Prologue: The Origin – The Prince, the Princess, and the Dog 5-4 (End of Episode 5)

Episode V-iv

Good captain declines intrigues and enlistees learn benevolence

Carrier pigeons deliver a message and the traitors offer a head

Hachiman, the god of war and protector of Genji, whome Yoshizane worshipped on the way to Takita Castle, fighting the devil in a Kagura performance, courtesy of Iwami Tourism Promotion Committee (石見観光振興協議会)


Yoshizane’s plan of using carrier pigeons worked and the birds successfully dropped near the soldiers’ quarters copies of letter to persuade the farmer recruits to rebel against Sadakane. Now it’s up to the men in the castle.


The farmer recruits happily exclaimed upon reading this.

“That prince is a benevolent ruler. He’s captured Tojo Castle without bloodshed[1], and now he cares for us like this. It’s not that I didn’t adore his very name upon hearing it, but having been enlisted into the castle out of the blue and enclosed with walls after walls, there wasn’t a way to come to him. Even if I could travel over the walls and moats to get there, I shouldn’t be pardoned now. Or so I’ve thought and kept silent.

“If we wasted time keeping a lookout for a chance to secretly communicate with them, sooner or later it’ll come out and we’ll all be massacred before we show ourselves up over there. What if we swiftly make up our minds, set fire to the tower to attract the enemy with billowing smoke, kill the man-eating horse in the midst of confusion, and offer the head as a gift for an audience? For one thing it’ll let us get even for all the pains we’ve been through these years. For another I reckon it’ll delight Prince Yoshizane. Now then.”

Thus some of them had convened in secrecy and already agreed on. Yet others were apprehensive and whispered,

“Their principal Sabitsuka Ikunai has died in service, but that Iwakuma Donpei has mostly recovered from his wounds and is guarding the second gate. He was a stable carer in our last lord Jin’yo Mitsuhiro’s prime but was tough in mind and powerfully built. He was gradually promoted after Sadakane’s occupation of the two counties. His cunning is as good as his master’s when he exploits his people for gains as if pressing oil out of them.

“That Tsumadate Togorou has been the top attendant who’s been in service to Sadakane since before he grew a top knot[2]. Excellent in martial arts and an accomplished talent, he still hasn’t left his master’s side. It’ll be difficult to fulfill our long-cherished desire without defeating these two, because they have a big gang under their wings, who will try to block us even if we get as far as to the main tower to break into. What say you to this?”

“Very good point sir.”

Everyone agreed.

“In that case get the two of them and remove their men first. Then show us what you can do.”

They then assigned them to different roles.

The next day, Tsumadate Togorou picked up a copy of the same letter which shocked him out of his wits and made him rush out to Iwakuma Donpei’s post at the second gate in a flustered state even before he finished reading it.
“Something like such and such happened! Unless we report this immeditately, arrest the farmers and avoid calamity, this’ll lead to a serious matter. Just have a look.”

He took out a copy of the letter from his inside pocket, unfolded and placed it in plain view. Donpei didn’t even need to examine it.

“I too have just come across a copy of the same letter to my alarm. It’s right here.”

He took it out and compared the two, only to find them to be exactly alike word by word. Togorou sighed deeply despite himself.

“If the enemy’s espionage works out and there’re rebellious ones among us, this castle can’t last long. We can’t afford to overlook this. Come on. Let us report this together.”

Togorou was about to stand up even before finishing his sentence, when Donpei pulled his sleeve to stop him.

“Hold it there Master Togorou[3]. There’s something you need to understand.”

He sat Togorou by his side for no apparent reason. There was no one around in sight but he still turned his head left and right several times before covering his mouth with a fan and pressed his chin close to Togorou’s ear as if he had been a pecking bird.

“Ever since I got this secret letter I’ve been paying attention everywhere, but there’s none aside you and me right here who doesn’t aspire to our enemy enough to offer them this castle. Everyone has agreed to take the two of us and carry out the plan, my source informed me.

When a great tower collapses how can a single piece of wood support it? If we do justice half-heartedly and die at the hands of mere commoners wouldn’t it be a terrible shame? If we make our minds up fast and stab Sadakane to death and surrender to Mr Satomi together with the folk in the fort, we’ll not just appease their resentment and avoid death but keep as much reward as we want to ourselves which will be passed down our family lines. What’s in your heart Master Togorou?”

The question astounded him.

“What are you out of your mind? You sir were a mere stable carer when you served the Jin’yo but my lord took you up and gave you important assignments did he not, alongside Sabitsuka and Shietage, who were previously Lord Mitsuhiro’s senior retainers? You used to be our lord Sadakane’s footman. You’ve been well taken care of ever since you served the Jin’yo. If you forget such favours that you’re indebted to and return them with a disservice, what qualifies you as a human?

“Sparing your own life doesn’t make you valorlous. Disobeying your lord is an act of treason. Speak up for yourself right this moment! You shall stay seated as you are.”

Togorou furiously shouted getting up on his knee and laying a hand on the hilt of his katana, but Donpei remained unruffled and sneered at him.

“Loyalty chooses its master. What foolishness you’re speaking! Slaying Sadakane now means avenging for our previous lord. It cannot be called treason.

“You’re not aware that Sadakane hatched an extensive plot and exploited Bokuhei and Mukuzo so he could kill his lord. I’ve never divulged this to anyone before. On that cloudy morning in Ochiba-ga-oka where it was chilly despite the summer, it was not the skylark hunted by a hawk that fell; it was the skylark-coloured horse Mitsuhiro was riding[4]. Sadakane offered his own white horse and retired from hunting so that Bokuhei and Mukuzo would see the horse from the distance and shoot him.

“On the previous day Sadakane pulled me aside and told me of his secret plan and to poison the horse in return for promotion. He also gave me plenty of allowances for the time being. I did think it was wrong, but after all he was a senior retainer and I was a mere underling. What could I have done? If I’d said no he’d have killed me. Life is dearer than anything else so I agreed to kill the horse.

“This makes it that it was me who earned Sadakane the two counties and the two castles. Even if he sets me just below his senior retainers and gives me important assignments for reward, it’s no favours I owe him. It used to be only Shietage and Sabitsuka that knew about this but they’re now in the hereafter. Now it’s just you.

“Not only that but you, Master Togorou, have been harbouring a crush on his lady I’ve surmised. In which case, if you quickly make up your mind and get Sadakane, you could easily ask for Tamazusa as your prize. Are you still not taking my side?”

Donpei’s persistent persuasion started to take effect. Suddenly, releasing the hands he was wringing, Togorou tapped his own lap.

“You are absolutely right. To wash the dirt off my body that’s been serving the traitor, I should heed such advice as yours that focuses on justice in the big scheme of things while ignoring minor causes. Let us make haste.”

Togorou’s utmost approval thoroughly pleased Donpei.

“In that case let’s do this and that.”

They took turns to whisper incessantly into each other’s ear.

Meanwhile Yamashita Sadakane, not yet having sobered up from his hangover, hadn’t come out of the drawing room. Leaning on the master pillar[5] behind the half rolled-up bamboo screens and being waited on by young maids sitting by his sides, he was busy playing the shakuhachi flute as his whim took him in the hope of relieving incurable boredom.

This was when Iwakuma Donpei, with Tsumadate Togorou in the lead, threw open the shoji-screen doors to a room afer another as he approached his master, shouting,

“Trouble’s afoot!”

Under their order some tens of infantry men, clad in light armour and armed with firearms, had followed them shortly and hid themselves behind the Koshi-shoji panels   [6]   on which birds and flowers were painted, and were now peeking over. Sadakane stopped playing the flute at the commotion.

“Whatever’s the matter?”

This gave the two a cue to raise their voice.

“Sins of forebears must be paid by their children[7]. Once the folk in the castle have all rebelled and invited the enemy in there’ll be no way for our downfall to change its course. Make your own end sir. We’ll assist you.”

Togorow directly moved forward, flashed out his katana and lashed at him with it.


Sadakane thwacked it with the flute, sending its top half to shoot away as it received a diagonal cut. Missing him with his first move, Togorou fretted as he faced his master. Now he was trembling too much to move any further. Sadakane glared fiercely.

“I see you fools have plotted a rebellion and come after me.”

As he raged and tried to stand up Togorou and Donpei made slashing every inch of the space at him. Sadakane ducked and crawled, and then slipped and flashed the sharp-edged flute like a teyari (click to see photo) , but carrying no amount of steel blades on him, he was compelled to leap backwards and throw the flute-shuriken. It stabbed Togorou in the right arm and made him cry out in pain, drop his sword and tumble backwards. Sadakane took the chance and rushed to pick up the weapon, when Donpei’s Tachi sword glinted behind and severely struck him point downward between the base of the neck and the temple. With no time to pick up the sword as Donpei was coming back at him, Sadakane knocked his hilt off to engage in a grapple. While they fought on rolling over and over, however, Sadakane was sapped of strength by the serious wound and was finally pinned down under the knees and started to call out for help.



Donpei and Togorou against Sadakane in a small sitting room; courtesy of National Diet Library Digital Collection



Donpei, with the intention of cutting his head off, searched his own waist but his Wakizashi sword had been lost in the scuffle; it was lying on the floor at a distance behind him. In a moment of bewilderment he looked back to see to his right, conveniently, the flute stuck in Tsumadate Togorou. He wrenched it off and drove it through Sadakane’s throat as he was trying to jump back up. With the bamboo piece pulled off Togorou instantly came to, sprang up and took in the situation. He picked up the dropped sword and handed it over to Iwakuma who severed Sadakane’s head and stood up.

Now all those soldiers coerced by Donpei and his associate had come as far as to the next room but were too cautious to join in while they were unable to weigh up the situation. When finally Sadakane had been defeated, they hurriedly beat every screen door and raised their battle cry.

In the meantime, those young maids previously waiting on each side of their master fled panic-stricken through the garden gate and reported it to anyone along the way, so some of Sadakane’s attendants manning the guardhouse had gathered by the end of the scuffle only to be detained, with the majority ending up being killed. Donpei gave orders to capture every one of the now crying and screaming court ladies including Tamazusa. After he robbed them of all their gems and gold as much as he pleased he shot out[8].




[1] As far as we can see, the letter to the farmers doesn’t mention anything about Tojo’s peaceful surrender, which means the farmers must have learnt of the news a lot earlier than Sadakane did. Did Bakin get confused here? My take is it’d only be natural considering how fast news actually travels and how these people must have maintained regular traffic between the neighbours. For example I recently came across a description of the delivery survices, both public and personal, in Edo period but they were highly developed to the extent that I had to keep reminding myself it was not about the modern eras.

[2] The original text says ‘総角の比よりして (since the time of Agemaki)’. Agemaki (click to see a Wikipedia page in Japanese with a photo)  was a hairstyle for children before they would start tying a top knot like a grownup in an initiation ceremony.

[3] The original text says ‘Tsumadate-uji(妻立生)’. Uji (pronounced a bit like ooji) was used after a surname as a title to someone younger among samurai in the early modern period but here it has to be replaced with his forename because it fits better with its English equivalent Master. So that’s a little victory of semantics over surface structures  I guess. Phew.

[4] The skylark-coloured horse is usually called the buckskin horse in English. I chose the literal translation to keep the effect of the original text that creates a vivid and sinister image: while Mitsuhiro thought he was hunting skylarks, it was him who was being hunted all along. Here’s the other translation I discarded: ‘like a deer hunted by wolves, the buckskin horse Mitsuhiro was riding fell’

[5] The original word for this is ‘motale-bashira (もたれ柱)’ which means a pillar to lean on. Old manshions used to have one of these for the master to lean on on occasons.

[6] Koshi (waist)-shoji is a type of shoji screens with wood panels set in the lower part.   Wikipedia page on shoji (障子)

[7] The maxim comes out of another Chinese classic ‘The I Ching’.

[8] I’ve excluded a paragraph along with Bakin’s note originally inserted as a part of the main text here. It reads like this: In the olden China Emperor Guangwu of Han bestowed Shimitsu (子密 – I could not find his original Chinese reading) the title of Lord Disloyal for his service of offering his own lord’s head (Shimitsu was originally a man-servant to the lord he betrayed). It is better to end up being no one without being disloyal than receiving such a title as this. The author always gives out a big sigh whenever he reads this in history books and war chronicles so he adds a note for young readers. Yamashita Sadakane’s incidents are recorded in military chronicles and old records. There is not too much detail but enough to know he was a crook who harmed his lord Jin’yo. You can still find the relics over there but I would rather not prattle. It shall be mentioned in a later episode.




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