Original Story A Story of the Otokodate of Edo from A.B. Mitford's Tales of Old Japan
Afterword & Commentary by Justin Hagen
Chobei of Bandzui was the chief of the Otokodate of Edo1 He was originally called Itaro, and was the son of a certain Ronin who lived in the country. One day, when he was only ten years of age, he went out with a playfellow to bathe in the river; and as the two were playing they quarreled over their game, and Itaro, seizing the other boy, threw him into the river and drowned him.
Then he went home, and said to his father:
“I went to play by the river today, with a friend; and as he was rude to me, I threw him into the water and killed him.”
When his father heard him speak thus, quite calmly, as if nothing had happened, he was thunderstruck, and said.
“This is indeed a fearful thing. Child as you are, you will have to pay the penalty of your deed; so tonight you must fly to Edo in secret, and take service with some noble Samurai, and perhaps in time you may become a soldier yourself.”
With these words he gave him twenty ounces of silver and a fine sword, made by the famous swordsmith Rai Kunitoshi, and sent him out of the province with all dispatch. The following morning the parents of the murdered child came to claim that Itaro should be given up to their vengeance; but it was too late, and all they could do was to bury their child and mourn for his loss.
Itaro made his way to Edo in hot haste, and there found employment as a shop-boy; but soon tiring of that sort of life, and burning to become a soldier,he found means at last to enter the service of a certain Hatamoto called Sakurai Shozayemon, and changed his name to Tzunehei. Now this Sakurai Shozayemon had a son, called Shonosuke, a young man in his seventeenth year, who grew so fond of Tsunehei that he took him with him wherever he went, and treated him in all ways as an equal.
When Shonosuke went to the fencing-school Tsunehei would accompany him, and thus, as he was by nature strong and active, soon became a good swordsman.
One day, when Shozayemon had gone out, his son Shonosuke said to Tsunehei:
“You know how fond my father is of playing at football: it must be great sport. As he has gone out today, suppose you and I have a game?”
“That will be rare sport,” answered Tsunehei “Let us make haste and play, before my lord comes home.”
So the two boys went out into the garden, and began trying to kick the football; but, lacking skill, do what they would, they could not lift it from the ground. At last Shonosuke, with a vigorous kick, raised the football; but, having missed his aim, it went tumbling over the wall into the next garden, which belonged to one Hikosaka Zempachi, a teacher of lance exercise, who was known to be a surly, ill-tempered fellow.
“Oh, dear! What shall we do?” said Shonosuke “We have lost my father's football in his absence; and if we go and ask for it back from that churlish neighbor of ours, we shall only be scolded and sworn at for our pains.”
“Oh, never mind," answered Tsunehei; “I will go and apologize for our carelessness, and get the football back.”
“Well, but then you will be scolded, and I don 't want that.”
“Never mind me. Little care I for his cross words.” So Tsunehei went to the next-door house to reclaim the ball.
Now it so happened that Zempachi,the surly neighbor, had been walking in his garden whilst the two youths were playing; and as he was admiring the beauty of his favorite chrysanthemums, the football came flying over the wall and struck him full in the face. Zempachi, not used to anything but flattery and coaxing, flew into a violent rage at this; and while he was thinking how he would revenge himself upon any one who might be sent to ask for the lost ball, Tsunehei came in, and said to one of Zempachi's servants:
“I am sorry to say that in my lord's absence I took his football, and, in trying to play with it, clumsily kicked it over your wall. I beg you to excuse my carelessness, and to be so good as to give me back the ball.”
The servant went in and repeated this to Zempachi, who worked himself up into a great rage, and ordered Tsunehei to be brought before him, and said,
“Here, fellow, is your name Tsunehei?”
“Yes, sir, at your service. I am almost afraid to ask pardon for my carelessness; but please forgive me, and let me have the ball.”
“I thought your master, Shozayemon, was to blame for this; but it seems that it was you who kicked the football.”
“Yes, sir. I am sure I am very sorry for what I have done. Please, may I ask for the ball?” said Tsunehei,bowing humbly. For a while Zempachi made no answer, but at length he said:
“Do you know, villain, that your dirty football struck me in the face? I ought, by rights, to kill you on the spot for this; but I will spare your life this time, so take your football and be off.” And with that he went up to Tsunehei and beat him, and kicked him in the head, and spat in his face.
Then Tsunehei, who up to that time had demeaned him self very humbly, in his eagerness to get back the football, jumped up in a fury, and said, “I made ample apologies to you for my carelessness, and now you have insulted and struck me. Ill-mannered ruffian! Take back the ball, I'll none of it,” and he drew his dirk, and cutting the football in two, threw it at Zempachi, and returned home.
But Zempachi, growing more and more angry, called one of his servants, and said to him:
“ That fellow, Tsunehei, has been most insolent: go next door and find out Shozayemon, and tell him that I have ordered you to bring back Tsunehei, that I may kill him.”
So the servant went to deliver the message.
In the meantime Tsunehei went back to his master's house; and when Shonosuke saw him, he said:
“Well, of course you have been ill treated; but did you get back the football?”
“When I went in, I made many apologies; but I was beaten, and kicked in the head, and treated with the greatest indignity. I would have killed that wretch, Zempachi, at once, but that I knew that, if I did so while I was yet a member of your household, I should bring trouble upon your family. For your sake I bore this ill-treatment patiently; but now I pray you let me take leave of you and become a Ronin, that I may be revenged upon this man.”
“Think well what you are doing,” answered Shonosuke “After all, we have only lost a football; and my father will not care, nor upbraid us.”
But Tsunehei would not listen to him, and was bent upon wiping out the affront that he had received. As they were talking, the messenger arrived from Zempachi, demanding the surrender of Tsunehei, on the ground that he had insulted him: to this Shonosuke replied that his father was away from home, and that in his absence he could do nothing.
At last Shozayemon came home; and when he heard what had happened he was much grieved, and at a loss what to do, when a second messenger arrived from Zempachi, demanding that Tsunehei should be given up without delay. Then Shozayemon, seeing that the matter was serious, called the youth to him, and said:
“This Zempachi is heartless and cruel, and if you go to his house will assuredly kill you; take, therefore, these fifty ryos, and fly to Osaka or Kyoto, where you may safely set up in business.”
“Sir,” answered Tsunehei, with tears of gratitude for his lord 's kindness, “from my heart I thank you for your great goodness; but I have been insulted and trampled upon, and, if I lay down my life in the attempt, I will repay Zempachi for what he has this day done.”
“Well, then, since you needs must be revenged, go and fight, and may success attend you! Still, as much depends upon the blade you carry, and I fear yours is likely to be but a sorry weapon, I will give you a sword," and with this he offered Tsunehei his own.
“No, my lord,” replied Tsunehei; "I have a famous sword, by Rai Kunitoshi, which my father gave me. I have never shown it to your lordship, but I have it safely stowed away in my room.”
When Shozayemon saw and examined the sword , he admired it greatly, and said, “This is indeed a beautiful blade, and one on which you may rely. Take it, then, and bear yourself nobly in the fight; only remember that Zempachi is a cunning spearman, and be sure to be very cautious.”
So Tsunehei, after thanking his lord for his manifold kindnesses, took an affectionate leave, and went to Zempachi's house, and said to the servant:
“It seems that your master wants to speak to me. Be so good as to take me to see him.”
So the servant led him into the garden, where Zempachi, spear in hand, was waiting to kill him. When Zempachi saw him, he cried out:
“Ha! So you have come back; and now, for your insolence, this day I mean to kill you with my own hand.”
“Insolent yourself!” replied Tsunehei “Beast, and no Samurai! Come, let us see which of us is the better man.”
Furiously incensed, Zempachi thrust with his spear at Tsunehei; but he, trusting to his good sword, attacked Zempachi, who, cunning warrior as he was, could gain no advantage. At last Zempachi, losing his temper, began fighting less carefully, so that Tsunehei found an opportunity of cutting the shaft of his spear. Zempachi then drew his sword, and two of his retainers came up to assist him; but Tsunehei killed one of them, and wounded Zempachi in the forehead. The second retainer fled frightened at the youth 's valor, and Zempachi was blinded by the blood which flowed from the wound on his forehead. Then Tsunehei said:
“To kill one who is as a blind man were unworthy a soldier. Wipe the blood from your eyes, Sir Zempachi, and let us fight it out fairly.”
So Zempachi, wiping away his blood, bound a kerchief round his head, and fought again desperately. But at last the pain of his wound and the loss of blood overcame him, and Tsunehei cut him down with a wound in the shoulder and easily killed him.
Then Tsunehei went and reported the whole matter to the Governor of Edo, and was put in prison until an inquiry could be made. But the Chief Priest of Bandzui, who had heard of the affair, went and told the governor all the bad deeds of Zempachi, and having procured Tsunehei's pardon, took him home and employed him as porter in the temple. So Tsunehei changed his name to Chobei, and earned much respect in the neighborhood, both for his talents and for his many good works. If any man were in distress, he would help him, heedless of his own advantage or danger, until men came to look up to him as to a father, and many youths joined him and became his apprentices. So he built a house at Hanakawado, in Asakusa, and lived there with his apprentices, whom he farmed out as spearmen and footmen to the daimyos and Hatamotos, taking for himself the tithe of their earnings. But if any of them were sick or in trouble, Chobei would nurse and support them, and provide physicians and medicine. And the fame of his goodness went abroad until his apprentices were more than two thousand men, and were employed in every part of the city. But as for Chobei, the more he prospered, the more he gave in charity, and all men praised his good and generous heart.
This was the time when the Hatamotos had formed them selves into a league, of which Midzuno Jiurozayemon, Kondo Noborinosuke, and Abe Shirogoro (the same villainous figures from Kazuma's Revenge) were the chiefs. And the leagues of the nobles despised the leagues of the wardsmen, and treated them with scorn, and tried to put to shame Chobei and his brave men; but the nobles' weapons recoiled upon themselves, and, whenever they tried to bring contempt upon Chobei, they themselves were brought to ridicule. So there was great hatred on both sides.
One day, that Chobei went to divert himself in a tea-house in the Yoshiwara, he saw a felt carpet spread in an upper room, which had been adorned as for some special occasion; and he asked the master of the house what guest of distinction was expected. The landlord replied that my Lord Jiurozayemon, the chief of the league of Hatamotos, was due there that afternoon. On hearing this, Chobei replied that as he much wished to meet my Lord Jiurozayemon, he would lie down and await his coming. The landlord was put out at this, and knew not what to say; but yet he dare not thwart Chobei, the powerful chief of the Otokodate So Chobei took off his clothes and laid himself down upon the carpet. After a while Lord Jiurozayemon arrived, and going upstairs found a man of large stature lying naked upon the carpet which had been spread for him.
“What low ruffian is this?” shouted he angrily to the landlord .
“My lord, it is Chobei, the chief of the Otokodate,” answered the man, trembling.
Jiurozayemon at once suspected that Chobei was doing this to insult him; so he sat down by the side of the sleeping man, and lighting his pipe began to smoke. When he had finished his pipe, he emptied the burning ashes into Chobei's navel; but Chobei, patiently bearing the pain, still feigned sleep. Ten times did Jiurozayemon fill his pipe, and ten times he shook out the burning ashes on to Chobei's navel; but he neither stirred nor spoke. Then Jiurozayemon, astonished at his fortitude, shook him, and roused him, saying:
“Chobei! Chobei! Wake up, man.”
“What is the matter?” said Chobei, rubbing his eyes as though he were awaking from a deep sleep; then seeing Jiurozayemon, he pretended to be startled, and said, “Oh, my lord, I know not who you are; but I have been very rude to your lordship. I was overcome with wine, and fell asleep: I pray your lordship to forgive me.”
“Is your name Chobei?”
“Yes, my lord, at your service. A poor wardsman, and ignorant of good manners, I have been very rude; but I pray your lordship to excuse my ill-breeding.”
“Nay, nay; we have all heard the fame of Chobei, of Bandzui, and I hold myself lucky to have met you this day. Let us be friends.”
“It is a great honor for a humble wardsman to meet a nobleman face to face."
As they were speaking, the waitresses brought in fish and wine, and Jiurozayemon pressed Chobei to feast with him; and thinking to annoy and insult Chobei, offered him a large wine-cup (considered to be a rude gesture), which, however, he drank without shrinking, and then returned the rude gesture to his entertainer, who was by no means so well able to bear the fumes of the wine. Then Jiurozayemon hit upon another device for annoying Chobei, and, hoping to frighten him, said:
“Here, Chobei, let me offer you some fish;” and with those words he drew his sword, and, picking up a cake of baked fish upon the point of it, thrust it towards the wardsman's mouth. Any ordinary man would have been afraid to accept the morsel so roughly offered; but Chobei simply opened his mouth, and taking the cake off the sword's point ate it without wincing. Whilst Jiurozayemon was wondering in his heart what manner of man this was, that nothing could daunt, Chobei said to him:
“This meeting with your lordship has been an auspicious occasion to me, and I would fain ask leave to offer some humble gift to your lordship in memory of it. Is there anything which your lordship would specially fancy?”
“I am very fond of cold macaroni.”
“Then I shall have the honor of ordering some for your lordship;” and with this Chobei went downstairs, and calling one of his apprentices, named Token Gombei, who was waiting for him, gave him a hundred ryos, and bade him collect all the cold macaroni to be found in the neighboring cook-shops and pile it up in front of the tea -house. So Gombei went home, and, collecting Chobei's apprentices, sent them out in all directions to buy the macaroni. Jiurozayemon all this while was thinking of the pleasure he would have in laughing at Chobei for offering him a mean and paltry present;. but when, by degrees, the macaroni began to be piled mountain-high around the tea house, he saw that he could not make a fool of Chobei, and went home discomfited.
Midzuno Jiurozayemon, continued his attempts to bring shame upon Chobei, the Father of the Otokodate; however, the latter, by his ready wit, never failed to make the proud noble's weapons recoil upon him. The failure of these attempts rankled in the breast of Jiurozayemon, who hated Chobei with an intense hatred, and sought to be revenged upon him.
One day he sent a retainer to Chobei's house with a message to the effect that on the following day my lord Jiurozayemon would be glad to see Chobei at his house, and to offer him a cup of wine, in return for the cold macaroni with which his lordship had been feasted some time since. Chobei immediately suspected that in sending this friendly summons the cunning noble was hiding a dagger in a smile; however, he knew that if he stayed away out of fear he would be branded as a coward, and made a laughing-stock for fools to jeer at. Not caring that Jiurozayemon should succeed in his desire to put him to shame, he sent for his favorite apprentice, Token Gombei, and said to him:
“I have been invited to a drinking-bout by Midzuno Jiurozayemon I know full well that this is but a stratagem to requite me for having fooled him, and maybe his hatred will go the length of killing me. However, I shall go and take my chance; and if I detect any sign of foul play, I'll try to serve the world by ridding it of a tyrant, who passes his life in oppressing the helpless farmers and wardsmen. Now as, even if I succeed in killing him in his own house, my life must pay forfeit for the deed, do you come tomorrow night with a burying-tub, and fetch my corpse from this Jiurozayemon's house.”
Token Gombei, when he heard the “ Father” speak thus, was horrified, and tried to dissuade him from obeying the invitation. But Chobei's mind was fixed, and, without heeding Gombei's remonstrances, he proceeded to give instructions as to the disposal of his property after his death, and to settle all his earthly affairs.
On the following day, towards noon, he made ready to go to Jiurozayemon's house, bidding one of his apprentices precede him with a complimentary present. Jiurozayemon, who was waiting with impatience for Chobei to come, so soon as he heard of his arrival ordered his retainers to usher him into his presence; and Chobei, having bade his apprentices without fail to come and fetch him that night, went into the house.
No sooner had he reached the room next to that in which Jiurozayemon was sitting than he saw that his suspicions of treachery were well founded; for two men with drawn swords rushed upon him, and tried to cut him down. Deftly avoiding their blows, however, he tripped up the one, and kicking the other in the ribs, sent him reeling and breathless against the wall; then, as calmly as if nothing had happened, he presented himself before Jiurozayemon, who, peeping through a chink in the sliding-doors, had watched his retainers' failure.
“Welcome, welcome, Master Chobei,” said he. “I always had heard that you were a man of mettle, and I wanted to see what stuff you were made of; so I bade my retainers put your courage to the test. That was a masterly throw of yours. Well, you must excuse this churlish reception: come and sit down by me.”
“Pray do not mention it, my lord,” said Chobei, smiling rather scornfully. “I know that my poor skill is not to be measured with that of a noble Samurai; and if these two good gentlemen had the worst of it just now, it was mere luck, that's all.”
So, after the usual compliments had been exchanged, Chobei sat down by Jiurozayemon, and the attendants brought in wine and condiments. Before they began to drink, however, Jiurozayemon said:
“You must be tired and exhausted with your walk this hot day, Master Chobei I thought that perhaps a bath might refresh you, so I ordered my men to get it ready for you. Would you not like to bathe and make yourself comfortable?”
Chobei suspected that this was a trick to strip him, and take him unawares when he should have laid aside his dirk. However, he answered cheerfully:
“Your lordship is very good. I shall be glad to avail my self of your kind offer. Pray excuse me for a few moments.”
So he went to the bath-room, and, leaving his clothes out side, he got into the bath, with the full conviction that it would be the place of his death. Yet he never trembled nor quailed, determined that, if he needs must die, no man should say he had been a coward. Then Jiurozayemon, calling to his attendants, said:
“Quick ! lock the door of the bath- room! We hold him fast now. If he gets out, more than one life will pay the price of his. He's a match for any six of you in fair fight. Lock the door, I say, and light up the fire under the bath and we'll boil him to death, and be rid of him. Quick, men, quick!"
So they locked the door, and fed the fire until the water hissed and bubbled within; and Chobei, in bis agony, tried to burst open the door, but Jiurozayemon ordered his men to thrust their spears through the partition wall and kill him. Two of the spears Chobei clutched and broke short off; but at last he was struck by a mortal blow under the ribs, and died a brave man by the hands of cowards.
That evening Token Gombei, who, to the astonishment of Chobei's wife, had bought a burying-tub, came, with seven other apprentices, to fetch the Father of the Otokodate from Jiurozayemon's house; and when the retainers saw them, they mocked at them, and said:
“What, have you come to fetch your drunken master home in a litter?”
“Nay,” answered Gombei, “but we have brought a coffin for his dead body, as he bade us.”
When the retainers heard this, they marveled at the courage of Chobei, who had thus wittingly come to meet his fate. So Chobei's corpse was placed in the burying-tub, and handed over to his apprentices, who swore to avenge his death. Far and wide, the poor and friendless mourned for this good man. His son Chomatsu inherited his property; and his wife remained a faithful widow until her dying day, praying that she might sit with him in paradise upon the cup of the same lotus- flower. Many a time did the apprentices of Chobei meet together to avenge him; but Jiurozayemon eluded all their efforts, until, having been imprisoned by the Government in the temple called Kanyeiji, at Uyeno, as is related in the story of Kazuma's Revenge, he was placed beyond the reach of their hatred.
So lived and so died Chobei of Bandzui, the Father of the Otokodate of Edo.
Chobei of Bandzuiii
Chobei of Bandzui in this tale is the same Chobei from our previous tale of The Loves of Gompachi and Komurasaki and the two will reunite in our next tale as well. Originally one large compilation from A.B. Mitford's Tales of Old Japan, it appears that multiple stories and kabuki plays were fragmented and intertwined into his literary work. As such, through additional commentary and the piece meal organization of the former work, much of the continuity and overlap in characters tended to be lost to readers. Therefore, by reorganizing the structure and interposing other related tales of the time, a more cohesive overall story is attempted to be given here.
This tale of Chobei was merely the first half of the original story of A Story of the Otokodate of Edo however I have split the tale into two stories as the second half is a fantastic revenge story that can stand alone in itself and has been overlooked through time due to its integration with our story above. Upon further investigation, it would appear that our story above was from a separate play titled Kiwametsuki Bandzui Chobei centered solely around Chobei Bandzui as an antagonist to the Hatamotos. This would explain the title in our story given to Chobei as being an “Otokodate” which was actually a term used to describe a particular type of character in kabuki plays and not usually an actual title bestowed upon someone. Otokodate were characterized as lower class citizens who would stand up to oppressive samurai to help champion the people. Chobei Bandzui was the most popular character to be portrayed as an Otokodate and appeared as the central character in many kabuki plays in Feudal Japan.2
It appears Chobei Bandzui (1622-1657) was indeed an actual historical figure of note whose exploits in life sparked a series of kabuki plays taking great liberties with his actual accomplishments. Born to the name of Tsukamoto Itaro in Karatsu, Japan, Chobei would ultimately establish himself in Edo. True to the description in our tale, Chobei is said to have created an employment agency for Ronin and helped find them work through the city and neighboring areas. Chobei however was quite outspoken about the oppression of the Hatamotos of the time attempting to take control of the marketplace in Edo and openly opposed them. This resulted in a great deal of backlash from the Hatamotos and ultimately culminated in his death supposedly by the hands of Mizuno Jurozaemon (Midzuno Jiurozayemon in our tale).3
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sensei Justin Hagen, has been practicing martial arts since the age of 5 years old and is currently a martial arts instructor as well as an educator for the Pennsylvania public school system. In 2011 he received his Bachelor's degree in history with a minor in philosophy with emphasis on East Asian studies and religion from the University of Rhode Island. Continuing his education, Sensei Hagen also received his Masters degree from DeSales University in Education in 2018 with his final thesis exploring research on the effects martial arts programs have on behavior in the educational setting. Sensei Hagen now seeks to share the knowledge he has accrued through his experiences in life with the world. Currently he teaches Olympic style Tae Kwon Do at BucksMont Tae Kwon Do in Hatfield, PA as well as independently runs a Kyokushin Karate club under the direction of Shihan Roman Herman's KUSA organization. Sensei Hagen also has courses available on Udemy open to the public to take in order to learn more about martial arts philosophy and culture.
In conjunction to martial arts, Sensei Hagen is also a woodburning artist, the subject for his art often inspired by martial arts and Japanese culture.
To browse his catalog of Hannya Mask, Ukiyo-E & Kanji woodburns, please visit:
1) Baron Redesdale, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford. Tales of Old Japan. United Kingdom, Macmillan and Company, 1871.
2) Dykstra, Yoshiko: Notable Tales Old and New. Tachibana Narisue's Kokon Chomonjū
3) Frédéric, Louis. "Banzuiin Chōbei." Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.
4) Kornicki, P. F. “Manuscript, Not Print: Scribal Culture in the Edo Period.”Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 32, no. 1, 2006, pp. 23–52. JSTOR
5) Martin, Katherine. “Scholten Japanese Art: Imagery of the Kabuki Theater: Natori Shunsen, Actor Nakamura Kichiemon as Suzagamori No Chobei.”, 8 June 2021, www.scholten-japanese- art.com/kabuki_show2_08.php.
6)Sansom, George (1963). A History of Japan: 1615–1867. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
1 Otokodate were generally a band of heroes from the lower class who helped champion the weak or those those who were being oppressed by the upper Samurai class in Feudal Japan. Generally this term however is used in Japanese Kabuki plays to denote the lead heroic figure following this description of character.
2 Martin, Katherine. “Scholten Japanese Art: Imagery of the Kabuki Theater: Natori Shunsen, Actor Nakamura Kichiemon as Suzagamori No Chobei.”, 8 June 2021, www.scholten-japanese-art.com/kabuki_show2_08.php.
3 Frédéric, Louis. "Banzuiin Chōbei." Japan Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.
i Kuniyoshi, Utagawa, Chobei Banzui , 1845-1846 Source File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banzui_Chobei_%E5%B9%A1%E9%9A%8F%E9%95%B7%E5%85%B5%E8%A1%9B_(BM_2008,3037.00102).jpg
ii Kuniyoshi, Utagawa, Banzui Chobei, 1845. Source File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Half-legth_portrait_of_Bazui_Chobel.jpg