“TORTURED TO DEATH WITH SNOW ON HIS SLEEVE” BY IHARA SAIKAKU
The following story, originally called “Tortured to Death with Snow on His Sleeve”, is from Ihara Saikaku’s Nanshoku Ōkagami 男色大鑑 (Great Mirror of Male Love), a collection of forty short stories of Greek love published in 1687.
The shortened translation presented here is the first into English and was made by E. Powys Mathers from the French translation of Ken Sato. Mathers published it as “He Followed his Friend into the Other World, after Torturing him to Death” in pp. 20-26 of Comrade Loves of the Samurai, the first section of volume seven of his Eastern Love (London, 1928).
“The famous painter Tanyo”, mentioned in the first paragraph, was official painter to the Tokugawa shoguns and lived from 1602 to 1674, proving that this story, whatever its historical basis, was set in or shortly before the time Saikaku was writing.
He Followed his Friend into the Other World, after Torturing him to Death
ON THE SECOND DAY OF THE YEAR THE LORD of the Province Iga dreamed that it snowed, and on the next morning snow began to fall. He said to his attendants: ‘It is snowing just as I dreamed last night.’ One of the pages, named Sasanosuke Yamawaki, went into another room and brought from it a picture of Fuji Yama by the famous painter Tanyo, and hung it in the recess of the room. The Lord was delighted by this tactful and intelligent action ; for to dream that one sees the snow upon Fuji is considered by every superstitious person as a sign of happiness. He compared Sasanosuke’s action with that of Seishyōnajon, an ancient and famous poetess of the Imperial Court. The Emperor Tjijo had one day asked: ‘What will be the appearance of Mount Koro under morning snow?’ Then Seishyōnajon quickly unrolled the bamboo blind before the north door of the palace. For a great Chinese poet says in one of his poems:
You may hear the bells of temple Taiji
By raising your head from the pillow,
But to see the snows of Mount Koro
You must unroll the blind before the door.
Sasanosuke had considerable tact and intelligence, and he gave his master great pleasure by imitating this famous lady. From that time he became one of the Lord’s favourites. When the Lord departed for Yedo to pay his respects to the Shyōgun, Sasanosuke stayed in the Province and was free to do as he pleased. One day he went with three other pages to hunt birds in the fields. They walked for a long time without finding even a sparrow for their trouble, and decided to return home. But behind a clump of bamboos there was a hut where the country folk used to shelter their melons from birds and thieves during the summer, and, as the young men passed this, a pheasant flew out from it. With the help of their bamboos the pages caught the bird; and then several more pheasants flew from the hut. The young men were delighted with such a stroke of luck. But one of them was surprised to see so many pheasants, and made his way into the hut. There he saw two men hiding with a big cage full of these birds. He rebuked the men severely. ‘You are committing a crime against the Lord’s law. Do you not know that it is forbidden by edict for a man of the people to catch birds?’
While he was questioning the men, one of them escaped, hiding his face with his big rush straw hat. But the other was seized by the pages and stood in some danger, for the youths were very angry. But Sasanosuke interceded for the wretched man, saying: ‘Perhaps these poor fellows caught the birds for food. Let us have mercy, and pardon him at least this time.’
They released the man and returned to their houses, rejoicing at this easy capture. And they tied the birds to plum tree branches. But Sasanosuke, pretending that his foot hurt him, stayed behind and, when the others were out of sight, insistently questioned the man: ‘I shall not let you go until you tell me why you and your accomplice hid yourselves in this place. Be frank, and confess that something strange underlies the matter.’
The terrified man at once confessed: ‘I am the slave of Hayemon Banno. My master escaped before you seized me.’
‘I know Hayemon. He is, in fact, known everywhere. Why did he run away? It is very strange.’
The slave answered: ‘My master said to me this morning: “To-day Sasanosuke Yamawaki will come this way to hunt birds; but, after all the samurai who have birded here lately, he will find them very scarce and be disappointed. I am going to provide his sport with some of my own birds.” That is why my master and I loosed these birds for your pleasure.’
‘This young man is very fortunate,’ said Sasanosuke, ‘to be so appreciated by such a man as Hayemon. I should like to be that youth.’ And, taking off his robe, he gave it to the slave for a present. But the slave would have preferred the garment to have been a great bottle full of wine.
Afterwards, this fellow became the messenger between Hayemon and Sasanosuke, and enabled them to enjoy their loves, for they were both brave and honourable men.
But one autumn the tree in the garden of the temple Saïmenji on Mount Nayata bloomed for the second time. The samurai assembled at the temple to enjoy this spectacle, and made a noble pleasure party, feasting on delicious foods and wines. This caused them to forget both the flowers and themselves, and they remained till evening. There were among them several of the Lord’s pages. Hayemon had also come to see the flowers and to enjoy himself with the other samurai. Itjisaburo Igarashi, one of the pages, gave him a cup of wine to drink, the half of which he had already drained himself. Hayemon thanked him with most flattering compliments, saying: ‘You are a truly pretty boy. I delight in your beauty even while I am drinking.’ And he let Itjisaburo fill the cup again with heady wine. When he was drunk he took his pleasure with Itjisaburo; but, on going away, he did not forget his two swords. These are the soul of a samurai.
Someone told Sasanosuke of Hzyemon’s conduct with Itjisaburo, and he was shaken by anger and jealousy. The next day the weather changed suddenly, it grew cold, and a furious gale began to blow. Sasanosuke waited for Hayemon at the door of his house and, when he arrived, impatiently took him by the hand and led him to a little inner court. Then he locked the door and also every way out of the house, and left Hayemon in that yard. Hayemon thought that Sasanosuke was making ready a love meeting, and waited for some time in the court. But the snow, which had begun to fall in the early evening, was getting thicker. At first Hayemon shook the snow from his shoulders and sleeves ; but soon, although he had sheltered under an old paulownia, he began to suffer greatly. In a husky voice he called to his lover: ‘Sasanosuke, I shall die of this cold.’ But Sasanosuke mockingly answered him from the first-floor room, where he was amusing himself with the servant : ‘ I am sure that you are still sufficiently warmed by the wine that pretty page poured out for you.’
Hayemon groaned: ‘You are teaching me a lesson this evening. I shall be very discreet in future. I will not look at a single other pretty boy. Forgive me, Sasanosukc.’
But Sasanosuke was unyielding. ‘If you are in earnest, pass me your two swords to prove it. Only so shall I believe you.’ And Hayemon passed him his two swords.
Then, to avenge his slighted love, Sasanosuke set about making game of Hayemon. He compelled him take off all his clothes. Then he forced the unhappy man, who stood shivering and naked in the cold, to let his hair fall over his face; and Hayemon obeyed him. Sasanosuke threw him a triangular white paper with characters written on it, and ordered him to place it on his forehead. In burials, according to the Buddhistic rite, the corpse bears a triangular paper with an inscription on its forehead. And Hayemon obeyed.
The air was frozen and the snow fell upon his naked, shuddering, trembling body. He could hardly breathe. He looked like a corpse indeed. He implored Sasanosuke to forgive and save him, raising his frozen and shivering hands to him. But Sasanosuke remained pitiless. Up in his room he sang at the top of a clear and care-free voice, to the rhythm of a drum, this passage from the famous Nô drama: ‘I am delighted with your excellent prayer for the safety of my soul.’ Then, after this moment’s inattention, he looked back into the court.
Hayemon had fallen down in pain and agony. Sasanosuke was moved and ran to the court, and tried to revive his lover with medicines and warmth. But it was too late; Hayemon had died. Sasanosuke joined him in death by Hara-kiri.
In his bedroom Sasanosuke had prepared a feast for himself and his dear Hayemon. There were the most delicious meats, and two cushions were on the bed for Hayemon and himself. His garments were perfumed. He had intended to pardon Hayemon after punishing him severely; but he had gone too far, and had thereby killed his lover and himself.
 A garbled translation, quite apart from describing Sasanosuke, not for the first time, as a man when he was a wakashu (boy between about 11 and 19, not yet considered a man). Schalow, op. cit., p. 135, translates the outcome of the letter-carrying as “They developed a deep relationship in the way of boy love that was noticed and tolerated by the household.”
 Here Mathers’ version is radically different from that of Schalow, op. cit., p. 135, and takes the irony out of the story. Per Schalow, far from taking his pleasure with Itjisaburo, “even after the sake began to take effect, [Hayemon] spoke of no one but Sasanosuke.” The latter’s jealousy was therefore misplaced.
If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, mentioning in the subject line either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.