Suyemoto Dies an Opportune Death Leaving Guidance
The White Dragon Goes South through the Clouds
The time was Muromachi Era, many a year before now, when Shogun in Kyoto and Shikken – Shogun’s Chief Steward – in Kamakura lost power, their minds turned bitter and brittle and the world entered the Hundred Years War.
Ambitious and independent Sir Mochiuji of Kamakura forgot the code of honour out of the blue, ignored the counsel of Shikken Norizane and fell out with Yoshinori the Muromachi Shogun. Troops from the capital Kyoto rushed in to serve under Shikken Norizane’s command, fought and advanced into Hohkoku Temple in Kamakura, where they cornered the father and son to their own end. It was the tenth of February in Eikyo 2 (1430) of Emperor Go-Hanazono.
Thus Yoshinari, heir of Sir Mochiuji, together with his father, perished to be buried in Kamakura. Yet, his brothers Prince Haruwo and Prince Yasuwo narrowly escaped the encircling enemies and fled to Shimo-fusa (Lower Fusa), where Yuki Ujitomo welcomed them as his lords, as he did their father once. Ujitomo paid no heed to the orders of the capital (the Shogunate in Kyoto) or gave no second thoughts about the big armies of the two Kanrei of Kiyokata and Mochitomo, Shogun’s Second-in-Commands.
Hence, under the flag of Satomi Suyemoto, who for the sake of honour will only stop at death, gathered those who had been indebted to Sir Mochiuji and they all joined the two princes and Yuki Ujitomo. Thus they guarded Yuki Castle surrounded by big armies, but not once showed weakness. For the next three years under siege and no help to turn to, they had finally exhausted food and ammunition.
“Now there is no way to escape this. Let us all make our ends together.”
With this, the Yuki Clan and master and men of Satomi pushed open the castle gate and fought to death, slashing the enemies that were streaming in, until all fell in battle, and so the castle was down at last and the two princes were captured alive to be executed in Tarui in the County of Mino. This was what they now call the Battle of Yuki.
At this time, Yoshizane, Suyemoto’s elder son and heir, known as Young Master and not yet twenty of age, excelled his sires in swordsmanship and warfare and was also a gifted scholar. During these three years spent with his father, he had not once complained of the hardships the siege presented. On this day as before at the head of troops, having put fourteen to fifteen to the sword, he was advancing in search of a match worthy of his last fight, when his father, looking from distance, urgently called to him.
“Alas, Yoshizane, brave soldiers do not forget when to die. It may make sense to you to think of to day as the last. However, both father and son falling in a battle is a sin worse than any other to our forebears. We have accepted the challenge from Kyoto and Kamakura, been true to ourselves, exhausted all our power and spent all our might, finally to see the castle fall this day. And so the father dies in honour, and his son for his father’s sake runs away and survives. What is there to be ashamed of? Swiftly go now. Wait for the right moment to re-establish the Satomi’s name. Run, and fast!”
Hurried thus, Yoshizane would but listen to this, look down to the saddle and reply,
“I will oblige, my lord, only that, to make a pitiful escape while seeing his father at death is something a three year old would not do. Here I am, eighteen of age, born in the family of bows and arrows and learned in letters and warfare, so that I know at large the natural order of things, justice and evil, the rise and fall of ancient men. I wish only to accompany you to the yonder land of no returns. It is not my desire to miss my opportune death, invite sneers, be undignified and shame our forebears.”
As the son delivered these words of valour, the father cast a long glance at his son’s face and sighed.
“You spoke excellently, Yoshizane. However, I say this: Had I asked you to shave your head and change into a cassock, your father’s advice should be deemed unreasonable. A good child shall not refuse his father’s wish.
You know Lord Ashikaga Mochiuji has not always been our lord. Our forebears served Nitta Yoshisada Ason of our clan and showed valour in Genko and Kenmu Eras. However, while Nitta and company had been loyal servants of the South House, with the fall of the Emperor in the South House at the beginning of winter in Meitoku 3, our trusted tree started to let through rain on us, and we had but to reluctantly respond to the invitation by Ashikaga in Kamakura. That is how my late father, Satomi Oinosuke Motoyoshi, came to serve Lord Mitsukane, Sir Mochiuji’s father , and I to Sir Mochiuji, to die in service now to his young princes. My purpose has been fulfilled.
Listen to reason, would you regard just any death a Samurai-like conduct? If you would all your education had been for nothing. I have said enough. If you still cannot agree, you are no son of mine, nor I your father,” poured out the father.
Yoshizane, stunned by the fairness of the argument, could not restrain tears from falling on the main of his horse and then down to the grass, where they disguised themselves as dews. The father and the son, one to die and the other to live, were engulfed by the battle cry louder than the ocean. At the enemy’s advance, Suyemoto sharply looked back.
“Let no time be lost.”
He signalled to Sugikura Kisonosuke Ujimoto and Horiuchi Kurando Sadayuki, the two lieutenants from the families serving the Satomis for generations, who had previously been instructed on his plans. At this, they rose in unison, and soon as said,
“Here we are to escort you, sir, this way,”
Kisonosuke pulled the bridle of Yoshizane’s horse, and Kurando hit the back of the horse to send it to a sprint, and together made escape towards west.
In the olden days, the legendary Kusunoki, with the faithful soul and loyal heart, sent away his son Masatsura from Sakurai Station. It must have been just as now, imagined the remaining warriors, standing deep in thought. Suyemoto looked for a while at the disappearing back of his son.
“Now my heart is already at peace. Let us make haste to our ends.”
With this, he tugged at the reigns to position his horse back in place, had the last of the soldiers – not quite ten of them – form the Crane’s Wings and without ceremony thrust into the swarming enemies. Great captains have no weak soldiers. Not one of the master and men failed to take down two or three knights. As there were no thoughts in the men’s minds other than to let Yoshizane run with no worries behind, not one step forward would they allow the overpowering number of army. They tackled and were slain to slay so as to lie on one death bed. Be it Captain Suyemoto or any one of the eight knights, all were slain in the battle chaos to colour the grass with their blood. Although their bodies were scattered hither and thither to be buried in the hooves’ dust, their names rose up as far as to the capital. Such was the furious warriors’ ends.
Meanwhile, young Master Yoshizane, lead by Ujimoto and Sadayuki, ran a little over three ‘li’ (12 km/7 miles).
“In any event, what has become of my dear father? My mind is not at ease.”
Many a time he stopped his horse’s step to look back, only to hear the roar of the battle cries and screaming arrows. Now the castle seemed to have fallen, and violent fire was burning the sky. Even before a sharp cry came out of his mouth, he pulled the reigns and was trying to return, but the two lieutenants had a firm hold of the horse’s bridle and would not let go.
“What a waste! Have you gone out of your mind after all that, young master? What do you make of the Lord’s lessons? If you went back to the fallen castle now and let yourself be gone, it’d be an act more meaningless than a moss jumping into fire as they sang in the old song. Believing too much is not the same as believing. Being too good is not the same as being good. Those were the maxims you always liked saying, were they not? For the noble and the common alike there is only one way to be good. What makes you doubt that? Come this way.”
As they pulled the horse, Yoshizane, maddened by the hurt and pain he felt for the father, shouted in an irritated voice,
“Let go of me, Sadayuki. Do not stop me, Ujimoto. You said as my father wished, but I cannot bear this. A man’s child cannot. Let go, let go!”
However much he lashed out with his whip, the two men with the stony grip would not budge an inch and lead the horse as the whip kept lashing. Thus they went past Umade, Kurakake, and then Yanagisaka to find, gloating by the side of a cypress wood, a few over twenty riders of the Kamakura army, who had chased after them.
“You admirable Samurais run away fast. The one in the red breastplate and the five-layered and beetle-horned helmet with the black-centred arms in shining sliver looks the captain, unless my eyes deceive me. Come back here, you scoundrel.”
Yoshizane did not hesitate a moment.
“Noisy foot soldiers. As I am not running out of fear, ‘tis not difficult to return.”
He straightened up his horse and advanced with a raised sword. Not about to let their captain be shot, Ujimoto and Sadayuki side by side stood to be shields against arrows and twisted their staffs to break in. Yoshizane on the other hand, not to let his lieutenants be shot, hurried his horse to catch up, and the three riders competing to be the first to cut into the enemy ran off in a cross, came back in a V and formed the Crane’s Wings, then the Fish Scales, to the west, to the east, then to the north, next to the south, and would not give the horses a moment’s rest. All three of them, well-versed in matters of warfare, stood in front a second, to be found behind the next. With all might and thrust, their swords swung in all directions in ever changing milliard disguises. At this, even the outnumbering platoon were thrown into a confused mess and an instant retreat. Upon their retreat, the two loyal lieutenants censured the master and made an escape at length, shooting down with long bows those few odd ones still at their heels, chased and chasing, and travelled further three li to Shimotobara, where the Sun went down and the sixteenth-day Moon shone the area around.
From here onwards no enemies chased them, and thus master and men had miraculously escaped the gaping jaws of the tiger and sought a night’s rest at a humble hut in return for their own riding gear. Having changed their clothes and with their hats downcast, they carried on running in the enemy’s land towards Sagami, where they held a slim hope, and on the third day arrived at Yatori Harbour in Miura. They had no food supply nor sufficient travelling expenses from the start, and were now no more than penniless refugees. The two sat famished and fatigued at the root of a pine tree while waiting for Sadayuki who was being delayed, so that they should cross the sea to Awa Country together. As far as the eye could see the sea was rolling quietly beyond the harbour and the seagulls slept on under the April haze.
“Is that the famous Mt. Saw (Nokogiri-yama) there? It looks rather jagged!”
They had been travelling along sharp cliff edges, which towered over them ominously as if they had been carved out by a chisel and sharpened by a sword. Wisdom would tell you to tread carefully in such a place, but the rain-drop-sodden willow trees in the fishing village and the lonely evening bells of a distant temple weakened the heart and made them painfully aware how they should not be there at all, thus they hurried along, to find not a single boat to cross the sea in as of now.
Ujimoto, spotting some fishermen’s children carrying some dried fish into their houses, beckoned to them and asked in earnest,
“I say, young chaps. Is there not a boat that crosses the harbour? We have been roaming in this strange land and have not had a bite, would you be so kind as to offer something for my master here to eat?”
One of them, a fourteen or fifteen year old urchin, with his red bear-like fringe left hanging over his face and uncaring about his nose running, stepped out.
“What a stupid thing to say! A battle after battle took away most of our boats and we ain’t even got enough fuh fishin’, who d’ya think would take ya across the harbour? At such a time when the world is bitterer than sea salt and we can’t even feed our faces, would ya think we got food to feed strangers? If ya’re so hungry ya can’t bear it, eat this!”
As he snickered and collected a fist full of earth to throw, Ujimoto ducked, and the lump of earth flashed into the chest of Yoshizane, who calmly dodged to the left and caught it in his right hand. The show of hostility instantly angered Ujimoto, who glared and raised his voice.
“Imprudent delinquent! We wouldn’t have asked you for food had we not been away from home. You needn’t have acted upon it where words were sufficient. There are limits! Let me show you the way by cutting open those jaws of yours.”
As he prepared to strike with his hands on his sword, Yoshizane quickly halted him.
“Ujimoto, act your age. An aged Kyrin would be inferior to a horse, a phoenix in a pinch would be tormented by an ant. Forget yesterday’s glory, we have no one now. The children are not worthy of a fight.
“Think of it this way, earth constitutes land. Maybe this is a sign that the heaven will bless me with land. If you get angry at him it’d bother you. If you see the whole thing as a good omen, it’d please you. The story of Duke Wen of Jin in olden China is remarkably similar to this incident. We should celebrate it.”
With this Yoshizane held the earth high three times and put it in his pocket, at which Ujimoto put away both his anger and his hand on sword and congratulated his master. The sight made fishermen’s children clap their hands and taunt even more.
Now over the hills clouds collected, and the sea suddenly darkened with its water retreating in a hurry like magnets collecting metal dust. As soon as gusts of wind rose, rain came spattering from the direction of bamboo bushes in Tomo’oka, followed closely by lightning. The children were jolted to running into their individual huts and barred the doors which they wouldn’t open to knocks. Master and man, devoid of a shelter, stood with hats over their heads under a pine tree.
As it turned into a storm, dark one moment and light another, the men spied, brightly shining to the observers’ eyes amongst the clouds hanging low to envelop the gushing waves, no less than a white dragon, giving out sparkles of light, disturbing the waves, and flying away to the south. After a while, rain stopped and clouds cleared. The sun had set but its shadows still remained to colour the waves. Droplets crawling on the pine tree branches splashed into pearls in a sea breeze and rolled amongst pebbles. The mountains grew distant, with the green deepened and blue rocks still wet. It was a sight to behold but was not enough to lift the men’s spirits. When Ujimoto was wiping splashes of rain off Yoshizane’s clothes and impatiently waiting for Sadayuki, Yoshizane pointed towards the surface of the seawater.
“ Ujimoto, did you not see the white dragon rise from around those rocks? When it rained hard and clouds descended on the wild waves just now?”
Ujimoto straightened himself and answered,
“I could not discern whether it was a dragon for certain, sir, but I did recognise something like scales sparkling, which I thought belonged to the strange creature’s thighs.”
Yoshizane nodded to this.
“That is the thing. I saw only the tail and legs. I truly wish I had caught a sight of the whole body. Dragons belong to the realm of gods. They take many forms. An old saying goes that dragons wait for the first day of the summer to split the heaven and send rain. This is called Splitting Dragon. It’s that time now. That is the spirit of the dragon, so it appears near you or hides deep inside things.
“The dragon is the lord of scaled worms. The Duke of Zhou is said to have compared dragons to saints. However, dragons have desire unlike saints. This is why they can be kept, ridden, or killed, though no one knows how anymore.
“In Buddhism there is a dragon king mantra, which you read first if you pray for rain. In Book of Devadatta in Lotus Sutra, there is a story of an eight-year old dragon girl achieving enlightenment. Some say benevolence is an expedient; others say the sutra produce an effect and call the dragon a rain maker or master of rain.
“As for its figure, its horns look like those of a deer, its head like a camel’s, eyes like a devil’s, neck like a snake’s, stomach like a serpent’s, scales like a fish’s, claws like a hawk’s, paws like a tiger’s, ears like a bull’s; this is called ‘ three-lengths and nine-likenesses’. It holds the gem ball in its jaws and listens with its horns. A spot of one foot long below its throat is called an inverted scale and if touched it never fails to anger the dragon. This is why the anger of the emperor is called ‘inverted scale’.
“They rise to the heaven on spring equinox; they enter waterfall lakes on autumn equinox. In summer they shake their scales in clouds because they enjoy the season. In winter they dive into mud, curls up, and wouldn’t come out so as to avoid perils.
“Dragons are amorous and would associate themselves with anything. With cows they will breed Kirin, with boars elephants, with horses dragon horses.
“Now the white dragon flew to the South. White is the colour of the Genji Clan, and in the South lies Awa-Kazusa at the far end of the emperor’s land. I saw the tail but not the head, because I will merely own that piece of land. You saw its thigh, because your loyalty is like an arm and a leg to me. Would you agree?”
Ujimoto was deeply impressed.
“There are many who pride themselves with a foot soldier’s courage despite being born to samurai’s families, and it is even harder to find those who are conversant with war tactics nowadays. When ever did you read all those books many men won’t at your age, my lord? You are a born-wise, good captain appointed by heaven. Only now I can confess to you, sir, how dismayed I was to survive at Yuki Castle. What a contrast it is that this day I celebrate my life with happiness that cannot be compared to anything else!
“We are with such promise and yet, as the sun has set, are we to spend the night at the port we have no business with? I am here to accompany you to Awa, sir, but with no boats. Just as one is awaiting for the moon on a clear night, one only feels extremely irritated. Water travel is such an impossible business.
“O but how suspicious it is that even now Sadayuki has not caught up with us. The rich attract strangers while even wife and children desert the poor. Since sincerity has no permanence, I am uncertain whether he has run away.”
Ujimoto knitted his brows.
“Don’t be so doubtful, Ujimoto. Amongst many men young and old, he and you were chosen to accompany me by my dear father for your extraordinary characters, were you not? I myself know Sadayuki for what he really is. He is not one to desert his master nor run and hide in peril. Let’s wait here a little longer. The moon is about to rise.”
With these comforting words from a kind heart, master and man with their hands over their brows looked over the large expanse of the sea, from which the eighteenth-day moon had risen and is now layered with golden gem stones of waves as if it were the undersea palace of the dragon king, said to be full of gold and gems. In spite of themselves they walked over to the water’s edge together.
At this moment, a skiff rowed out from the direction of a promontory. While wondering if it was approaching hither, it gained on them swiftly like a shot arrow, and whether the sculler knew it or not, an unknown voice was heard from within the vessel, singing an old song.
“If for her lover,
A dragon princess’d call in
Even a humble beach hut
With its roof worn and fraying.”
When the boat reached the shore, the man threw a mooring rope into the sand and climbed out easily and revealed himself as Sadayuki.
The two men lead the way with questioning eyes to sit down at the root of the tree they were sitting at previously. Once there Sadayuki raked together some fallen leaves to drop his knee on and said,
“Ever since I entered Sagami earlier, I heard distantly that sea crossing here would be difficult, so I took a short cut to run ahead and seek passage but it was in vain. After a long walk I was finally able to rent a fishing boat at the promontory, but it came to me that you must be starved, so I had them cook some rice for us. Meanwhile it turned stormy, forcing me to waste the day willy-nilly and delaying me as you see. You must have been puzzled without knowing all these circumstances.”
Even before he finished, Yoshisane was simply amazed.
“I might have guessed. Ujimoto here, let alone myself, never gave a thought there wouldn’t be boats around here. If it weren’t for Sadayuki, how were we to cross to Awa tonight? What admirable competence!”
Ujimoto wiped his own forehead and confessed with an embarrassed smile,
“There is no accounting the way people vary in their wisdom. I dare say Master Sadayuki, suspicion creeps in at a time like this. I’ve been speaking ill of you till just now, you who are thoroughly wise.”
Sadayuki guffawed at this. Like two peas in a pod, true worriers’ company should be thus. Yoshisane was drawn into laughter with them. He faced Sadayuki and said,
“While we were held up here waiting for you, we were gifted with a fistful of mud, and saw a good omen of a white dragon. I’ll tell you about it in the boat.”
Hearing this, the sculler raised his hand and beckoned,
“Now the moon is good, the wind is right! Come onboard quickly.”
As the three men stepped in, the simple little boat swayed, and the sculler pulled in the mooring rope and grabbed hold of the sculls to row off to Awa.
 Although there have been several female Emperors in Japan’s history, all the Emperors named in this story are male.
 He could be 16 or 17 in the modern count. See notes.
 It was supposed to be a shameful act for Samurai to renounce his cast and leave the secular life.
 Proceeding this period, the Imperial House was temporarily divided in two (North and South ) and fought for some time during Muromachi Period, not unlike in War of the Roses. The war involved many lords and lasted for 57 years, which was called North and South Era, after which the North House settled on the throne in Kyoto.
 Li is a measurement of distance equivalent to 2.44 miles or 3.927 kilometres.
 He could be twelve in the modern count. See notes.
 Yoshizane is associated with the Genji Clan.
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