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   Chapter 1 NIPPON DENJI

The Way of the Gods By John Luther Long Characters: 6569

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Now, the first of these five great occasions was that day Shijiro was accepted in the haughty Imperial Guards, most of whom had genealogies which would best impress us by the yards of illuminated mulberry paper they covered. Arisuga had many of such yards himself. That was not a question. But his inches raised many questions. The Guards were tall. Shijiro Arisuga was small. Though he was a samurai of the samurai, his ancestors kugé, it seemed impossible to admit him until Colonel Zanzi spoke.

"He is a samurai," said Zanzi, gruffly. "Of course all Japanese fight. But the rest, the commoners, are new to it. It is possible in a pinch for them to run away. It happened once to my knowledge. But a samurai goes only in the one direction when he is before an enemy. You all know what direction that is. The commoner may be as good as the samurai in a century. But the samurai is always dependable now. I wish the whole of the Guards were shizoku. His uncles, the Shijiro of Aidzu, though they were shiro men at Kyoto, and so against the emperor, in that old time, were, nevertheless, kugé by rank. I do not see how we can keep him out of the Guards. I don't want to, whether he is tall or small."

Now Zanzi was an autocrat who constantly pretended that he was not. He had an iron temper which he nearly always concealed under courteous persistence, until his men understood what must be without his ever having precisely said that it must be. So, in this matter, he pretended to have left it to them. But he had decided upon Shijiro's final admission to the regiment, even though it was a time of peace, when one's qualifications were more strictly scanned than in time of war, simply because he was of the samurai, whom he adored.

"Nevertheless," warned Nijin, the recruiting major, "he is considerably below the physical standard."

"He is not the stuff for the Guards," alleged Yasuki.

And Matsumoto said:-

"I have heard him called 'Onna-Jin.'"

"Girl-Boy!" laughed Jokichi. "So have I."

"He used to carry a samisen about with him when he was a child-he and little Yoné, Baron Mutsu's daughter."

This came from Kitsushima, who added:-

"I have seen them at Mukojima, wandering under the cherry-boughs, hand in hand, and singing childish songs!"

"I have seen him doing that later, where the lanterns shine in Geisha street, and the little girl was not Yoné."

They all laughed. This was not seriously against him.

"Having settled it that he practises the art of music, I will surprise you with the information that he also pretends to the sister art of poesy," laughed Asami. "He is the author of 'The Great Death'!"


From half a dozen of them.

And they broke into the song: hoarse, iron, clanging, mongolian! Within the six notes of the old Japanese scale!

(Do not be surprised at this. The Japanese army is full of poets. Indeed, the Japanese land is full of them. They will spin you a complete comedy or tragedy between seventeen or thirty-seven syllables. And, to practise poetry is not there as here, heinous to one's friends. I know of a gunner who sat cross-legged under his gun behind Poutuloff and wrote a poem concerning The-Moon-in-a-Moat. It was finished as the Russians got his range and dropped a covey of shrapn

el upon him. After the smoke cleared they found him dead. And he is forgotten. But his poem was also found and lived on.)

This was "The Great Death" of Shijiro Arisuga.

"Yell of metal,

Strake of flame!

Death-wound spurting

In my face!

Hail Red Death!"

"Banzai!" cried Jokichi.

"Teikoku Banzai!" yelled Asami.

And, after the tumult, Yasuki, the reserved, himself said:-

"By Shaka, it is the very Yamato Damashii itself! The spirit of young Japan."

"Nippon Denji!" laughed jolly Kitsushima.

"Yes! The Boys in Blue-as they called them in America in 1864."

Matsumoto had been to Princeton. But the thought of war-giving his soul for his emperor-made him as mad as they who had never left their native soil.

"I take all back," cried Nijin, into the tumult.

"And I," yelled Yasuki, who had agreed with him.

"Let him in!" shrilled Matsumoto and Jokichi together. "If he can write songs-"

"And let him sing! Let him sing war-songs!" adjured Kitsushima!

Still, the happy Nijin, out of propriety of his office, as recruiting-major, pretended to wish to stem the current started by the song.

"One moment!" he cried.

But they laughed him down and again started the war-song.

"I will have a moment!"

"Take two!" shouted Jokichi.

"Singing and fighting are two very different occupations."

"No, they are precisely the same," laughed Kitsushima.

"I deny it!"

It was a fierce yell from Nijin, who was happiest, to pretend tremendous anger.

"I affirm it!" laughed Jokichi, into his face.

"Pretender!" cried Asami, shaking a happy fist at his superior.

Asami and Nijin stood with Zanzi for his admission.

Still, Nijin said in thunder:-

"Remember! poets never practise their preaching."

Nevertheless, if he had entered then, Arisuga would have been chosen, by acclaim, because of his song.

But enthusiasm cools rapidly, and these stoical orientals could be moved to enthusiasm by but this one thing-war.

So that after a month-two-it required another word from grizzled Zanzi, who had been in the war of the Restoration, to let Shijiro in.

"Jokoji!" That was the word. "His father is at Jokoji!"

And they demanded, and he told, the story of Jokoji-which, pardon me, I do not mean to tell. Save this little, so that you may understand, that it was that last terrible stand of Saigo behind the hills of Kagoshima, where the Shogunate perished and the empire was born again in 1868. And the shoguns you may care to know were that mighty line of feodal chieftains who had usurped the throne from the time of Yoritomo, to that of Keiki. For all these years the imperial power had rioted at Yedo, in the hands of two generals, while the emperor, a prisoner in his palace-hermitage in Kyoto, had been but the high priest of his people.

They are there yet, at Jokoji, to the last man, Saigo and his gallant rebels, in a great trench, without their heads, a warning to future rebels.

After that other word-Jokoji-Arisuga was chosen.

Observe that they finally took him because of his father-though he died a rebel. Indeed, those old insurgents, of 1868, are gradually being canonized with crimson death-names, because they neither knew dishonor, no, nor suffered it.


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