was familiar with the name boldly written over its seal and kao signature. Her uncle, Kodo Nakamura, was an eminent scholar of the esoteric science of kototama where mystical power is believed to reside in spoken words of the Japanese, and naturally she had inherited part of his knowledge. In fact, she had often heard him mention this name as he had unswerving loyalty to the imperial family.

      This imperial noble used to be confined at a local branch of Rinnoji Temple for his involvement in the incident at the Hamaguri Gate of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which incurred the wrath of the former Emperor. In those days Uno vaguely sensed that her younger brother in Fushimi, also the owner of the riverside inn, secretly frequented the Prince to help improve his plight.

      But the man of royal stature had an affair with a country girl like Yone...? That'd be impossible....

      With her disbelief and bewilderment mounting, a vivid scene sprang up in her mind.

      It was last year, or February 15, Keio 4 (1868), the day after Uno had visited Fushimi to see Yone at her younger brother's riverside inn.

      Many towns in Kyoto were bubbling with the bizarre excitement of people gathering to see Prince Wakamiya off on the imperial punitive expedition to Edo, the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate, upon his acceptance of the Emperor's grant of the imperial standard and sword — a symbolic gesture of investing the Prince with full power.

      The street leading from the Gishu Gate of the Imperial Palace was packed with people, making the area an ocean of human waves. The exalting sounds of Japanese fifes and drums, both large and small, were blithely resounding in the air.

            "Miya-san, Miya-san
            What's flapping
            Before your horse
            Toko ton yare ton yare na...."

      The street was filled with the people's choral singing. This six-part song titled "Miyako Furyu Tokotonyare Bushi" was written by Yajiro Shinagawa, a samurai of the Hagi Domain in Choshu (currently Yamaguchi Prefecture), and composed by Kimio, a geisha in the Gion district of Kyoto who became mistress to an influential politician, Kaoru Inoue. Woodblock prints of the song had already been in circulation before this imperial march, enjoying widespread popularity among Kyotoites.

      Leading the march was a rifle scout squad of the Sangoku emperor loyalist troops stationed near Mt. Shuzan. Dressed in black tight-sleeved military uniforms, white abdominal belts and white headbands, they were proceeding majestically and imposingly with the red-dyed bear hair flowing down their backs, followed by two mounted magistrates in charge of two imperial standards. Another imperial standard of grass green satin damask came into view. It had the design of a sixteen-petal chrysanthemum, the crest of the imperial family.

      A dead silence fell over the crowd when they looked up to Prince Taruhito of Arisugawada riding on horseback as governor-general of the eastern expedition of the imperial forces, accompanied under the prince's red brocade horse-mark standard by some twenty military staff officers and stewards of the imperial household.

      "He's really something. Just look at him," marvelled Uno. "Prince Wakamiya is on his way to Edo as governor-general of the imperial forces. He's taking Takamori Saigo of the Satsuma Domain as a staff officer."

      For her, the prince was a dazzling figure with his valiant presence on the white horse in his black lacquered armour and tall felt eboshi hat. She could not help joining her hands in prayer.

      To think that that imperial noble at that moment, that is to say, the Prince Taruhito of Arisugawada, is the father of Yone's baby?!

      The very thought made Uno speechless.

      "Hey, Umekichi, what do you say to marrying into the Ueda family?" Shobei Saito surprised one of his servants, Umekichi Sano, with the abrupt offer. "They're looking for a bridegroom. Wanna go for it?"

      Umekichi remained motionless on the tatami floor agape with wonder.

      "The Uedas are now poor but used to be well-off, and they're of high birth," added Saito. "Uno-han came in just a while ago and asked Suga if she could find one for her in the next room."

      "What a nice offer!" Suga, Shobei's wife, interjected. "It'll also be convenient for us if you take over our neighbours' house. You and us know each other well, you see."

      Umekichi looked away sullenly. How could you say stuff like that? She's ugly and weak, and she's much older than me...

      "Perhaps because she lived in Fushimi, she is quite refined," continued Shobei. "Her sister in Kameoka, Ofuyan (Fusa) is beautiful, but she goes beyond that. She's good-natured and hardworking. She sure is too good for you."

      "Huh? Who?" said Umekichi, looking confused.

      "Hey, are you listening?" chided Shobei. "It's Yone, Kichimatsu Ueda's youngest daughter."

      Umekichi had an embarrassed look on his face with a flush blazing up his neck. Before his master brought this offer, he was already familiar with Yone's beauty, which was close to a rarity in the countryside. She saddened many youths in the village when she left for Fushimi two years ago. Umekichi was one of them.

      "I'm just sounding you out because Uno-han's begged me to," said Suga, her tone surly, noticing his apparent look of disapproval. "But I won't force you to do anything. There're plenty of others wanting to be her bridegroom anyway."

      Having no time to doubt why they were making all the fuss about finding a marriage partner for Yone, not thirty-something Karu, Umekichi hastily shook his head in denial, and after a stammer, he made countless nods in approval.

      Umekichi Sano, aged twenty-six, was the second oldest brother of a dye shop in Funaoka, Kawabe Village, three ri (about eight miles) north of Anao. His seven brothers each got married and settled down, but only Umekichi was apprenticed to Kadoya, a soy sauce shop in Yagi when he was thirteen. He had had an explosive temper since his childhood, and he would indiscriminately pick a fight on a short fuse. For his parents, his apprenticeship also meant disciplinary action. However, the shop owner favored Umekichi for his honesty and conscientiousness. There were occasional instaces where he reverted to blowing his top at his fellow apprentices, but all in all, he had successfully completed his ten-year term of service.

      It had been two years since he began serving the Saitos. He lived alone on the second floor of their cowshed. He was old enough to have a wife.

      Their wedding was unusually hurried on the pretext that it should be performed during the agricultural off-season. It was very early in the New Year. As their go-between, Shobei and Suga arranged the ceremony where Umekichi and Yone quietly exchanged nuptial cups of sake. For some reason the place was filled with an oppressive air even though the homecoming of Fusa, looking like a gorgeous peony, made it a joyous reunion of all three sisters. It was indeed painful to find Karu at the wedding when she was still left on the shelf despite everyone's assumption that she would have gotten married and succeeded the Ueda family by then. She must have felt she was damned if she stayed and damned if she left.

      The bride kept her eyes down all along, never even bothering to look at the groom. Umekichi thought that she was considerate of her unmarried sister.

      As Uno led her by the hand, the bride rose from her seat several times in the middle of the reception, which practically amounted to a binge so typical of the locale. Yone seemed to be under such strain with her faltering steps that her cheeks looked pale and even painful.

      A sweet married life was something beyond the reach of the newlyweds as poor peasants. They had to live cheek by jowl with Kichimatsu, Uno and Karu in just two rooms of seven and eight tatamis, respectively. Yone was a docile wife. She was touchingly considerate of her husband. For all her devotion, she kept a subtle distance from him. Umekichi brushed it aside, reminding himself that it was only too soon after they tied the knot. But the lonely and gloomy shadow hanging around her persisted unabated as days went by.

      Kichimatsu began to take to his bed often, probably because he felt relieved to have a groom and heir. Now all the family responsibilities weighed heavily on Umekichi's shoulders. He was all fired up about rebuilding the fortunes of the Ueda family.

      In Anao, the five family names consisting of Ueda, Matsumoto, Saito, Kojima, and Maruyama were called Gobyo ("honorific seedlings" or "five seedlings"), a term emblematic of "families with a good face." Any other names were dubbed Hira ("lowly position") and treated with disdain. The surname of Ueda had ramified into Kita-Ueda, Minami-Ueda, and Hira-Ueda. The family Umekichi married into was Kita-Ueda.

      Village tradition had it that Jirozaemon-Masakazu Fujiwara was the restorer of the Uedas' fortunes. He was said to have fled the battlefields of the Yamato region (modern-day Nara) to Anao during the Bunmei period (1469-87). The six generations after him — Masayoshi, Masatada, Masatake, Tametada, Masasuke, and Masayasu — all succeeded to the name, Jirozaemon Fujiwara. The Fujiwara family had built a stately mansion in Takaya at the foot of Mt. Nishi and lived there for over a century until Masayasu's era, earning the nickname "The Millionaire of Takaya." Later they relocated to a fort in the foothills of Mt. Atago (in Anao, different from the one in northwestern Kyoto) to rule the whole area. However, their territory was eventually forfeited by the feudal warlord, Mitsuhide Akechi.

      The Fujiwaras assumed the new family name, Ueda, in the days of Masaemon, seven generations before Umekichi. It was thought that Masaemon took on blind faith the cautionary words of a psychic medium, who warned that his family line would end should they accidentally cut a wisteria vine as Fujiwara (wisteria plain) implied. It was also believed that they changed to Ueda (quality rice paddy) because they had a quality double-cropped rice area of about 5 hectares.

      The archives at Obata Shrine, which the Uedas revered as the abode of their tutelary deity, indicated that there was an agreement on the usage of family crests allowing Ueda, Saito and Fujiwara to use one tomoe (a comma-shaped design), two tomoes and three tomoes, respectively. The Kita-Uedas, however, adopted the three-tomoe design modeled after that of Fujiwara.

Three tomoes

      At the time Uno married into the Ueda family, they were so affluent that she was able to walk to the neighbouring village, Tenga, without setting foot on anyone's property. Born into a family of scholars, Uno was exceptionally educated for a woman of her time. The Uedas' lineage and wealth enabled Kichimatsu to win her as his wife. But alas, Kichimatsu practically nullified his family assets, leaving only 500-square-meter housing land and his dilapidated house, as well as a poor rice field of about 100 square meters that remained unsold.

      Kichimatsu did not drink or smoke. He was a stickler for cleanliness, and he was honest and hardworking. But all of this was little consolation to his family since his proclivity for gambling drove them to abject poverty. Not on a single day did he let go of his dice. He spent every spare moment from his farming work on rolling the dice non-stop late into the night with anyone he could find to bet on the han (odd) or cho (even) number of the total spots. Even when his partner was worn out and dropped into sleep, he kept on with it under the andon paper-covered lamp stand, saying "Han" or "Cho," "Han" or "Cho," .... He was such a constant loser that he had to sell 'a rice field today and a mountain tomorrow' as the saying goes.

      There are many in the world who indulge in gambling, and who ruin their lives by going bankrupt. But what was atypical of Kichimatsu was the way he made excuses to his wife.

      "Don't worry," Kichimatsu comforted Uno. "The Otendo-sama (God of Heaven) feeds even the birds of the air. The fish and beasts don't save food for tomorrow, yet they're not starved to death. The same goes for humans. Only a handful die of starvation for every thousand. Many others die of gluttony. Humans are created to live without food for four or five days. Life's easy."

      "..." Uno remained silent.

      "I don't always gamble just because I like it," explained Kichimatsu. "I can't help it, for it is my destiny, and is for the good of my descendants. The Uedas have until now thrived on the hard labor of their tenant farmers, and we're laden with sins coming from the hatred of many. I was born to take away my ancestors' sins. It's like cutting a big tree by the trunk to let it come into good buds, you know. The Uedas need to get rid of all their houses and lots once."

      "Is that what you think?" asked Uno.

      "No," replied Kichimatsu. "I got a revelation from the tutelary deity. Every time I neglect to gamble, the kami instantly appears in my dream and gets real mad. But with our sins taken away, our grandchildren will be among the happiest in the world."

      Umekichi had no idea if he was serious or joking. However, he sensed Kichimatsu's diehard obsession, the one he could not simply laugh off, as he watched his bedridden father-in-law struggling to play dice on the futon quilt.

      Meanwhile, Yone's baby was growing unnoticed. She covertly began to wear a bleached cotton binder around her belly before turning five months pregnant. Uno helped tighten the binder harder and harder to conceal the dreadful secret that had kept her reticent.

      My baby would be killed if they found out its father is Arisugawa's Wakamiya...

      Yone shied away from others, feared her husband, and avoided her eldest sister — all for the sole purpose of giving birth to the baby. She was resolved to do whatever it took to make it happen.

      I'm going to have it, the prince's baby. For this reason alone, did I decide to get married...

      Whilst waiting for the delivery Yone agonized over the excruciating pain in her scarred body and soul, caused by the deception of her good husband and the public eye.

      The air in the Ueda family had subtly changed since the night Yone came back from Fushimi out of the blue. Karu was disturbingly aware of the change. The air was flowing as if it were steering clear of her only. Her mother and sister avoided the eyes of the sensitive woman feeling ashamed of aging idly, which they did not know had inadvertently frayed her nerves with their caring behavior around her.

      After several nights Karu's anxiety had culminated as her father told her that her parents would like to take a husband for Yone. Though sounding like a consultation, it was actually a foregone conclusion. Karu attended Yone's wedding, forcing herself to smile. She felt overwhelmed by the grim prospects of her future, not to mention that her chances of marriage were getting even slimmer. As if plunged into loneliness and despair, Karu secretly hated her beautiful sister, who had eradicated her presence in the family. But it was not long before she espied Yone's secret. Oh, for shame! She is with child! Whose baby can it be? With the mystery of the hurried wedding unraveled, Karu eased her own pain by disdaining her sister. She looked at Yone with sadistic coldness, thinking her sister deserved the suffering which would otherwise have been the joy of the honeymoon.

      One dusk Karu saw Yone breathing hard trying to lift the weight stone on the takuan pickled radish jar. She ran down to the dirt floor in spite of herself.

      "Move over. I'll lift it for you."

      "No, please don't. It's pretty heavy..."

      "That's why I'll..."

      "What're you talking about? You may run a fever again."

      Nearby Umekichi was taking the mud off the hoe in the yard after a day's work in the fields. He was listening to the pleasant run-in between the sisters with a warm smile.

      "Anyway," declared Karu, once and for all, "from now on it's my job to take out the takuan radish."

      "Why now? Just like that?" asked Yone.

      "You fool. Can't you see now is the critical time for you?" said Karu. "Heaven forbid you should lose your baby over a petty thing like takuan..."

      Yone was momentarily speechless. "Have you noticed...?" she said, her head down. Unable to bear her grief, she suddenly clung to her sister. Karu embraced Yone into her loving, reconciling arms, instantly recalling their childhood when she would carry her adorable sister piggyback and care for her.

      Baby?! ...Or am I just hearing things?

      Umekichi stood frozen, wondering what to do. If it's true, why didn't she tell me first? How could she be so distant? Anger was surging within him. He barely suppressed it, sweating all over his face.

      That night, while facing his wife's back in bed, Umekichi asked in a shaky voice, "I hear you're having a baby. Is that true?"

      Caught off guard, Yone stiffened up and cringed. With her back still on him, she nodded faintly.

      "Why didn't you tell me at once?" demanded Umekichi, unconsciously grabbing her shoulder and violently wrenching it toward him. "It's my baby, my..."

      The fear in her eyes as she looked up at him turned to entreaty with tears gushing out. Now is the time to confess. I want to make a clean breast of it, beg your forgiveness on my knees, and get away from the punishment for my deception...

      But Yone clenched her teeth. She could not say it. What's the use in confessing? It would torment him, and it would torment her yet more.

      "I'm sorry. I wasn't sure..."

      His wife's tears calmed him down a little.

      Come to think of it, it's still February. Perhaps Yone was too uncertain to say it.

      "Come on, stop sobbing," said he, his tone soothing. "I'm not mad at you. Hey, I'm happy if it's true."

      His heart was swelling with the joy of becoming a father.

      "Just take it easy, all right?" he said as if praying. "I'll lift the weight stone from tomorrow on. You leave the heavy stuff. I beg you."

      Yone went into labor during the supper of July 12.

      "It's starting too early," said Umekichi, flustered. "Are you all right? Aren't you having a miscarriage?"

      "Don't worry. Babies grow when they're seven months old," replied Uno, firmly asking him to call for a midwife.

      Yone easily gave birth to a baby boy. It was indeed tiny.

      "It's seven months old, after all," said Uno as if letting everyone know why the baby was so small. Then she lifted it in her arms, her eyes teeming with tears of joy.

      "It was born prematurely," said the midwife, her tone consoling. "But it sure is healthy."

      "This little baby is crying like hell. His face and everything are all wrinkles, nothing but the mouth..." said Umekichi, all smiles.

      I wonder if my husband will ever believe it's a "seven-month baby" when it's actually a full-term newborn...

      Yone's thin fingers were sheepishly reaching out for Umekichi. He embraced as his own the eyes of his wife showing peace and heartfelt thanks after tiding over the great difficulty.

      Virtually lost in oblivion amid this fuss, Karu was deeply moved by the baby's first gushing cry of life. I want to have my own baby.... Her womanly instinct was wrenchingly overwhelming her.

      It was Uno who named the newborn "Kisaburo" as it bore the joy of the Uedas (Ki of Kisaburo means "joy"). Kisaburo's family register shows that he was born on the twelfth day of the seventh month, Meiji 4 (1871) by Japan's lunisolar calendar.

      "There is no need to pry into my (Onisaburo's) ancestors, whether they be the Genji or Heike clans, the Fujiwata or Tachibana clans, or what emperor they trace their roots to. I am simply Japanese, and I am honoured to be a subject of His Imperial Majesty, the sole legitimate heir of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. This I say is an undeniable fact. And I was born into the Ueda family. (snip) Located in Miyagaichi, Anao, Oh-aza, Sogabe Village, Minami-Kuwata County, Tamba, my old home was a dilapidated hut with its eaves sagging, its walls tumbling down exposing the bamboo framework, and its decayed floor about to collapse at any moment. I had to endure a miserable life under these harsh living conditions. Known as an honest man among villagers, the lowly tenant farmer named Kichimatsu Ueda is my father." (Writer's note: this Kichimatsu is the same man as Umekichi Ueda. Umekichi inherited his father-in-law's name.)

      Kisaburo Ueda, later known as Onisaburo Deguchi, reminisced like this in his "Twenty-Eight Years in My Hometown." What would have been on his mind when he bothered to cite His Imperial Majesty simply to show his birth as a son of a tenant farmer? The author may as well leave it unrevealed for now.

      The Anao district of Sogabe Village, where Kisaburo was born and raised, is about two and a half miles west of Kameoka, the town located in the center of the Kameoka Basin near the entrance to the San-in Road. Anao is known for Anaoji Temple erected by a millionnaire named Uji no Miyanari. This temple is designated as the twenty-first of the thirty-three fudasho selected temples of Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) in western Japan, issuing amulets with this boddhisattva's name to pilgrims. Kameoka was originally called Kameyama, but since it was often confused with Kameyama in Ise, it was renamed Kameoka when the domain lord, Nobutada Matsudaira, was appointed governor of this area in June, Meiji 2 (1869).

      An oral tradition is handed down in the Ueda family about the origin of the place name Anao, in relation to the transfer of Toyouke Daijingu Shrine (Outer Shrine of Ise). In the reign of Emperor Yuryaku, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu manifested in the emperor's dream, ordaining him to move the spirit of Toyouke Oh-kami from Hinu no Manai, Tamba Village in Tamba to Yamada Village in Ise. A mikoshi portable shrine procession was formed and began parading to the new venue, and along the way they chose the Uedas' compound in Miyagaichi, Sogabe Village as a lodging for their shrine. During a service at the shrine, a grain of unhusked rice offerings fell into a hole in the stump of a thick zelkova tree. It later sprouted out of the hole and grew until it yielded superior rice. The villagers obtained the Kami's permission to sow the rice seeds in their fine paddies, and this rice spread throughout the village. Thus the area received the name Anaho ("ana" meaning hole, and "ho," an ear of rice), later corrupted to Anao. Even today there is a wooden frame sign hanging at Obata Shrine that says Anaho no Miya (Shrine of Anaho).

      Meanwhile, at Anaoji Temple legend has it that in the year of a great famine, a mulberry stump floated on the water to this temple. An ear of rice was growing out of the stump. The chief priest took some seeds from the rice ear, sowed them in the field and obtained superb rice. Since then Anaoji's chief priest has succeeded the hereditary last name, Anaho, for generations.

      The idea of an ear of rice growing out of a tree stump is practically the same for both stories. Thanks to the tree stump or not, the rice produced in this area boasts of its exquisite delicacy and is called Anao-mai (Anao variety of rice).

      A grand mansion north of Obata Shrine belonged to a wealthy farmer named Genji Saito, and farther north of the mansion was the Uedas' tumble-down residence with its thatched roof looking as if it would get blown off by a mere breeze. The Uedas were proud that though small, their house was surrounded by water on all sides. In fact, there was a stream across the village road from the north of the house. Located in the southwest of the house compound was Kyubei-ike, a spring pond filled with limpid water flowing west. And a deep well sat in the east of the compound, providing delicious water. Encircling the shabby hut were an old muku tree (Aphananthe aspera) reminiscent of the Uedas' venerable origin, three towering kaya nutmeg trees and others with their lush leaves branching out into the air.

      On December 27, Meiji 4 (1871), Grandfather Kichimatsu called his family to his bedside.

      "I'm dying soon..."

      A deafening silence overtook them.

      "But, I have one regret in this world."

      "Feel free to say it," Uno urged him, her ear bent to catch his every word. "If there's anything I can do for you..."

      "That's still left. I mean, the house and lot beside the thicket in Komachida. I tried real hard to let it go, though. If I die like this, I'll be ashamed to face the tutelary deity."

      Everyone exchanged amazed glances.

      "You think I'm nasty, right?" added Kichimatsu, his breath gasping harder and harder. "But the Uedas are a jumble of sinners, and we would have already died out without the mercy of the tutelary deity. This deity has minimized potential disaster for us. My dearest Uno, looking back I haven't reassured you or made you happy for a single day since we got married..."

      Forcing down her surging tears, Uno replied, "I'll go find a gambling partner for you in a while. Before you pass on, try the best luck of your life at dice and get rid of the house and lot and our ancestors' sins."

      "I wish I could, but I can't...," said Kichimatsu. "My eyes are so bleary I can't even see the pips on the dice. But I'll be born again as your grandchild to pick up where I left off. Thanks in advance for all of your care and support."

      "My grandchild...?"

      When Uno asked again, Kichimatsu nodded his approval. Umekichi, Yone, and Karu were puzzled with a bleak look on their faces.

      "And the Ueda family produces the famous painter, Okyo Maruyama (1733-1795; real name Mondo Ueda)," continued Kichimatsu. "From long ago in the Uedas, every seventh generation produces a great man who goes big time, and Kisaburo is exactly seven generations after Okyo. I bet he will make a name, nay a great name, for himself. But his fate won't allow him to be caged in his ancestral home. Adopt him out when he grows up. Take good care of him."

      Yone thrust her baby to Grandfather. Holding its soft tiny hand, a pleased Kichimatsu started singing an improvised ditty:

                  Playing dice after dice, odd or even, odd or even, I try to hit the
            jackpot of my life.
                  I have to leave my lovely sai (wife, dice) and children behind to
            enjyo the afterlife.
                  There I will pick up sai (dice) at the Sai-no-kawara riverbank of
            the Sanzu-no-kawa (River Styx). [3]
                  Non noko sai (dice) sai, non noko sai sai.

      These were his dying words. He was fifty-seven. Umekichi inherited his father-in-law's name to become the second-generation Kichimatsu Ueda.

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[1]^The present-day City of Kameoka.
[2]^The ages of the characters in this biographical novel are based on the kazoedoshi method of age counting where a baby is counted as one year old at birth (after only nine months in the womb) and thereafter becomes a year older at every New Year, rather than on its birthday. This results in people usually being one or two years older than by western calendar.
[3]^This is based on the popular belief of Sai no Kawara (Riverbank of Sai). According to the belief, children who die prematurely are sent to Sai no Kawara, the bed of the Sanzu no Kawa (River of Three Crossings) in the underworld as punishment for causing great sorrow to their parents. They pray for salvation by heaping small stone towers, piling pebble upon pebble, for the happiness of their parents. Soon demons arrive and scatter their stone towers before they are completed, and the children do it all over again, and again. But eventually Jizo Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Jizo) comes to their rescue.

Onisaburo's mother, Yone, in later years


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