Original Story from A.B. Mitford's Tales of Old Japan
Gompachi and Komurasakii
Afterword & Commentary by Justin Hagen
About two hundred and thirty years ago there lived in the service of a daimyo of the province of Inaba, a young man, called Shirai Gompachi, who, when he was but sixteen years of age, had already won a name for his personal beauty and valor, and for his skill in the use of arms. Now it happened that one day a dog belonging to him fought with another dog belonging to a fellow-clansman, and the two masters, being both passionate youths, disputing as to whose dog had had the best of the fight, quarreled and came to blows, and Gompachi slew his adversary; and in consequence of this, he was obliged to flee from his country, and make his escape to Edo.
And so Gompachi set out on his travels.
One night, weary and footsore, he entered what appeared to him to be a roadside inn, ordered some refreshment, and went to bed, little thinking of the danger that menaced him: for as luck would have it, this inn turned out to be the trysting-place of a gang of robbers, into whose clutches he had thus unwittingly fallen. To be sure, Gompachi's purse was but scantily furnished, but his sword and dirk were worth some three hundred ounces of silver, and upon these the robbers (of whom there were ten) had cast envious eyes, and had determined to kill the owner for their sake; but he, all unsuspicious, slept on in fancied security.
In the middle of the night he was startled from his deep slumbers by some one stealthily opening the sliding door which led into his room, and rousing himself with an effort, he beheld a beautiful young girl, fifteen years of age, who, making signs to him not to stir, came up to his bedside, and said to him in a whisper:
“Sir, the master of this house is the chief of a gang of robbers, who have been plotting to murder you this night for the sake of your clothes and your sword. As for me, I am the daughter of a rich merchant in Mikawa: last year the robbers came to our house, and carried off my father's treasure and myself. I pray you, sir, take me with you, and let us fly from this dreadful place.”
She wept as she spoke, and Gompachi was at first too much startled to answer; but being a youth of high courage and a cunning fencer to boot, he soon recovered his presence of mind, and determined to kill the robbers, and to deliver the girl out of their hands. So he replied:
“Since you say so, I will kill these thieves, and rescue you this very night; only do you, when I begin the fight, run outside the house, that you may be out of harm's way, and remain in hiding until I join you.”
Upon this understanding the maiden left him , ad went her way. But he lay awake, holding his breath and watching; and when the thieves crept noiselessly into the room, where they supposed him to be fast asleep, he cut down the first man that entered, and stretched him dead at his feet. The other nine, seeing this, laid about them with their drawn swords, but Gompachi, fighting with desperation, mastered them at last, and slew them .
After thus ridding himself of his enemies, he went outside the house, and called to the girl, who came running to his side, and joyfully traveled on with him to Mikawa, where her father dwelt; and when they reached Mikawa, he took the maiden to the old man's house, and told him how, when he had fallen among thieves, his daughter had come to him in his hour of peril, and saved him out of her great pity; and how he, in return, rescuing her from her servitude, had brought her back to her home.
When the old folks saw their daughter whom they had lost restored to them, they were beside themselves with joy, and shed tears for very happiness; and, in their gratitude, they pressed Gompachi to remain with them, and they prepared feasts for him, and entertained him hospitably: but their daughter, who had fallen in love with him for his beauty and knightly valor, spent her days in thinking of him, and of him alone. The young man, however, in spite of the kindness of the old merchant, who wished to adopt him as his son, and tried hard to persuade him to consent to this, was fretting to go to Edo and take service as an officer in the household of some noble lord; so he resisted the entreaties of the father and the soft speeches of the daughter, and made ready to start on his journey; and the old merchant, seeing that he would not be turned from his purpose, gave him a parting gift of two hundred ounces of silver, and sorrowfully bade him farewell.
But alas for the grief of the maiden, who sat sobbing her heart out and mourning over her lover's departure! He, all the while thinking more of ambition than of love, went to her and comforted her, and said:
“Dry your eyes, sweetheart, and weep no more, for I shall soon come back to you. Do you, in the meanwhile, be faithful and true to me, and tend your parents with filial piety."
So she wiped away her tears and smiled again, when she heard him promise that he would soon return to her. And Gompachi went his way, and in due time came near to Edo
But his dangers were not yet over; for late one night, arriving at a place called Suzugamori, in the neighborhood of Edo, he fell in with six highwaymen, who attacked him, thinking to make short work of killing and robbing him. Nothing daunted, he drew his sword, and killed two out of the six; but, being weary and worn out with his long journey, he was sorely pressed, and the struggle was going hard with him, when a wardsman, who happened to pass that way riding in a chair, seeing the affray, jumped down from his chair and drawing his dirk came to the rescue, and between them they put the robbers to flight.
Now it turned out that this kind tradesman, who had so happily come to the assistance of Gompachi, was no other than Chobei of Bandzui, the chief of the Otokodate, or Friendly Society of the wardsmen of Edo, a man famous in the annals of the city, whose life, exploits, and adventures are recited to this day, and form the subject of another tale.
When the highwaymen had disappeared, Gompachi, turning to his deliverer, said, “I know not who you may be, sir, but I have to thank you for rescuing me from a great danger."
And as he proceeded to express his gratitude, Chobei replied, “I am but a poor wardsman, a humble man in my way, sir; and if the robbers ran away, it was more by good luck than owing to any merit of mine. But I am filled with admiration at the way you fought; you displayed a courage and a skill that were beyond your years, sir.”
“Indeed,” said the young man, smiling with pleasure at hearing himself praised; “I am still young and inexperienced, and am quite ashamed of my bungling style of fencing."
“And now may I ask you, sir, whither you are bound?”
“That is almost more than I know myself, for I am a Ronin, and have no fixed purpose in view. "
“That is a bad job,” said Chobei, who felt pity for the lad. “However, if you will excuse my boldness in making such an offer, being but a wardsman, until you shall have taken service I would fain place my poor house at your disposal.” Gompachi accepted the offer of his new but trusty friend with thanks; so Chobei led him to his house, where he lodged him and hospitably entertained him for some months.
And now Gompachi, being idle and having nothing to care for, fell into bad ways, and began to lead a dissolute life, thinking of nothing but gratifying his whims and passions; he took to frequenting the Yoshiwara, the quarter of the town which is set aside for tea-houses and other haunts of wild young men, where his handsome face and figure attracted attention, and soon made him a great favorite with all the beauties of the neighborhood.
About this time men began to speak loud in praise of the charms of Komurasaki, or “Little Purple," a young girl who had recently come to the Yoshiwara, and who in beauty and accomplishments outshone all her rivals. Gompachi, like the rest of the world, heard so much of her fame that he determined to go to the house where she dwelt, at the sign of “The Three Sea-coasts," and judge for himself whether she deserved all that men said of her. Accordingly he set out one day, and having arrived at "The Three Sea-coasts," asked to see Komurasaki; and being shown into the room where she was sitting, advanced towards her; but when their eyes met, they both started back with a cry of astonishment, for this Komurasaki, the famous beauty of the Yoshiwara, proved to be the very girl whom several months before Gompachi had rescued from the robbers' den, and restored to her parents in Mikawa. He had left her in prosperity and affluence, the darling child of a rich father, when they had exchanged vows of love and fidelity; and now they met in a common stew in Edo What a change! What a contrast! How had the riches turned to rust, the vows to lies!
“What is this?” cried Gompachi, when he had recovered from his surprise. “How is it that I find you here pursuing this vile calling, in the Yoshiwara? Pray explain this to me, for there is some mystery beneath all this which I do not understand.”
But Komurasaki, who, having thus unexpectedly fallen in with her lover that she had yearned for, was divided between joy and shame, answered, weeping:
“Alas! My tale is a sad one, and would be long to tell. After you left us last year, calamity and reverses fell upon our house; and when my parents became poverty-stricken, I was at my wits' end to know how to support them: so I sold this wretched body of mine to the master of this house, and sent the money to my father and mother; but, in spite of this, troubles and misfortunes multiplied upon them, and now, at last, they have died of misery and grief. And, oh lives there in this wide world so unhappy a wretch as I! But now that I have met you again-you who are so strong, help me who am weak. You saved me once, do not, I implore you, desert me now!” and as she told her piteous tale the tears streamed from her eyes.
“This is, indeed, a sad story, ” replied Gompachi, much affected by the recital. “There must have been a wonderful run of bad luck to bring such misfortune upon your house, which but a little while ago I recollect so prosperous. However, mourn no more, for I will not forsake you. It is true that I am too poor to redeem you from your servitude, but at any rate I will contrive so that you shall be tormented no more. Love me, therefore, and put your trust in me.” When she heard him speak so kindly she was comforted, and wept no more, but poured out her whole heart to him, and forgot her past sorrows in the great joy of meeting him again.
When it became time for them to separate, he embraced her tenderly and returned to Chobei's house; but he could not banish Komurasaki from his mind, and all day long he thought of her alone; and so it came about that he went daily to the Yoshiwara to see her, and if any accident detained him, she, missing the accustomed visit, would become anxious and write to him to inquire the cause of his absence. At last, pursuing this course of life, his stock of money ran short, and as, being a Ronin and without any fixed employment, he had no means of renewing his supplies, he was ashamed of showing himself penniless at “ The Three Sea-coasts.” Then it was that a wicked spirit arose within him, and he went out and murdered a man, and having robbed him of his money carried it to the Yoshiwara.
From bad to worse is an easy step, and the tiger that has once tasted blood is dangerous. Blinded and infatuated by his excessive love, Gompachi kept on slaying and robbing, so that, while his outer man was fair to look upon, the heart within him was that of a hideous devil. At last his friend Chobei could no longer endure the sight of him, and turned him out of his house; and as, sooner or later, virtue and vice meet with their reward, it came to pass that Gompachi's crimes became notorious, and the Government having set spies upon his track, he was caught red-handed and arrested; and his evil deeds having been fully proved against him, he was carried off to the execution ground at Suzuyamori, the Bell Grove," and beheaded as a common malefactor.
Now when Gompachi was dead, Chobei's old affection for the young man returned, and, being a kind and pious man, he went and claimed his body and head, and buried him at Meguro, in the grounds of the Temple called Boronji.
When Komurasaki heard the people at Yoshiwara gossiping about her lover's end, her grief knew no bounds, so she fled secretly from "The Three Sea-coasts,” and came to Meguro and threw herself upon the newly-made grave. Long she prayed and bitterly she wept over the tomb of him whom, with all his faults, she had loved so well, and then, drawing a dagger from her girdle, she plunged it in her breast and died.
The priests of the temple, when they saw what had happened, wondered greatly and were astonished at the loving faithfulness of this beautiful girl, and taking compassion on her, they laid her side by side with Gompachi in one grave, and over the grave they placed a stone which remains to this day, bearing the inscription “The Tomb of the Shiyoku." And still the people of Edo visit the place, and still they praise the beauty of Gompachi and the filial piety and fidelity of Komurasaki.
Gompachi and Chobeiii
The story of Gompachi and Komurasaki is one of violent tragedy based on true events that occurred between Shirai Gompachi and Miura-ya Komurasaki. Their love story was one that sparked great interest in the general public in Feudal Japan and their story became the subject of a series of kabuki plays during the 18th century as was characteristic of great tales of tragedy and revenge in Feudal Japan. As with much of the Jitsuroku tales of the time, these stories have often been embellished for thematic purposes with the inclusion of fight scenes and added drama and this rendition by A.B. Mitford is no different. None the less, the tale of Gompachi and Komurasaki was indeed rooted in love story from the 17th century that was further immortalized in art such as in one piece cataloged by The Metropolitan Museum of Art titled “The Lovers Miura-ya Komurasaki and Shirai Gompachi” by the 18th century famous Ukiyo-E artist Kitagawa Utamaro.1
Despite the fantastic story of their tragic lives and untimely ends, the true story is a bit more skewed. Records indicate that Gompachi had been a warrior from the Tottori prefecture, however was forced to flee to Edo after committing murder. This alters the timeline as presented in our story, which had placed Gompachi's murders occurring in Edo, attempting to justify his murderous deeds for love. None the less, history indicated that while in Edo, Gompachi did seem to meet and see often the courtesan Komurasaki. After Gompachi was apprehended and executed for murder by the authorities in 1679, Komurasaki committed suicide at his grave.2
Their grave is still visited and preserved today at the Ryusenji Temple, which is a Tendai Buddhist sect temple dedicated to the deity Fudo Myoo located in Meguro, Japan.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) 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
4) “Ryusenji.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Nov. 2019,en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ry %C5%ABsenji.
5) “The Lovers Miura-Ya Komurasaki and Shirai Gonpachi.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/36632.
1 “The Lovers Miura-Ya Komurasaki and Shirai Gonpachi.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/36632.
2 “The Lovers Miura-Ya Komurasaki and Shirai Gonpachi.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/36632.
3 “Ryusenji.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ry%C5%ABsenji.
ii Kunisada, Utagawa, Actors Ichikawa Ebizo V as Banzui Chobei and Kawarazaki Gonjuro I as Shirai Gonpachi, 1856. Source File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Actors_Ichikawa_Ebizo_V_as_Banzui_Chobei_and_Kawarazaki_Gonjuro_I_as_Shirai_Gonpachi.jpg