Mother Earth

Volume 3: The Caldron of Hell

Chapter 4: A Grain of Another's Salt

      Tsunesuke was an earnest master of carpenters, or Toryo. His wise and tender wife died in 1882 (Bunsei 5) at eighteen, the same age as his son. Kakusuke, hardly a week had passed when Tsunesuke married a younger second wife, not older than his son. At that time, Kakusuke began to run wild. Before long, Kakusuke began to speak of going to Edo to get his training. Tsunesuke, who was drunk with newly-married life, agreed his son's wish, feeling relief rather than puzzlement. Tsunesuke gave a lot of money to his son and sent him to Edo.

      In 1825 (Bunsei 8), his second wife gave birth, but died soon because of a difficult childbirth, and her baby also died the next year.

      Tsunesuke became a lonely man and yearned for his son, Kakusuke, in Edo. He took the trouble to go to Edo and coaxed his son into a good temper to get him home. Kakusuke had acquired skill, not in the work of a carpenter, but as a man of pleasure. Since coming back home, Kakusuke had become a perfect loose man, and often ran away from home on occasions he had gone against the grain. Tsunesuke, who was indulgent with his son, couldn't emphatically scold his son for his pleasure.

      In a short time, according to someone's suggestion, Tsunesuke married a third wife, Take, who was a divorced woman living in Shichihyakkoku Village (now Shichihyakkoku-cho Ayabe City). It was necessary for Tsunesuke to marry her because he was the owner of a small hotel in the village and wanted her to help him in managing the hotel. Take had been proud, luxurious, and egoistic. She didn't get on well with his son, Kakusuke.

      It was his wholehearted desire to stop his son's life of pleasure, so he had made Kakusuke marry Soyo, a daughter of Soemon Deguchi, in Kanmachi, Ayabe. At this chance, Tsunesuke transferred the headship of the Kirimura family to urge the son to stand up as the head of the family because Tsunesuke's health had begun to decline. Kakusuke succeeded to Gorozaburo Kirimura of the fourth generation.

      At that time, the Kameya Hotel managed by Tsunesuke had been prosperous with the paper-lantern bearing the Kirimura family crest, three leaves of oak in a circle. A lot of tools had been put in the large godown and they kept a person from walking straight. At summer airing, the family had to carry the tools and clothes that didn't finish airing to the roof of the godown. In the two-story dwelling house opposite the hotel, a few apprentices of the carpenter had lived, and both next-door houses were rental houses possessed by Tsunesuke.

      Gorozaburo had been on his good behavior for some time since getting married, but he soon gave himself up to women and sake and slighted his work. He gradually sold household effects, the land, and the rental houses for pleasure money. He soon went to ruin. In the autumn, the hotel was delivered to another and the hotel's sign was changed to Tajimaya from Kameya.

      Soyo groped and found the reason of her husband's displeasure in her own way. It was a baby in her belly. She shrank from her husband's sharp fretful eyes looking with intense hatred against her belly filling out clearly.

      Soyo had sold all important things. Her husband had no energy to work at all. Even if he had had energy, he had no business. Their living was limited to sewing, manual housework, and spinning yarn. She emptied the stock of provisions, potatoes, dried radishes, and bracken. The price of rice rose rapidly. It was very difficult to get her living taking care of old parents, a husband and two infants. How could she bring up her new-born child?

      Soyo often apologized to her baby in her belly and suffered from making herself consent to abandon her baby. The only way that she should come to this pass was this,...thinning out of a new-born child.

      The thinning out of new-born babies was often done by poor people in partial-secrecy at the end of the Edo period. For this reason, there was even a decrease of population. Thinning out was what people called crushing to death a new-born baby to escape the burden to bringing up the child. It was also called returning, or sending the baby back. The simple method was for a new-born baby, on first crying, to be covered on the nose and mouth with a hand or moistened paper and suffocated.

      Abortion was called dropping, odosu, hassan, or a half delivery. A Japanese silverleaf and a root of a kind of grass named Onito were deeply inserted into the vagina to induce abortion by the harsh effect of these grasses. The embryo was dragged out of the abdomen with a cane of pokeweed, the spray of a nandin and Rose of Sharon, or chopsticks made of a Japanese cedar of the Yoshino area. A daughter who became pregnant with an illegitimate child, pierced her own abdomen with her ornamental hairpin and caused her baby to be born dead due to bleeding. Such were the practices at the end of the Meiji period. Many women died or became barren.

      Soyo had to be delivered of the baby because of the delay in deciding whether or not to give birth. But, the instant she heard the first cry of her baby, the baby would be killed by someone.

      "A female, being in childbed, pressed on the baby with a towel around her head. A shadow of a female who was reflected in a Shoji screen grew horns. It changed to an Ema (a votive picture of a horse) that Soyo often had seen long ago. Watching it, she noticed that it was her own face."

      What time did Soyo have the bad dream?

      "Hey. I'd like to consult you...." Soyo's husband, Gorozaburo who seemed to be dozing, suddenly said. Soyo paused in her sewing and waited for his words.

      It seemed that Gorozaburo could hear the sound of her swallowing. He hadn't allowed her to talk back. She would make her face just like that of a defendant before judgment in court. Her husband lost his temper at her attitude, but controlled himself. "We are unable to pull through the year-end, keeping a new life. It is very absurd that you should have a baby. I must support my children, Daikichi and Seibei. We should feel happy to support this family."

      Soyo kept silent. He said, "I don't want another baby." She continued to be in silence. "Okay? Thin out your new-born baby!" Gorozaburo cried. He fretted thinking that the reason of asking her to thin out a new-born baby could be attributed to the waste of money, though his family suffered from the famine. He couldn't wait for her answer because he was thinking with remorse.

      "If Soyo reproves me to my face, denying my wish."

      Gorozaburo lacked assurance to control his furious fit. He would go to knock and trample underfoot her big belly until she dropped the fetus. He grew wild and was greatly disturbed. Soyo watched the flame of the paper-covered lamp seek the place of safety.

      "What do you say? There is no scope left for further consideration. Hey, Soyo!"

      Soyo saw her husband who was going to raise himself in cold air and told him gently like being surprised at herself to be calm, "The baby in my belly would understand this time and allow this."

      Before finishing her speech, she felt the baby moving in her belly. Soyo groaned a little and was cramped in her pale face. Gorozaburo who was ready for her hard refusal, seemed to feel she had dodged and tottered. He stopped his temper, tottering with difficulty and folded his arms, impatient to relieve the stiff face.

      Gorozaburo said, "Well, okay...forget this, Soyo. I'll treat this well." As a fusuma (a sliding door) was noisily opened, Soyo's mother-in-law, Take, entered their room in her night-clothes, and said, "You are having a nice little tete-a-tete, I see." Take looked down at both and squared her shoulders. Take said, "You are considering thinning out your new-born baby now. No, I have no mind to eavesdrop on the conversation, but I can hear your voice through the fusuma in this small house." "Yeah, you have a good ear for any distance...."

      Gorozaburo turned his stiff face away from Take. Take glared fiercely at Gorozaburo and said, "You said that you would finish this. How will you treat my son?" Soyo apologized to her on her knees, "Mother, I'm sorry." But, Gorozaemon continued to look away from Take.

      "Maybe, it is not to her liking that I consult with my wife about thinnking out ignoring my mother." He berated her in his mind.

      Take still acted high-handedly. "I oppose what you said. I firmly say so. Hey, Gorozaburo, look at me." "I was just on the point consulting on this problem with the mother. At any rate, you are suffering from this famine, maybe..." Gorozaburo began to speak and cast an upward glance at his stepmother.

      Take's lips trembled from excitement. "I understand you have been badly off. But, a new-born child of the great famine time will rise in the world in the future, I hear. I feel fate without knowing why. If you throw the baby away, I will pick up the baby." Gorozaburo asked, "Pick it up?" "No problem! I was also born in the great Tenmei famine and now think myself a god-sent child. I should give food to your baby stinting myself, thinking that I'm a lucky person to have lived this long. Thus I can't allow you to thin the baby out at all."

      Take was moved to tears being touched by her story. Take made hard cynical remarks and grumbled about selling the hotel, but she became somewhat detached from the family like a bystander. She had become earnest about family for the first time. She had lost even some feeling of affection for her two grandsons, only suffering from them as a positive torment. But, the moment she knew that Gorozaburo and his wife had agreed to the thinning out of their new-born baby, Take was struck by divine revelation.

      "I will pick up this life."

      Take had always noticed that her husband couldn't forget his two late wives since she had married Tsunesuke as his third wife. Each late wife had been beautiful and tender. But Take couldn't allow such behavior in her husband. Take had lived egoistically with Tsunesuke.

      Take had not become familiar with her stepson, so Gorozaburo was like an unrelated person. Take was also unconcerned with her two grandchildren whom Soyo had given birth to. Take had lived alone in the Kirimura family. Now, she found a new life concerned with her.

      "Even a baby in Soyo's belly, thrown away by parents, would be innocent. This baby whom I help is my true grandchild."

      She was in a tremor of excitement which flared up into flame in her body and soul.

      Soyo suddenly raised her face wet with tears. "My dear, I ask you. Would you please allow me a mother's suggestion? I would go to any lengths to raise my baby with my mother." Soyo focused on her husband and said clearly. Gorozaburo was thrown into confusion attacked by a mother, Take, who stood in his way to cover his pregnant wife. He was at a loss for a reply.

      "Tut! Do your worst." Gorozaburo felt that only he had become a bad person. He clicked his tongue and stood up abruptly and went out of the door. The conversation concerned with thinning out was dropped then. But he continued to hate the baby in Soyo's belly, and Soyo and Take continued to resist him. His feeling was similar to jealousy of the baby.

      On December 16, 1836 (Tempo 7), in the full-scale famine year, Soyo gave birth to a girl baby. Her new-born baby cried at its birth and stretched out her fists with detached wonder as if recognizing it was very difficult time to live.

      Take, who bathed the new-born baby with her back toward Gorozaburo, was filled with pleasure and he felt her to be a new being. The new-born baby was named Nao.

      Nao, who was born in the declining family in the terrible, lean year, marked the starting point befitting the austerities of life.

      Next year, 1837 (Tempo 8), the famine wore a more desolate complexion. The price of rice per Koku (a Koku equals about 180 liters) rose suddenly to two hundred eighty monme (a monetary unit of the Edo era, one monme equals a sixtieth of a koban) in April, in Fukuchiyama, and to four hundred monme on May, in Kyoto. Spring had already come, but the earth was not covered with green. Before becoming green, people like hungry ghosts, plucked off the green to eat. There were no shadows of the flowers, the butterflies and the insects looking ruined. Human beings gave full play to their omnivorous abilities.

      The Aster, the Lotus flower, the Mugwort, the Chinese Hackberry, the Wild pear, the leaf of the grapevine, the leaf bud, and grass were looked for desperately and picked off for food and were sold at high price. There were no vines on the mountains that spring because people had eaten them all. The rice which was amde of the vine was called Kazura-rice and was sold from three to four bu (a monetary unit of the Edo era, a but equals a quarter ryo) per to (a unit of volume, a to equals 18.039 liters). People scrambled for pine needles and stripped the pine tree of its bark to eat.

      The government of the clan formerly gave rice gruel to hungry people in charity, but it was no comforting to people. The crowd of hungry people stripped the green from hills and fields and even boiled and ate tatami mats made of rush. People distinguished good tasting and bad-tasting tatamis. People liked old tatami with soy and those that were dyed deeply by bed-wetting and which had been soiled like the color of the vegetables boiled hard with soy.

      When nothing to eat was found, people violated the ban against wandering from place to place and left home. They, like the dying rats, crawled out to seek the light, dreamed of a happy land somewhere. The bodies of those who fell dead on the streets and the fields, lying one upon another and covered by the flocks of crows, were thrown away. "There were 22,416 dead from hunger in Osaka, and 14,330 dead in Kyoto. Twenty two stupa for one thousand dead each were built." Such a plausible rumor was abroad. The misery of the famine in the northeastern section of Japan was far worse than in the Kinki district. On February 19, 1837 (Tempo 7), in Osaka where death from hunger appeared an officer of Tenma law, Heihachiro Oshio rose in revolt against the Shogunate government. His troops attacked the wealthy merchants who made undue profits and pursued pleasure and the troops seized money and crops and scattered them to hungry people. It was called "The Rebellion of Oshio Heihachiro." This rebellion was suppressed within a day, but hungry people were shocked by the occurrence. A chain of the rebellions called "Good Policy, the Supporters of Oshio" occurred in various parts of the country. The Fukuchiyama clans dispatched troops to Shiozu Pass at once and continued to take strict precautions.

      Nao, being a newborn, didn't know of these occurrences. But, this rebellion which broke the wealthy merchants might be handed down from generation to generation along with the great famine of Tempo.

      On March 28, of that year, grandfather Tsunesuke died in the place of the birth of Nao. The kitchen range was giving off thin smoke through Soyo's endeavor. On December 28, the eldest son, Daikichi contracted smallpox and died.

      The famine of the year passed, but the Kirimura family was not well off. Gorozaburo lost his vigor to work. Soyo served him in good faith but couldn't soften his hard heart. He was moping in the house all day long because he had no money to play compared with what he used to have. And he became pale and got angry from drinking sake in his house.

      In 1842 (Tempo 13), Gorozaburo began to run a shop of amazake (a sweet drink made from fermented rice). He had lived fast and eaten himself out of house and land. For the first time since his birth, he worked for his living.

      On the first day of opening shop, the figure of Soyo was full of pleasure to diligently produce amazake. Gorozaburo, who often drank sake gave Seibei and Nao a foretaste of amazake in good humor. Nao, seven years old, fell into a trance from the spreading sweet amazake in her mouth. Nao was very glad that her father touched her tenderly as a usual father even if only in a passing fancy.

      Gorozaburo put the charcoal in two large tubs and placed the cookpots full of amazake on the charcoal braziers and carried it on a pole to sell amazake.

      "Amazake...!" Gorozaburo's voice shouted. His voice was very beautiful and was delivered far in a clear voice. Moreover, his voice echoed at the same time every day and people noticed the tone saying "Oh, it's now four instead of using a clock. Gorozaburo worked in earnest and in wonder he was pleased at the praise of his voice. Within three years, he was called "Amazake-Gorosa" around the village. From the first, however, Gorozaburo couldn't make his living, Soyo made money on the side spinning yarn while Nao was very busy looking after her newly-born sister, Riyo. However the Kirimura family felt at ease a little.

      One New Year's Day, 1846 (Koka 3), Gorozaburo said half in joke, "I'd like to recite a prayer to Amitabha, to go to the paradise of Buddhism." Soyo told Take with a concerned air, "He has rarely said such things. But, I couldn't help but feel somewhat uneasy."

      Her feeling was a portent. Gorozaburo came back joyfully from the journey to the eastern area on March and went on a pilgrimage to Ise in May. In the middle of the night of September 13, Gorozaburo shook Soyo out of her sleep, and said, "I'm feeling the cold wind from the nether world." He clung to her knees being stiff with fright. Soyo shuddered with horror and pressed him to her breast looking to her to protect him from evil spirits. Since her marriage, she was possessed with the need to protect her feeble husband from anything bad.

      Next day, Gorozaburo broke down with a sickness called kakuran which was prevailing throughout Fukuchiyama. Kakuran currently means acute nephritis or cholera.

      Cholera was prevalent throughout the world in the beginning of 1817. From that year till 1923, cholera occurred six times. The greatest outbreak of cholera occurred in 1858 (Ansei 5) and the famous painter of ukiyoe, Hiroshige Ando died.

      Gorozaburo died after suffering from high fever all the night of September 15. He was forty two years old at the time of death. His body was laid in the graveyard of Hoju Temple of the Jodo religious sect of Buddhism. The posthumous Buddhist name was given him Seigansokuoushinshi (the devotee on the shore, going to Paradise).

      Nao didn't weep. She felt relieved seeming to be free from the black cover on her head. And Nao felt strange to look at her sobbing mother. Nao was told the story of her birth by her mother on the night of her father's funeral. A girl, eleven years old, was shocked by her mother's words, hearing of thinning out of new-born babies was just as to be pierced in the heart with a dagger.

      At that time, her parents treated her only as a superfluity. Was her birth an evil event? There was a reason that grandmother Take had devoted her affection to her. Grandmother, who was an object of hatred in the village had the tender mercy of a bodhisattva (Buddhist saint) to wish to help the fetus. And contrary to this love, mothers like the Hibo-Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy), had the cold heart to kill their babies in the dark. How should Nao know all this?

      Mother gripped Nao's hand shaking her daughter feeling as if sinking under deep pool and said sadly, "I gave birth to you, but was ashamed of being your mother. Please remember the love of grandmother Take who helped your life."

      The Kirimura family became poor because the breadwinner, Gorozaburo died. Beside Amazake selling, Soyo made moeny on the side, but fell into a decline.

      One day, Soyo apologized on her knees to Nao, "Please go out as a servant." The elder brother, Seibei who was Nao's senior by three years, had already gone to service of Gorosuke Aburaya. Nao felt pride rather than sorrow, thinking that she was able to vie with her brother in supporting her mother. Though grandmother, Take looked on Seibei's service with indifference, she complained at Nao's lot, "Why will my grandmother be worked hard? Such a thing never entered my head." Nao had to be hired out to help family finances anyway.

      Nao went out as a servant to Shinbei Kanaya in Kamiyagi-cho at the age of eleven. She worked conscientiously all the time without displeasure, always recalling the face of her mother, moreover working hard to make yarn at night. The maaster of Kanaya took care of this admirable, pretty employee and presented her with a summer kimono in the first year, and a white yukata (an unlined cotton garment) the next year as the clothes provided by the employer. Nao sent these things to her house unworn. Soyo accepted Nao's present and picked out a scanty living. At that time, the attention of a town official was attracted to Nao's discharge of her filial duties, and she won commendation as one of the three dutiful daughters in the clan.

      As Nao's service term of three years was up, she went into service with the Kiyotayu Kinugawa family in Kawakita and the cloth maker, Chosuke Minatoya.

      That was the day that the wedding ceremony was held in the house of the Kinugawa family. Nao was following the bride as a maid. At the ceremony, Nao suddenly let slip the future of the bride and the Kinugawa family like a prohetess. All her stories eventually came true.

      And at the same time, Nao's character changed strangely. She occasionally was left alone in another world very quickly far too from reality, looking and hearing.

      "O-Nao-han! What's with you? You look empty." A family of Kinugawa house was amazed at Nao and shook her thin shoulder, and Nao gazed in surprise about just as if her wandering soul came back home from a long journey. It was not a funny story that she suddenly ensconced herself. One time, her whereabouts was unknown for three days, but she came back blankly in the evening while alarmed people about her said, "She was spirited away off, wasn't she?" Pressed for an answer, Nao replied, "In a mountain, I trained variously through talking with trees and plants, birds and animals." People were stunned by Nao. The Kinugawa family had handed down the story.

      Thus, Nao in childhood seemed to have hard inspirations. The rumor spread that Nao foretold. "The date of someone's death," "A pleasure visiting a family," and that all had come true.

      Her mother, Soyo was anxious about her daughter's incomprehensible disposition, and Nao also was ashamed of herself, mere child that she was. But, growing up, Nao had seemed to live in calm. But her experiences of this time was connected with the attitude of life being always opposite to the gods, thinking that gods always focused on her.

      At the age of fifteen, Nao went to service with Seibei Izumiya, next door to Minatoya's house. Izumiya was the largest bun shop in Fukuchiyama which sold buns in the daytime, and the thick bean-meal soup with sugar and rice cake ad a kind of the rice cake named namba-mochi in the evening. Nao delivered the buns and the rice cakes to houses not minding travelling long distance till midnight. It was the enjoyable daily task for her to wash two sho (one sho equals 1.8 liters) of the adzuki bean at the shores of the river.

      At the age of sixteen, she went to service to the draper's shop, Yonehisa, in Kamiyanagi-machi which was a large shop served by fourteen maids. The master, Kyubei Nakai was a powerful merchant serving as the town official. He trusted Nao and ordered her to stay at the till. The masters of all the shops were pleased with her nature and way of working. Her mother and grandmother were very glad to hear her good reputation and proud of her.

      Thus, Nao had lived, working without the chance to study at the Terakoya (a private elementary school in the Edo period). She couldn't write and read, but had gotten a lot of valuable living lessons from hard work.

      In September, 1852 (Kaei 5), Nao, seventeen years old, left service at Take's urgent request and came back to her parents' home at which old grandmother, Take, sickly mother, Soyo, and younger sister, Riyo had lived in Kamikonya-cho.

      Nao worked early and late to support her mother. She reeled silk off cocoons in summer and delivered her wages to her mother. Finding free time, she massaged grandmother's shoulders. The happiness of family life was all in all to Nao in spite of being very tired. Finishing night work, she prayed to the gods to remain in this happiness for ever and ever, looking at the stars of the night sky.

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