Tales of Old Japan eBook

Algernon Freeman-Mitford, 1st Baron Redesdale
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 481 pages of information about Tales of Old Japan.

A public woman or singer on entering her profession assumes a nom de guerre, by which she is known until her engagement is at an end.  Some of these names are so pretty and quaint that I will take a few specimens from the Yoshiwara Saiken, the guidebook upon which this notice is based.  “Little Pine,” “Little Butterfly,” “Brightness of the Flowers,” “The Jewel River,” “Gold Mountain,” “Pearl Harp,” “The Stork that lives a Thousand Years,” “Village of Flowers,” “Sea Beach,” “The Little Dragon,” “Little Purple,” “Silver,” “Chrysanthemum,” “Waterfall,” “White Brightness,” “Forest of Cherries,”—­these and a host of other quaint conceits are the one prettiness of a very foul place.


It is a law that he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.  In Japan, where there exists a large armed class over whom there is practically little or no control, party and clan broils, and single quarrels ending in bloodshed and death, are matters of daily occurrence; and it has been observed that Edinburgh in the olden time, when the clansmen, roistering through the streets at night, would pass from high words to deadly blows, is perhaps the best European parallel of modern Yedo or Kioto.

It follows that of all his possessions the Samurai sets most store by his sword, his constant companion, his ally, defensive and offensive.  The price of a sword by a famous maker reaches a high sum:  a Japanese noble will sometimes be found girding on a sword, the blade of which unmounted is worth from six hundred to a thousand riyos, say from L200 to L300, and the mounting, rich in cunning metal work, will be of proportionate value.  These swords are handed down as heirlooms from father to son, and become almost a part of the wearer’s own self.  Iyeyasu, the founder of the last dynasty of Shoguns, wrote in his Legacy,[15] a code of rules drawn up for the guidance of his successors and their advisers in the government, “The girded sword is the living soul of the Samurai.  In the case of a Samurai forgetting his sword, act as is appointed:  it may not be overlooked.”

[Footnote 15:  The Legacy of Iyeyasu, translated by F. Lowder.  Yokohama, 1868. (Printed for private circulation.)]

The occupation of a swordsmith is an honourable profession, the members of which are men of gentle blood.  In a country where trade is looked down upon as degrading, it is strange to find this single exception to the general rule.  The traditions of the craft are many and curious.  During the most critical moment of the forging of the sword, when the steel edge is being welded into the body of the iron blade, it is a custom which still obtains among old-fashioned armourers to put on the cap and robes worn by the Kuge, or nobles of the Mikado’s court, and, closing the doors of the workshop, to labour in secrecy and freedom from interruption, the half gloom adding to the mystery of the operation.  Sometimes the occasion is even invested with a certain sanctity, a tasselled cord of straw, such as is hung before the shrines of the Kami, or native gods of Japan, being suspended between two bamboo poles in the forge, which for the nonce is converted into a holy altar.

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Tales of Old Japan from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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