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My Thirty-Three Years' Dream
The Autobiography of Miyazaki Toten
By Miyazaki Toten, Eto Shinkichi, Marius B. Jansen
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1982 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
HALF MY LIFE A DREAM, I LONG FOR FALLEN BLOSSOMS
"Mt. Yoshino!" the poem goes; "The booming bell scatters the cherry blossoms." Yet the wind drives petals before it too, and it is wrong to blame the priest alone who sounds the bell. Some rejoice to see a branch heavy with blossoms, laden as though with snow; others delight in the wild blizzard of blossoms before the wind. Ten cases, ten tastes: each of us is stirred according to his spirit. The blossoms themselves, however, are not sensitive to this, but quite indifferent to it. Let me be like those blossoms.
Blossoms are beautiful. They are splendid when they rival fallen snow on cherry branches, and splendid when the wind drives them in a mad swirl of storm. But for me all this is past now, a dream of my life that is over. How should I bring it back? Am I not a blossom that has fallen in the mud?
Alas, half my life is gone, like fallen blossoms. I smile when I see the face in my mirror, and say to it, "You look like someone who might do great things, but the fact is that you lack courage. You look as though you might be a hero, but you haven't been able to achieve a thing. Imposing height and a splendid frame have been wasted on you, for your soul is puny. Your actions have seemed generous and noble, but your spirit is womanlike and timid. What it comes down to is that you're a great non-hero of the realm." Ah, a non-hero of the realm? Only that face and I!
Then let us sing together of fallen flowers,
let us act out a play of fallen flowers
let us gather the flowers of Musashino,
yes, let's, let's ...
MY NATIVE HILLS AND RIVERS
It happens that my mother, who has reached the great age of more than seventy years, still lives in my native village. If my song of fallen blossoms and of failure reaches her ears, what will her emotions be? My wife and children too are there in the same village. Faithful to the dream of their husband and father, they have endured all kinds of hardship. If they hear this song of mine, whatever will they say? And if I should ever go back what would Ichizo and Hyokichi, our old servants, think of me? Indeed I wonder how the mountains and rivers would greet me if I went back?
There is a little hamlet in Kumamoto prefecture called Arao. It is about ten miles northwest of the Kumamoto castle that stands as reminder of the dream of Kato Kiyomasa, and situated along the Nagasu road that runs like a long thread to the border of the province of Chikugo. The people in Arao are poor, but they are forthright and honest. The soil is barren, but the landscape is splendid. It was in this lonely hamlet that I was born to a well-known local family of the goshi, "country samurai," class. I grew up with calls of "Master! Master!" ringing in my ears. In the morning the eastern sky would brighten over Shichimenpo, an eminence once crowned by the castle of Lord Yukihira; the evening sun would set on the white caps of the waves that washed Ariake Bay. In the distance I could make out the ridges of Unzen and Tara in Hizen to the west. How often I exclaimed aloud, as I marveled at this setting of mountains and ocean, "Wonderful! This is a landscape to produce heroes!" And yet what of me now? Did it fail me, or was it I who failed? What is a hero, anyway?CHAPTER 3
My father died when I was eleven, so I have only a few memories of him. I do remember that he opened a school in which he taught fencing to the boys of the locality. I also remember that he would sometimes load a horse with watermelons that he had grown himself and go through the village giving them to the aged and the sick. And I remember how frightened I could be sometimes when, after having had too much sake to drink, he would wave his arms around and bellow some tuneless song at the top of his lungs. But what stands out most clearly in my mind is the unforgettable way he had of patting me on the head several times a day and telling me to be sure to become a hero or a great general. Also, whenever money was put in my hand he would tell me sternly that only beggars ever asked for money. My mother reinforced my father's teachings. Hers was a strong spirit. She was forever warning me that nothing was more shameful than for a man to die in bed. And my relatives, and the elderly men and women in the village, all added their voices to urge me to "be like your elder brother!" They meant my oldest brother, Hachiro, who had become an activist in the movement for freedom and people's rights in the early Meiji period. He had traveled all over the country, before losing his life in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. I didn't have much of an idea of what it meant to be a great general or a hero, but I did know that I wanted to be one. I didn't know what freedom or people's rights were, but I knew that they were good things, and I was sure that government armies, government officials, in fact anyone involved with government, was a criminal and a thief. A great general or a great hero, I thought, should lead a rebel army or an insurrection. As I look back now, I wonder whether the teaching I received at home was wrong, or whether it was I who failed to measure up to that teaching. At any rate, this is all I have amounted to.
There were eleven children in my family, eight boys and three girls. I was the youngest. In addition, there was for a time an additional adoptive elder brother named Motoeimon, but I never knew him. According to what my mother said, it had been my father's plan to have this adoptive son succeed to the family responsibilities as head, so that his own children would be free to follow their own desires and ambitions after he had provided them with what they needed in the way of education. But in fact the adoptive son had other ideas; instead of accepting his responsibilities he had abandoned our family and household, he had fled the domain to become a ronin, and he was killed fighting with the Choshu troops at the Hamaguri Gate in Kyoto in 1863. All but two of my elder brothers died early too. At the time of my father's death, only two sisters, two elder brothers, and I were still alive. At that time my sisters had already been married off, my elder brothers were studying in a private school in a nearby county, and I was in a nearby village primary school. During the hours for penmanship and writing I would write the words for freedom and people's rights, although the teachers frequently told me that I should not do so. I was a natural activist for freedom and people's rights, and I wasn't going to let the teachers' warnings change my attitude. After I became fifteen and left primary school for middle school the same obsession continued, even though the school principal and the teachers warned me about it. My fellow-students in particular resented my attitudes, and they trapped me and roughed me up after school at night more than once.
When I was in middle school my oldest brother, Tamizo, was in Tokyo and the other, Yazo, was studying in Osaka. My mother looked after things alone with a faithful maid called Onaka. My father had never paid much attention to household finances. He had taken great delight in giving what he could to the poor and in entertaining guests who came from far away, and as a result the household had fallen on such difficult days that it was almost more than could be managed. My mother, woman though she was, somehow had to manage things and pay for three sons in school. It can be imagined what a difficult time she had. Sometimes when I came home needing additional money for school that we didn't have, my mother would take things like bedding or mosquito nets to the pawn shop. All I could do when I noticed this was stay out of sight and cry quietly. How much I owe my mother for managing to overcome such difficulties and enable us to get a certain amount of schooling! There was also an old farmer, Hirakawa Hikoyomi, in the village who gave her some help in managing things. When the old man died his son, whose name was Senma, succeeded him and continued that help. He continued to help us in looking after our run down place as a substitute father. He was a benefactor of our family, and more: it is remarkable that such a man should have appeared in our degenerate age.CHAPTER 4
MIDDLE SCHOOL AND THE OE ACADEMY
My classmates in middle school all had the same ambition: they were constantly saying, "I'm going to be an official" or "I'm going to get a job in the government." All they could think of was a government position. But to me officials and administrators were robbers or criminals, and I considered them enemies of the movement for freedom and people's rights. As a result I disliked those students even more than they disliked me; in fact I despised them. The problem was that I was powerless against so many. I was a single rebel, surrounded by a government army. It would be hopeless to try to engage them in battle; on the contrary, I had to retreat into defensive positions. Furthermore, two of the teachers had been members of the old Kumamoto "Divine Wind" reactionary party; they still wore their old samurai topknots. Personally they were in fact estimable gentlemen, but for someone as intent on freedom and people's rights as I was, having to study under such teachers was like having to beg for food in the enemy camp. I found it very unpleasant. Consequently I developed plans of escape from this setting in which I was surrounded by my enemies. I got up an excuse to give my mother, and then planned my getaway. Where was I to go? At that time the prevailing winds were conservative and subservient, and only one school raised the banner of freedom and people's rights for the education of men of ability. This was the Oe Academy in Takuma, in Kumamoto.
The Oe Academy had been established by Tokutomi Iichiro, and I became his disciple. At that time Tokutomi was not only a vehement advocate of people's rights; he also ran a remarkably democratic and free school. Our teacher did not allow his students to call him "Sensei," but insisted we call him by his first name. Consequently it was not "Tokutomi Sensei," but "Iichiro-san." The curriculum and schedule were worked out in discussion between Iichiro-san and the other teachers, but they did not lay down any school regulations. These the students worked out by themselves through discussion. In other words, we were a free and autonomous people. As a result everybody supported the regulations enthusiastically and we all worked hard at our studies. On a winter morning there would be some who got up early and practiced fencing with bamboo swords in the morning frost, and others would try to read books under their bedding late at night. On the one hand white-bearded Kisui, Iichiro's old father, would be seated on a shabby floor-mat lecturing on Spencer's Principles of Ethics; on the other our Iichiro-san was getting more and more excited talking about the French Revolution. As his lecture reached its climax, the students would involuntarily break into wild approval, jump up and dance around, swing their swords and strike the pillars. Iichiro-san would never make the slightest effort to still this wild confusion. For me, the contrast with the heavy formalism of the school I had left was enough to make me think that I had returned home.
A Speech Club that met every Saturday morning was something that particularly impressed me. This included not just the older students, who might have been expected to belong as a matter of course, but even snot-nosed youngsters of twelve or thirteen who were expected to give speeches too. Now it was one thing for them to be able to speak. But I was really taken aback by their eloquence. And it was another thing for them to be eloquent. But I, a self-defined advocate of freedom and people's rights, was put to shame by the knowledge of these speakers, who went on and on lauding Robespierre and Danton, quoting Washington and Cromwell, and arguing about Cobden and Bright with confident enthusiasm. My advocacy of freedom and people's rights had consisted of little more than the conviction that they were good things, and that they were essential to the success of a great general, a hero, and a revolutionary army. That's all I knew. How was I to know about Cromwell and Robespierre, much less Cobden and Bright? How could I mount the speaker's rostrum? I had nothing to say when I got there. So I tried to get out of it by pleading illness, or taking long walks in the mountains. In this manner I, the born advocate of liberalism and freedom, was driven to desperation.
The Oe Academy was indeed an ideal home for me. No, more: it was a paradise of progressive liberalism and democracy, and I was truly happy to be there. The only problem was that Saturday Speech Club. I got out of it two or three times by pretending to be ill, but when the count went up to five or six I knew I couldn't very well keep that up. Shouldn't I take a chance and mount the rostrum? But then what if I had nothing to say? I developed a rationalization to conceal my own shortcomings. I argued that anybody could speak well if the occasion called for it, and that to practice speaking as an exercise was to lower oneself to the level of a performer. I built myself up in this manner so that the born advocate of liberalism would not be disgraced. But what began as a rationalization became a firm belief. And then I extended it to practice in writing. I think that is why my writing is poor to this day.
Things thus reached a point at which I scorned practice in speaking and writing as appropriate only for performers. Those who had embarrassed me by their skill could now be dismissed as entertainers. Consequently, all sixty of my fellow students were just showing off. There was no reason whatever to be intimidated by them. The admiration I had for them now turned to contempt. And then another doubt came into my mind. What was that? It concerned sincerity. My fellow students praised freedom and people's rights and wrote essays about their love of people, their love of our country, and their readiness to give their lives for its good. But were they really sincere in this? The doubts I should have directed at myself I now directed to others instead and the questions I should have asked myself I asked of others. Was I concentrating on the shortcomings of others and excusing my own, and pointing out the ugliness of others to conceal my own? I didn't know, wasn't sure. But I was tormented by these doubts and gradually stopped studying. I could not sleep, and I knew only that I was terribly upset by all this.
I finally put my doubts to Matsue Yaichiro. I thought he was probably the most sincere of the students at the academy. I asked him this question: "I recognize your sincerity. When you speak of devoting your life to the country and to the service of our people, do you do this without any thought of self at all, without any idea of bringing honor to your own name? I wish you would reveal your true feelings to me." Matsue laughed aloud and said, "Doesn't everybody think about his own reputation? Isn't that why people do what they do? My reputation means everything to me." That was his reply. On hearing it I was startled: was it that way even with him? "Well," I asked, "what about Iichiro-san?" He was emphatic in his answer: "Why, Iichiro-san is even more concerned with fame than we are." When he saw how disappointed I was, he tried to reassure me. "It's best not to worry too much about unnecessary matters like this," he said. "A man is born in the world, achieves something, and builds a fine reputation; then he dies. That is enough. You shouldn't worry any further." But these reassurances didn't console me in the slightest. I thought to myself that it was elegant and splendid to die for one's country and for one's people. But if you did so just to build up your own fame, wasn't it only another form of egoism?
Excerpted from My Thirty-Three Years' Dream by Miyazaki Toten, Eto Shinkichi, Marius B. Jansen. Copyright © 1982 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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