A message from Chushingura (Part 2) - A Story from Japanese History

(Read Part 1 HERE)

Tragedy that Highlights the Folly of Our Worldly Passions

When both sides don't have enough consideration toward each other, the relationship can only go downhill

On March 11, the big day finally came. The imperial envoys arrived at Edo, the capital of Japan at that time. It was obvious that Asano's retainers were straining with tension. While they were preparing lunch for the guests that first day, a messenger from the Kira clan arrived. He told Asano that although the details were still not very clear, it might be a day of abstinence from meat for the Imperial envoys. Kira recommended that Asano not use fish or fowl for this reason.

Hearing this, Asano became astounded. The fact was that they carefully had selected all the ingredients and had spent three whole days preparing the cuisine with attentive care. How could it be possible for them to change the menu at this final stage? There wasn't enough time at all. Nevertheless, they had no choice but to start cooking an improvised vegetarian feast with frantic haste.

This turned into a TV episode of "Hell's Kitchen1" with dozens of kitchen knives glistening as they quickly chopped daikon, a type of Japanese radish, carrots, potatoes and various vegetables into thin slices. Just after the Imperial envoys arrived, the day of abstaining from meat proved to be a bold-faced lie. Asano still managed to serve his cuisine as scheduled and on time. He greeted the Imperial envoys with a calm facial expression as usual, even amid the chaos. All Asano's chefs and staff vented their anger in the halls saying, "That cunning old man! Kira must have something against our master and all of us."

The following day, the Asano clan was to clean the Zojo-ji temple for the pilgrimage of the Imperial envoys. They cleaned all the walls, the paper screens, the sliding doors and the ceilings by late afternoon. After finishing his work and sitting down one of Asano's attendants said, "" Hey, wait a minute! What about the tatami mats? We haven't done anything with them yet..."

"When I asked Master Kira whether we should change the tatami mats or not, his instruction was that there was no need for it because they changed them all in January," a senior retainer answered, "He said we didn't have to go that far."

"We didn't have to go so far chopping all those vegetables yesterday.


"You're right about that," the senior retainer said.

"Go check out another clan's hall and see how their mats are holding up."

The retainer rushed out across town and finally poked his nose into the screen window of a rival clan's ceremony room. To his surprise, it was filled with the aroma of fresh tatami mats! He ran as fast as he could to deliver the news.

"Master, over there all their tatami mats were replaced with new ones," the retainer said out of breath to Asano.

"He cheated me again! Everyone, listen up!" Asano barked the order to all his attendants. "New tatami mats enough for the entire hall should be arranged by tomorrow at dawn!"

His retainers knew that in such an emergency money talks. They rushed around until the last minute with pockets full of cash trying to recruit tatami mat artisans. More than two hundred new tatami mats were necessary. In those days, there was a strict distinction in which samurai was superior to artisans. Samurai looked down on artisans and would never do such works as the artisans do. But this case was different. They cooperated with each other working equally hard throughout the night.

The next morning, Kira visited Zojo-ji temple for inspection and made ironical remarks about it. "I heard a lot about Asano's wealth, but how can you replace so many tatami mats in one night? I'm really impressed. It's so true that everything comes off well... if you spare no expense."

Was Kira passively insulting Asano or was it a slip of the tongue? Or did Asano's attendants simple hear wrong? At any rate, Kira was in front of labourers and officials who worked hard all night. Was it so difficult for Kira to give a single word to reward their labor? Why couldn't he? Such inconsideration deteriorates human relationships more than anything.

That evening, anger and hatred has prevented Asano from falling asleep. He tried hard to close his eyes, but every time he did Kira's face kept appearing. The voice of Kira's vain remarks, his arrogant laughter, and all of his severe criticisms and lies.

"What a pompous ass!" Asano murmured as he tossed and turned without a moment's rest. Kira's annoying voice kept buzzing in his ears... buzzing... buzzing...

(to be continued)

Footnote: 1 A popular TV show on FOX channel in the US

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #21 | 2012, A message from Chushingura (Part 2)

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The Buddhist Village Times #20

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