Volume 3: The Caldron of Hell
Chapter 10: The Death of Masagoro
On September 16, 1886 (Meiji 19), Masagoro was in the toilet of his house because of a second attack of paralysis, because of chronic alcoholic poisoning and being under difficult treatment of his wounded hipbone. Although he was conscious, he became totally paralyzed. Nao had to take care of him, putting the food in his mouth, and, helping him to relieve himself.
Nao put out her daughter, Ryo, seven years old, to the Kiriyama family in Oji Village into which Nao's second daughter, had been placed, and called her third daughter, Hisa, serving in the Hagiju family home to take care of Masagoro and Sumi, four years old. Nao lashed herself into fresh exertion to transcend the difficulties. Hisa looked after them in the daytime and Nao did it by night after coming back from the work of buying rags. Nao continued to work as much as she could, even while the rest were sleeping in the night.
A month after Masagoro fell into a swoon, on October 15, in Oki Village midway between Ayabe and Fukuchiyama, a large land owner attempted to build a tea-ceremony room and an old-age nest for the head of the family at the corner of the large garden, and a few carpenters were busily working.
A master of the carpenters called Toryo Kichizo directed the carpenters holding a plan in one hand, and suddenly looked around to seek his apprentice, Takezo. Kichizo weighed him in his mind for some time, but Takezo didn't appear in the builder's yard.
Hearing Takezo's story, "Excuse me. I have something to do. Please go before me," Kichizo started out with the other apprentices. It was with shame that the apprentice came later than the Toryo, but Kichizo couldn't scold unsparingly the one who was the eldest son of the respected teacher, Masagoro.
"Hey you. Run home to see how Take is." Kichizo said to an apprentice, but reconsidered at once. "Wait, I will go." Kichizo muttered to himself walking toward his house, "I'm overindulgent with Takezo. I'll use my fist!"
"Takezo-han failed to kill himself." A neighbor tatami maker announced Nao.
Nao felt as if she were falling into a dark place. Someone chatted in the distance.
Takezo cut his throat with a chisel and hung himself from the beam of the room, but fell on the futon and swooned. It was fortunate that Kichizo came back to the house and found him just after his attempted suicide. Futon, tatami and the wood siding wall of the room were smeared with much of Takezo's blood. It was at ten o'clock a.m. Kichizo held his hands over the open wound of Takezo's throat to press the spurting blood and made his family run for a doctor.
After a neighbor announced the terrible news to her, Nao gripped herself above the left breast, leaning on the kotatsu frame and closed her eyes.
"Such a day! Surely this is a dream. Seeming reality, it is."
Thinking so, Nao opened her eyes and found her daughter, Sumi shrinking beside the wall looking into her face with fear. Nao shut her eyes again.
Having the habit of moving the hand mill, Nao sat near the millstone. There was the low and dull sound of the moving hand mill, and yet, the sound was ceaseless and shakes the soul, and the white powder of the rice boiled over from the millstone. Seeming with great relief, Sumi clung to the body.
"Come to think of it, I have long expected Take, as the eldest son, brought up to be stout-hearted and strong-minded because he was fainthearted. Was my embrace as his mother somewhere lacking? Have I attempted to expose a seedling to the sun, to depend on Takezo instead of an unreliable husband? I was unsympathetic. I'm ignorant and have only worked hard as a draft horse, forggeting Take. I raised him to be such a faint man. Bear it, bear it!"
Moving the millstone, Nao muttered to herself. "In hell, I am scraping the scorched part of boiled rice in the bottom of the pot." "How sinful I am!" She sobbed in a hoarse, subdued voice.
In the narrow house, Nao had to live every day to raise her children, Hisa and Sumi together, the eldest son hard to handle with the wounded heart and body, and an egoistic husband a crippled invalid.
At midnight, after Nao finished her sewing and patching and snuffed the andon (the paper-covered lamp stand), she knelt down and worshipped to the household altar behind the sliding doors for a long time. While she was at first not aware of it, she felt a stir as the love of her parents approving her various acts to the gods, and Nao seemed to be able to accept from the gods the power to live pouring into her mind.
Nao told Takezo, "Takezo, I won't trouble you from now on, and you will always be free after getting your health. I allow you to go wherever you like."
She wanted Takezo to be set free from the weight of being the eldest son of the Deguchi family. It was from her parental affection that she acted as hard as she could. Take nodded to her delightfully and smiled to his father, Masagoro lying on the futon.
Takezo soon got well again, and quietly left his birthplace led by Shikazo Otsuki before sunrise. He went to Fushimi, Kyoto to work at tea-picking.
Nao went to the Shichiyama Pass attired as always as a buyer of rags with a large furoshiki and a balance, and saw her son off at the Pass.
The New Year of Meiji 20 (1887) opened. Nao was making a living as a rag buyer. She tidily knotted her hair, now turnig very gray, and put on a worn-out as unlined cotton kimono even though it was a cold season, with frayed straw sandals covered with paper. Though in the grip of poverty, she endeavored to be decent.
On January 20th, 1887 (on the 27th of December, old style), Nao went to Kamiyada to buy rags and came back to Shimoyada carrying these on her back. She was worrying herself sick about making arrangements for the end of the year.
Nao turned her head and saw a man looking like a shopkeeper in his traveling kit. He sked her, "Where did you come from?" Nao answered, "I came from Hongu, Ayabe." "Well, this is a good place. No one visited my village to buy rags and we must burn rags at the end of the year."
In a moment, Nao felt a pain like fire running through her body.
Nao thought of buying rags as her usual trade. Since she looked at her second son Seikichi, who had mastered the technique of making paper and made new white paper from waste paper, she noticed that there was a fresh new life for waste paper. Seikichi gathered Kozo (a kind of mulberry) and a climbing plant as the raw material for papermaking and added these to the waste paper bought by Nao, and made new paper. Nao exchanged this reclaimed paper for waste paper. It is like the exchange of tissue paper of today.
For Nao it was a pleasure she was unable to express with the words to gather disused articles of waste paper and send out reclaimed paper. It was five days before the lunar New Year. She couldn't keep still thinking that rags would be lavishly burnt up without a new role just before the New Year.
Nao sighed out, "How good for you!" The man said, "My village is far from your place, but, please come to buy waste paper." "Yes, but, how far is it from Ayabe to your village?" My village is near Miyazu in Tango County."
Nao estimated the distance in her mind. It may be difficult to go and return before sunset for seven ri (above 28 kilometers) between Ayabe and Miyazu. She must go over a few passes and couldn't come back carrying a lot of waste paper on her back. This work doesn't pay. But, she imagined with sadness the flames burning the waste paper.
"Have your people suffered much?" Nao asked the man. "Yes, the people have suffered a lot." "Well, I am going to visit your village." "It is better to come soon to my village because it is just before the New Year." "I see. Please wait for me and don't burn the waste paper."
When she was told the way to Miyazu in detail, she couldn't be hasty, being unselfish. She held a sense of duty which came to be filled with emotion in her deepest mind.
Nao set out to Miyazu before daybreak on January 22 going over the famous mountain Oeyama. The seasons of Tango County are typically dimly seen in the misty rain of autumn and deep snow of winter. When passing Kouori Village, the snow fell continuously covering everything.
The loose tops of 'susuki' (The Japanese pampas grass) trembled in the breeze. Three or four blackish kaki (Japanese persimmons) left at the top of the tree drooped which seemed to fall into one's mouth. The contrast between the black kaki and the white snow was fresh.
Looking at the mountain torrent under her eyes, she ascended the steep mountain road lying in a zigzag line. After going over a few of the passes thick with the low striped bamboo she stood on the top of the last pass called Fuko. When seeing Miyazu Bay as a blue line far away, Nao, though tired, felt refreshed. At this place, she ate two pieces of potato frozen to the core and kept snow in her mouth to appease her thirst. She began to walk. The course sloped down.
In the early afternoon, Nao found the man's house near Miyazu with the help of the map. The man was very joyfully earnest at Nao's coming all the way from Ayabe and introduced her kindly to the neighborhood. Nao bought as much waste paper as possible cand carried it on her back.
In this season, the daytime was short. When she set out for Ayabe carrying the burden covering her head and her back, the sun was low. She walked quickly just as if contending with the sunset and came near the Pass of Fukou deep in snow. At some time or other, the sky was closed with black cloud and a piercing cold wind began to blow, with snow waiting to fall. Miyazu Bay was plunged in dark and, moreover, the heavy snow wiped out the sight while falling as gray oblique line.
Nao knew well that it was very dangerous to be confronted with the snowstorm on a mountain road at night. She hurried up taking care not to lose her way though heavy snow was falling making it difficult to walk. If she stopped, she would die. Nao went desperately up the mountain road pushing her way through deep snow which came up to her knees. The grove near both sides of the way ended and the view was closed with a gray color that could be the sky. She calmed down her mind and searched her way one step by one step. The way suddenly curved.
When stepping fearfully through the snow, the path unexpectedly crumbled. She tried to stand up, but she fell over the cliff, losing her balance because of the heavy burden. Catching something solid with her hand which she stretched out frantically, she was beside herself with fear. It was a branch of a tree stretched over the side of the cliff. She tried to climb up, but only slithered down because of the steep slope and heavy burden. She attempted to cry for help, but couldn't because the edge of furoshiki enveloping the burden cut into her throat. She undid the hard knot of the furoshiki one-handed. The burden fell into the ravine with a roar inducing a snowslide.
She grasped at the branch, but had a tremor in her hands which became numb with fatigue. She cannot but die now. She called back to her mind the figures of her husband and daughter waiting for her coming. Nao cried to their shadows, "Help me! Help!" She cried with all her strength, but couldn't make an echo with her cry. However, she continued to cry with difficulty, praying to Buddha and as many of the gods as she knew.
The light shined upon her head.
"Hey! Hello!" "Where are you?"
Several men cried. "Yah, over there!" "Dangerous to descend from here."
She strained her hoarse voice to ask for rescue, and they heard her voice at once, "Now, we are going to help you!" Five men appeared the edge of the ravine, and they tied together their belts and threw it to her. After trying several times, Nao caught the end of the belt with difficulty.
When being dragged up the mountain way, while striking her head and having her knee skinned, she had left no power to look up at the faces of men.
"Thank you, thank you very much." Nao only dropped her head as if praying to them, her knees sinking into the snow.
"Only you in the ravine?" A man asked her. "Yes," Nao answered.
"I thought that voice was of someone young." "Are you old?" They talked as if they had lost by helping her. Nevertheless, they were in a state of excitement about the unexpected rescue, each tying his belt.
One of the men told her, "There is a teahouse a little way from here. Go quickly and take a rest." If Nao had been a young female, they might have carried her to the teahouse to nurse her and asked the cause of the disaster. Recognizing that she was an old woman who had on only unlined clothes and crouched under the light of the chochin (a paper lantern) they dropped further kindness to her. The men hurriedly went ahead to Miyazu as if being pressed with falling snow.
Nao absentmindedly heard their talking grow faint and trail off. The dark and the calm again covered her.
Snow may have heavily fallen on her burden at the bottom of the ravine. The moment she recognized her own safety, Nao came to be anxious about her burden which, for a moment, seemed to be on her shakin back again. She wished to get it back from the bottom of the ravine at all cost. In the hard falling snow, she abandoned her burden with difficulty and reached the teahouse almost crawling.
The master of the teahouse stared at her standing on the unfloored part of the house with wide-open eyes.
"How ridiculous! What's with you?" With dripping unkempt hair, she stood in her unlined kimono torn at the knees and went through.
"At the cliff farther on ahead I missed my footing. I barely managed to be rescued by passers by. It is pity that I dropped a valuable burden into the ravine. Please allow me to stay at a corner of the shed."
"How unfortunate it is! Well, as I'm going to heat the bath, warm youself at the blazing fire."
The master showed her the fuel hole of the bath. Two thick logs were brilliantly flaming up. She was attacked by the unbearable cold while she was warming herself at the fire. She couldn't stop her hard shivering because the effect of fire against her felt as cold as ice. She approached the fire, almost touching it to feel a little warmth on her skin.
Having my sweetheart in Tanba
and one more my darling in Tajima,
In the snow of Fuko Pass I walk.
In the bathroom, a guest soaks in the bath singing a pleasant kouta (a ditty). Nao's body and her clothes were steaming, but she felt a chill. She was very hungry. She had eaten only two pieces of potato at lunch. She paid all her money to buy waste paper and had no money.
Setting aside her hunger, she was very anxious about passing the night, say, on the earth floor.
After the guest stepped out of the tub and the fire of the fuel hole had gone out. Nao returned to the unfloored part of the house and gave thanks to the master.
The guest who just before stepped out of the tub called out to Nao from the room making himself comfortable in a Tanzen (dressing gown, also called Dotera) and drinking sake.
"I heard about your misfortune. And how much is your burden which dropped into ravine?"
"Yes, I am ashamed of my answer for your kind question, because the furoshiki was filled with waste paper and rags." "What? Rags...?" The guest looked suspicious.
"I am a buyer of rags who cannot live this day if I don't buy rags. What others recognize only as rags, are very valuable for me. Somehow or other I will try to descend the cliff if it doesn't snow tomorrow...."
"Foolish! You can't descend that cliff. You are really lucky considering only your rescue." The master waved his hand in disgust.
"Don't talk of so a trifling burden regretfully. Please accept my little present." The guest made her grasp a certain sum of money wrapped up in paper. "Don't be reserved. A good bargain was struck today and I'd like to present you this as my congratulatory gift. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. There are demands on each purse. Your children will await you, I guess."
She was going to push back the money in spite of herself, but couldn't do it. She wanted only one rin (rin is unit of money, a tenth of a sen). She sobbed raising it reverently to her head in confusion of thanks to another's mercy and mean-spirited she couldn't be. She was unused to such kindness from others.
That night, she got to bed on a bench on the earth floor, and the next morning, she cleaned up carefully around the bathroom as her thanks for being put up for a night. She went along with the guest who met with her the night before as far as Koumori Village and arrived at Hongu Village covered with snow toward evening on New Year's Eve.
Nao bought two sho of glutinous rice with the money of the guest's mercy and came back to her house. The children looked at their safe mother's face and jumped for joy. She came near her husband's bedside holding children in her arms.
Masagoro said, raising his head from futon, "I'm surprised that you came back. I was anxious about you not being able to go over Fuko Pass in the heavy snow. We can accpet the New Year together." His eyes and tone of speaking were permeated with his concern for his wife and was delighted at her safety. He had never had such a tender attitude to her.
Nao laughed, brightly pressing her feeling of a lump rising in her throat, "I was able to buy glutinous rice. I will make rice cake for you tonight."
The family were buoyed up with a sudden outcry. Her daughter, Hisa, did the cooking at the kitchen and Nao began to clean up for the New Year the corner of the room which enshrined the household altar.
Nao's family had had nothing to eat that night. She boiled glutinous rice offered to the part of the room enshrining the household altar for her family, and crushed left over glutinous rice in a mortar, and hulled it to make rice cakes.
"Rice-cake making, rice-cake making." Sumi skipped around Nao.
It was Nao's habit to keep darning the family's clothes all night on New Year's Eve. The children, who had been playful, fell asleep. Nao and Masagoro heard the somber ringing of the temple bells in the New Year.
On January 24, 1887 (Meiji 20), Nao's family ate boiled rice cake which she had made and celebrated the New Year. Seikichi, the eldest son, came back to Hongu Village and passed the first three days of the new year. A laughing voice brightly came out of the house. But, they had to live in an austere life again.
After dropping the burden wrapped with the furoshiki into the ravine she used a patchy piece of the mosquito net turned reddish-brown instead of a furoshiki because she couldn't buy a new one. This mosquito net first was a fresh yellowish green, and she had various dreams in it and often put it in pawn.
When going out, she always sat down by her husband's bedside and called tenderly out to him, "Please tell me what you want. I will buy everything you like." Masagoro, at first, teased her for something, but, in time, he shook his head, only smiling. Since their marriage, he continued to avert his gaze from Nao's trouble. But, while being ill in bed and focusing on family's living, his wife's hardship truly touched his heart.
"It is gracious for this sort of profane me." Muttering to himself, Masagoro clasped his disabled hand in prayer at the sight of Nao's back. Hisa was amazed at this figure of her father. Nao heard about it from Hisa and soulfully felt lonely. She prayed that her husband could be his former self and to have his own way somehow.
Over the middle of February, he was swollen. It seems that he recognized his death was near. One day, when Nao came back from work, he asked her diffidently, "Hey, O-Nao. You have taken care of me for a long time, but, it may come out that I die. How I long to drink sake for the last time on earth." "Okay, well, but, you shouldn't die. Please drink and eat what you like and strengthen yourself."
Nao was pleased that her husband coaxed her after a long time and stepped down cheerfully to the earth floor, but suddenly sat down upon her heels beside the entrance frame and shrugged her shoulders in the neckband of her kimono. This day, she walked about with worn zoris (Japanese sandals), but, she had a small margin of profit. After buying a little rice, only ten coins of one mon sen were left in her hand. She must start her business tomorrow on this small capital which was the staff of her family's life. It was hardly possible that there was a valuable article in the house. She looked around with fretfulness and focused on a balance which was the tool of her trade.
Nao hastened to the pawnbroker's shop in Honmachi under the spreading frozen stars of the night sky. Understanding that it is an obstacle to tomorrow's work, the pleasure of her husband who was on the verge of death cannot be measured in terms of money. Later she can take the balance out of pawn.
Nao parted the curtain of the shop and offered the balance, "Would you please loan three sen coins?"
The master of the shop refused even to take the balance and denied flatly, "Such a ragman's balance! I don't accept it."
"This balance was valuable only for me, but, not for another person." Nao thought to herself.
Nao began to walk with her head drooped, and happened suddenly to think of the following, "Well, a fellow trader can understand this valuable instrument."
Nao came back to Motomiya Village and knocked at the door of Oki Umehara. Oki was arranging the rags piled up mountain-high relying upon the light of a burning branch of rank pine in the hearth without the andon (a paper-covered lampstand). Beside the hearth, her daughter, Umeko, the same age as Nao's daughter, Sumi, was sleeping.
After hearing Nao's request, Oki asked her with an inquiring look, "You ask me to loan you three sen taking this balance as security. Why do you want money?" "My husband asked me for sake...." "Sake? Do you mean O-sake?" "Yes, I feel he has not long to live," Nao cast down her eyes sheepishly.
Oki turned her back to her with no words and put pine needles on the smoking fire. Nao said, clinging to her sleeve, "Two coins..., even one coin...." Oki turned her face and looked her in the eyes which were sparking to mirror the fire.
"Just before my husband died some years ago, he told me to want to eat a rice cake dumpling covered with bean paste. And I told him, 'Don't ask for luxurious things. Wait for good fortune!' I had nothing to do withi him and he dropped dead that evening. He was an unreliable husband, but I interred him with the rice cake which I cooked. In spite of my kindness, he said no thanks to me from the other world. Since then, I hate rice cake dumplings covered with bean paste."
Nao kept silent. Oki said, "I can't loan you three sen because of my trade tomorrow trade. Excuse me, are two sen okay?" "For me? Thank you very much."
When Nao held two sen tight in her hand and stood up, Oki called her to stop, "O-Nao-han, take your balance." "But...." "You cannot buy rags without the balance. Work hard and pay back the loan, okay?" Nao could not speak because her heart was filled with thanks.
"Truly, it is necessary for each of us to get more money," Oki said. "Surely." "How would you spend money if you got a lot of unexpected money?" Oki said with a smiling face, lifting up Nao's heart.
Nao answered with dreamy eyes, "Well, I would put my husband to sleep on a futon made of habutae silk..., and give him delicious sake to drink, and, if possible, I'd like to have a famous singer of Chongare sing at my husband's bedside so he could listen to his heart's content."
Oki said, "Only a female thinks of her husband and children. Ha, ha, it's nonsense to say silly things."
Nao brought a cup filled with sake warm as skin to Masagoro's mouth and had him drink it Masagoro shook it on the tongue for a while, and heaved a heavy sigh.
"Good, good taste." He became quickly intoxicated.
"When drinking sake, it is always getting springlike, and I'm able to hear a dunner's voice as chirping of a bush warbler..., oh, I got drunk, drunk. As drinking one go of sake, (a go is a Japanese unit of volume, one go equals about 1.8 liter), I become that good man, Yuranosuke (a devoted samurai of Ako clan in Edo era, Kuranosuke Oishi, who gave the name of Yuranosuke to himself walking zigzag under the influence of drink."
He sang his favorite song phrases in an ecstasy, and attempted to move the hands and legs, seeming to try dance, but had no power to do it.
The next morning, Masagoro wished to eat rice.
Nao told the neighbor, Shoemon Deguchi the details and said with plunge, "I'm sorry, I request of you a loan of about five go of glutinous rice, please." Shoemon felt sorry for her, and said, "'Loan' isn't the word for it. No problem, come now, accept the rice as my present, please."
She solemnly accepted his present as a blessing and never forgot his kindness, ever after saying the following, "At that time, I was able to borrow five go of the glutinous rice from Shoemon Deguchi."
Masagoro was pleased to swallow slowly rice cake like eating candy, and said happily, "Now, I can die without regret in this world, I know."
In the evening, the dropsical swelling of Masagoro's legs grew worse. He was reduced to a skeleton, the skin hanging from the crotch to the knees. But, it was very difficult for his feet to get into Japanese socks because of the pale, heavy swelling from the ankles to the sole of the heels, which Nao massaged.
Nao ran next door to Oshima's house after he fell asleep.
"My husband has dropsical swelling even to the soles of the feet. He passes next to us urine. I am puzzled what to do. What can I do?" "When swelling appears on the soles of feet, O-Nao-han, he will soon die." "What can I do, O-Fusa-han. Tell me how to take measures to help him." "You, it must surely be a bitter grief for you that your husband would die." "Yah, I can't bear it." Nao said clearly in a low voice turning pale.
"There is no hope for you to expect that sick man to live except only by taking much trouble. I wish you would be prepared for his death, O-Nao-han!"
Fusa pushed Nao's trembling back to the door as if to say that she cannot afford to keep company with Nao any longer.
Since then, Nao, forgot her work, and didn't leave Masagoro's side even for a moment. Each time Masagoro breathed hard, Nao passed her hands over his back asking, "Are you suffering?"
"Why?" He stared back at her being surprised at her words.
His swollen hands and legs became gradually cold. Nao held his hands and legs to her breast for warmth. His foot felt as heavy as a stone.
"I feel as if I am lying in the sky." Masagoro muttered to himself.
Near evening, he began to snore terribly and didn't reply, even after being called and shaken by her. That night, their daughter, Yone, and sons, Seikichi and Denkichi, hastened to their parents' house hearing that their father had fallen into a dangerous condition.
His daughter, Koto Kuriyama in Oji Village was too late for his last moments and the whereabouts of their son, Takezo, was unknown.
Late at night, he was in a state of coma. His sons and daughters focused on their father's last ditch fight in strong silence. They began to doze, being very tired, though Nao continued to gaze at their father, endeavoring not to miss anything about him. She continually put the cotton containing water on his parched lips.
At the first gray of dawn, Seikichi woke up and looked into father's face sitting down beside Nao. Instead of Nao, Seikichi had father drink water. His throat moved thinly with the sound of drinking water. Nao and Seikichi looked at each other and exchanged nods joyfully.
Masagoro suddenly opened his eyes. His gaze passed slowly over Nao's face and stopped on Seikichi's face. He faintly moved his lips. Seikichi brought his face near his father's mouth to catch his words.
"Take? Good for your coming back. Don't leave Nao's side. Okay?" He said in fragmentary words.
Seikichi, being unable to bear the sorrow clung to Masagoro and cried out with tears in his voice, "Father, father!"
Yone, Hisa and Denkichi jumped up, awakened by his crying. Ryo and Sumi were sinking into a profound sleep. Masagoro breathed his last in calm.
His eyes were translucent and innocent, his lips were opened a little seeming to want to joke once more with ease. Nao touched his eyes lightly and the eyes were closed, as the lowering of a curtain on a long drama, stintingly, a little at a time.
Masagoro raised the frameworks of three hundred houses in his life. He failed only one time, cutting one pillar a little short, unnoticeable even to an untrained eye. This master carpenter, sixty years old, died on March 1, 1887 (Meiji 20).
Nao had no clothes for the remains. She was going to take Masagoro's kimono out of pawn, but it had already been foreclosed without announcement to her. Nao bought one kimono in a secondhand clothes store with difficulty and had the remains of Masagoro put in it.
Nao held the funeral of Masagoro borrowing money from the town-block association. The remains were buried in the Zen temple, Seifukuin in Ueno-cho. At that time, there was no priest in the Seifukuin, and the funeral was held without recitation and the remains of Masagoro was given no posthumous Buddhist name.
"It was too solitary a funeral. I have remembered the desolate scene a little." The youngest child, Sumi, storied this at a later date.