Assassins shoot arrows to slay the white horse
Evil vassal robs two counties and leans on the red gate
In the first place, Awa was the Southern most part of the Province of Fusa. In the ancient days there was no distinction between Upper and Lower, but it was later divided and each named Kadzusa (Upper Fusa) and Shimofusa (Lower Fusa). The land was expansive with many mulberry trees, suited for silk production. Because of this, they submitted tufts of silk for tallage, hence it was called Fusa (tuft). As the South end was sparsely populated, people from Awa (阿波) in Nankai-do region were brought to live here, thus it came to be called Awa (安房) Province. Here is the port of Awa mentioned in the chapter on Emperor Keiko in The Chronicles of Japan.
Awa merely has four counties: Hekuri, Nagasa, Awa, and Asahina. In the old days of Nin’an-Jisho Eras, when the Taira clan was at its height, there were three samurais. These were Maro Goro Nobutoshi, Anzai Saubro Kagemori, and Tojo Shichiro Akinori, as mentioned in ‘Azuma-Kagami’, or Mirror of the East. In the eighth month, Autumn, Jisho 3, when Lord Minamoto no Yoritomo (Yoritomo of Minamoto) lost the Battle of Ishibashi-yama and escaped to Awa, these three warriors were the first to follow him and show him their devotion, with Anzai guiding them and Maro and Tojo providing food, hence, after the Genji unification they were rewarded with the four counties of Awa, which were inherited by generations of their descendants and were still kept hold of even in the era of Hojo and then of Ashikaga. Kagemori’s twelfth generation son, Anzai Saburo Taihu Kagetsura resided in the castle in Tateyama in the County of Awa. Nobutoshi’s descendent, Maro no Kogoro Byouye Nobutoki was in Hiratate Castle in Asahina Coutny, while Jin’yo Nagasa-no-suke Mitsuhiro who was related to Tojo of Nagasa County also took over Takita in Heguri down the generations from Akinori.
Even though all of them come from ancient families, Jin’yo, put together with Tojo’s land, owned half of Awa Province, had both Counties Nagasa and Heguri under control and had many men and followers. He was short of nothing, let alone man and horse power, thus called himself lord of the province with Anzai and Maro under his wings.
Mitsuhiro however was an arrogant philander, drank no end of sake and had many a concubine, among whom one called Tamazusa was his favourite and he even sought her opinions on matters public and private, as a result of which even the sinned were rewarded as long as they bribed Tamazusa, while the meritorious were not taken up without fawning on her. This disrupted order of the house, made good servicemen leave and guileful ones shine.
Yamashita Sakuza’emon Sadakane – in courtesy of Tateyama City Municipal Museum
One such man was Yamashita Sakuza’emon Sadakane. He did not in character nor appearance resemble his diseased father, an unremarkable stable carer in Aohama ; Sadakane was fair-skinned with shapely eyebrows, a high-ridged nose and red lips, and was soft-spoken. Hearing this reputation Mitsuhiro summoned him to be his varlet. Indeed networking through lust for women is a prerequisite for the guileful. Sakuza’emon Sadakane was quite a character; he was modest to his superiors and cunning with his subordinates for his own benefits and from the start had no shame in fawning on Tamazusa. He would give her anything to her taste however expensive it was and thus was gradually been promoted. His sweet words were pleasant to his master. He would organise parties, encourage pleasure seeking, and even committed adultery with Tamazusa. His behaviour was shameless but Mitsuhiro would not see through any of this and placed him above senior retainers in dealing with every personnel matter big or small, so that the power now solely lay in Sadakane’s hands and the head was merely an existence in form. Thus those noble at heart dared not criticise their master and scarced themselves while power seekers were only too happy to oblige and pick a spec of dust off Sadakane’s moustache. They would form an alliance to ward off criticisms, revise laws for their own benefit to enforce heavier taxes and corvées on their people and ignored their resentment. Indeed this Sadakane was Jin’yo’s gold eater eating off their wealth. Because he would ride his white horse whenever he goes to work, some would glare at them on their way, many others would secretly call him his highness the white man-eater and keep clear of their sight.
Now here was a farm worker called Somaki Bokuhei in Aoko Village near Takita. As expected of a warring age, he was not only well-versed in swordsmanship and martial arts but was strong in body, brave in mind and nothing short of death would stop him. As he was a man of honour, in this turmoil in the Jin’yo household and folk’s distress, seeing that it was all Yamashita Sakuza’emon’s doing he could not watch it any longer and in discretion invited a friend like-minded and of matching physical strengths called Suzaki no Mukuzo and asked,
“What do you say, Mukuzo. His highness the white man-eater abuses power, oppresses people, does more harm to our farm land than leafhoppers do, and kills the innocent just like a plague deity. If that ogre won’t change his ways how on earth could you and me feed our wives and children? We abide the terrible laws only for our dear life but what laws or curses should we be afraid of if we keep on being robbed, starved and left cold year after year? Wouldn’t it feel just magnificent if the two of us throw our lives and do away with the man-eating horse to rid many people of their torment?”
Bokuhei (standing on the right) and Mukuzo (kneeling on the left) courtesy of 『八犬傳銘々誌畧』 －解題と翻刻－ by Takagi Gen (高木 元)
Mukuzo nodded to this with no arguments and whispered,
“Well said my brave friend. It’s not that I haven’t thought of it myself, but that ogre keeps tens of guards around whenever he goes about – even more men than the lord of the province himself; if you acted on it heedlessly, you could be leaping before looking. Those who smile may slice. You never know who to trust and thus I’ve kept silent until this day. To my surprise you’ve disclosed the secrets in your heart and we now share the same intentions. This is superior to getting a hand from a crowd. Having said that, we’d be dying for nothing if we made careless moves. My idea is that we may stand a chance to accomplish it if we wait for him to go on an incognito outing accompanied by a few, but what would you say?”
Bokuhei was overjoyed to hear this. In that case you do this and I’ll do that, the two met and exchanged further words in confidence.
Indeed Yang Zhen’s four wisdoms are to be remembered. In this time and age when the walls have ears, someone who acquired the intelligence reported to Sakuza’emon Sadakane. He looked unperturbed at this report and was about to call for a squad of soldiers to apprehend those Bokuhei and Mukuzo, but as a thought of another scheme occurred to him, he acted as if he had known nothing of this matter from the start, increased the number of guards and stopped going out day or night. While Sadakane made sure of keeping himself away from harm’s way, his master Nagasa-no-suke Mitsuhiro indulged himself in pleasure of long nights and developed illness by the day and by the month. Now that no fine wine nor delicacies tasted sweet to him and no sweet voice nor melodies pleased him, he felt no different from Qin Shi Huang who sought elixir of life in Mt. Horai (Mt. Penglai) and asked anti-aging methods of shamans.
When Mitsuhiro would sleep on Tamazusa’s lap and not come out of his bed canopies, Sadakane took up the opportunity and one day offered to his master,
“My dear lord, with summer already approaching, young leaves are so lovely, and pheasants in Ochiba-nawate and skylarks in Awomugi Village are flocking in numbers as if to claim the land. Resting all alone will only make your illness worse. Letting our dogs run and hawks fly would be a good remedy for you sir. Please kindly allow me to accompany you. Would you at least consider it my lord?”
Listening to him cajoling his master, Tamazusa became amused and started coaxing him along with Sadakane, so that Mitsuhiro gradually rose up and said,
“I have been feeling so weary that I have not been out of the castle for quite a while now. As your suggestion appears to me to be what they call the good medicine which tastes bitter, I am going to hunt early in the morning. Announce this to the public and get them to prepare for it.”
Sadakane held his fan as if he were holding a sceptre and said,
“With all due respect my lord, not only the frequent public affairs in recent years have heavily taxed and tired our people, it is also the time for ploughing and sowing for them. Might I humbly suggest travelling incognito and allowing me to arrange everything for you whilst on the road? This way the peasants shall not be disturbed of their farm work, and when they learn of it afterwards they will admire you for being so magnanimous. I dare say you are of course aware sir that this is a way to utilize people.”
Greatly impressed by his clever words, Mitsuhiro replied,
“What you said stands to reason. Indeed that is how any ruler should be. Very well. I will leave it in your hand.”
Thus Mitsuhiro had only eight to nine varlets such as Nako no Shichiro and Amatsu no Hyohnai to get ready to escort; accompanied by a reduced number of beaters and guards he quietly rode out on a dapple grey horse with his dogs on leashes and hawks perched.
Because Yamashita Sakuza’emon Sadakane had a plot in mind, soon after he left the castle the previous day he urgently summoned the village heads of Ochiba and Aomugi and told them with an austere air,
“Since I happened to be blessed with a day off I’m thinking of visiting such and such to enjoy falconry. Let this be known to everyone.”
The heads went back running and assembled peasants and ordered them around to clean the road until the trails of the brooms became visible on the earth. Somaki no Bokuhei and Mukuzo sectretly smiled to themselves,
“Finally the opportunity is come and tomorrow is the day our cause will be served for certain.”
Dressed as beaters and equipped with bows and arrows the two ran out and hid themselves in a hill deep in lush summer growth in north-east Ochiba-nawate and waited behind an old pine tree for Sadakane to approach since some time past two the next morning.
Because the summer night is brief and short-lived, at around the time when roosters declare the sun rise Nagasa-no-suke Mitsuhiro, in dear skin leg-protectors and with his face deep in the hunting hat, left Takita Castle with beaters in the lead and flanked by eight or nine attendants including Nako and Amatsu, with Yamashita Sakuza’emon Sadakane following him on the usual white horse with plenty of officers and soldiers under the pretence of contingency.
Exactly as he had planned, as if the grooms had been involved in it and had fed Mitsuhiro’s horse poisoned hay in the morning, after a little over 10 chou (approximately 1.1km or 0.7miles) the stallion suddenly fell ill and would not respond to a tap. It directly folded its front legs and lay flat so that the rider nearly tumbled too and was held up by the alarmed Nako no Shichiro and Amatsu no Hyohnai, who yelled for a replacement horse. The attendants, even more agitated, reported the following team of the happening and Sakuza’emon Sadakane came running with his crop thrashing, dismounted in a flash and said to Mitsuhiro,
“Because we are travelling incognito we’re not well-prepared; it’ll waste too much time if you wait for a replacement. Here is my own horse which I have tamed for years and which offers a wonderfully comfortable saddle. Please would you care for it sir.”
As Sadakane brought the bridle close to him, Mitsuhiro felt all fine again and left the stool they set up for him.
“In that case I’ll take up your offer. You rest here and catch up on my replacement. Gentlemen, let us hurry.”
Soon as he uttered these words Mitsuhiro placed his hand on the saddle and straddled the horse, whose tail fluttered in the gusts of wind at the crack of dawn, in the windy field where the deutzia flowers turned white just as the eastern sky did as they approached Ochiba-nawate of their terminal destination.
Both of the accompanying men Nako and Amatsu were the only ones among them who would not worship the ground Yamashita walked and were steadfastly loyal. As if they had a certain plan, they instructed the beaters and abruptly changed direction towards Aomugi Village. Mitsuhiro became suspicious and raved,
“Where on earth are you two leading us? We are hunting in Ochiba-nawate today. Are you being too idle to stay awake these days?”
Shichiro and Hyohnai on both sides of him whispered in concert,
“My lord. Would you be aware sir. Your horse falling ill with no warning is no good sign. The Kanji for Ochiba (落羽) also reading as falling off a horse (落馬) feels too ominous too. Adding to this, in this time and age when Muromachi Shogun has somewhat lost his sovereignty and there is no end of bloodshed, even though Awa is fortunately untouched due to it being located at the furthest south-east end, you cannot be absolutely certain that there is no one ambitious in our land. To travel incognito in these circumstances is perilous enough, but how would you deal with immediate problems if you sir would not avoid adversity, not be cautious of woes, and not plan for far future? This is why I made the sudden change of plans.”
At this Mitsuhiro sneered.
“You two sound like maidens. All living things eventually die. What is the matter with a fallen horse? You reading Ochiba as falling off a horse makes it loathsome. Ochiba means falling birds and signifies game aplenty. Proceed that way.”
As their master rattled the stirrups and hastened the horse’s steps, the two attendants had no choice but to have their men usher amongst the summer grass along the path between rice fields just as before. Thus they reached a hill called Ohiba-ga-oka by Ochiba-nawate, and there Somaki no Bokuhei and Susaki no Mukuzo who had been in the hiding since early hours cast a sharp eye at them through gap of the trees.
“The rider of the white horse cannot be none other than Yamashita Sakuza’emon Sadakane. Swiftly now.”
They fitted an arrow each to the bow laid on the ground, drew tightly, as they approached the bowshot marked a pair of targets and sent it swishing at each of them. Missing not an inch, the first arrow shot Mitsuhiro in the chest and he plummeted backwards without even a sound escaping from his mouth, which sight startled Amatsu Hyohnai, who took the second arrow in the throat and fell in the same spot.
“Gentlemen, we are under attack!”
Someone shouted, but the guards only panicked and made noises and not knowing the number of their enemy wouldn’t even try to capture them. Nako no Shichiro flashed an angry glint in his eyes and bawled out at them,
“You pitiful people. You have just had your master shot right before your eyes and what are you hesitating for? Despite the thick growth of the trees, the hill’s only a few cho in width (a few hundred metres/yards). Slash the trees and cut away the grass. Don’t stop till you find them.”
Even before he finished his words he drew a sword and cut off the saddle flap of the horse without the rider. This he used as a shield over his head and ran up the hill. Encouraged by the sight the men moved forward to be the first to bring down the invisible enemy.
“Do not allow them to come close.”
Upon seeing this Bokuhei and Mukuzo revealed themselves from behind the trees and started shooting with not a moment’s rest, so a few over ten of the beaters on the front line were shot down in an instant. Nonetheless the two friends have now run out of arrows, threw away the bows, drew out great swords and held them upright to hack and slash. The overbearing power unnerved the servants and most of them scattered away. Whilst the remaining seven or eight attendants fought shoulder to shoulder, as some stumbled over tree stumps and others were caught by wisteria vines and wallowed on the unfamiliar hillside, none was left unscathed.
Bokuhei and Mukuzo against Nako no Shichiro – in courtesy of Tateyama City Municipal Museum
Meanwhile Nako no Shichiro, planning to first tire him out and before long lure him out to the flat land, fought one moment and ran another, so Mukuzo in the lead with Bokuhei at his heel chased him down the hill despite themselves. Shichiro sharply looked back and hurled in a flash a rock which cut open Mukuzo’s forehead. Nako came up sprinting from the right towards Mukuzo, who was dizzied and staggering, and slit Mukuzo’s shoulder deep into his chest. While Shichiro stepped on the fallen back of the wounded man, severed the head off him and was about to stand up, Bokuhei sprinted down like a gliding bird with a blooded sword in hand and sliced off Shichiro’s right arm. Bokuhei then knocked down the flinching Shichiro and his sword stabbed him twice or thrice more, with blood trickling down it and quenching the thirst when the quivering bowstring was heard in the trees in front and an unknown man’s arrow shot Bokuhei’s thigh and nearly knocked him down. As he held himself up on his knee, grabbed the arrow shaft and pulled it off, the deafening battle cry echoed in the valley and tens of policing officers flocked around him.
*************This is not the end of Bokuhei nor of Episode II but I’ve run out of my time. It will continue next month.**************
 A red gate symbolises an affluent household.
 It is present day Tokushima in Shikoku
 These two Awa’s are spelt with different Kanji.
 The book chronicles the first generations of Kamakura Shogunate. The East here refers to East Japan including Kamakura.
 Genji is another way to refer to the Minamoto clan as the kanji for Minamoto (源) also reads as Gen.
 The Kanji character ‘boku (朴)’ in his name means plainness or straightforwardness. Likewise, his friend Mukuzo has characters (無垢) which mean purity or naivety.
 It refers to a story of Yang Zhen in ancient China who refused to be bribed. When the briber suggested no one would know Yang Zhen famously said, “Heaven knows, earth knows, you know and I know”.
 Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China.
 Nawate means either footpaths between rice-fields or rope, perhaps suggestive of the tying of the captured.
 1chou is approximately 109m.
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