Mother Earth

Volume 1: The Poems of Youth

Chapter 2: The Painting of Great Roaring Waves

      Kisaburo was slower to walk and talk than other babies. Even when he began to walk, he often fell over because he seemed too top heavy to keep his balance. He once tumbled into a small ditch between sweet potato fields and lost consciousness, and his father went to great trouble to revive him.

      By the time he was old enough to understand things, Kisaburo had long thought there were six people in his family — his grandmother, father, mother, aunt, him, and a little old man... What was odd was this old man. He always wore a brown-stripped kimono, bent down and followed Kisaburo around. None of the family dealt with him, and he would not bother talking to them, either. Kisaburo did not like nor dislike this old man, and his shadowy presence did not take the toddler aback. There was something absent-minded about Kisaburo.

      One day during the first New Year week of Meiji 7 (1874), the Uedas had a second son. When they saw his wizened face, they were all stunned. 4-year-old Kisaburo also thought to himself, "This baby looks just like that silent old man." The newborn was named Yoshimatsu () after its grandfather and father, Kichimatsu (). Matsu () of Yoshimatsu comes from matsu of Kichimatsu, and yoshi () is based on kichi (), which is also read yoshi.

      When he was five, Kisaburo fell ill with kyofubyo, a disease that causes cerebral meningitis and other similar symptoms, and subsequently developed a splenohepatic disorder. His belly kept bloating out, and his limbs became emaciated like wire. A fortune-teller told the Uedas that the pond their ancestors had dug in the southwest of their premises, the Kyubei Pond, incurred the wrath of the malicious deity, Konjin, because they committed the directional taboo of building things in the southwest. Deeply concerned, the whole family visited many different Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples for prayers, but alas, their effort failed to reverse Kisaburo's ever worsening condition.

      Someone recommended toads for Kisaburo. His father, Kichimatsu (former name: Umekichi), chased some toads over hill and dale, brought them home, and basted the chicken-like white meat with soy sauce and grilled it. He gave his son a piece or two every day, and whenever Kisaburo tried to eat it, that little old man came from nowhere and scowled at him with a look of disapproval. He fooled his parents, but not this old man. For Kisaburo usually only pretended to eat the meat, and the moment he had the chance, he went to the bathroom and threw it away.

      One night Uno had a dream.

      "Don't make Kisa (Kisaburo) eat toads. He'll do great service to the Kami, you know. The young marrieds have neglected to worship the tutelary deity. They need to pray to get the deity's favorable care. Take Kisa to Obata Shrine right away. And make sure to tell the couple what I mean."

      It was her late husband, Kichimatsu. His voice lingered on her ears clearly when she woke up.

      In the darkness of dawn Uno shook awake the young couple in the next room. Hearing her mother, Yone carried piggyback her skinny and delicate son and took him to Obata Shrine with her husband holding a paper lantern. Thanks to the prayer or not, Kisaburo got better from this day on.

      "Don't forget the tutelary deity," Uno reminded Kisaburo time and again. "The Kami is always by your side and waiting for you to serve Him when you grow up...."

      It was around the end of the summer. Karu took Kisaburo out to the neighbouring house of Shobei Saito, the village head, for a kindly offered bath. Kichimatsu, milling rice in the mortar on the dirt floor, found Kisaburo had already come back from his bath and scolded him.

      "You got a dirty face for heaven's sake. Look in the mirror."

      Kisaburo's nose was pitch black from playing outside during the day.

      "He won't let me wash his face no matter what," said Karu, sounding as if she did not know how to handle him. "Talk him into it."

      "Kisa-koh (Kisaburo), come here," Kichimatsu grabbed Kisaburo's shoulder and made a fierce face. "Hey, you gotta obey your aunt. Just tell me why you won't wash your face."

      But Kisaburo remained silent and was coming nearer to tears. Kichimatsu asked twice, and on the third time he lost his temper.

      "You stubborn brat. Look here, why the hell won't you wash your face?" shouted Kichimatsu, his voice louder.

      Scared of his father's rage, Kisaburo yelled like crazy, covering his head with his hands.

      "I don't wanna wash my face with the hot water others have used to wash their balls!"

      Then he burst into tears. Kichimatsu groaned and told Yone, "What nerve! My father-in-law said he would amount to something. After all he's seven generations after Okyo."

      Uno took a crying Kisaburo to the well in the back of the house, washed his face, and whispered to him endearingly.

      "The truth is your noble birth forbids you to bathe in the hot water others have made dirty. You're like no other."

      Afterwards Uno's earnest plea to the neighbours enabled Kisaburo to bathe before anyone else. His inborn nature and his grandmother's occasional whispers were interwoven to infuse his infant soul with self-esteem.

      Some calligraphy by Kodo Nakamura, Uno's uncle, was pasted on the Uedas' old broken walls or fusuma sliding doors. Kisaburo pestered his grandmother to read the characters for him. At Kongoji and Anaoji Temples he gazed at the monuments, as well as the framed pictures and calligraphic works. The instant a Buddhist priest came out, Kisaburo grabbed his sleeve and walked with him, and naggingly asked what the characters meant. He had a habit of keeping an untiring eye on the alphabet whenever he found it and asking anyone around what it meant. But most people in the village were illiterate and had a hard time answering his questions.

      "This kid's embarrassing grown-ups," said the villagers with a wry smile. But none of them ever dreamed that a youngster like him comprehended words.

      The Seinan War broke out in February, Meiji 10 (1877). The newspapers reported on the anti-government rebellion every day. Back then only a few homes in the village subscribed to dailies. Warming himself at the irori fireplace, Shobei Saito was reading with a frown the paper he brought home from the public office. The police officer peered over Shobei's shoulder and eagerly asked what was written, but Shobei, stumbling on many unfamiliar words, did not understand at all. He gave up and put the paper down, and then he began smoking. Kisaburo happened to be here for a bath, poring over the paper. It was nothing new, and no one paid attention to it. The officer lowered his voice and whispered to the village head with an air of secrecy.

      "Just between you and me, but the odds are against the government forces in their battle with Saigo. I hear they've lost an awful lot of soldiers."

      "Oh, have they?" responded Shobei. "Yesterday's paper says the government has 16 thousand soldiers and the insurgents have 15 thousand. Their military strength is almost equal, but now the government's going through the great reduction... yeah... we gotta keep it a secret. Uh-oh, better watch out."

      "Why secret?" Kisaburo butted in. "This paper says the same thing!"

      "What?..." said the officer. When he learned it was a 6-year-old brat just out of bibs, he started laughing. But Shobei, seeing the almond eyes of an undaunted Kisaburo, straightened his face.

      "Wait a sec," Shobei pointed to a headline. "Now then Kisa-koh, how do you read this?"

      Kisaburo read it aloud without pause.

      "With Fierce Battle of Tabaruzaka Under Way, Goverment Forces Struggling for Enemy Fort..."

      "Does it really say that?" the officer looked at Shobei skeptically.

      "Yeah, sounds like it. Hey Kisa, read on."

      Hearing Kisaburo, the two grown-ups fell silent with their eyes downcast.

      "I don't know where you learned to read, but I gotta hand it to you," marveled the officer, taking off his cap. "But don't tell me the enemies'll close in on Kyoto. After all, we have the Imperial Standard and the Prince." He threw out his chest.

      "The Prince is... him?" Kisaburo pointed to the portrait in the paper he was staring at for some time.

      "Yeah," said the officer. "He sure is an imposing figure. And what's written under the portrait?"

      "Governor General Arisugawa no Miya...."

      "Right. He's the 'Miya-san' in the Tokotonyare song. This Prince Taruhito is the commander-in-chief of the government forces."

      "I've heard this song. My grandma sang it for me." Kisaburo gently stroked the prince's portrait.

      As a child, Kisaburo was able to read aloud words in the paper but often did not understand what they meant. Shobei clearly understood what the paper said by having the boy read aloud the words he could not read. Since then the village head had had a habit of getting the 7-year-old to read the paper for him by stealth. Later in life, Kisaburo reminisced about his childhood, wondering why he was able to read the characters he did not formally learn.

      Around the time when Kisaburo began reading the paper, another talent of his came to light. Some neighbours in the village had been trying after trying to dig a well since early morning, but no water would spout out. They were in a tight spot. Kisaburo, having kept his ear to the ground for a while, could not help advising them.

      "Hey guys, there's no point in digging there. A water vein's here, right here."

      Kisaburo stepped on the suspected site a few times with his hands in his pockets.

      "You idiot!" yelled a disgruntled digger, his tone frustrated by no signs of water. "What the hell do you know about it? Stop bothering us and get lost!"

      "I was meaning to keep quiet because you wouldn't believe a kid like me," retorted Kisaburo. "But I just had to tell you out of pity. Well, I guess I should have saved my breath. I'll go have fun..."

      After Kisaburo was gone, the well sinker, on a whim, decided to dig the spot the child had stepped on. Water gushed out in no time at all. The story became the talk of the village, and from then on, whenever people dug a well, they called Kisaburo out to listen for water running deep underground and asked for his directions by giving him some candy. Word spread in and around the village that Kisaburo was a child prodigy with sharp ears.

      Early spring was a time when people still needed an irori fire to keep themselves warm. Seated near the hearth, one day Kisaburo accidentally fell into it. Luckily the little old man, reliable as always, showed up to pull the boy out of the fire. A visible scar Kisaburo suffered from the serious burn would remain on his left arm for the rest of his life. But after a while, the old man did not appear before Kisaburo at all.

      "Where's that quiet old man?" Kisaburo asked Uno.

       The fascinated grandmother learned in detail about him from Kisaburo and sighed, "I knew he was there for you."

      Kisaburo was so scared when he found out the silent old man was the spirit of his late grandfather, Kichimatsu, that he could not even visit his neighbours alone for a while.

      In the summer of this year, Kichimatsu, Yone, and Karu were weeding their fields while letting Kisaburo and Yoshimatsu play there. Kisaburo was drawing a picture on the ground with a twig, and Yoshimatsu was copying the grown-ups and pulling up weeds. Karu abruptly tugged Yone's sleeve, pointing to Yoshimatsu. Kichimatsu also noticed it and watched his son innocently doing what he had to do. 4-year-old Yoshimatsu pulled up weeds and put them in his mouth, and once his mouth was full, he went out of the fields and spat them out. How closely his behavior resembled that of his late grandfather! A stickler for cleanliness, the granddad would pull up weeds in the fields whenever he found them, hold them in his mouth, till the soil to the end of the ridge, and spit them out outside of the fields. His family would often make fun of it, saying, "What a strange habit!"

      Yoshimatsu was not supposed to know his grandfather.... His family was watching him with bated breath. Then he turned around and croaked out, "Now you know who I am!"

      It was Grandpa's voice, Grandpa's face. Yoshimatsu must be the late Kichimatsu reborn. He was born again as declared in his will to pick up where he left off, more specifically, to get rid of the remaining house and lot.... And Kichimatsu, Yone, and Karu were very frightened by the premonition.

      Autumn was drawing on. One day Kichimatsu took Kisaburo with him and visited his parents' home, the Sano family, in Funaoka, Kawabe Village (currently Funaoka, Sonobe-cho, Funai Country, Kyoto Prefecture) for the first time in a long while. Their purpose was to go to the autumn festival of the local shrine slated for the following day in honor of the community's tutelary deity. After offering prayers to the deity, the father and child enjoyed watching an amateur sumo tournament and a farce in the shrine precincts. Then they headed over for Sasabe, Oh-aza, Yoshitomi Village near Yagi to drop in on urushi-sashi, a kind of medicine man believed to cure illness with lacquer. Wishing for his son's good health, Kichimatsu asked the urushi-sashi to apply lacquer on more than ten different parts of Kisaburo's abdomen.

      Walking down the street, Kisaburo often scratched his belly vigorously as the lacquer made it itchy. By the time he came back to Anao, he had lacquer poisoning all over his body. Fine-textured with the color of a plum petal, Kisaburo's skin must have been quite delicate unlike that of his father and brother. His whole body had swollen with a rash to the point where he could no longer budge. Kichimatsu's parental affection had backfired.

      Kichimatsu went out and caught river crabs and loaches for his ailing son. Uno mashed the crabmeat and spread it over Kisaburo's body or kept the live loaches rubbed down until his body heat wore them out. But his severe rash would not heal. In the spring of the next year, or Meiji 11 (1878), Kisaburo reached school age, but his illness dashed his hope of attending school. The lacquer poisoing Kisaburo underwent at that time left a permanent scar on his belly.

      In March, Meiji 12 (1879), their third son, Kokichi, was born. Since Yone was tied up with Yoshimatsu and Kokichi, Uno usually took care of Kisaburo. She stuck with him all the time to teach him a variety of subjects ranging from kana phonetic syllables to words from the Ogura Anthology of One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets. Though able to read dailies, Kisaburo learned a great deal from this tutorial, especially the basics of such things as the stroke orders of Japanese characters. So amazing was his memory and comprehension that once he learned something, it was neatly organized and stored in his head.

      "You're really something, Kisa" Uno admired. "They say blood will tell, and how true!"

      "I'm seven generations after Okyo, right?" said Kisaburo with an innocent look back at his grandmother.

      Uno half nodded it and half denied it, saying, "That's not all. You have the blood of the noble person...the same blood as the Son of Heaven (Emperor) running through you."

      "Yeah,...everyone is a child of the Son of Heaven" replied Kisaburo. His responsiveness made her quiet. This was all she could say. It was a topic that never went further.

      Uno was trying out a special teaching method for Kisaburo. She poured into this prodigy the knowledge of the esoteric science of kototama she had inherited from her brother and an authority in this field, Kodo Nakamura. The nine-year-old grandson with a grotesquely swollen body and face in lacquer rash, peeping through his threadlike glistening eyes, and his gray-haired grandmother of sixty-six. Hearing verbal exchanges comprehensible only between them, Kichimatsu sneered at Uno's passion, saying, "The son of a peasant doesn't need the weird stuff like that." He believed a little knowledge would only hinder poor farmers when they just needed to stay fit and work hard. Soon Uno found herself with nothing more to teach.

      Waichiro Ueda, a school peer in Kisaburo's neighborhood, came to see the bedridden boy.

      "Kisa-yan, school is a real scary place" warned Waichiro. "Look away a little, and your teacher will beat you with a thick heavy iron bar."

      "Is that true? They're just going too far."

      Frightened by his friend's tall tale, Kisaburo grew reluctant about going to school.

      In the early spring of Meiji 13 (1880), Kisaburo, aged ten, ended his two odd-year bedridden life and regained his original fair skin as the stubborn rash was gone and the scabs came off. His limbs were freed from the prolonged shackles.

      Kisaburo was going to school for the first time, being taken by his father. On their way they were greeted by fragrant plum blossoms. Even the gentle breeze stroking their skin signaled the spring. Kisaburo jumped for joy. He threw his chest out to snowcapped Mt. Atago and uttered the jubilant kototama of "A" and "O." Kichimatsu hastily cupped his son's mouth with his hands, warning with a grim face.

      "Look, you can't take your eyes off your teacher in class. Hold your urine. No dozing off. And if you holler just like you did, you'll be doomed with this..."

      He showed Kisaburo a raised fist. Coupled with Waichiro's words, it blew Kisaburo's joy.

      In the then area of Sogabe there had been two elementary schools in operation since july, Meiji 6 (1873): Kaiko Elementary School in Anao, and Yosei Elementary School in Teramura. Children in Anao, Nanjo, Saijo, and Shigetoshi went to Kaiko, and those in the remaining five villages had schooling at Yosei. Kaiko, where Kisaburo took lessons, was located within the precincts of Anaoji Temple.

      Anaoji Temple at that time was crowded with people who came from across the country for the Saigoku Pilgrimage. While the lord of Kameoka had a fief worth fifty thousand koku (one koku equals 180 litres) of rice, Anaoji Temple was generously rewarded a hundred thousand koku worth of land. There were as many as thirteen inns for pilgrims and worshippers along the road to the temple including Shirokiya, Momijiya, Kawachiya, Yorozuya, and Iseya, and they sent touts to as far as the Junrei Bridge near the entrance of Anao, vying for prospective customers.

      An anecdote had it that Yorozuya Inn, located at the back gate of the temple, cooked five to (one to equals 18.039 liters) of rice every night during the winter for customers pilgriming from the snowy regions of Aomori and Yamagata. When Yuta Saito, a retired hostess of Yorozuya who turned eighty-eight years old in Showa 44 (1969), married into the Saito family at eighteen in Meiji 32 (1899), there were still three inns in business — Momijiya, Kawachiya, and Yorozuya. But once trains began running to Kameoka and tour buses stopped at Anaoji, they no longer stayed afloat. The bankruptcy of Yorozuya in Showa 20 (1945) marked the end of the hotel industry in Anao.

      Within Anaoji was the Nembutsu-doh prayer hall located between the pine trees facing the two-story magnificent pagoda. This hall served as Kaiko Elementary School, and it consisted of the teachers' room, and the four classrooms partitioned with large wooden screens to accommodate students in all grades. However, at that time the total enrollment was a mere thirty.

      The elementary school system of the time spanned 16 grades with pupils ranging in age from six to 14 years. As the 16 grades corresponded to 16 levels of learning, the children aimed to reach the top rank. Each semester lasted for six months, and major tests were given in spring and autumn. The students moved up to higher levels based on their academic performance. 16th graders had to take an exit examination to graduate. Due to his late enrollment, Kisaburo was first placed even below the lowest rank. He was three years behind his same-age peers.

      The school principal was Naomichi Deguchi, a former samurai who belonged to the Kameyama Domain. The teacher was Aritoshi Yoshida, also hailing from the same domain. And the clerk with occasional janitorial work was Kamejiro Saito nicknamed "Kame-yan." The principal and Yoshida juggled different classes simultaneously. For example, when a teacher finished reading a passage from a Japanese language textbook in one classroom, he ran into another next door to teach arithmetic. The moment the teacher faded behind the room divider, the kids started making a racket and having a fight.

      Though not even in the lowest grade, Kisaburo found the lessons to be child's play. It was sheer torture for him. Day after day he was exposed to that stupid barrage of the katakana phonetic syllabary. He often dozed off, and his teacher, Mr. Yoshida, cussed him out and hit him in the head with a pointer stick.

      Waichiro was quite right about what he told me. I might end up beaten with an iron bar. Dad is already enough to make me sick of being beaten...

      The vivid image of Mr. Yoshida crushing his head with an iron bar gave Kisaburo cold feet about going to school. On the way to Anaoji he egged Waichiro and other "partners in crime" on to flee to the mountains for fun and games. He really felt alive when he romped in the mountains and caught fish in the river rather than sitting in a boring, cramped school chair, petrified in dread. Soon it became his habit to have lunch in the woods and go down home on cue with children coming out of school.

      One day Kichimatsu took the Japanese language textbook out of Kisaburo's cloth wrapper just after he came back from school and told him to read it out. From the very start Kichimatsu was all against paying a hefty monthly tuition to send his son to school. But Uno and Yone's insistence made him give in as he married into his wife's family and was in no position to argue. Now that he had allowed Kisaburo to enjoy the luxury of schooling, he wanted to hastily check his son's academic progress.

      Kisaburo opened the textbook full of kana characters and stood solemnly in front of his father. Never ever did he mean to deceive his illiterate but good-natured father, let alone make fun of his scary father... But he saw no reason why it had to be the childish school textbook when he read the newspaper for the village head. If I read at all, I'd be better off reading something interesting instead of the boring textbook. Well, what'll it be...?

      Then a brainwave came out of the blue, and in Kisaburo's mind he clearly visualised opening a page of an Edo period tile block printed newsletter he had once read — unfortunately. Before he knew it, his lips were reading the page smoothly.

      "Primping and training their patrons' moustaches, the tanuki [1] in the courtesans are beating their happy belly drums in the bushes, cajoling the easy prey out of their money...some women are playing battledore and shuttlecock, and whose moustached sugar daddies' "brides" are they?...just for their secret lovers they can bother to dust off the rich men's moustaches...bewitched by the beautiful foxes, the hunters forget their game and fall for the trap...laden with a heavy load of love, the sugar daddies' ships enter and leave the harbour of lust...."

      Kisaburo was still a child who could read something but did not really understand what it meant or implied. Kichimatsu was impressed by his son's fluent and carried-away reading, trying hastily to hold back his surging laughter.

      "Okay son, you've become quite good at it. We can continue this tomorrow."

      Though letting kisaburo go, Kichimatsu felt uneasy for some reason.

      "Hmm...sugar daddies' ships enter and leave the harbour of lust..." ruminated Kichimatsu, when he wised up with great astonishment. "This is a dirty Dodoitsu poem! What the hell do they teach kids in school for a hefty tuition?"

      Short-tempered, Kichimatsu stormed into the school, shouting a violent protest and seizing Yoshida by the collar with a tight squeeze. But a short while later he was rushing back home, his anger doubling. Instead of lecturing the teacher, he was actually lectured by the teacher about his son because poetry and other refined pursuits were not taught in the Japanese class and, what was worse, Kisaburo had not even bothered to show up for school at all. Kichimatsu was totally disgraced. The moment he saw Kisaburo, he hit his forehead with the bowl of his tobacco pipe.

      "You damn brat! You pulled a fast one not just on your teacher but me, your parent."

      With his father poised for a second blow, Kisaburo dashed through the yard out to the street. He scurried into Kongoji Temple just a stone's throw from home, trying to stop the bleeding with his hand.

      Kongoji Temple belongs to the Tenryuji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and worships Shaka Nyorai (the Buddha Shakyamuni). Founder of the Maruyama-Shijo school of naturalist painters, Okyo Maruyama (1733-1795) became a Buddhist disciple of this temple when he was nine. Okyo's life there later earned Kongoji the different name "Okyoji." In Temmei 8 (1788), Okyo painted on the fusuma sliding doors of the temple's main hall as a donation in memory of his parents and ancestors.

      It was twilight in the main hall. Hiding in its inner room, Kisaburo was whimpering in pain from his bruised forehead in the quiet solitude of the temple. With his eyes becoming used to the dim light, he found the statue of Buddha seated in front of him. He saw a fusuma painting to the left and another to the right with his teary eyes before he stopped sobbing.

      "There's a frightening room in the back of Kongoji," Kisaburo remembered someone in the village telling him. "At dead of night you hear the roar of the turbulent wind and waves." Is this room it...?

      Indeed, a mysterious roar seemed to be springing forth from the overall painting of the joined fusuma panels. The raging billows dashing against the rocks, and the storm generating large swells. Holding his breath for the silent roar, Kisaburo thought of his grandmother's oft-repeated word 'kototama.' The painting to the left of the Buddhist altar depicted a landscape while the one to the right, a group of ethereal mountain hermits talking to Kisaburo through their vermilion lips from beyond the haze, letting the bottoms of their robes streaming out in the wind. He knelt to listen for what they were saying.

      Then the sliding door opened, and a priest came in with an angry glare — a far cry from the ethereal beings.

      "Who are you there?"

      It was a roar as intimidating as that of Kichimatsu. The priest was Zenmi Kuriyama. He was fifty-five years old.

      "Who painted this picture?" said Kisaburo, pointing to the fusuma. Zenmi grabbed the boy by the collar and found he was the Uedas' son. He remembered Kisaburo as a weird kid who would often come to the temple grounds and ask him "what's this?" whenever he saw him.

      "Okyo, Okyo Maruyama," answered Zenmi.

      Kisaburo nailed his eyes on the painting in silence. He recalled his grandmother often talking about Okyo Maruyama, calling him "Okyo-han" or "Mondo-han." In fact, there were dozens of Okyo's studies in a large old rectangular chest of the house, but Kisaburo had never seen anything so marvelous like this before.

      "Come to think of it," said the priest, "Okyo came from your family, right?"

      "Yeah, I'm seven generations after Okyo," replied Kisaburo, his voice full of pride.

      "Do you like painting?"

      "Yeah, but Dad hits me if I paint."

      Kisaburo's eyes took on a sad tinge. His father never approved of his painting or reading, saying, "a peasant's son has no need for it. What's the use if you pursue learning and work against your parents?" And when Kisaburo read out loud as his father capriciously told him to today, he got a pipe hit on his forehead.

      "My goodness. Your forehead's bleeding."

      Zenmi took Kisaburo out to a bright room and questioned him about how it all happened. Learning what the boy had to say, the priest burst out laughing. Later he went to talk with Kichimatsu and asked that Kisaburo be his disciple. He had heard the boy was something of a prodigy.

      "Okyo-han became a disciple of this temple at about your age," said Zenmi, trying to boost Kisaburo's morale. "You too work just as hard."

      Kisaburo dropped out of school. In the daytimes he helped his father on the farm, and in the evenings he went to Kongoji. The priest's stick hit him whenever he dozed off in class due to fatigue from the farm labour. Yet in his slumber he learned by heart the Nihon Gaishi, chronicles of Japanese history by Rai Sanyo. His knowledge had grown phenomenally, far outpacing the other older disciples in just a short time. While Kisaburo began his schooling at Kongoji, his brother, Yoshimatsu, had reached school age and entered Kaiko Elementary School.

      Kisaburo's mischievous pranks saw no end. For example, he blocked the irrigation ditch to catch fish, when a rice field guard found him and hit him on the head. To peep at a wedding near his home, he pierced a hole into the shoji paper door with his tongue, but its tip was stung with something sharp from inside, making him break into loud outbursts of tears. He brought his friends to the temple while the priest was away, and they beat the mokugyo wooden gong madly and stuffed a loach into the mouth of the statue of Amitabha Tathagata on the shumidan platform altar before the priest who just came back caught them in the act, grabbed them by the necks and threw them out of the temple. On a dark street at night, one of Kisaburo's classmates frightened him in the disguise of a ghost. He was so scared that he bit into the ghost's leg, injuring him seriously.

      Six months later, Zenmi and Kichimatsu visited Kaiko Elementary School and successfully pleaded with them to readmit Kisaburo. Not knowing what to do with the naughty kid, the priest may have passed the buck to the school. This time Kisaburo was placed in the fifth rank after skipping a surprising four grades. He found his lessons just as boring as ever, though.

      A story about Kisaburo has been handed down among the seniors in Anao. When some villagers asked Kisaburo to do difficult math with an abacus for them, he began moving the beads while making them laugh with his amusing words like "Take away the fire, and you get the ashes. Take away the ashes, and you get the furnace. The dog takes out its dick but didn't wipe it clean after mating." To their surprise, his calculation was impeccable. At this rate Kisaburo took two instead of the usual four years to complete the entire curriculum for the first eight grades. In Meiji 15 (1882), he moved on to the ninth rank. But he was in his element outside school.

      Kisaburo was having fun with his friends at the reservoir covered with lotus leaves. When he reached for lotus fruit, he accidentally fell down. The deep mud was soon engulfing the boy, and the harder he struggled, the deeper and deeper he sank. The startled children ran away. Hearing about the whole thing from them, Uno rushed to the scene with a fierce look and used all her strength to pull out her grandson just about to disappear down into the algae. The feeling of writhing in the mud lingered on Kisaburo like a nightmare. This reservoir, the Lotus Root Pond, is now a rice field.

      There was a jujube tree in the yard of Bunsuke Oishi, an old man in the neighbourhood. On his way home from school, Kisaburo crept into the yard with his friend, Jutaro, and they climbed the tree to devour its sweet and sour fruit. Then came Bunsuke's sudden loud yell. Astonished, the boys fell from the treetop in a heap. Jutaro sprained his ankle, and Kisaburo hit his lower back on a rock.

      Kisaburo had a habit of crying his heart out unashamedly. Bunsuke bowed in apology to the boys many times with his samurai topknot swinging up and down. Jutaro was limping back home, but Kisaburo could not get up. Bunsuke carried the crying and snivelling child piggyback. The topknot tickled Kisaburo's nostrils, and with it he rubbed his runny nose. Bunsuke never cut off his topknot until he died.

      Learning about what happened, the angry Kichimatsu kicked his son's aching lower back.

      "I didn't mean to raise my son as a thief. I'm too ashamed to face Bunsuke-han."

      Kichimatsu broke free of Bunsuke's restraining hands and dropped fists on Kisaburo. Though usually quick at running away, Kisaburo held still like a wooden doll and resigned himself to his father's severe punishment, bursting into a flood of tears.

      One afternoon Kisaburo, with his back still in pain, was sent out to a mountain for pine needles. He had barely begun collecting them when a friend arrived on the scene, and the moment he saw him there, they began their favourite pastime: sumo wrestling. Kisaburo was really engrossed in the game, forgetting the approach of evening and his backache, and he was thrown out and hurt his lower back again. It was already dark when he crawled back home, oblivious to the few pine needles he had gathered because of his doubling backache.

      Expecting his son back at any moment, Kichimatsu hit Kisaburo on the head without saying a word when he saw him. The boy ran away from home under cover of darkness into a friend's house. Kichimatsu grew jittery as the night wore on. He walked to visit his neighbours for any information on his son's whereabouts, leaving his family in the dark about it.

      One Sunday morning in the advancing autumn, Kisaburo went into a mountain with four or five friends. Takichi, the son of the useless "town knight" Ogame, came back from somewhere with armfuls of earth-covered sweet potatoes.

      "Yeah, way to go! Why don't we eat them roasted?"

      Kisaburo was always the first to make a suggestion. He was excitedly preparing a fire with his friends. The wind was blowing cold. They buried the potatoes in the sand and covered it with some dead leaves and brushwood. For precaution, they removed the surrounding plants and trees.

      Fanned by the gale, the fire flared up and swung sideways. Kisaburo sensed imminent danger, rushed to the fire, and covered it with his happi coat. It was beyond his control, however. It spread to nearby deadwood, setting it ablaze. The fire took on a life of its own and raged satanically in all directions. It gave rise to scorching hot currents of air. Crying out in a flurry, the children beat the fire with pine branches like crazy. But it roared up the trunks of pine trees, popped them out, and licked up the mountain surface.

      The fire bell was pealing out. There was nothing but a vortex of fire in sight already. The children focused on running away more than putting out the fire. The police box officer and villagers came climbing the mountain in droves with sickles and sticks in their hands. The forest fire finally subsided only after it had engulfed the whole mountain.

      With their tears dried out standing in the scorched earth, the spoiled brats got raked over the coals by the village head, school principal, and police officer. But it was just the beginning.

      Kichimatsu goaded and goaded the main culprit with his head, eyebrows, and clothes miserably charred down through the mountain. When they came back into their yard, Kichimatsu tightly bound Kisaburo with his hands behind his back to a persimmon tree at the rear of their house. The sight of Yoshimatsu sneaking an amused peek at his brother just irritated Kisaburo.

      Kichimatsu's face was even redder than those of the two Deva Kings guarding the Deva gate of Anaoji Temple. Kichimatsu could not afford to ease his temper all the more because he was timid deep down.

      "I'm gonna bur, burn you alive. Bring me some firewood. Yone, bring me a spill to kindle a fire right away. I gotta turn this brat to ashes. Otherwise, I could never face the villagers again."

      Even the tears of Kisaburo's grandmother, aunt, or mother failed to pacify his father's anger. Since no one would obey his order, he began raking up dead leaves alone in the yard like crazy.

      I'm gonna be burned to death...

      Kisaburo struggled for his life. That reticent old man, who had not been around for quite a while, came rushing over to him and untied his rope. He had no time to suspect whether it was a ghost or fantasy. Making full use of his freed limbs, he ran like mad. He wanted to escape to the end of this world.

      Fleeing out of the village, Kisaburo crept into the village's irrigation ditch. The houses were lighting up beautifully. Autumn insects were chirping in chorus. The tears he was shedding were awfully salty and bitter. He found his whole face sore from the burn. He had numerous blisters on his hands and shins. The water was merely trickling down at his feet, yet its coldness reached his abdomen through the straw sandals he was wearing. Despite his griping pain in his stomach, he had nowhere to escape to if he climbed out of the irrigation ditch.

      A number of Japanese paper lanterns were moving in the distance. Carried on the wind, someone's shout was coming within earshot.

      "Hey, Kisa."

      The voice trembling with sorrow was running off on the byway of the irrigation ditch. Mom! Mom! — Kisaburo swallowed with his tears the shout that could surge out any second. The terror of being burned at the stake blocked his throat.

      Kichimatsu looked everywhere for his son frantically as if possessed all through the night. At dawn he found his son standing still on the Obata Bridge like a ghost. He held his son's tiny, stone-cold body so tightly he almost could have crushed him. Sobbing and snivelling, the father and son were too worn out to say a word.

      In the fields, the mulberries had ripened to black. Kisaburo dashed out with a friend, in between showers of the rainy season, and devoured the fruit. Sated with it, he saw Waichiro's lips dyed jet black and suddenly got an idea.

      "Hey, you play the part of Yoichibe" said Onisaburo.

      "What is it?" asked Waichiro.

      "You saw it in the autumn festival. It's the fifth act of the play, 'Kanadehon Chushingura.' I'll be the villain, Sadakuro."

      Kisaburo began to choreograph theatrical performance for Waichiro, attentively teaching him step by step. The stage was appearing before his mind's eye, and the lines of the play were gushing up toward his mouth swiftly. Grabbing Waichiro's face, Kisaburo vigorously made it up with the mulberry fruit. He asked Waichiro to go and attract an audience, while he himself scurried around for stage props.

      The straw-mat curtain went up in the the mulberry field. The child spectators clapped and cheered.

      Yoichibe's lines were halting while those of Sadakuro were practically overflowing. Sadakuro grew so impatient with Yoichibe's frequent pauses that he wound up taking over his opposite's lines to play a double role, leaving Yoichibe simply standing with his mouth open. Sadakuro, striking a big mie [2], quickly thrust the knife he held in his right hand at the tip of Yoichibe's nose. The spectators got startled. Something red, which was obviously different from the red of Yoichibe's kumadori makeup [3] with the mulberry fruit, was streaking down from the tip of his nose. Waichiro cried out loud and ran away instantly, placing his fingers over his bloody nose.

      Oh, no! It was a real kitchen knife.

      Kisaburo turned ghastly pale. He flung away the bloodstained knife and started running in the opposite direction.

      Standing in the ashes of the mountain that had been charred just the other day, Kisaburo was overcome with guilt and trembled with fear.

      Why am I the way I am...?

      He cried his heart out. He cried and cried but could not cry enough. The wind was roaring fiercely in the mountain after sunset. It was getting mixed with rain.

      Chased by the rain, Kisaburo tumbled and tumbled down the dark mountain path to the village. When he stood under the eaves of his house, he heard the loud voice of Kozaburo Ueda, Waichiro's father, echoing round and round. He sensed that his father and whole family might be prostrating themselves before Kozaburo and bowing deeply in apology.

      I'm doomed. This time for sure, Dad's gonna tear me to pieces...

      He ran into the dark aimlessly. One ri (2.44 miles) down the road was Kameoka. He remembered Aunt Fusa in Nishitatsu on the eastern end of the town and asked for her help. As his mother's second oldest sister, Fusa married Shosuke Iwasaki, who ran a malted rice shop. They had a son and two daughters. Kisaburo got on well with Shotaro, a cousin one year his senior. Mud and rain covered Kisaburo to the core, removing the kumadori makeup from his face, and the boy tearfully told Shotaro about what had happened in the play. While his cousin sympathised with him, his uncle scowled and his aunt sighed.

      "You burned the mountain in the village just the other day," Fusa went on, "and while I think you're smart like a child prodigy, you do stupid things even idiots don't do. I wonder which is the real Kisaburo."

      "How I wish I knew," said Kisaburo. "Which do you think I am, Aunt Fusa?"

      "Don't be silly," she lamented.

      "I guess I'm silly," muttered Kisaburo.

      "You damn fool," roared his uncle. "Can't you see how stupid you are?"

      "That's why I'm asking you. For Pete's sake, I really don't know which is which."

      Kisaburo was still hung up on it. His uncle cracked a wry smile despite himself.

      "How can I know something you don't even know? Fusa, I guess we have no choice. Take this moron back home to Anao and apologise with him," Shosuke spat out at his nephew.

      By the time his aunt had taken Kisaburo to his house, his father had gotten over his bad mood. The doctor proved that Waichiro had only a slight scar.

      But his scar remained a faint straight line across his nose until he died of old age. Whenever Kisaburo faced with Waichiro, who had a close friendship with him until his later years, he felt a pang of guilt about the terrible mistake he had made in his boyhood.

      At a house in the remote countryside near Ayabe, there was no feast to treat unexpected guests to. Thinking that he could at least offer steamed rice with bee larvae, the host lit wheat straw and held it closer to the honeycomb under the eaves of his house. He wanted to drive away the parent bee. He was so engrossed in it that the flame spread to the straw-thatched roof and burnt down the whole house. (Excerpt from "Insects and Ethnic Groups" by Yoshie Yamashita)

      Just as people in the Shinshu region are well known to eat bee larvae, those in the Tamba region often ate them as well. Steamed rice with bee larvae tasted similar to that with shrimp. It is said that bees are delicious when they are pupae with their antennae beginning to stick out and their wings still soft and too weak to spread. It took pains to find the right time to collect them.

      Incidentally, Kisaburo was deeply involved with bees. He loved bee larvae so much that he worked hard to collect them. He often became a target of bees' retaliation, however.

      In his earlier childhood Kisaburo was stung several times, including when he was stung by a bee while trying to scour sawtooth oaks for a beetle. He also got a bee sting when he inadvertently stepped on a honeycomb in the brambles near the river. They had heard that dental plaque would work for bee stings, so his friends picked their teeth and smeared their plaque on the crying Kisaburo's face.

      These days Kisaburo frequently raided bees. In an attempt to take hornet larvae at the gate of Kongoji Temple, he got stung by the parent hornet and was forced to retreat once. However, he kept a vengeful eye on the hornets, assaulted them at night, and successfully captured the whole honeycomb including the parent hornet with a bag he had made. He basted the larvae with brown sugar and soy sauce and grilled them. The savoury delicacy he polished off made him happy, but the next day boils broke out all over his body, depriving him of his ability to move. He agonised day and night, and it took him a month to fully recuperate from it.

      Upon his recovery Kisaburo targeted the digger wasps nesting under a sansho pepper tree in the yard. Again, he got stung. He had not learned his lesson after all. He was burning with a growing desire to fight back, and he set fire to a wasp-dug hole three bu (0.3 cm) deep from its entry point. His strategy was to suffocate the parent wasp and dig out the honeycomb in the soil. With his eyes alight, he was just about to make his next move at the right time, when he realised his father was standing next to him: he had noticed the reflected light of the fire in the night and woken up.

      "This rotten brat. You never learn from the wildfire you caused. And you're going to burn the house this time? Get lost and never come back."

      He was gripping a hoe in his hand. Kisaburo fled in haste. That night he crept under the floor of the Kannon-doh Hall within Anaoji Temple and fell asleep. Early next morning, Kisaburo crawled out bitten all over by striped mosquitos and covered with spider webs. Kobuyasu was startled by the sight during his morning worship at the temple.

      "This stupid racoon dog can't trick anyone" Kobuyasu shouted, beating Kisaburo with his stick.

      Kisaburo had forgotten the old village rumour that there was a den of racoon dog cubs under the floor of the Kannon-doh Hall.

      The sleepy-eyed Kisaburo gave a ghastly scream and fled tooth and nail to Mount Tono behind Obata Shrine.

      He had a splitting headache. His hand touched a palmful of sticky blood on his head. He cried loudly. He was sick and tired of living his life. Fine mist particles were flowing in the air. The Inukai River and the woods behind Obata Shrine below his eyes were shrouded in the dense mist. The tiled roof of the main hall and the two-story pagoda within Anaoji Temple were floating on the misty cloud. A bird was flying in the sky, giving a sharp chirp, "Pikkyuwee, pikkyuwee." Beside the rock covered with thick mats of moss were dewdrop crane's-bills blooming with pink flowers.

      Kisaburo wished he were an ethereal mountain hermit. Okyo-han, seven generations before me, must have seen a landscape like this. He was sent to the temple as a novice monk when he was nine. He may have fled to a mountain like I did and dreamed of ethereal mountain hermits too. But, however much he inhaled the dense mist, he was only getting hungrier. So much for his poetic imagination. Tears began coming out of his eyes again.

      With the sunrise clearing the mist, Kisaburo saw a figure climbing up the side road from Obata Shrine. He hastily slid into the shrubs.

      "Chow time, Kisa-yan."

      He heard Aunt Karu calling him.

      Yanked out by the kototama of the food, he found under his nose two rice balls wrapped in fragrant green perilla. He wolfed them greedily without a single word.

      "Kisa-yan, do you like your daddy?" asked Karu.

      He choked as the rice stuck in his throat.

      "Are you afraid of him?"

      Kisaburo was about to nod, looking up at her.

      "Yeah, I can imagine... the truth is you're..." she stopped in mid-sentence, dabbing her eyes. Then she lowered her voice.

      "Why don't you go somewhere else with me?"

      Kisaburo looked at her with wide eyes.

      "Tall order, isn't it?" Karu drooped her head timidly. "Just forget what I said."

      Come to think of it, she was well over forty years old. All the time she was in the dim corner of the house or in the tenanted rice land keeping herself busy. Though no one gave her a hard time, she became a shadowy existence instead.

      "Where is the somewhere else you're going?" said Kisaburo, staring at her again.

      "I don't really want to go anywhere, but there's someone who'll take a woman like me off the shelf. So..." said his aunt, her voice faint with apparent insecurity and diffidence.

      Aunt Karu, I will go with you.

      Kisaburo forced back the impulsive words on the tip of his tongue. His grandmother and mother came alive in his memory.

      Four or five days later, Karu stealthily married into her fiance's family. The Uedas did not announce her wedding to the village. Kisaburo and his parents saw her off in Imazu, Chiyokawa.

      Kisaburo was in a class of his own when it came to catching fish with his hands. After school he ran to the river for a dive. Every time he surfaced, he held any of such fish as a freshwater minnow, kelp grouper, dark chub, swimming crab, flatfish, crucian, carp, bagrid catfish, Japanese sculpin, eel or catfish. He pierced a bamboo branch through his catch from the gills to the mouths, letting it hang heavily at his side. Some fish were capable of twitching and bouncing around between his slim thighs.

      "Kisa-koh, you got a good catch," said the fisherman, Bunsuguma, enviously as he was passing by.

      "How about you?" asked Kisaburo.

      Bunsuguma hid his creel behind his back in embarrassment.

      There were two men named Kuma ("Bear") in the small area of Anao. This Kuma the fisherman was a son of Old Bunsuke, the owner of the jujube tree Kisaburo had fallen from, and was called Bunsuguma to tell him from the other Kuma. He and his father both wore the samurai topknot as a telltale sign of their lingering affection.

      "Kisa-koh, since you got this many coarse fish, you can make a living with them. Is there a trick to it?"

      Kisaburo grinned.

      "Hey, old man. If you want to make a living with small fry, you just need to take your halo down."

      "My halo...? What do you mean...?"

      Kisaburo joined fingers above his head to show the Buddha's halo and said solemnly.

      "If a halo gleams over your head, the fish will dart away in surprise. The Buddha hates the distinct smell of raw fish or meat. So, you just get rid of the Buddha's merciful heart and make friends with small fry. Then the fish will get to surrender themselves to you. This is the secret of coarse fishing."

      "Is that right?" Bunsuguma replied, making an uncertain face.

      "Watch me closely. There is a time when fish in rivers, large and small, come up to the surface all together. If you seize this moment and throw in a net, you'll definitely land a bumper catch."

      "For real? Then how do you grab them?"

      "You just hold their heads like lightning when they rise up to the surface. You let them get away if you dally your time aiming for them. Simply put, if you grab them faster than they make off, you naturally get them."

      "Right, naturally. 'Preciate it."

      Bunsuguma made a eureka clap with his hands. He was firmly convinced by Kisaburo's advice.

      One day in Tsuchibuchi, Kisaburo flung his arms around and caught a big catfish a little over three shaku (90cm) long after grappling with it. It was such a rarity that his friends unanimously begged him to sell it to them. But Kisaburo, wanting to show it off to his parents, held it in his arms and determinedly took the big fish to his house with waddling gait. All his family was surprised and admired his prowess — except Uno with a wry face.

      "Kisa" she said. "This catfish is a messenger of the goddess Benten. Put it back where it was right away."

      Unable to get it out of his mind, Kisaburo decided to keep the fish in a washtub just for one night. The washtub was so small that the big catfish had its head and caudal fin stuck inside, arching its body backwards.

      "If you're a messenger of Benten," said Kisaburo, stroking the back of the catfish. "Act like a messenger and say something."

      The next morning he found the fish lying as it was and utterly still. Its skin faded to grey and looked ugly as if it would peel off slimily with a mere touch. It made Kisaburo lose his appetite, and he buried it in the ground, devastated by remorse. That night seven or eight swellings broke out on his behind at a time, leaving him groaning in agony.

      Uno turned pale and scolded him. "The curse of Benten's messenger. You were bent on catching fish rather than eating them. That's what's called pointless cruelty. It's about time you quit it."

      Then she hurried out to the tutelary deity in apology. While she was out, Bunsuguma showed his gloomy face at the edge of the veranda.

      "Kisa-koh, I heard you caught a humongous catfish. Can I take a look at it?"

      "I'm afraid you can't. It's dead. And it got back at me an awful lot," Kisaburo said with a grimace.

      Turning over in bed, he added, "Are you getting better at catching coarse fish?"

      "Not really. They sure go away faster than my hands can grab them," Bunsuguma admitted, stroking his face as if in embarrassment.

      "Is that right? Well, just keep practising. By the way, old man, do you have any catfish?"

      "I have small ones."

      Some small catfish were swimming in Bunsuguma's wooden pail.

      "To hell with Benten's messengers!"

      Kisaburo bought the catfish after beating Bunsuguma down to five rin [4]. Partly to take revenge on the fish and partly to rebel against his grandmother's superstition, he raised his ailing body, secretly boiled them in soy sauce and ate them. For two days and two nights after that, he had incessantly groaned before his swellings finally ripped and the pain was gone. From then on, he shuddered hearing the mere word "catfish."

      Kisaburo loved loaches all his life. He knew time and again the feel of loaches swallowed alive, swirling about and wriggling in his stomach. But it was only out of playfulness and to surprise people that he ate them raw. For his true preference, there was nothing like loach soup or loaches boiled in a pan.

      He often caught loaches with a bamboo winnower. He also foraged the ditches or groped the mud for them.

      One day he grabbed something long and slimy. His heart beat with excitement, thinking that his dinner would be a bowl of rice with broiled eel. When he held up its gills and body, he screamed. It was a green snake. He threw it in such mad haste that he slipped into a muddy rice field behind him and fell on his buttocks. Feeling uncomfortable with mud all over his face and rear end, he dived into a nearby old pond in his clothes. To add insult to injury, his bottom hit an old stake, making him stop breathing in pain. Crawling his way out of the pond laboriously, he walked back home with a limp.

      The list of Kisaburo's misfortunes goes on and on. His pranks and blunders mentioned so far only involve his three to four years, spanning the ages of 10 to 13. Even afterwards, he often fell down, got hurt, and still repeated playful tricks. Bear in mind that this is no fabrication on the author's part. All comes from Kisaburo's confessions in his anthology of 31-syllable poems entitled Kozan no Yume ("Dreams of My Old Home") or from what Anao's senior villagers have told for generations.

      But what captivated the boy amid unremitting failures and practical jokes was the esoteric science of kototama (literally, "word spirit") where mystical power is believed to reside in spoken words of the Japanese language. The seeds of the knowledge sown in him by his grandmother were budding as if they had found the right soil. Despite the abstrusity of individual words, he was able to comprehend the general idea. He was in constant search of the truth.

      This universe is filled with the unceasing reverberation of the evolving Heaven and Earth, and its subtle sounds are generating and nurturing all creation...

      Kisaburo went up a mountain alone to listen for the ever-reverberating kototama. The mountains and fields of Anao were perfectly fit for it.

      Someday I will make the true kototama my own to command wind, rain and thunder, and get the power to move even heaven and earth...

      He chanted "A-O-U-E-I" to his heart's content, trying to attune his mind to the roaring sound of the vigorous kototama generated by the great rotation of the universe. These five fu-on ("paternal sound") [5], which the boy uttered refreshingly and dynamically from the mountaintop, resonated in unison and echoed over one mountain after another, further expanding upwards to be inhaled into heaven.

      Kototama joins fire and water, empowers heaven and earth, joins man and woman, and empowers kami and man to create and solidify all that is...

      Chanting the word spirits alone, Kisaburo was thrilled by the imagination of the world divided into heaven and earth in primordial times.

      "Kisa-koh was mumbling to himself on the top of the mountain."

      "When I saw him, he was roaring in an enormous voice."

      "Nope, he was looking up at the sky forever with his mouth open. He didn't notice me when I said hi."

      "I bet he's not all there. He's unusual."

      The villagers gossipped about Kisa-yan. He was reputed as a "child prodigy" or having a "sharp ear" for his amazing memory and intuition. But at the same time he was called "Hachi-mon Kisa" [6] because he was missing a few screws, or to use an English equivalent, he was a few bob short of a quid. His nicknames were inevitably contradictory.

      While absorbed in the subtle and profound universe, Hachi-mon Kisa had his young blood running with indignation at the irrational structure of the material world. It was a hectic time before harvest. Kisaburo saw his landlord on the path between rice fields and bowed to him, when he abruptly greeted the boy with a barrage of abuse in his disgruntled hoarse voice.

      "Hey kid, you're Kichimatsu's son, aren't you?"

      "Yeah" said Kisaburo, looking up.

      "What does your family eat every day?"

      "Pickled radish, and rice cooked with barley."

      "You're living in luxury. That's beyond your means. Eat thin rice gruel mixed with dried veg. Say this to Kichimatsu and Yone. Kichimatsu neglected my prized rice field because he took part in the sumo tournament at the shrine. Look here, if you can't pay your tenant rent punctually, I'll confiscate your land. I won't let him do sumo in the shrine precincts. Just make him understand that."

      Kisaburo bit his lip in indignation to bear the landlord's abusive language because he knew that even his hot-tempered father stretched his patience despite being addressed simply "Kichimatsu" without an honorific and looked down on in everyday life. The Uedas' 32 tsubo (about 106 square meters) of rice land alone would not suffice for them to eke out a living. The family had increased to seven since Kisaburo's sister, Yuki, was born in the spring. All their life was staked on the cultivation of the tenanted land. Given the predicament his father was in, Kisaburo could not hate him for trying to take away his every joy, telling him not to read books, draw pictures or do sumo wrestling, only to work hard in the rice field.

      Finished with gathering firewood, Kisaburo stood on the top of a mountain with his friends at dusk, looking down at the vast expanse of golden ears of rice waving to and fro in the village.

      "Look. I get a good view of my rice fields," Naojiro boasted. "All the paddies on the west of the forest are mine."

      "You're right. They sure are a lot," Saburo echoed his older brother's words.

      "I got lots too," Yasaburo emphasised. "Rice fields from the skirt of that mountain to near the pine tree are all mine..."

      "Can you see yours, Kisa-yan?" Saburo said.

      Less than even half a tan (about 992 square meters), the Uedas' rice paddy was undoubtedly invisible from the mountaintop. The child of the tenant farmers looked away, pretending to act deaf. He moved away from his friends, who were heating up about who owned this mountain or who owned that thicket, and breathed in deeply.

      Influential villagers have divided up mountains and rice fields of this narrow land in bits and pieces and laid arbitrary claim to their turfs in disregard of the marginalised weak. Tenant farmers are downtrodden by their landlords. The poor have to suck up to the rich to survive. A world like this must change. But how...?

      Kisaburo was so deep in thought about it that he lost sense of time.

      "Kisa-yan. What's on your mind? Let's split."

      His friends woke him up from the dream — the one too wild for the child.

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[1]^Tanuki (racoon dogs), which have long been familiar to the Japanese in legends and fairy tales, were believed in old times to trick people by disguising themselves.
[2]^A climactic pose an actor assumes in Kabuki theatre, typically by freezing in a dramatic position at the height of an emotion.
[3]^An established mask-like makeup in Kabuki, where an actor's face is painted in red, blue, brown, and black to emphasise the nature of the character he plays.
[4]^An old monetary unit, one rin equals a thousandth of a yen (0.001 yen).
[5]^Fu-on refers to the five vowels of "a", "o", "u", "e", and "i" in the Japanese syllabary. In this regard, Onisaburo says the following in Vol. 4 (dictated Dec. 15-29, Taisho 10 [1921]) of the Reikai Monogatari:
St. John's Gospel Chapter 1, Verse 1 says: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with God, and the Word was God." As this quote suggests, the True Kami has created and nurtured all that is in the universe with the five fu-on of a, o, u, e, and i , and the nine bo-on ("maternal sound") of ka, sa, ta, na, ha, ma, ya, ra, and wa.
He adds that one may hear the five fu-on in the universe by wadding their ears with their fingers — based on his view that a human is a microcosm of the universe.
[6]^Literally, "Kisa the Eight Mon." Mon is a monetary unit in feudal days. Eight mon is two mon short of ten mon, alluding to the lack of sufficiency or perfection.


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