"The Tales of O-An", by the son of Yamada Kisuke (?)

When the children gathered and said, "O-An, tell us a tale of long ago," this is what she would say:

"My father was called Yamada Kyoreki, and he served under Vice Minister Ishida in Hikone, in Ōmi province. But later, during the Vice Minister's rebellion, he fled to Ōgaki castle in Mino, and we all went with him.

"Uncanny things happened in that castle. Night after night, in the ninth hour, we heard voices even though nobody was there. There were about thirty of them, male and female, groaning, 'General Tanaka... General Tanaka...' Then they would suddenly begin screaming and crying. Night after night. It was horrible, awful.

"Before long, a great force of soldiers sent by Lord Ieyasu arrived at the castle, and there was fighting night and day. The leader of that army was called General Tanaka.

"Whenever they fired the cannon, they would go around the castle warning people first. This was because firing the cannon made even the towers shake, and the ground seemed as though it were about to crack open. It was so dreadful that delicate women would faint on the spot, suffering dreadfully. So, they warned us in advance. After a warning, it felt like we were waiting for the rumble of thunder after seeing the lightning flash.

"At first, we were scared almost out of our minds. All we could think of was how awful and terrifying it all was. Eventually, though, we got used to it. We women and children, along with the servants' families and daughters, were all up in the highest tower casting bullets. We also had the job of putting tags on the heads our side took in battle, which were brought up to the tower, to remember who they were. Sometimes we would blacken their teeth, too. You see, in the olden days, a head with blackened teeth was a more impressive trophy, because that meant it came from someone of noble standing. So, we were told to apply toothblack to the heads whose teeth were white.

"Severed heads aren't so scary. We slept amid the stink of their blood.

"One day, the guns fired, and they said that today might be the day the very castle fell. Inside the castle there was chaos. Then, a man came, and said 'The enemies have retreated, to a man! Stop this nonsense at once! Quiet, be quiet!' -- and then a bullet came and hit my brother, who had just turned fourteen. He died in agony right where he fell. Oh, I saw some awful things.

"That day, a letter tied to an arrow arrived at my father's post. It said, 'Kyoreki: As Lord Ieyasu's old writing teacher, you will be allowed to escape the castle if you wish. Flee in any direction you please. You will meet no trouble on the road; all our men have been given orders to this effect.'

"The following day, everyone had lost hope. Sure that the castle would fall and that they too would be lost, the mood was grim.

"My father came to the tower in secret and told us to follow him. He took us to the north wall, which he propped a ladder against to climb, and then let us down on the outside using a rope. Next, we floated in a tub across the moat. In all, we were my two parents, myself, and four other adults. The rest of our servants and retainers were left behind.

"When we had walked five or six chō north of the castle, one of the women suddenly felt a pain in her belly and then gave birth to the baby she had been carrying. It was a girl. The adults gave the baby her first bath right there in the paddy water. After they were finished, the father wrapped it in his clothing, swung the mother over his shoulder, and fled to Aonogahara. Oh, how terrifying it was! But that was how the old days were. Namu Amida, namu Amida."

If the children demanded, "Tell us about Hikone," she would say:

"My father had a 300-koku fief, but in those days, there was so much fighting that nothing came easily. Of course, we had some savings and reserves, but most of the time we had nothing to eat but broth, morning or evening.

"Occasionally my brother went to the mountains to shoot his rifle. On those days, he would boil some nameshi in the morning, and take it for lunch as well. We were given nameshi too, so I was always encouraging him to go shooting again. When he did, I was so happy I could barely stand it.

"I had nothing to wear. When I was thirteen, I owned nothing but a single flower-dyed katabira. I had to wear it until it was seventeen, and my legs showed underneath it. It was dreadful. 'If only I had just one katabira that covered my legs,' I thought.

"This is how things were in the old days: nothing was easy. We never even dreamed of eating lunch, and when night fell, there was no supper either. Young people today, with their fancy clothes and free-spending ways and fussy palates... it's truly scandalous."

She used those Hikone stories to scold us so many times that the children eventually nicknamed her "Old Lady Hikone." Even now, when an old person starts talking about things being different in their day, the people call that "Hikone." That all started from O-An, which is why folk of other lands do not understand it. It is our local turn of phrase.

The Kyoreki O-An speaks of eventually went to live with family in Tosa, and [...] Rōnin [...] Tosa [...] Yamada Kisuke, later known as Yōya. O-An was married to Amenomori Giemon. After Giemon's death, she was supported by Yamada Kisuke, to whom she was an aunt. During Kanbun, she passed on, a frail woman of more than eighty years.

I, at that time, was eight or nine years old, and remember hearing these tales from time to time. Truly, the days and nights pass like arrows in flight. In Shōtoku, I gathered all of my own grandchildren together and told them these stories, trying to show them how the world degenerates by using these examples from the past, but my impertinent grandchildren simply sneered, "In the olden days O-An was Old Lady Hikone; now, you're Old Man Hikone. What are you trying to say? Times change!" It made me angry, but 'youths are to be regarded with respect.' How are we to know how they will turn out? Mocked by my grandchildren and their grandchildren, I told them these things as far as I was able. Beyond that, there was nothing to say but namu Amida, namu Amida.

This account is a commendably factual piece of writing. Its authorship is unclear, but it seems probable that Yamada wrote, it from memory. It is said that Tanaka Bunzaemon borrow [...] its original owner.

Kyōhō 15, Year of the Metal Dog. 3rd Month, 27th Day. Tanigaki Mamoru.

Background and discussion at the No-sword motherblog.

"Art falls in the dust", by Sakaguchi Ango

These days, all the movies and plays are cheap productions, thrown together overnight: culture is regressing back to the Meiji period, along with the darkened night streets. Mosquito coils don't down mosquitos. Cheap drugs that don't work. Matches that won't light. But all that is business. Art is different. Artists have principles; by living according to their conscience and solely for art's sake, unbending even to the wealthy and powerful, they have raised both the arts and themselves. Art is not a mosquito coil.

But a mosquito coil that doesn't work is exactly what today's Japanese culture is. It will do the most worthless things. The student plays of a few decades ago played to full houses, so theatre and cinema are nothing but Meiji political melodrama. The professional artist's conscience can eat shit and die. Our culture is a disaster, a hell.

And so, even if Japan wins the war, our cultural defeat is inevitable. American culture will flood into Japan as soon as the war ends, instantly relegating Japanese culture to the cheap seats. An artist without principles has nothing to cling to. No substitute can replace the soul of art.


『芸道地に堕つ』 (Geidō chi ni otsu), published November 1944, written by Sakaguchi Ango (坂口安吾), 1906-1955.

Aozora Bunko version entered by Utena (うてな) and proofread by noriko saito.