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Ancient Warriors’ Dreams NAKATSU Fumihiko

For some reason I remember distinctly that the first time I visited Hiraizumi was in the fall of 1945. It was a few months before I turned four, so you could say that it's odd that I remember. But there's a good reason.

I only remember fragments from those days around the end of the War, but they left an unmistakable impression on my young heart.

Ichinoseki was hot and the sky brilliantly clear on August 15. I was playing under the persimmon tree in our yard when my mother came running and placed her two hands on my head, whispering over and over, "Daddy's coming home. Isn't that wonderful?" She had heard the radio broadcast announcing the end of the War.

My father had been a school teacher in Hanamaki, but was called up a half year before Japan's surrender. We used to say that men like my father were "taken by soldiers," and even though he was stationed domestically my mother must have been extremely worried.

It was the beginning of September when my father returned home. It was an era with almost no phones, and one day my father just showed up at the door without warning. The sight of that blackened, sunburned man shocked me, and I remember clinging to my mother.

Both of my parents are dead now so I have no way to verify this, but I don't think my father went back to his old school after that. After a while, he took a position at Ichinoseki First High School, but I'm pretty certain he was unemployed from the end of the war until the following autumn.

But that was a happy time for me.

Almost daily we drew a bath in the afternoon and bathed together. When we got bored with water pistols and towels, my father made me recite from Confucius. "Confucius says, 'Clever words and a pretentious manner are seldom those of a Good Man.' Confucius says…" I didn't understand the archaic language, but repeated the words faithfully, over and over. Each successful recitation earned me a sweet snack from the kitchen. I would leap naked from the bath, grab a handful of candies, and rush back to share them with my father.

Then, one fine fall day my father had my mother pack a lunch and announced that he was going to Hiraizumi.

I was my father's constant companion in those days, so I never doubted he would take me along. I was wrong. I cried and cried until he finally let me tag along.

We bumped along the main road in a bus until we got off in front of a large temple. It was not until I was older that I realized this was Mōtsūji.

There was nobody there, and the great temple grounds were covered with weeds. My father found a stone monument in the weeds, and began doing something. He brought a bucket of water and washed the surface, then spread India ink over it. He laid a sheet of paper over the stone and began rubbing it with a brush. Of course, making rubbings like that wouldn't be permitted now, but we made quite a few.

My father was copying Matsuo Bashō's famous haiku, "The summer grass / 'Tis all that's left / of ancient warriors' dreams." I just kept playing nearby, not really understanding what was going on, but when I looked over my father was lying in the grass staring at the sky. Tears leaked from the corners of his eyes, streaming down into the green grass.

Surprised, I went to him. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry.

I couldn't bring myself to say anything, so I just held my breath and looked on. After a while, my father sat up and rubbed his red eyes. He looked at me and murmured, "Ancient warriors' dreams."

That's all I remember of that day.

Why was my father crying? For a dead friend? Or did some memory of war overcome him?

I didn't realize that my father had specialized in Bashō at university until much later. He had even traveled around in the haiku master's footsteps. When I was in high school, we had to take a course in classics. They made us memorize Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi ("Narrow Road to the Deep North") from cover to cover. When I think about that, it may well have been that my father was looking back over his life.

800 years ago in Ōshū, there must have been plenty of men who cried, defeated in war. At some point, I'd like to write about their sadness.

Excerpted from the Hiraizumi Cultural Chamber journal, Tōhō ni Ari, issue 3.

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