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Jitsuroku Go: The Loyalty of a Samurai Boy

Original Story from Asataro Miyamori's Tales of the Samurai

Afterword & Commentary by Justin Hagen

Matsudaira Nobutsuna was one of the ministers of the Shogun Iemitsu, next to Ieyasu, the ablest of all the Tokugawa Shoguns. A man of great sagacity, he contributed not a little to Iemitsu's wise administration.

When Iemitsu was a young boy named Takechiyo, Nobutsuna who was called at that time Choshiro served him as one of his attendants and playmates.

One morning when the young nobleman was passing along a corridor accompanied by Choshiro and two other boys, on the way to the private apartments of his father, the Shogun Hidetada, his attention caught by some fledgling sparrows that were hopping about and chirping gaily on the tiles of the roof. Takechiyo, then but ten years of age, was seized with a fancy to have them ; and turning to Choshiro, three years older than himself, he commanded:

“Catch those little sparrows for me, Choshiro."

“With pleasure, your lordship ; but should I be found catching sparrows I should be reprimanded by his Highness and the officials. Fortunately I shall be on duty tonight; so tonight I will climb out on to the roof when there is no one to see me, and give you the little birds in the morning. Will you please to wait till then, my master?”

“I suppose I must.” And the small company passed on.

That night when all was quiet, Choshiro managed somehow or other to get out on to the roof, and crawling carefully on all fours to the spot where the parent birds had built their nest, reached out one hand and seized one of the little sparrows. Poor little things! Surprised in their sleep they were not able to escape. Transferring his captive to the left hand Choshiro again stretched out his right and caught another. Whether the attainment of his purpose caused him to relax his care or for some other reason, certain it is that at this moment his foot slipped and with a heavy thud he fell down into the courtyard below. As he fell he in voluntarily clutched the birds more firmly so that they were instantly squeezed to death. With the dead birds in his hands, he fainted. But the roof was comparatively low, and he also had the good fortune to fall on to some bushes so that he was not killed as might have been the case.

The sound of the fall awoke the Shogun. He started up and followed by his consort and some attendants went out on to the veranda and opening a sliding shutter looked down. By the light of a lantern held by one of the servants he perceived the boy lying on the ground just beneath. Choshiro had now recovered consciousness and was trying to rise though the pain he felt all over his body rendered the operation one of considerable difficulty. His consternation was great when the light of the lantern revealed his person to those on the veranda

“Choshiro, is that you ? " called his lord, recognizing the boy at once. “It is strange that you should be on my roof at this time of night! Come up instantly and explain your conduct. This must be inquired into.”

The boy, still holding the dead sparrows, obeyed. Prostrating himself before the Shogun he waited for him to speak.

“What have you in your hands, Choshiro?”

“Sparrows, my lord."

“Sparrows? Do you then climb roofs at midnight to catch sparrows? A strange fancy!”

“Yes, my lord. I will tell you the truth. When Takechiyo Sama and I were passing along the corridor this morning his attention was attracted by some little sparrows on the roof and we stopped to watch them. Takechiyo Sama said, 'What dear little things they are!' and the desire then arose in my mind to get them for him that he might play with them. So tonight when everyone was asleep I climbed out on to the roof of your apartments in disregard to the respect I should have shown to your august person, and caught two of the young sparrows. But how quickly the punishment of Heaven followed my crime! I fell down as you see and my wickedness was discovered. I am ready for any chastisement your lordship sees fit to inflict.

“My lord,” here broke in Lady Eyo, the Shogun's consort. "Excuse my interference, but I think Takechiyo must have ordered Choshiro to catch these sparrows. There is no doubt about it.”

It should be explained that Lady Eyo had two sons Takechiyo and Kunimatsu. Takechiyo, the elder, was sharp-witted and active though rather rough in his manners ; his brother, on the contrary, was quiet and effeminate. For this and probably some other unknown reason the younger son was his mother's favorite, and it was her desire that he should be appointed heir to the Shogunate in place of his elder brother. She therefore lost no opportunity to disparage Takechiyo in the estimation of his father, hoping thereby to attain her object in due time.

“What a thoughtless boy Takechiyo is!” agreed the Shogun. “This was undoubtedly done at his instigation. How cruel to command Choshiro to endanger his life by catching birds on a roof at night! Though he is but a child there is no excuse for him. The proverb says, 'A snake bites even when it is only an inch long.' One who is so inconsiderate to his attendants when young cannot be expected to govern wisely and well when more power is invested in his hands. Now, Choshiro