Open menu


Open menu


Open menu
three pairs of lovers with space



The following story is from Ihara Saikaku’s Buke giri monogatari 武家義理物語, a collection of twenty-six short stories about samurai published in Osaka in 1688. As Saikaku himself introduced them: “I have heard many tales, both ancient and modern, about this samurai code of honour, and I have gathered them together here in this volume.”

They were translated a little loosely by Caryl Ann Callahan as Tales of Samurai Honor, (Tokyo, 1981), from pp. 96-101 of which the following story has been taken.

At Least He Wears His Youth’s Kimono takes place over five years, implicitly beginning some time between 1593, when Fushimi Castle was built, and 1598, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the effective ruled of Japan, died.

It should be noted that Saikaku used the traditional Japanese method of counting age, according to which a person is born aged one, and goes up one each subsequent New Year. Thus between one and two years needs to be taken off to find the modern English equivalent, and at the end of the story, when the protagonist Inosuke is said to have reached 22, but pretended to be 21 in order to lessen the awkwardness of his being too old to be a loved-boy, he was really 20 or 21 and pretending to be 19 or 20.


At Least He Wears His Youth’s Kimono  せめては振袖着て成とも

The flowers of youth bloomed out of season.
How a dog’s visit expressed a strong love.

Cattle and horses now roam freely through the peach groves on Fushimi Hill[1]  where once the castle towered during its brief days of glory. In those vanished days, the mansions of daimyo from every quarter of the realm were ranged in unbroken lines along the roads.[2]

Hideyoshi sitting with his wives and concubines

Now among the retainers of the daimyo from Yamato was a boy named Muroda Inosuke who was famed as one of the most beautiful youths of that time. He was soft and yielding in manner, but he possessed the stalwart heart of a warrior. At first glance one would have thought him a girl; in fact, his appearance was so captivating that he might have been taken for Hana or Ochobo, those peerless consorts of Hideyoshi, the supreme ruler of the day.[3]

His lord was especially fond of Inosuke and had him serve more often in the bedchamber than the other youths with long forelocks.[4] This gave the boy greater prestige and influence than his rivals, but it occasioned bitter envy in certain quarters. One day - was the act motivated by jealousy? - a wall-poster, purporting to expose Inosuke’s secret love life, appeared in a place where the daimyo could not miss seeing it. The Inspector found it first and was obliged to report the entire matter, for he had sworn a solemn oath to conceal neither good nor evil. The lord was so enraged that he did not bother to investigate any further and ordered Inosuke back to Yamato without deigning to give him any explanation.

Inosuke was placed in his mother’s custody and strict orders to put him under house arrest[5] were sent to Okazawa Sannoshin, the official in charge of fief affairs during the daimyo’s absence. In accordance with his lord’s will, Okazawa firmly locked up the gates of the residence, set a tight guard, and forbade entrance to everyone, even relatives, under penalty of law.

Since Inosuke and his mother had no idea what his offense might have been, they could not very well commit suicide in expiation, and as they had no other choice, they resigned themselves to their forced confinement. Their domestic servants, however, were not lifelong family retainers but only hirelings who put their own interests first, and they deserted their employers en masse at this time. Soon not one of them remained, and the already forlorn atmosphere of the house grew even more depressing. The smoke from the cooking fires in the morning and evening almost trailed off completely. Taking pity on her son, the mother cooked the rice with her own unpractised hands. Inosuke could not bear to watch her and tried to do his part by drawing water from the well and doing the necessary pounding in the mortar, careful always to stifle the noise so that people would not know his shame. Thus the gloomy days passed.

Although countless tomorrows stretched before them, the very life in their bodies doomed them to drift on through the pitiless days; they numbly counted the long nights, but lost track of the months and forgot the years. The plum tree near the eaves became their calendar, and they were surprised when its blossoms told them of the arrival of spring. They moved in a daze and spoke in a dream.

Finally their supplies ran out. Inosuke and his mother knew that the time had come to die and exchanged their final farewells. The mother gave her last counsel.

‘Our warrior good fortune has run out. I am but a woman, so the world will forgive me if my face and body are distorted by death. But you, as a samurai, would be disgraced if your corpse were unsightly. So you must die before your mother. Well, the time has come - do not be cowardly.’

After smoothing back his dishevelled hair, Inosuke very calmly assumed a sitting position with his legs folded under him; he then bared his body to the waist and drew his dagger from its sheath.

Hanging scroll by Kaneko Kinryō

Just at that moment, a brindled dog, surely someone’s beloved pet, came toward them, wagging his tail as if trying to tell them something. The dog had a purple collar around its neck with a paper-wrapped bundle attached on either side. Puzzled, the opened one of the bundles to find some white rice and a note which read, ‘Life is nothing’; opening the other, the found an assortment of cakes and another note saying, ‘Duty is all.’[6]

Realizing that an anonymous benefactor had sent these gifts, mother and son gave the matter careful thought. ‘What ingrates we would be to kill ourselves now when we are duty bound to repay this great kindness,’ they said. ‘Death is easily gained, but honor is not. This must have been sent by one of our relatives who has taken pity on our plight, although we have never seen the dog before.’

As they patted its back, the dog happily trotted off home. They followed him with their eyes until he slipped beneath a broken place in the bamboo fence in the back of their property.

Thereafter the dog came every day at dawn or dusk - times when no one would be likely to notice - and brought with him all kinds of foodstuffs, and in this way over two years passed.

Time flies like an arrow and very soon five full years would have elapsed since the Muroda family had fallen from favour. The long, tedious confinement had taken its toll; Inosuke had fallen ill and was plunged in grief at the thought of ending his days in these forlorn and helpless circumstances. Perhaps Heaven took mercy on him and intervened, for the lord suddenly pardoned Inosuke while granting amnesties on the occasion of a Buddhist memorial service.[7]

Inosuke expressed his deep gratitude to the messenger for the lord's clemency and made the following plea. ‘At my lord’s pleasure, I have been under house arrest until the present. I humbly request to be told the nature of my transgression so that I may fully enjoy my lord’s forgiveness.’

The daimyo was deeply impressed by Inosuke's noble behaviour and had delivered to him the poster which had caused all the trouble. Inosuke considered the various possibilities carefully. An investigation revealed that a former colleague with whom he had been on bad terms, a samurai named Toyora Naminojō, had discredited him out of jealousy; the man who had actually written the poster  had been a rōnin, one Iwasaka Kimpachi, who was now hiding out in the merchant quarter, teaching the martial arts. The lord commanded Naminojō to commit seppuku, and had Kimpachi beheaded.

Taking pity on Inosuke who had suffered so long and so undeservedly, the lord had him celebrate his coming-of-age ceremony, granted him an increase of 200 koku in his stipend, and appointed him Secretary.[8] His lord thus bestowed even more favour upon Inosuke now than in the past.

When his reputation had not only been cleared but also raised in the eyes of the world, Inosuke journeyed home again and assembled all his relatives at his house in order to find out who had been the kind-hearted person who had daily sent the dog. But his efforts ended in failure. Inosuke could not understand it and made even more strenuous efforts to locate the benefactor.

One day, as he was carefully searching the samurai quarter, he saw their old visitor, the dog, lying asleep before the gate of one of the houses. Filled with joy, Inosuke went over and inquired who lived there, and learned that it was Okazaki Shihei, the Commander of the Guard.

‘I was aware that Shihei was hopelessly in love with me even when I was serving my lord as a page,’ Inosuke thought to himself. ‘What really matters, though, is his overwhelming kindness during those bitter days. My very life would not be enough to repay my debt to him; however, should he ever be in any danger or need, I swear by the gods that I will not fail him.’ Such was the resolve that Inosuke made in his inmost heart. 

That evening, Inosuke quietly dispatched a messenger inviting Shihei to his house. He and his mother wept for joy as they repeatedly expressed their gratitude. Then, after the woman had withdrawn to the kitchen, the men had a heart-to-heart talk.

Inosuke first of all asked how the dog had known the way to his house. Shihei replied, ‘l fell madly in love with you one time when the lord and his retinue were back here in home fief from Fushimi. To ease the hopeless passion torturing my heart, I came every night and stood secretly behind your house. The dog began to follow me and memorized the road to love that I walked.’

Inosuke and Shihei: woodblock print accompanying the original text

Inosuke blushed as he replied, ‘My forelock has been shaven - the very flower of beauty broken off - and all that remains is the old tree that I have become. I am ashamed to have you look upon me. . . . The past cannot be recaptured, but my heart is still the same heart. I feel very shy to say this, but please don’t reject me.’

With that, Inosuke and Shihei went into the inner room, and Inosuke changed into his worn-out youth’s kimono - the one with long, slit sleeves - which he had thought never again to wear. Together the two men realized their dreams on one pillow. Inosuke had actually turned twenty-two, but out of coquetry he concealed one year and said he was twenty-one. A samurai must not lie, of course, but he did this out of love and so it was not wrong. All of this shows the true spirit of love between men. [9]


[1] Fushimi Castle was built in 1593 by Toyotomi  Hideyoshi but was dismantled in 1623, leaving only peach trees on the site. The startling speed with which Fushimi became the prosperous center of national politics and the equal speed with which it became an empty wilderness of peach trees make it a poignant symbol of the evanescence of glory. [Translator’s footnote 9]

[2] During the years that Hideyoshi   resided at Fushimi, daimyo spent periods of attendance in their mansions at the foot of the castle. [Translator’s footnote 10]

[3] So great was the fame of these lovely concubines of Hideyoshi that, after their deaths, their names became synonyms for feminine beauty. [Translator’s footnote 11]

[4] The forelock was worn until the crown of the head was shaven at the gempuku, or coming-of-age ceremony, generally held between the ages of eleven and fifteen, but lords could have the ceremony delayed as possible for their special favorites. [Translator’s footnote 12]

[5] Heimon. The usual punishments for samurai were hissoku, house confinement during the daytime; heimon, house arrest, usually lasting fifty or a hundred days, during which time windows and gates were boarded up and no visitors allowed; chikkyo,  solitary confinement;  kaieki, loss of samurai status; seppuku, ritual disembowelment. [Translator’s footnote 13]

[6] Literally, ‘Life is light, duty is heavy.’ Possibly an allusion to the proverb, ‘Duty is heavier then Mt T’ai, life is lighter than a goose feather.’ [Translator’s note 14]

[7] Rulers often granted amnesties (on-kokorozashi) on the occasion of memorial services held on the death  anniversaries of immediate family members. [Translator’s note 15]

[8] Goban-yaku, the official in charge of affixing the lord’s stylized signature (kaō) to documents; this ceremonial post acquainted the Secretary with everything happening in the fief and thus accorded him much power and influence. [Translator’s note 16]

[9] This story had earlier been translated (from a French translation) by E. Powys Mathers as “At Last Rewarded for his Constancy” in volume VII of his Eastern Love (London, 1928). Mathers’ translations tend to be abbreviations of Saikaku, but his last two paragraphs of this story are much fuller than Callahan’s and may well be more accurate here.  At any rate, here they are:
     “ ‘It grieves me much that I was unable to return your love at that time; but my Lord loved me. Now I am free to love you; but I am no longer the pretty page I was when you cared for me so deeply. I am now a faded flower. But why regret the past?  I have become a samurai, and am no longer a page; but I have the same heart for you. Love me, if you can feel the same ardency as before. I shall be happy to be loved by you.’
     And Inosuke put on his old page’s dress with long sleeves, although it was not suitable for a grown man, for he wished to recall past days. They spent the night together in his room, and in their love murmurings Inosuke said to Shibei: ‘‘I am only twenty-one years old,’ although he was really twenty-two. A samurai ought never to dissemble, but Inosuke must be excused for his lie, since he was truly in love with his former admirer and could not tell the truth about his age. Even a brave and valiant samurai grows weak when he loves; for love is the greatest power of all and governs this world.”




If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to greek.love.tta@gmail.com, mentioning either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.