When I returned home in the spring, the usual round of work - gathering firewood, preparing the fields, planting the seedlings, transplanting, weeding the paddies - began; but my desire to go out to work in the wide, unknown world grew stronger. The idea behind the desire was certainly not unusual. In those days, people in Niigata Prefecture often left their villages to find work. In my case, I was merely approaching the age when the itch became strongest. One day, I came straight out with a request to my parents for permission to go.
My father thought a while. My brothers were growing up and could handle their share of the work. Since I was the second son, inevitably, I would have to begin a branch family and make my own way in the world while my elder brother carried our family line on. My father understood my feelings and agreed: "All right, how about going to Tokyo to find a job?"
As I said earlier, my mother was suffering from a steadily worsening stomach ulcer. Her spirits were low. She was worried and did not want me to leave her side. Still, instead of disapproving my request, she encouraged me and urged me to work hard and stay in good health.
Ordinarily, people in our part of the country went to other districts to make money after the harvest was in. But since there were plenty of hands to help at our house and since my being away would make little difference, I decided to leave on August 27. That happened to be the day when both Tokamachi and our village celebrated the festival of the Suwa Shrine deity. From early morning, the booming of the drums floated on the air. Listening to it, I began to wonder whether leaving home was as it is described in the song: "When you leave Echigo, it's with tears in your eyes. . . ."
No. Not for me. My heart was filled with courage and with expectation of all the things that lay ahead. I was even impatient with my elder brother for the time he took making preparations to go with me as far as Tokamachi.
No tears for me. But my mother wept. Over and over again, she begged me to take care of my health and to write at once when I reached the city. "Yes, yes," I answered shortly. But now I see that it was her love and concern that made her speak the way she did.
Parting with my brother and filling my lungs with the invigorating morning air, I started along the road down the Shinano River toward the town of Ojiya. The thought that I was on my way to Tokyo drove everything else from my mind. In those days, the convenient train lines that now connect Niigata with the capital did not exist. To make the trip, it was necessary to walk to Ojiya and then take a toylike, lightweight train to the small town of Raikoji, where it was possible to make connections with the Shin'etsu Main Line for Tokyo.
I recall that morning as vividly as if it were only yesterday. I had on a striped undershirt beneath an indigo single kimono tied at the waist with a short black cotton sash. At my hip hung a packet containing the rice-and-bean balls my mother had prepared for me as a special treat. Tucked inside the front of my kimono was a wallet with my travel expenses. The wallet was secured to my sash by means of a string. I had on a broad-brimmed straw hat and carried a cloth-wrapped bundle containing clothing.
By the mountain road, the distance to Ojiya was about thirty-one kilometers. Along the way, I sat down once by a river to eat the rice balls. But, without other rest, I steadily continued on. It took about five hours to cover the distance.
Changing at Raikoji to the train bound for the Ueno district of Tokyo, I soon became lost in the constantly changing scenery flashing by the window. The vast expanse of the Sea of Japan that burst on my sight as we passed Kashiwazaki completely enthralled me. But as might be expected, when the sun set, I became tired and fell asleep, though I woke at each station.
At about two o'clock in the morning, I became fully awake to find that the train had stopped at the famous mountain resort of Karuizawa. I stepped out on the platform and rinsed my mouth with cold water from a fountain. This cleared my head. When I returned to my seat and tried to fall asleep again, I found that my eyes were wide open. I attempted to force them to stay closed as the train pulled out of the station. But at that instant, the thought that I was actually on my way to Tokyo and anticipation of what I would do when I got there sobered me physically and mentally.
What kind of work should I find? Of course, the first thing to do was settle down; but after that, all was fog and darkness. I was prepared to do anything; I was convinced I could do whatever I had to. Still, Tokyo, a vast city where millions of people struggled in competition to stay alive, was a very different place from Suganuma or Tokamachi in the remote mountains. I kept repeating silently that I would have to keep a firm grip on myself.
But to do that I would have to make sound guidance rules. When I had joined the village youth association, I had made and abided by three vows: never to lie; to work with all my strength; and to undertake tasks that others find disagreeable. But as I drew closer to the great, unknown city, I began to suspect that these vows alone were insufficient and that there must be something much more important. I racked my brain without definite results. Then, I dozed. As I drifted back and forth in the dim zone between waking and sleeping, the following three rules came into my head.
Never to struggle with others: no matter how severe my experiences, to hold the firm belief that they are all according to the wishes of the gods and buddhas.
To work steadily and hard no matter whether others are observing me.
No matter how unpleasant the task, to see it through once I have undertaken it.
I felt certain that if I abided faithfully by these six rules I would be able to make my way even in the rough and tumble of Tokyo life and that I would grow into a man and find recognition. I repeated these rules over and over. I made an indelible mental note of them. And after I had done so, I fell into a sound sleep.
It was six in the morning when I arrived at Ueno Station, one of the major terminals in Tokyo. After having been pushed and shoved by crowds of people at the ticket gate, I went to the lavatory and washed my face. Later I ate the remaining rice-and-bean balls in the waiting room and went outside. August 28, 1923. The street, lined with bustling shops, was already packed with people, streetcars, jinrikishas, automobiles, and trucks.
I proceeded to what was then called Nihombashi Ward (present-day Chuo Ward), where a distant relative lived and worked as a manufacturer of pastry shells for a filled confection called monaka. A friend of mine worked in the shop, and I had written ahead to say that I was coming. Everyone there greeted me warmly, urging me to stay on and work with them if I had no other place to go. But I was eager to work hard, not to live the sweet life of a pastry maker. Learning this, my friends took me to an old-fashioned employment office - in those days, there was no such thing as today's government Employment Stabilization Bureau. The old-style employment offices may have had their drawbacks, but they were convenient for both employer and employee. The office we visited, Fujiya by name, introduced me to a retail rice shop called Isetoyo, in nearby Hatchobori. From that day, I was hired as a general, live-in errand boy. There were three other male employees at the shop. All of them had been there for some time, a sign that the boss was a good man to work for. The senior employee, from Saitama Prefecture, had been with Isetoyo for seven years. The second man, from Shizuoka Prefecture, had been there for four years; and the youngest, from Chiba Prefecture, for three years. All of this looked promising and determined me to work as hard as I could.
In comparison with work in the fields and at the dam-construction site, what I had to do at the rice shop was easy. The rice was polished by machine, and the only heavy work was lifting and stacking bales and pulling the delivery cart. In those days, rice was not a government-controlled commodity, as it was until quite recently. Trade was free; and when the market price was high, it was possible to make very good money selling rice. Although it is impossible to know for certain, I might have spent the rest of my life as a rice dealer, if something had not happened to change everything.
Though not yet seventeen, I was big, strong, and always willing and eager to carry out orders. The owner of the shop and the senior employees seemed to like me. Not far away from our shop was a busy thoroughfare where various stalls were set up each evening and where there were both motion pictures and theaters where comic storytellers entertained. But more exciting still, only about five hundred meters away was the Ginza, the most famous street in all Japan. The older men promised to take me there some day. But this was not to be.
From early in the morning, September 1, 1923, was hot, leaden, and somehow ominous. I recall that it was eleven fifty-eight in the morning when the master of the shop turned to us and said, "Let's break for lunch." Then the whole earth groaned.
The house trembled; dust from the crumbling clay of the walls billowed everywhere. Things fell from shelves, and bales of rice began rolling about. Without thinking, I dashed outdoors to see tiles tumbling from the roof and the shop sign whirling from the wall. I was certain that the world was coming to an end, but I was only experiencing the first stage of what has come to be known as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
When the initial tremor subsided, everyone dashed into the street, where the streetcar used to run. But it sat, derailed, across the road. Dangerous electrical cables dangled from overhead. Suddenly a fire broke out in nearby Kakigara-cho. Black smoke rose in great clouds; flames licked the buildings. On all sides, people were shouting and screaming. I must have made part of the din. After all, I was only a country hick come to the big city five days earlier. For a while, I was at a loss to know what to think or do. Then I remembered something my father had told me just before I left home. "In Tokyo, they are always having fires and big earthquakes. If you act surprised and shocked when these things happen, people will laugh and call you a country bumpkin. Just drink some water and calm down."
Returning to the house and crossing the now floorless kitchen, I went to the sink and drank several deep gulps of cold water and came to myself. "I've got to do something fast! This place will burn down too!"
Then I ran into the street, where I found the master of the shop wandering about aimlessly. "Come on. We've got to get out of here!" I urged as I pulled him by the arm. I began loading whatever valuable possessions I could find into two big carts. I wanted the others to help me, but they were nowhere to be seen. True to old-fashioned business morality, they were running here and there, trying to find out what had happened to the shop's good customers.
But as the master and I were tying things down on the carts, they came back, one by one. When we were all together - the master, his wife, daughter, and son; the four of us male employees; and one maid--I started pulling one of the big carts. We could not afford to waste a moment, because the streets were already jammed with other people, all frantically trying to get away. We decided to go to the open compound of the large temple Tsukiji Hongan-ji. Of course, not knowing the way, I could only pull and follow the directions the owner of the shop gave me. When we arrived in the vicinity of the temple, we saw billows of sooty smoke, brightened by crimson tongues of flame, rising from the great roof. "This is no good! Too dangerous! We'll have to go somewhere else."
We did not know where to go; but after wandering around, we finally came to rest in the plaza in front of the bridge Nijubashi at the Imperial Palace, in the center of the city. I was deeply touched by my first sight of the palace, especially since it was unexpected and had occurred under such extraordinary circumstances.
As the sun set, an unbroken stream of refugees flowed into the plaza. Before long the huge space was packed with people and their luggage. All around the open park roared a sea of flame that dyed the sky scarlet.
Fear aroused by rumors of tidal waves and other disasters kept all of us awake that night. On the following morning, the senior employees went to Hatchobori and returned with the report that the Isetoyo rice shop had burned to the ground. Even so, the master and some of his valuable property had been saved. I felt that my father's advice to me had produced impressive results. Of course, many causes had enabled us to save the family and some of their goods. But I was certain that my ability to think calmly because I followed my father's counsel was one of those causes. This proved the power of good advice and became an important part of my future.
For two days and two nights we were jostled and pushed about by the crowds in the palace plaza. We had no place to go until, on September 3, we all moved to a house in Kagurazaka, Ushigome, where the married younger sister of our boss lived. The house was small, but on the second floor there was room for the four of us men.
Soon we became concerned about being a burden to the shop master. Although a part of his valuables had been salvaged, he had paid out most of his cash to wholesale dealers on the night before the earthquake. It was no time to go collecting money from customers who had in all likelihood suffered great losses. As we lay talking, we discussed the issue. The oldest of our group, who was twenty-six at the time, suggested that we run away during the night. The other two agreed and told me that I should follow suit. But I objected: "We haven't done anything bad. We have nothing to run away from. If we want time off, we ought to go straight to the boss tomorrow and ask for it."
I slept closest to the wall; there was no reason that the three senior employees could not have sneaked away in the night without my knowledge. But they did not. On the following morning, when we heard signs that the boss was awake and up, I suggested that the oldest tell the shop master what we proposed. But he refused: "It would look as if we were leaving him in the lurch."
I tried to convince him that we were asking to be allowed to leave, not for ourselves, but because we did not want to continue being a burden. Still, he and the other two could not work up the courage; and it fell on me, the junior and errand boy, to act as the employees' representative.
Downstairs, I knelt in front of the boss, as is the custom in Japan, put my hands on the floor in front of me in sign of respect, and said, "We have discussed this, and we think that we are a burden to you, especially now, since you are forced to live with relatives. We would like you to let us go. When you are on your feet and in business again, please get in touch with us. We'll come back at once."
There were tears in the eyes of this good man as he replied, "Actually, I've wanted to ask you to do this, but I paid everything to the wholesalers and don't have any money to give you. I couldn't bring myself to ask you to go without offering you something. But when I recover from this, I'll write to you. I hope you'll all come back."
From the small amount of money left in his wallet, he gave us each two and a half yen. "I know this isn't much. But believe me, it is the best I can do now. Maybe you can use it to buy something sturdy to wear on your feet for your long walk home."
Receiving a little dry bread in place of the usual box lunch, we all bade our master and his family farewell and went out into the destroyed city.
I never heard from the owner of the Isetoyo rice shop again. Someone investigated for me after World War II and learned that he and his family rebuilt the shop on the old site. Both the husband and wife died during the war, and the son perished on the battlefield. Their daughter married and moved to Setagaya Ward in Tokyo. Though I should like to know more, this was the most detailed information I was able to obtain.
Two and a half yen. Even under ordinary circumstances in a time of cheap prices, that was not enough to pay my expenses home. But in order to enable victims of the earthquake to escape from the city and return to their hometowns, train travel had been made free temporarily. In addition, I still had all the money given me as a parting present when I left home. As far as funds were concerned, I was all right.
Because Ueno Station had burned, train service to my part of the country had recently been initiated from the next station on the line, Nippori. I proceeded there and got into a long line of people waiting to board. I got on the train late at night. It was the evening of the fifth of September before I returned, exhausted, to our village.
Having heard that hundreds of thousands of people had been killed and wounded in Tokyo during the disaster, my whole family was worried. My father went to the temple Daikei-in, where he learned from the oracle that no matter what might befall other young people from our village I was absolutely safe. Most of the members of our family are innately optimistic. My father believed the oracle and was calmed, but not my mother, "Why did we send him to Tokyo to die? If we had kept him here until the harvest, he would not have been in the city when the earthquake struck." She seemed to have been convinced that I was already dead.
Then I walked in the door. Seeing me safe and sound, my mother immediately burst into tears. All the family and the neighbors rushed to see me and to rejoice that I was safe. But I was embarrassed that my first big trip to the city had lasted less than ten days.
My family warned me not to tell disturbing stories about the disaster. Soon I became very busy calming villagers who inquired about relatives and friends still in Tokyo. I told them to be calm and patient and to wait. In a few days, their relatives would certainly either come home or send word. I was always relieved when my predictions proved accurate.
I had not been home long when I began talking about going away again to find work. But my parents dissuaded me. They insisted that I should not hurry to leave in such a bad year and that I ought to help with the harvest and then spend the winter working in the spinning mill in Tokamachi, as I had done before.
When winter had passed, I learned that the rapid reconstruction taking place in Tokyo offered all the work young country people could want. My blood boiled to be off again. But the speedy worsening of my mother's physical condition prevented my going away. My elder brother had gone to Korea as a soldier, which meant that my father and I had our hands full in the fields. In the daytime, my sister-in-law looked after mother. My father and I took her place at night. But none of our efforts to bring her relief had any effect; my mother died on June 22, 1924, at the age of forty-three. I was in the paddies transplanting rice seedlings and was not at her side at the last.
Though, like the rest of our family, usually given to looking on the bright side of things, I found that my mother's death made the world a dreary place. I was angry that our remote mountain village could not call on the medical assistance that might have saved her life if it had come in time. Even today, when I think of the way she worked all her life without ever having known the meaning of true enjoyment, I cannot restrain my tears.
In the country in the past, old people looked forward to a peaceful life in their late years. They could sun themselves on the verandas of the farmhouses and perhaps do a little mending. Grandmothers and grandfathers could sometimes take trips to hot-spring resorts for curative treatments. I was unable to provide even these modest pleasures for my mother. My only consolation was the knowledge that I had controlled my desire to go to Tokyo that spring. If I had left her alone at that time, I should have suffered profound regrets for the rest of my life.
The following year, with my father's permission, I returned to Tokyo to find work. The downtown areas had been rebuilt, but much remained to be done. Hearing that the outlying districts would probably develop faster than the heart of the city, I decided to try to find a job in the western suburbs. With an introduction from an acquaintance, I went to a lumber dealer called Katsumata, located in the Nakano district behind what had once been the Nakano Communications Battalion. Unfortunately, the owner of the company said he could not use me, as a new man had been hired only the day before. Seeing that I was disappointed, the neighboring charcoal dealer suggested that I try the gardener's establishment near Kitano Shrine in Nakano Tenjin-cho. He said gardeners could always use extra hands.
Arriving at the gardener's, which was called Uegin, I saw that the company operated on a large scale. They employed twenty men who lived out. Since I had no place to stay, I requested that I be employed on a live-in basis. In those days, a gardener earned two and a half yen a day. The company boss took twenty sen, leaving the worker with a daily wage of two yen and thirty sen. As a rank beginner, I received only two yen and ten sen. But I was not concerned about the wages.
When I left our village the second time, my father advised me to look for a job where the work was backbreaking, the hours long, and the pay low. His theory was that, working under such conditions, I would have neither the time nor the money to go wrong. I followed his counsel and worked as hard as I could. Before long, the boss of the gardening company was paying me a full wage.
At about this time, something happened that, though I soon forgot it, was to be of great significance in connection with my later life. On the night of December 8, a day associated with the buddha Yakushi Nyorai, I visited Arai Yakushi temple in Nakano. As happens on festival days, the temple grounds were crowded with people eating snacks and buying trinkets at the many stalls put up at such times. As I strolled about looking at the things for sale, I noticed a group of people intently listening to someone. I walked in their direction to see what was happening.
Approaching the group, I saw that they were listening to a man from the Takashima Ekidan fortunetelling society, who was eloquently discoursing on the futures of some of the members of his audience. It sounded interesting, and I stood in the back of the circle, listening. Suddenly, he pointed to me and called out, "You there, the tall guy in the back. Come here a minute."
Shyly I did as he asked. For a while he examined me and my hands. Then he said, "You show good signs. You're a second son, aren't you? You must be. But you have the kind of characteristics that first sons usually have. I'm sure your brothers and sisters will put a lot of faith and trust in you. Judging from your palm [he raised my hand so that the others could see], I'd say you're unable to hold on to money. See, when you bring your fingers together, there's still space between them.
"Now, about the future. If you become a religious leader, you'll be a big success. But things are not going to be easy. When you're thirty-two or -three, you're going to hit bottom. But, if you don't give in, by the time that you're thirty-seven or -eight, you'll have decided what you want for the future. And your life will have settled down. You'll be at the height of your fortunes when you're forty-five or -six. If you make it safely through that period, you'll be on the highway to great services for society. How's that. Do you see what I mean?"
I thought to myself, "Fortunetelling charlatan, running off at the mouth! What's he talking about?" and forgot the whole thing.
Today, I can only stand in wonder at the accuracy of his predictions. Or perhaps it was not that they were accurate, but that, without my being consciously aware of it, they took deep root in my mind and inspired me to want to become a man of religion. Of course, whether I have been a success or not may remain to be seen until I am in my coffin.
As long as I am on the subject, I might mention a prediction made to me some while later. When I was almost nineteen and the time to take a physical examination for induction into the military was approaching, Matsue Niwano, a cousin, and I made a trip to Yahiko Shrine, near the city of Niigata, and then went on to consult a shaman living in a nearby temple. It was customary for the people of Suganuma to consult this man in time of sickness, calamity, or other serious trouble. Both Matsue and I asked him to tell our fortunes. In a sympathetic voice, he said to my cousin, "No matter how you work, you will not escape hardships." To me he said, "As a man of faith, you will establish a school of religion." The shaman was a believer in the Hokke, or Lotus, sect of Buddhism.
Now I must return to my early days as a worker in the big city. Until the end of December, gardeners in Japan are frantically busy. But work drops sharply after the New Year holiday and throughout the month of January. About one hundred meters away from the gardener's where I worked, a man named Yoshitaro Ishihara, the son of my boss's wife, operated a charcoal shop. He had observed me and learned that I was a hard worker. One day he approached me. "There's no work in gardening in January and February, and you'll never get ahead. Why don't you come to my place and learn the charcoal business?"
I had been sitting around idle for days, and this sounded like a good idea. Explaining the situation to the owner of the Uegin, I got his permission and went to work at the Ishihara charcoal shop.
Mr. Ishihara had the reputation of being such an energetic worker that none of his employees could keep up with him. But acting on my policy of backbreaking work at low wages, I outdid even him. In the evening when he would be ready to stop, I would insist that we go on a little longer. Soon he came to put such trust in me that he asked my opinion on everything from stock purchase to loans and treated me very much as if I were his own brother.
Working hard and long was a principle with me. I did not rest even on holidays. I realize that people today might consider my attitude odd. Nor do I recommend that it be followed eagerly by everyone. Nonetheless, I was gaining in an important respect.
Occasionally friends who had come to Tokyo to work visited me and told me of their high wages - thirty or forty yen a month - and their two days off monthly. I had just one day off and was earning only fifteen yen. Still, whenever I began to think that it was unfair, I at once dispelled my doubts by recalling my father's parting injunction. The people who received high wages were only exchanging their labor for money and were always no more than employees. Later in life, I hired one of my friends who had been among this well-paid group and learned that he was sadly lacking in positive, aggressive spirit. He was, in other words, no more than an ordinary hired man. In my case, I received little monetary reward; but my employer took me into his confidence with the result that, in a short time, I was able to learn a great deal about managing a business. The value of this experience cannot be measured in terms of the difference between fifteen and forty yen.
Mr. Ishihara was a member of a society called the Organization of National Faith and Virtue (Wagakuni Shintoku-sha), which delved into the study of fortunetelling on the basis of the rokuyo and shichishin systems, both borrowed from ancient China. The rokuyo system is based on the idea of a six-day cycle that begins on the first day of the new year, according to the old lunar calendar, and continues unbroken throughout the year. Each of the days in the cycle is considered auspicious or inauspicious for various activities. The shichishin are seven deities believed to control all human actions. According to the beliefs of the organization, everything has a proper location and a proper time and direction for movement. If these places, directions, and times are not observed, the deities will be angry and will punish offenders. Rules governing these things extend to all aspects of life; consequently, one must be always on guard. For example, a man who buys a water ladle on a day that, in the cycle, is designated Tomobiki will keep a mistress. If this is true, then conversely, a person who wants to keep a mistress must purchase a water ladle on the day designated Tomobiki.
Because he was firmly convinced of the validity of the system, Mr. Ishihara was in the habit of writing down the measurements of all the things he purchased - even things as apparently trivial as a teacup - and making written application to the deities for permission to use them. But since he did not like to write, he entrusted the preparation of the applications to me. This was a heavy duty. The applications were important: without them, Mr. Ishihara would be unable to use anything. To enable me to perform the task, it became necessary to have me registered as an associate member of the Organization of National Faith and Virtue.
According to an old tradition, the end of winter and the beginning of spring are marked by a holiday called Setsubun. It was at this time that preparations for a new year were made. And in Mr. Ishihara's faith, this meant petitioning the deities for fresh permission to use everything in the house. For ten days before the holiday, I was kept constantly busy writing down definitions and dimensions of all of his possessions. "Request permission to use for one year a paulownia chest, so high, so wide, so deep, located so far from the end of the west wall in a six-tatami-mat room facing north. . . . " And so on. About half a sheet of paper was required for each application. Bound together, all of them made a ponderous tome. When everything was written down, the book was taken to the headquarters of the Organization of National Faith and Virtue, located in Okubo, where a seal was stamped on it, signifying permission granted by the deities. After this was accomplished, even if mistakes should be made in the use of the various objects, the deities would not take offense.
All this seemed ridiculous to me. I was willing to accept the possibility of misfortune following violations of rules about the proper uses and locations of things. But I considered it absurd to believe that the rules could be nullified by a seal on some applications to the headquarters of an organization.
In my task of writing the applications, without making a conscious effort, I soon memorized all the rules and, with natural curiosity, decided to try them out. For instance, once when making a delivery for the shop, I talked with a customer who said that his son had moved from home in the hope of curing a case of tuberculosis that he had recently contracted. I then asked if, in such and such a year, the family had moved a toilet or garbage bin in a westward direction. "Why, yes. We did, as a matter of fact," was the reply. I had remembered the rule that moving a dirty thing to the west in the year with the cyclic designation of Butsumetsu is supposed to bring about illness of the lungs.
To my surprise and to that of the people I talked with, I was right in about eighty-five percent of all cases. I did not believe in the teachings of the organization and attributed no spiritual abilities to myself; all the same, I was correct on many occasions. Why? I had a feeling that it would be wrong to brand all these rules categorically as nonsense. But this does not mean that I suddenly began demonstrating interest in religious faith or the laws of heaven and earth. What I was doing represented no more than curiosity and mild playing of the kind young men engage in when they offer to read a young lady's palm.
Now that I look back on it, this experience was not vain. Even the foolish things of the world often have serious value.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.