IT HAPPENED SOMEWHAT LIKE THIS
by Akihito, Zen Monk.
The following is written in a document by a little known monk, and housed in a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji.
In 1260 there was a small murder in Minami Katada, Chugoku. Early the next morning, after receiving some advice, Tsutaro left in an easterly direction. Traveling only at dawn and dusk, sleeping in the late spring woods, at temples, or on shrine dancing stages, eating what he found beside the fields, or was given by monks and nuns, he eventually arrived at the capital, Miyako. Immediately Tsutaro disappeared.
Not wanting to remain in the swamp and infested western part of the capital, living among the outcast and criminal, Shintaro, his new self-given name, chose the eastern half, on the southern shore of Lake Biwa. He found a job working for a tatami maker, but left soon to work for a kimono dealer. Not especially wanting to be a salesman, he found the job suited him because he could go into the city center frequently. He liked Rokkaku Street best, the main east-west thoroughfare in the city. Everything could be bought on this street, or nearby. Even just standing and watching the passersby was fascinating.
At night, however, this and every other street was dangerous, being patrolled by gangs of brigands and packs of wild dogs. No one ever went out at night, if at all possible. Screams for help went unanswered. He fortunately always made it back before dark.
Shintaro met and married the daughter of a neighbor to the kimono shop owner. Her family were dyers, and her hands were permanently discolored. Not only that, but she was particularly ugly. Needless to say, the whole neighborhood was happy that she had found a husband. Shintaro was not blind to her looks, but reasoned that no other man would ever think of stealing her from him, for he himself was not handsome and of small stature. Eventually, she produced 11 children, five of whom died at birth or soon thereafter. They were nevertheless a happy family.
One warm afternoon, many years later, on Rokkaku Street Kitaro (his new name as a successful and now independent kimono seller) was waiting for a fan he had ordered to be delivered. Paying no special attention to anyone,, he suddenly heard someone speaking in the dialect of Minami-Katada. Beneath the temple gate stood an elderly man, poorly dressed but in clean clothing, asking for directions to an iron-maker’s forge. Kitaro knew the forge; it was nearby on Third Street where there were several ironmongers. What shall I do, he asked himself? Someone was trying to give the stranger directions, but was not succeeding.
“I know that shop well; it is famous,” Kitaro called out, and crossed the dusty road. The old man recognized Kitaro’s intonation, but did not know him. Nor did Kitaro know this man.
“Follow me, please. And how do you know the forge’s name?”
“A new family that lives in my neighborhood has a pot of excellent craftsmanship. I live with my brother whose wife wants the same pot. I have no family myself, so was free to come to the capital and buy one. But why do you speak in the same way as I do?”, he asked.
This was a problem for Kitaro. His sudden departure decades ago might still be remembered, and he would be questioned too closely for comfort. “We are almost there, you can smell the iron.”
“Yes. You are from Minami-Katada? When did you leave? What is your family’s name, I wonder?.” he continued.
Kitaro took a chance and replied, “It was the Wada Saburo family. I left as a tiny child to live with my mother’s sister.” he lied.
The old man paused, then said, “The family next to my brother’s. We are still close, even after the killing of Joo, one of the sons. Fortunately, the killer confessed the next day, and was killed.”
Kitaro could not think or speak. In front of the forge, he merely pointed. Then, in a low voice, ‘Who was the killer?”
“One of the Wada boys, Akio.”
Akio had been Kitaro’s closest buddy and friend, a half-brother, through their mother’s third marriage. Akio knew everything concerning Kitaro. They had loved each other deeply, spending hours in the fields talking together.
Kitaro, speechless, looking down, turned and walked back along Third Street towards Rokkaku-do.
And again, the former Tsutaro disappeared and was never found anywhere.
(Submitted to WiK on behalf of Akihito, Zen Monk, by Richard Steiner)