X. A CONSERVATIVE
Hi no iru kuni ni
Kite wa aredo,
Iro wa kawaraji.
He was born in a city of the interior, the seat of a daimyo of three hundred thousand koku, where no foreigner had ever been. The yashiki of his father, a samurai of high rank, stood within the outer fortifications surrounding the prince's castle. It was a spacious yashiki; and behind it and around it were landscape gardens, one of which contained a small shrine of the god of armies. Forty years ago there were many such homes. To artist eyes the few still remaining seem like fairy palaces, and their gardens like dreams of the Buddhist paradise.
But sons of samurai were severely disciplined in those days; and the one of whom I write had little time for dreaming. The period of caresses was made painfully brief for him. Even before he was invested with his first hakama, or trousers, - a great ceremony in that epoch, - he was weaned as far as possible from tender influence, and taught to check the natural impulses of childish affection. Little comrades would ask him mockingly, "Do you still need milk?" if they saw him walking out with his mother, although he might love her in the house as demonstratively as he pleased, during the hours he could pass by her side. These were not many. All inactive pleasures were severely restricted by his discipline; and even comforts, except during illness, were not allowed him. Almost from the time he could speak he was enjoined to consider duty the guiding motive of life, self-control the first requisite of conduct, pain and death matters of no consequence in the selfish sense.
There was a grimmer side to this Spartan discipline, designed to cultivate a cold sternness never to be relaxed during youth, except in the screened intimacy of the home. The boys were inured to sights of blood. They were taken to witness executions; they were expected to display no emotion; and they were obliged, on their return home, to quell any secret feeling of horror by eating plentifully of rice tinted blood-color by an admixture of salted plum juice.. Even more difficult things might be demanded of a very young boy, - to go alone at midnight to the execution-ground, for example, and bring back a head in proof of courage. For the fear of the dead was held not less contemptible in a samurai than the fear of man. The samurai child was pledged to fear nothing. In all such tests, the demeanor exacted was perfect impassiveness; any swaggering would have been judged quite as harshly as any sign of cowardice.
As a boy grew up, he was obliged to find his pleasures chiefly in those bodily exercises which were the samurai's early and constant preparations for war, - archery and riding, wrestling and fencing. Playmates were found for him; but these were older youths, sons of retainers, chosen for ability to assist him in the practice of martial exercises. It was their duty also to teach him how to swim, to handle a boat, to develop his young muscles. Between such physical training and the study of the Chinese classics the greater part of each day was divided for him. His diet, though ample, was never dainty; his clothing, except in time of great ceremony, was light and coarse; and he was not allowed the use of fire merely to warm himself. While studying of winter mornings, if his hands became too cold to use the writing brush, he would be ordered to plunge them into icy water to restore the circulation; and if his feet were numbed by frost, he would be told to run about in the snow to make them warm. Still more rigid was his training in the special etiquette of the military class, and he was early made to know that the little sword in his girdle was neither an ornament nor a plaything. He was shown how to use it, how to take his own life at a moment's notice, without shrinking, whenever the code of his class might so order(1).
Also in the matter of religion, the training of a samurai boy was peculiar. He was educated to revere the ancient gods and the spirits of his ancestors; he was well schooled in the Chinese ethics; and he was taught something of Buddhist philosophy and faith. But he was likewise taught that hope of heaven and fear of hell were for the ignorant only; and that the superior man should be influenced in his conduct by nothing more selfish than the love of right for its own sake, and the recognition of duty as a universal law.
Gradually, as the period of boyhood ripened into youth, his conduct was less subjected to supervision. He was left more and more free to act upon his own judgment, - but with full knowledge that a mistake would not be forgotten; that a serious offense would never be fully condoned, and that a well-merited reprimand was more to be dreaded than death. On the other hand, there were few moral dangers against which to guard him. Professional vice was then strictly banished from many of the provincial castle-towns; and even so much of the non-moral side of life as might have been reflected in popular romance and drama, a young samurai could know little about. He was taught to despise that common literature appealing either to the softer emotions or the passions, as essentially unmanly reading; and the public theatre was forbidden to his class(2). Thus, in that innocent provincial life of Old Japan, a young samurai might grow up exceptionally pure-minded and simple-hearted.