Houses of Sleep
Willow Woman
East West
Decline of Taste
Note on Yeats
Oscar Wilde
Again on Hokku
On Poetry
Again on Poetry
Morning Fancy
Ink Slab 



The Fourteenth of December

Without, the wind blows, the same old Japanese wind as ages ago; within, a porcelain gas grate, imported from London or New York, hissed unceremoniously in its foreign, as we say, throaty voice.  A while ago I begged the manager of this restaurant to stop the barbarity of a gramophone, with all due acknowledgment of its innocence in rendering Robert Ingersoll's speech or a snatch of [coon>] war song or what not.  Here is a dining room à la Francaise, with walls painted in red and looking glasses on every side; we, all fellow workers [at Keio College, Tokyo, fifty or sixty>] {of art or letters, fifteen or sixteen in all}, gathered around the table, quite a family affair, for the customary year-end banquet before we hasten to slip into our little nest for a wintery rest.  [Prof.] B., who has lived for quite many years in Berlin, talked on the European revolution in the theatrical art and the work of Max [Reinhardt>] Bernhardt, only to irritate the [old>] odd mind of Mr. H. who did not know this brilliant German was too, after all, a romanticist, but with a different mien; [Prof.] A., [<66] who sat on my left, evidently with H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw in his mind, was going to expand his opinion on the English departure from the stereotyped solidarity [, at least in literature.  Did I listen to him?  Not I].  As my mind lately has grown to be delighted in simplicity, my eyes most ardently fell on the menu; I confess that such an innocent word written on it gave me a far better impression than words spoken by poets from the golden clime.  I read the menu from top to bottom, and again from bottom to top; when I could not find anything special, I set my eyes on the date printed at the top, "December 14th [1911>] 1916," as if on the name of some strange new dish.
    "Oh, this is the fourteenth of December," I exclaimed in my dreamy mind.
    I raised my face to the looking-glass on the opposite side, where a large part of the scene of the banquet (What a monkey show, indeed!) was reflected, all the guests in Western dress, quite skilful in handling knives and forks, looking even natural as if they were born [with>] to butter and bread; I presently asked myself as in a dream if this was real Japan where our [<67] fathers, only fifty years ago, wore two swords in the place of the gold watch of to-day, and ate rice gruel in place of beef and lobster.  Oh, what a change!  And then I questioned again how true Japan could be related with the Western luxuries; I am sure that real Japan would do very well without [Chamberlain's>] a single eyeglass and Turkish cigarette.  My mind, which suddenly hated and loathed our modern life, tacitly declined to take the asparagus when they were passed round, simply from the reason of their being of foreign origin, and tried to live (bless my soul) on the very thought of the fourteenth of December.  What about that fourteenth of December?  Why, it was on that night, that is to say, this very night some two hundred fifty years ago, that the new world-famous forty-seven [ronins>] ronins headed by Kuranosuke Oishi, kicked the silence and snow with their determined foot of loyalty, and rushed into their enemy's house.  Yes, it is said that it snowed terribly that night, although [to-night>] tonight only the wind blows without.
    My mind took me back straight to my boyhood days, particularly the fourteenth of December of more than [twenty>] twenty-five years ago, when we little boys used to gather in the prayer room of Kojoji temple, and read, all through the night, the whole history of the loyal spirits of those forty-seven ronins under the candle lights which burned well to encourage us.  How we cried in reading the part of Chikara Oishi, a slip of a boy of sixteen, who, with his father Kuranosuke, most composedly accomplished [harakiri>] harakiri after the revenge was realised; we could not help being ashamed before him.  When the night and also the reading had advanced, the Father of the temple used to offer us rice gruel, as the custom[,] to warm us up; what a difference between that rice gruel and the roast-beef of the present day!  The rice gruel became, it is said, a customary treat (oh, this fourteenth night of December!) for the boys' party gathered to read about the forty-seven [ronins>] ronins ever since, as history or story tells us, Matsudaira Mutsu no Kami, the Prince of Sendai, first treated the ronins to rice gruel at dawn, that is on the fifteenth, when they passed before his palace gate towards Sengakuji Temple, where their lord was buried.  By the way, Sengakuji Temple is only a quarter of a mile from here where we are dining in Western fashion.  The rice gruel and the [ronins>] ronins with the hearts of Bushido and simplicity.  Oh, how they fit one another!  Nobody, I am sure, would believe if he were told that the [ronins>] ronins accepted with many thanks Prince Sendai's treat, suppose, of oyster patties or soft-shell crabs.  What an effeminacy in the Western dish!
    Now, struggling with a rather tough roast beef (look at the Yorkshire pudding, a side dish offered at [our President's] somebody's suggestion, to please or amuse some of us who had sad experience at cheap English boarding houses[{np}>]!) my mind did not hover round the table, but was outside in the street hastening, perhaps, towards Ryogoku Bridge upon the heap of snow now ceased to fall.  Thanks for the magic of my imagination!  My mind's eyes saw, with such a crowd here, the forty-seven loyalists, after the heroism of the night, marching by in ranks under the bright morning [<70 sunlight which made us read the names in black characters embroidered on the broad white ground of their coats.  So [there>] this is Yasubei Horibo.  Is he Yogoro Kanzaki?  Our beloved Genzo Akagaki, the two-sword bacchus, looks so handsome, and sober too.  Oh where is the Hokku poet Gengo Otaka?
    The immortality of Otaka is doubly sealed by the now-famous letter by the eminent Hokku poet Kikaku written to his friend at Akita, who, by accident or fortune, was at the house of a neighbour of Kozuke no Kami, the [ronins>] ronin's enemy, for a poetry party on that very night; Otaka, the [hokku>] Hokku poet, was despatched by his chief to go round and deliver the message that no hurt should be done to any neighboring house, as the ronins were neither night robbers nor ruffians, but begging the people to keep a close watch against the possible outbreak of fires.  And this Gengo Otaka was Kikaku's poetical friend.  The latter's letter says:
    "He left here as soon as his message was told.  It goes without saying that his voice was most composed.  I saw at once that his last moment was near.  I rushed out of the [<71] gate, exclaiming: "Thy friend, Kikaku, is right here.  Let him see thy heroism.  All the [ronins>] ronins must have already entered Kira's house at the moment.  I sang aloud:

'It's light—
The snow upon my hat,
When it's mine.'

    We shut the gate, raised the lighted lanterns by the outside fence, and secretly watched the progress of this extraordinary affair.  The women called the men; the crying voice of boys and girls was carried by the sad wind.  It seemed that the final object had been attained when the dawn approached.  Gengo Otaka called on us with Chikara Oishi to thank us; Oh, it would be called, indeed, the honour of [samurais>] samurais.  Otaka wrote the following poem:

'Oh, blessing of sunlight!
They will soon be crushed—
Those thick ices.'

    (This [hokku>] Hokku poem suggests that his aim in completing the final revenge has been accomplished under heaven's mercy). [<72]
    What a noble soul of Otaka!  His image is unforgettable and even looms before my eyes."
     I was awakened from my dream by my friend at right when he suddenly asked me why I kept such a silence to-night.  I thanked [the President and] my fellow-workers of art and letters for the pleasure of banquet; but what I really meant was that I was glad to be undisturbed, even for a while, in following my sweet dream.
    The party soon broke up.  I bade good night to my friend, who vanished into the cold wind and darkness in the street.
    "This is certainly a prosaic life we are leading," I exclaimed. [<73]