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Jitsuroku Hachi: A Deep Laid Plot

Original Story from Walter Dening's Japan in Days of Yore

Afterword & Commentary by Justin Hagen



Some twelve years before Tokugawa Yoshimune assumed the title of Shogun (became Shogun 1716 A.D.), while he was still in Kii, it happened that one of his concubines called Sawano, being about to give birth to a child, was sent off to her mother, who lived in the village of Hirasawa to be confined there. With her Yoshimune sent a letter, a sword, and fifty ryo in money of the two former articles more anon.

When Sawano reached her home she found no but her mother there. Not long after her arrival she gave birth to a son. But the mother and the child both died. They were buried in the cemetery attached to a temple known as the Kodenji, and Sawano's aged mother was left to bemoan their loss. She carefully laid by the things sent by the Shogun, reckoning them the greatest treasures she possessed.

In Hirasawa there was another temple called the Kwan-o-in; attached to which was student named Hotaku. Sawano's mother used to do the washing for this temple, so she knew the youth very well.

One day, about eleven years after the death of Sawano, Hotaku had occasion to go to the old woman's house on some business. She treated him very hospitably, bringing out some dumplings for him, and while he was eating them chatted with him in a most friendly manner. “How old are you?” asked the old woman.

“Eleven,” replied Hotaku.

“Just the age that my grandson would have been had he lived,”replied the old woman. “In that case, how different would have been my position! I should not have been working for my living as I am now.”

“It is no use your speaking in this way,” replied Hotaku, “to persons who know nothing about the matter. People will think you crazy if you talk so grandly.”

“I am not deceiving you,” replied the old woman. “You have been studying at the temple, so of course you can read. I will show you something that will prove to you that I should have been in very different circumstances had my grandchild lived."

Here she handed to Hotaku a letter which had the Shogun's seal on it , and the purport of which was, that if Sawano gave birth to a son , the said son should be exalted to rank and position and have all the privileges of a member of the Tokugawa family conferred upon him.

“There is no mistake about what you say,” said Hotaku; “but I advise you not to be showing this document to everybody that comes along, for fear it may get you into trouble. You had better keep this matter to yourself.”

As he said this, the thought crossed Hotaku's mind that if he could steal the document and the sword, he could by this means pass himself off as the Shogun's son without any difficulty; for who was to know that Sawano's son was dead? Here was a chance; and he was not the one to miss it. Hotaku went back to the temple full of the subject. That night visions of wealth, rank and pomp fitted before him; and he awoke the next morning fully determined to take the first opportunity of acting on the resolution he had made.

Not many days after, Hotaku had occasion to go with the rector of his temple to a medicine shop. There, while the priest was performing a religious service, the lad amused himself by looking over the medicines. A large jar on the shelf attracted his attention. “What medicine may this be?” inquired Hotaku of a man who was in the shop.

“It is called Hammyo Shiseki, ” said the man. “It is rank poison.” Some of this Hotaku stole while the shopman was engaged elsewhere.

Hotaku waited his time, and, one night, when it was snowing hard, he went to the house of Sawano's mother, and, after thanking her for her kindness to him in the past produced some sake and induced the old woman to take enough to make her quite tipsy; and then, when she was asleep, strangled her. Dragging the corpse over to the hearth, he placed the face in the fire, so as to make it look as though the old woman had fallen into it; and round the hearth he placed wine cups, making it appear as though the deceased had drunk her self tipsy and then in a state of unconsciousness had burnt herself to death. He then took the document, the sword and what money there was in the house and went away.

The neighbors came in the next day, and, seeing how things were, did not suspect foul play. “It was evident," they said, “that the old woman had burnt herself to death whilst tipsy.”

Hotaku thought to himself, “It will never do to leave any one alive who knows me well, or my identity will be discovered. So I must kill the priest with whom I am living.”

This he accomplished by putting some of the poison that he had stolen from the apothecary into the priest's rice.

So the old priest died, no one knowing how or why. The only thing that was conjectured was, that some food he had taken had disagreed with him, no uncommon occurrence in those days of ignorance of the properties of herbs. Probabilities go for much in such cases. And no one thought it likely that a student priest would kill his teacher and benefactor.

The next thing which Hotaku did was to represent to the villagers that, since his priest was dead, it would be necessary for him to continue his studies elsewhere, “I am too young and inexperienced to take charge of the temple,” said he, “therefore, with your leave, I will go away to some other place, and when I have completed my studies, I will return and be your pastor.”

The people were all much struck with the thoughtfulness and the zeal of the young priest. They collected money for him, and gave him presents of various kinds; and, on hearing that he was going to start on the following day, said they would come and see him off.

“You need not do this,” replied Hotaku, “A pilgrim-priest, you know, is one who must inure himself to trial, so it is better that I should go away alone.”

The next morning, Hotaku rose very early and went down to the sea-shore. Here he saw a dog wandering about in search of food. With a little rice he tempted the animal to approach him, and then killed it with a sword. Taking the animal's blood, he bespattered his clothes with it, and having cut holes in them to make it appear as though they had been pierced with a sword, he threw the dead carcass of the dog into the sea and went off in the opposite direction to that which he had told the people he should take.

The villagers discovered the clothes and immediately concluded that some robber had heard of the money that Hotaku had received from them and for its sake had killed the lad and cast his body into the sea. The clothes and other articles that belonged to him found on the beach were, by order of the district officer, collected and carefully preserved.

Hotaku assumed the garb of a pilgrim and gave out that he was going to Ise. Instead of this, he went in the direction of Higo. He obtained food on the road by begging, lodging at night where he could, and thus reached Kumamoto.

Shortly after his arrival there, he entered a mochi shop and bought some mochi. The seller of the mochi asked him whence he had come. “You have it marked on your hat,” said the shopman, “that you are on the road to Ise. Are you traveling alone or in company with some one?”

“I am alone,” said Hotaku “I have come from Kii, from the village of Hirasawa.”

“How is it that you left your home alone?”

“It was on account of a step-mother who treated me cruelly.”

“How did it happen that you came all around here to go to Ise?”

“Well,” said Hotaku, with tears in his eyes, “after setting out, I felt so miserable that I thought I would return to my home, but I heard that my step-mother was so enraged by my running away that she would not think of receiving me back again. So I went on, begging from place to place, not knowing what else to do, and at last I have reached this town; may I ask its name?”

The mochi man was moved by the story. “As I am in want of a boy in the house,” said he, “ if you like to stop with me, I will make use of you.”

Hotaku gladly accepted the offer; his chief aim being to pass the time and to make preparations for the realizing of the great object of his life; and this he could do as well here as elsewhere. He agreed there fore to serve the mochi man.

In order to obtain the favor and confidence of his master, Hotaku exerted himself to the very utmost, sitting up late at night and rising early in the morning. Though his master often left money about, he did not attempt to take any, thus creating the impression that he was a thoroughly honest lad.

He served the mochi man for two years. At the end of this time, his master thought that Hotaku's diligence and perseverance ought to be rewarded in some better way than he had it in his power to do. So he recommended him to a man who had a larger business than himself. He sent him to a friend who kept a large coarse-ware shop.

Here too Hotaku made himself very useful, soon winning the confidence of his master, so much so that the master was quite careless about the way in which he allowed Hotaku to handle his money. He empowered Hotaku to pay his accounts and receive money on his behalf almost every day.

When he saw how he was trusted, Hotaku thought to himself, “I could take twenty or thirty ryo at any time, but this would be entirely insufficient for my purpose: I must manage to get about a hundred, and then I will be off. This I can easily do by forgery of some kind.”

Soon after this Hotaku had occasion to go to the baron of the Kumamoto castle to collect the money due to his master. The account only amounted to four ryo. Hotaku altered the figure four into a hundred, and the forgery being undiscovered, he carried off this amount.

He immediately shaved his head, and, assuming the costume of a priest, set out for Bingo. He was just twenty years of age.

One evening Hotaku got benighted, and, not knowing the way, was thinking of sleeping in the open plain in the middle of which he found himself, when he discovered a small building that had been used as a shrine. Into this building he crept, and was settling himself to sleep, when he saw a man come up, light a fire in front of the building, and sit down on the balcony that surrounded it. He was very tall and wore two swords, each of which was encased in a red sheath. By his looks he appeared to be a robber; and such indeed he was.

Hotaku gave a cough, to let the man know that he was there, and then asked, “Are you a samurai who, like myself, is on a journey? Will you kindly allow me to warm myself by your fire?”

“Whence does the priest come? ” asked the robber.

“I am a pilgrim-priest,” replied Hotaku “I wander about the country hither and thither. I do not belong to one place more than to another. But may I ask whence you come? You do not look like a man who belongs to this part of the country.”

“I too am a man who has no fixed abode, " replied the robber. “With the sky for my roof and the whole country as my dwelling-place, with the clothes and money of the passers-by to supply my needs, I do not know what it is to want. But, by the way, I have just come to the end of my stock of money and should like to borrow a little of you.”

Without appearing in any way alarmed, Hotaku took three ryo out of his pocket and gave them to the robber.

“As I am receiving,” said the robber, “I may as well take all you have.” Here he stretched out his hand and took the purse from Hotaku's pocket, and then, drawing the sword that Hotaku had in his belt, he examined it closely, and, seeing the Tokugawa crest on it , exclaimed, “Ah! You seem to have some fine things about you. This I will relieve you of too. When I become prosperous, I will make some return to you for what I am taking.”

The robber was about to depart; but Hotaku seized the sheath of one of his swords and stopped him. “You have taken my money,” said Hotaku, “and now you want to carry off this sword; if you persist in attempting this, I will throw away my life rather than lose the weapon. But come and listen to what I have to say. It is no use my attempting to hide anything from you. I will tell you all.”

Here Hotaku related to the robber the whole history of his early life and the designs which he had concocted. “Now,” said he at the conclusion, “having come thus far in my career, if I find that you are deter mined to stand in the way of progress by attempting to carry off the weapon upon the possession of which my success in the future depends, then, I tell you plainly, I will sell my life dearly rather than lose it; and though our fight may end in my death, unless I am very much mistaken you will not come off scot-free. I shall leave my mark on you; a mark that will probably lead to your arrest. If, on the other hand, you will promise to help me in realizing my great purpose, then I solemnly promise that, on its realization, you shall be exalted to rank and enriched with emoluments. Choose what you will do. If you fight, remember that you fight against one who is desperate and who will not lose his life for a trifle.”

The robber suddenly knelt at Hotaku's feet, and said, “I am Akagawa Daizen, a knight-errant of Mito. I am astounded by the disclosures you have made to me. If you have such a grand purpose as this in your mind, then I shall be most happy to give you my assistance. In return I shall look to you to reward me by creating me a baron.” Here Daizen returned the sword and the money that he had taken.

The two men consulted together as to how they should act to compass the end they had in view. “It seems to me,” said Hotaku, “that previous to giving out that I am the Shogun's son, it is essential that I should collect money and obtain certain number of followers; and it will be necessary also for me to be able to tell how I was brought up. While this is being done, will you not hide yourself somewhere in the neighborhood? When I have obtained the necessary accessories to the position I am about to assume, I will send for you.”

“There is no need to act in this way,” replied the robber. “I have about one hundred and fifty ryo that I took from a woman whom I killed a short time ago. Then I have a cousin who is the yamabushi of a temple called the Joraku-in, situated in Nagahora, Mino. This man can be taken into the plot and made to say that you were brought up under his care. We can collect a number of followers in Nagahora. It will make little matter who they are; robbers, farmers, or what not. When we have men enough to make a good show, we will go up to Osaka; and when we get there, I know how to make any amount of money. So the first thing we will decide on is to go to the Joraku-in”

Hotaku was pleased with this idea. So the two went to Nagahora; and as soon as they had collected some fifty-five followers, they thought it high time to make preparations for appearing in public. They ordered a number of articles to be made, such as clothes, swords, curtains, and the like: each article being marked with the Tokugawa crest. Hotaku assumed the name of Tokugawa Ten-ichibo. Daizen became his chief councilor; and two sharp-witted men called Watanabe Jidayu and Honda Gondayu became knights in attendance. When all the preparations were complete the party traveled by easy stages to Osaka

On reaching Osaka, through the assistance rendered by a friend of Daizen's, Ten-ichibo succeeded in hiring a large house, where he took up his quarters. In front of the house a notice-board was placed, on which the words: “The temporary residence of Tokugawa Ten-ichibo," were inscribed.

Shortly after their arrival, the head of the ward in which Ten-ichibo's temporary residence was situated sent to the house to say that such a great personage as the Shogun's son should not have taken up his quarters in the ward without giving notice to the ward officers, and added that he would be found fault with for not having promptly reported Ten-ichibo's arrival to the Mayor of the city.

“There is no reason for complaint,” replied Gondayu “You should be very grateful for the honor of having such an august personage in your ward. If anyone finds fault with you, send them to me. You townsfolk, I suppose, are at a loss how to act on such occasions, not having a Shogun's son here every day.” The head of the ward in which the house was situated reported what had taken place to the Mayor of Osaka, and the latter sent two messengers to the house in which Ten-ichibo was residing. The messengers complained that curtains bearing the Tokugawa crest were hung round his dwelling without the authorities being informed that a member of the Tokugawa family was coming. “And,” added the messengers, “the Mayor says that you are to come to see him about this at once.”

“Tell him that I am not going to see him,”replied Ten-ichibo. “Is the Shogun's son, do you think, going to the Mayor like one who has committed an offense? If the Mayor has any business with me, he will have to come here to see me.”

This was reported to the Mayor, and he determined to go and see the visitor himself. On his arrival Ten-ichibo received him with a good deal of pomp, and showed him the sword and the document which the Shogun had given Sawano. After inspecting these, the Mayor thought there could be no mistake about Ten-ichibo's being the real son of the Shogun.

Ten-ichibo was in want of money; to obtain this, he issued notes of hand, which promised that every person lending money should be repaid with land, at the rate of one hundred koku for every hundred ryo lent. In this way, in Osaka alone, he collected eighty-five thousand ryo. He went to Kyoto and adopted the same plan, collecting about sixty thousand ryo in that city.

While this was going on, the Mayors of Osaka and Kyoto sent in post haste to Edo to report what had happened and to ask whether the personage traveling under the name of Ten-ichibo was in reality the son of the Shogun

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