top of page

Jitsuroku Roku: Chobei of Bandzuin

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