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three pairs of lovers with space


The following story, originally called “Though Bearing an Umbrella, He Was Rained Upon”, 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 Died to Save his Lover” in pp.  27-34 of Comrade Loves of the Samurai, the first section of volume seven of his Eastern Love (London, 1928).

Presumably the story is set in the era in which it was written, as seems generally to be the case with Saikaku’s stories, whatever historical basis they may individually have had. 

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. Thus, when the protagonist, Korin, is described as about 13 at the beginning of the story, he was (in modern English) about 11 or 12.

He Died to Save his Lover

The sea suddenly began to rage, and the waves hurled themselves angrily upon the coast. The sky was covered with big black clouds, and the Storm rushed down from Mount Muko. A violent rain began to fall, and people walking were seized with panic. Among these was a certain samurai, the ambassador of the Lord of Akashi to another Lord of a neighbouring Province. He took shelter with his servant under a big tree, and a boy, about thirteen years old, passed by them carrying a paper umbrella. Seeing the samurai under the tree, the lad gave his umbrella to the servant.

The samurai, whose name was Sakon Horikoshi, said; ‘Thank you, dear child, for your kindness ; but tell me, do you not need the umbrella yourself?’ The boy’s only answer was to start weeping. Sakon asked him the reason of his grief, and, drying his tears, the other replied: ‘I am the son of Sluyuzen Magasaka, and my name is Korin. My father left his Lord of the Province of Kaï, and we came to the Province of Buzen ; but he died suddenly on the boat, and my mother and I buried him in this village. Since then we have lived here in a little house which we built with the help of the obliging villagers, and we make umbrellas for a living. But I cannot use this poor umbrella to protect myself from the rain without sorrowfully thinking that my mother made it with her unfortunate, delicate hands.’

Sakon was greatly touched by this sad story, and went to the village and learned from the mother that the boy’s tale was true. When he gave his message to the Governor of the Province, he spoke to him also of Korin. The Lord was moved and commanded Sakon to bring the lad before him ; so Sakon very joyfully presented the boy and his mother to that Lord. Korin was very beautiful: his young, untroubled face was like a serene moon in the autumn sky: his black hair was a lotus, and his voice had the love-murmuring of the nightingale amid young peach blossom.

       Wakashudō depicted on a hand scroll by Miyagawa Isshô, ca. 1750

The Lord made Korin his page and loved him greatly. Time passed and, one evening when Korin was on guard, the Lord tenderly caressed him and whispered: ‘Dear sweet Korin, I would even give you my life if you desired it.’

But Korin answered: ‘Your flatteries give me little pleasure, my Lord, since it is no true love for a samurai to have an affair with a Lord who is all-powerful.[1] It is even a dishonour for one who esteems a selfless and sincere male love. I would rather have a man of some class for my lover, it is true, but he would have to be devoted and utterly true; a man whom I could love all my life. That would be my greatest pleasure.’

The Lord said to him: ‘Come, you are not serious!’ But Korin insisted: ‘My Lord, I mean what I say, and it is the vow of my heart. I swear it on my love as a samurai and before all the gods of Japan.’

The Lord was astonished at the bold frankness of this boy.

One evening the Lord arranged a feast in a summer-house, at which his numerous and beautiful pages were present. Suddenly a suffocating breath filled the garden and caused the trees to shudder. A very great monster came down from the roof, thrusting out its horrible head to look at the company. It stretched its mighty paws and began to maul the noses of the terrified onlookers, who at once surrounded their Lord and hurried back into the palace. Then a loud noise was heard in the garden, as if a mountain had fallen. After midnight a slave came and told the Lord that an immense badger had been found with its head cut off in the tea-house in the garden. The beast was still crooking its claws when it was found, although it was dead.

‘Certainly,’ said the Lord, ‘this evening’s monster, when we were in the tea-house, was that great badger.[2] And the loud noise was made by the beast to frighten us. I wonder who was the brave man who dared to kill this portent.’ And he questioned all his courtiers, but none of them had killed the badger.

Seven days after this incident, at about two o’clock in the morning, a maiden was heard crying on the roof of the great hall of the palace: ‘Korin has killed my father the badger. He will soon die. He will fulfill his destiny.’ The voice repeated this threat three times, and was silent. It was then known that Korin was the hero who had killed the badger. Everyone praised his courage, his modesty, and his heroic deed.

One of the courtiers, who had charge of the maintenance of the palace, begged the Lord to have the roof which the badger had damaged put into repair. But the Lord refused, saying: ‘There was once a great Chinese Prince who was full of pride, and boasted, saying: “All my words are true, and let no one dare to act against my orders.” Then one of his courtiers, called Sihkyo, who was truly loyal and devoted, struck him with a harp to rebuke him for his unconsidered words. And the Prince was grateful to him for his loyalty. He left the wall, which the harp had injured in striking him, just as it was, without any reparation. And I desire to leave the damaged roof, that all may remember and admire Korin’s courage for ever.’

This adventure only served to increase the ardour of the Lord’s love for Korin. Now the second son of Gyobu-Kamo, one of the Lord’s courtiers, greatly admired Korin. His name was Sohatjiro; and his admiration grew to love. He sent many amorous letters to Korin, and Korin was touched by them. But since they could not meet openly, because of the Lord, they waited for a suitable opportunity.

It was the custom to give the palace a thorough cleaning on the thirteenth of December, and for the courtiers to change their old clothes for new and spotless garments. On that day, following a plan conceived by Korin’s servant, Sohatjiro was introduced into the palace in a big bamboo basket, in which Korin had already sent some new soft robes to his mother. They succeeded in carrying Sohatjiro into the room adjoining the Lord’s bedroom.

Korin pretended that he had pains in the stomach, and kept the screen doors well oiled so as to be able to open them easily in the night. The first time Korin went out of the room, the Lord complained of the noise he made; but, as the night advanced, the latter fell into a deep sleep and Started to snore very loudly. Then Korin, thinking that the moment had come when he might join his love, crept into the next room. The two lovers embraced[3] and swore a faithful and changeless love until their deaths. They spoke very quietly, in a whisper, of their amorous pleasures; but by ill luck it happened that the Lord was wakened by their voices.

He shouted: ‘There is someone in the next room, and he shall not escape.’ He grasped a spear, which was resting against his pillow, and rushed upon Sohatjiro as he turned to run away. But Korin seized him by the sleeve and said: ‘It is not worthy of you, Lord, to agitate yourself in this way. Be calm, I beg you. There was no one here but I. I was only uttering certain complaints because of my pain. Forgive me, Lord, for having disturbed your sleep.’

At that moment Sohatjiro started to climb over the wall by the help of a large branch, and the Lord saw him. He sternly questioned Korin; but the other denied everything. Then, since he had great love for Korin, the Lord thought that this was perhaps another evil badger haunting the garden, and he calmed himself.

     Illustration accompanying the original text

But one of the sentinels[4], Shinroku Kanaï, came and said to the Lord: ‘I saw the track of a man in this room, and himself with my own eyes in the garden. His hair was disordered and his actions were strange. It must be Korin’s[5] secret lover. I advise the Lord to watch Korin.’ But Korin answered bravely: ‘My dear one has given me his life. He is my faithful lover. Even if I must die, I will not tell his name. I have already said this many times to my Lord.’[6] He was calm and serene.

Two days later Korin was led into the guard-room of the palace, and the Lord said to him: ‘I myself will execute you, Korin, as a warning to my courtiers not to deceive me. Prepare to die.’ And he took a halberd in his hands.

Korin smiled at him: ‘I thank my Lord for wishing to take my life with his own hands, in memory of our past time. I am quite ready.’ And he stood up.

Then the Lord cut off his left hand, and asked: ‘How do you feel, Korin?’

Korin held out his right hand to be cut off also, and said: ‘With this hand I caressed and loved my lover. You should hate this hand a great deal also.’

     Illustration accompanying the original text

The Lord[7] at once cut that hand off. Then Korin turned his back to his master and said: ‘My back is very beautiful. No other page was as attractive as I am. Look at my beauty before I die.’ His voice was weak and low through the mortal pain he was enduring. Then the Lord cut off his head and, holding it in his hands, wept bitter tears for the death of his favourite. The body was buried in the cemetery of the temple Myofukuji. In this temple there was a little pool called ‘Glory of the Morning.’ Korin’s short life was like a morning glory. Everybody accused and blamed his cowardly lover, who had remained hidden after his friend’s death. They despised him as we despise a stray dog.

But next year, on the fifteenth of January, Sobatjiro killed Shinroku, who had betrayed Korin to the Lord. He cut off his two hands, as the Lord had done to Korin, and finished him by piercing his throat with his sword. He sent Korin’s mother into a safe place. Then he went to the cemetery, wrote a memoir in which he recounted his love for Korin and his vengeance against Shinroku, and killed himself by Hara-kiri on his lover’s tomb.[8] As he opened his belly, he traced with his knife the armorial bearings of his Korin there. For seven days after his death his friends and admirers loaded his tomb with flowers. Korin and Sohatjiro became an illustrious example of the love of comrades.

[1] Mathers’s translation strangely obscures a simple emotional issue here.  In Paul Gordon Schalow’s translation, The Great Mirror of Male Love (Stanford, 1990) p. 98, “The lord increasingly had the boy attend to him, and soon Korin was sharing his bed at night”, and Korin’s retort when his lord told him how much he loved him was: “Forcing me to yield to your authority is not true love. My heart remains my own, and if one day someone should tell me he truly loves me. I will give my life for him.”

[2] Note by Mathers: great badger In old Japanese belief the badger had supernatural powers, and pursued men in some horrible shape.

[3] “embraced” is Mathers’ coy abbreviation of what Schalow, op. cit., p.100, translates more fully as “able to make love at last, Korin embraced Sōhachi. In their passion, Korin gave himself to the man without even undoing his square-knotted sash.”

[4] Schalow, op. cit., p. 326, says the tem used means a secret agent employed by a daimyo lord to detect house rule-breaking and intrigue amongst membersof the household.

[5] Schalow, op. cit., p. 101, has the man say “someone’s lover” rather than “Korin’s secret lover”, which makes better sense of the circumstances.

[6] What he had told his lord many times was not that he would not reveal his lover’s name, which makes no sense when the lord had known nothing of the lover, but rather, as Schalow puts it, op. cit., p. 101, “that you were not the one I loved.”

[7] “enraged” according to Schalow puts it, op. cit., p. 101.

[8] “at the age of 21” adds the translation of Schalow puts it, op. cit., p. 101.




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