Enjoying Otogi Zoshi with the Help of Synopsis and Illustrations, Twelfth Story ; The Tale of Saigyo

** Volume 1 **

        In the days of retired emperor Tobanoin there was a man, Sahyoenojyo (imperial guard) Fujiwara Norikiyo, who was later known as the Buddhist monk Saigyo. Born into a warrior clan, he displayed talents not only in the martial arts, but also in poetry and orchestral music. As for the quality of his waka poetry, he was considered as good as the famous poets of old such as Narihira and Tsurayuki. Norikiyo was a great favorite of the emperor who always invited him to banquets at the imperial palace and greatly enjoyed his company.

        Norikiyo seemed on the surface to be working hard for the court but deep in his heart he hoped to become a Buddhist monk, as he felt that life was fleeting. He thought to himself,
"In this world glory and prosperity always vanish eventually, and it is sorrowful that we have a terrible afterlife waiting for us in hell. Therefore I would like to become a Buddhist monk as soon as possible. But I am indebted to the emperor, and also I have my wife and daughter ..."

[Norikiyo, his wife and daughter.]
[Norikiyo, his wife and daughter.]

        In October of 1127, the emperor visited Tobanoin to contemplate syoji pictures. He invited distinguished poets of the time and had them compose waka poems on the theme of syoji pictures. Among them, Norikiyo's was outstanding. So the emperor had some people, noted for their beautiful calligraphy, rewrite Norikiyo's poem. Norikiyo received as his prize a sword called Asahimaru.

[Norikiyo receives a sword from the emperor.]
[Norikiyo receives a sword from the emperor.]

        When the empress also gave him 15 sets of clothes, everyone was surprised and envious of him. When he returned to his lodging that night, all of his relatives got together and they were delighted for him.

[Relatives are rejoicing over Norikiyo's fortune.]
[Relatives are rejoicing over Norikiyo's fortune.]

        However, even then, becoming a Buddhist monk seemed even more attractive to Norikiyo.
"Naturally there is a strong attachment to fame, fortune, family and kin, yet Buddha is leading me to this road."
        As night fell, Norikiyo left the imperial palace with his close friend Sato Noriyasu. On their way home Noriyasu confessed,
"I don't know why, but these days everything seems like a dream to me. I would like to become a Buddhist monk and move out to a secluded mountain."
Upon hearing this, Norikiyo felt a premotion and the two men cried so that their sleeves were wet from wiping their tears. Noriyasu said,
" Tomorrow you are going to the palace of Toba, aren't you? I will be pleased to be in your company. Please come by in the morning."
Then he went home to Shichijo-Omiya.

        The next morning, Norikiyo stopped by at Noriyasu's residence as he had promised. At the entrance, he heard a commotion. Inside, some people were weeping. When he went into the house, he asked the people what had happened, and they answered
"The master has passed away!"
In stunned silence, Norikiyo thought to himself,
"Noriyasu must have known that he was going to die when he confided in me last night."

[Norikiyo learnes of Noriyasu's death.]
[Norikiyo learnes of Noriyasu's death.]


        Norikiyo wanted to become a Buddhist monk as soon as possible, but he thought he would need to talk to the emperor one last time and headed for the imperial palace.
        At the palace of Toba a musical banquet was going on and the emperor called him straight away. Even though the party was getting more and more lively, Norikiyo waited until the party was over, then he asked for the emperor's pardon to become a Buddhist monk. The emperor was astonished to hear this, and he refused to listen to any more. However, Norikiyo realized that this was his moment if he was ever going to fulfill his dream. He determined to stay strong and left the imperial palace.

        When he returned home, his lovely little daughter came running toward him.
"My daddy is home. Why are you coming home late like this? I imagine that the emperor did not let you go."
The adorable daughter clung to his sleeve and wouldn't leave his side. Even though his daughter was the apple in his eye, he realized that without giving up his love for her, he would never be able to become a Buddhist monk, so he kicked her off the veranda. His daughter burst out crying in shock.

[Norikiyo kicks his dearest daughter off the veranda.]
[Norikiyo kicks his dearest daughter off the veranda.]

        Norikiyo pretended not to hear her and went into his room. All of his servants were confused at his unusual behavior and could not help being surprised. Only his wife kept calm because she knew that her husband had wanted to become a Buddhist monk.

        Late that night, Norikiyo talked a lot to his wife.
"It is said that married couples are reunited 500 times. When we are reborn, I hope that the two of us will be born again on a lotus together in paradise."
But his wife just kept silent. Firm in his determination to become a Buddhist monk, he cut off his topknot, threw it into the prayer hall and ran away through the gate. He left home after living there for twenty-five years. The thought of never coming back made it hard for him to breathe after having lived there for twenty-five years, and the more he thought of his wife and daughter, the more his heart ached and the more he cried.

[Norikiyo abandons his family.]
[Norikiyo abandons his family.]

        Norikiyo kept running until he reached at the foot of the Seizan, where a virtuous monk lived. At that time, he finally became a Buddhist monk and was given the Buddhist name "Saigyo." Also one of his retainers of many years became a Buddhist monk named "Saijyu." Saigyo was glad to be able to practice Buddhist doctrine even at the cost of giving up the bond of love and kindness of his family. He began his ascetic life in a hermitage in the Seizan.

[Saigyo prays for his rebirth in Paradise at his hermitage.]
[Saigyo prays for his rebirth in Paradise at his hermitage.]

** Volume 2 **

        Saigyo paid a visit to the Ise Shrine. He offered his prayers in front of the first gate to the shrine.
"A man who turns away from life and death, practices Buddhist doctrine, and wishes for enlightenment shall also come up to the will of the Devine. How blissful!"
He offered prayers with the tears of his faith rolling down his cheeks.

[Saigyo visits the Ise Shrine.]
[Saigyo visits the Ise Shrine.]


        He began living in a hermitage in Futamigaura, where he was able to pray for the afterlife with the Sun Goddess, or Amaterasu-oomikami, who was enshrined in Ise. Three years went by while he spent his days visiting around the Mimosuso River and enjoying the cherry blossoms of Tsukiyominomiya Shrine. Gradually he was inclined to visit the eastern provinces, he decided to set out on a journey. His old friends got together for his farewell party. Telling him how they would miss him, they spent the whole night in playing wind and string instruments.

[Farewell feast]
[Farewell feast]

        On the way to an eastern province, there was a ferry called Tenchu-no-watari on a river in Tootoumi-no-kuni. When he and his fellow monk got on, the boat was filled up to capacity. A samurai warrior, who was already on the boat, yelled out,
"You monks, get off! Get off!"
As Saigyo ignored the order, he was viciously whipped by the samurai. Blood was dripping down from his head.
        Saigyo observed a moment of prayer, and got off the boat without showing resentment. His fellow monk lamented over his misfortunes.

[Saigyo and his companion being forced out of the boat.]
[Saigyo and his companion being forced out of the boat.]

        Saigyo said to his companion,
"When we left the capital of Miyako (now Kyoto), I said we might have lots of hardships, and this is what has happened. But I would never resent if I were limbed or even my life were taken. The benevolence of Buddha will give all creatures salvation. If you wreak vengeance against harsh treatment, there will be no end of ill will.
If you should keep accompanying me, you will encounter this kind of hardship again and again. It is just unbearable, so you should go back to the capital."
Then Saigyo left his companion. Although firmly parted from his fellow monk, he felt ineffable loneliness, as they had had a long-standing friendship. He passed over the mountain of Nakayama to the east all by his lonesome.

        Saigyo arrived at a rest stop called Kuniokabe in the province of Suruga, where he paused at a run-down temple. Looking back over his shoulders casually, he noticed a hat that looked familiar to him on a wall. That turned out to be the one Saigyo had given to his fellow monk as a token on the parting. Since Saigyo looked for the hat's owner in vain, as he had a hunch, he asked the whereabouts of his friend at an inn,
"It was in the springtime when an ascetic visited us, and we gave some food to him, but later he died and was eaten by dogs. Probably his corpse is around over there."
Saigyo tried to locate the remains, but he couldn't find anything. Saigyo keenly felt a sense of life's impermanence more than ever.

[Saigyo learns of the death of his companion from a hat.]
[Saigyo learns of the death of his companion from a hat.]

        He passed over Mt.Uzu, which was one of the motifs of poems composed by Fujiwarano Narihira. He proceeded to the province of Suruga, after passing through the barrier of Kiyomigaseki. Looking up Mt.Fuji, he was recollecting the poems of Narihira once again. Mt.Fuji was trailing smoke and clouds covered its hillside. A lake spreads out at the foot of the mountain, and the blue ocean stretches beyond. It was a breathtaking view that temporally relieved him from the arduousness of the journey.

[Saigyo gazes at Mt. Fuji.]
[Saigyo gazes at Mt. Fuji.]

        It was when he passed over Mt. Ashigara and made his way through the woods of Musashino that he noticed a faint chant of sutra, which was very strange since he was far removed from a village. He walked towards the voice, where he found a modest hermitage. In the hermitage, an old monk, who looked older than ninety, was reciting a sutra. It was a moonlit night. Saigyo walked towards the old man, wondering if he was an unworldly man, but both of them remained wordless in a daze. Saigyo composed himself and asked the old man,
"I was just wondering if I might ask who you were and why you were living here like this."
The old man kept silent.

[Saigyo encounters a hermit in Musasino.]
[Saigyo encounters a hermit in Musasino.]


Once again, Saigyo asked,
"I used to live in the capital of Miyako but I have come this far. The autumn scenery of the woods of Musashino is much more aesthetic than the reputation I had heard in Miyako. I also heard that this was an isolated place. I wonder how you are getting on, and what you were like in the past."
The old man started to tell his story.
"I used to serve the empress Ikuhomonin as a samurai warrior. I became a monk when Her Majesty passed away. Then I went on a pilgrimage, and eventually I found the woods of Musashino ideal for practicing Buddhist doctrine. I was twenty-nine when I settled my hermitage here, so it has already been more than sixty years. I have already chanted more than seventy thousand volumes of the Buddhist scriptures."
Wiping away tears with their sleeves, Saigyo and the old monk talked all night long about Her Majesty and others. Although he felt a wrench in his heart, he said farewell to the old monk and left the hermitage at the break of dawn.

        Saigyo passed through a wilderness after leaving Shirakawanoseki barrier, and then he found a grave that looked rather venerable. He asked a man who was scything the grass nearby,
"Whose grave is that?"
"That is the very grave of the famous officer called Sanekatachujyo."
Saigyo was once again struck by the sense of impermanence as he recognized that every life was transient and mortal.

[Saigyo looks at the grave of Sanekatachujyo.]
[Saigyo looks at the grave of Sanekatachujyo.]

** Volume 3 **

        Saigyo arrived in the Mutsu province. Residing in the city of Hiraizumi, Fujiwarano Hidehira powerfully reigned over the whole province of Mutsu. Since Saigyo once had heard through the grapevine that Hidehira had loved poetry, he visited the poem-lover. Hidehira was overjoyed to meet Saigyo and gave him the red-carpet treatment. At his request Saigyo spent his days there composing one hundred love poems and the like.

[Hidehira rejoices to Saigyo's visit.]
[Hidehira rejoices to Saigyo's visit.]

        Although Saigyo was invited to sojourn with Hidehira for the next several years, he declined the offer and left the country. As it was late autumn, sorrowful wind and plaintive songs of dying grasshoppers sank into his heart. Days slipped by, Saigyo spent New Year's while he was on the road. One day he made up his mind and left for the capital of Miyako.

        On the way back to Miyako, there was a shabby house surrounded with lush willows. The blossoms of Japanese apricot in the yard were so dense that they blocked the sunlight. He stayed the lowly house that night, not because he was asked to do so, but tempted by the scent of the blossoms.

[Lodging of willow and Japanese apricot.]
[Lodging of willow and Japanese apricot.]


        It was his first homecoming in more than a decade. It may be the way of the world, but all the streets and houses have been completely changed. All of his old friends have already passed away. Even their houses he revisited were too dilapidated to be made out in the yard.
"Oh, the world is so transient and mutable, then why am I still shamelessly existing? It was my folly to come back home because of my sheer sentimentalism."

        When passing by, he took a whim to look in the imperial guards' office, where has completely changed from the days of Tobanoin. Even so, that place evoked fond memories of the past.
        He settled in a hut in the deep mountains of Kitayama and strove for Buddhist doctrine without a bosom friend.
"I wish I had any friend who shuns worldliness like me, then we could talk over the past and console ourselves!"

[Saigyo practices alone in a hut in Kitayama.]
[Saigyo practices alone in a hut in Kitayama.]

        Saigyo visited a hut one day as he heard that a court lady to the late Empress of Taikenmon-in was living in a hermitage at the foot of Mt. Ogura. The hut was humbler than he had heard. The sound of wind, the sound of water dripping from a bamboo water pipe, and the modest life of gathering firewood and carrying water from a river valley -- everything made him pensive. When the court lady had been attending. Taikenmon-in, she was not only beautiful but was also tender hearted, so that a lot of men yearned for her. However now, her jet-black hair turned white like snow, with her eyebrows frosted, and her skin rippled like waves. Knowing her life has totally changed, Saigyo couldn't help crying.

"In the past, you have never been disturbed by any violent rainstorm. How did you come to know the harshness of the rainstorm and end up living in this hermitage?"
Saigyo said.
Another court lady called Hyoueno-tsubone who was close to them sympathized with her and said,
"This hermitage looks far removed from the world because of a rainstorm (arashi) as she will not stay there (araji)."

[A court lady's hermitage in Mt. Ogura.]
[A court lady's hermitage in Mt. Ogura.]

        On the way to visiting the Tennoji Temple, Saigyo passed by a town called Eguchi whick was known for its brothels. Although he asked for a lodging for the night at a brothel but prostitutes refused.
"We can't put up a guest like you who became a monk."
Saigyo then composed a poem and left there.
"You will have a trying time to understand
The hardship of the world
The world is only passing,
Yet you begrudge giving
One night's rest."
The prostitutes read it, wrote back a poem and sent for him.
"As we found
You turned away from the world
That was why we were afraid
Your mind might sway
Because of your stay."

[Saigyo is being refused a stay by prostitutes.]
[Saigyo is being refused a stay by prostitutes.]

        It didn't take long for him to leave for Shikoku after visiting the Tennoji temple. He has always wanted to visit Shikoku because the former emperor Sutokuin, a son of Tobain, was exiled to Sanuki in Shikoku.
        On arriving at Sanuki, he inquired after Sutokuin. It turned out that the former emperor had already passed away, but it was said that the exiled has been heartily practicing Buddhist doctrine for his afterlife before his death.
"What a pity! He once had a position of great magnitude with a lots of subjects groveling before him and competed for his favor. For all that, he ended up losing his power and exiled to this backwater island where even a Buddha's name is unheard of."
Saigyo shed tears in front of Sutokuin's grave.

        He began living in the precinct of the Zentsuji Temple there. Zentsuji Temple was a sacred place where a saint named Kukai who spread Buddhism was born. Saigyo spent ascetic life in the island for a couple of years before he finally had to leave for Miyako. There was a pine tree near his hut.
"If this tree were a man, we would miss each other's company. He will be alone after I leave here."
He left for the capital while waving farewell in his heart.

[Saigyo and a pine tree.]
[Saigyo and a pine tree.]

** Volume 4 **

        Saigyo arrived at Miyako. He visited old acquaintances and talked what had happened to them through the night. While they were talking, one of them referred to Saigyo's daughter.

"Come to think of it, poor little girl you loved so much! No sooner did you leave home and became monk, than your wife also became a nun. For the first couple of years your daughter lived with her mother, but now she is adopted into Reizeiin'no-tsubone, a daughter of the Chief Justice in Kujo, who takes good care of her. It is said that your wife lives ascetic life in Amano at the foot of Mt. Koya, although she has been out of contact for the past 7-8 years. A daughter of Reizeiin'no-tsubone got married recently and your daughter waits on her as a handmaiden. For all of this, your daughter just keeps crying as she prays to Buddha saying,
'Show me the way to my father while I am still alive.'"
Saigyo pretended to listen to this story innocently and later left the place.

[Saigyo hears his daughter's whereabouts from acquaintances.]
[Saigyo hears his daughter's whereabouts from acquaintances.]

        On the following day Saigyo visited Reizeiin'no-tsubone and inquired for his daughter. His daughter rushed to Saigyo, who looked extremely haggard and was sitting with black monk clothes. Nevertheless, he was the father she had always been wishing to reunite desperately. She couldn't stop crying. Saigyo was also moved to tears.
"When I left home, she was merely a child, and now she has grown up to be a beautiful young lady."
He thought.
"We didn't know each other's whereabouts for a long time but finally we are reunited. Originally it is said that the bond between a parent and a child is destined in former incarnation. Would you take my suggestion, my daughter?"
Saigyo asked.
"Why not? I will do anything whatever you want me to, father."

"I am happy to hear that. When you were little, I wanted to raise you to be a fine lady to serve for the emperor, but it is impossible now because I have become rootless like this. If you ever wanted to serve for the nobles without firm background, you would end up being mocked. Come to think of it, this world is fleeting like a dream. Now things have come to this, why don't you become a nun and pray for the afterlife with your mother? When I die and reincarnate in Paradise I will certainly meet with two of you there."
Holding back tears, daughter pondered for a while and said,
"Since early childhood I have been removed from parents and have became powerless like this, so I have always wanted to become a nun by any means."
Pleased to hear that, Saigyo made a rendezvous with her and quit the place.

[Saigyo and daughter's reunion.]
[Saigyo and daughter's reunion.]


        Now it was the day. Daughter washed her hair and waited. At long last a cart came to pick her up. It was when she was about to set out, she reversed her steps into the premises, gazed at her foster mother, then went out again with tearful eyes. Since the girl didn't come to her place, Reizeiin became impatient and sent for her only to learn the girl was already gone.
"I have always been with her, cherished since she was very young, and loved so much, but she thought otherwise, after all."
Reizeiin resented her, but she felt all the more heartbroken when she understood why the girl was gazing at her on the parting.
        Saigyo called in his daughter, clipped her long black hair and had her become a nun.
"Before I became a monk I used to be pleased when I was promoted and clung to my family and assets. Eventually I realized the impermanence of this world and deserted all the worldly things. Even so, I was an ordinary man after all. I have never been free from worry about you. Now that you have become a nun, my last wish in this world is finally granted. Even your appearance is a woman, you will certainly be able to go to Paradise in the future. This is the final moment to meet with you in this world. I will be waiting for you in Paradise. Your mother is said to be in Amano, which is at the foot of Mt. Koya. Find her and practice Buddhist doctrine with her."
Saigyo gave a scripture to her.
The daughter said,
"Father deserted me when I was four. Mother left me when I was seven. Since then I have been afraid of other people. Although I had been intending to renounce the world, it was impossible because I was just a helpless woman. It was really a pity, but my wish has been finally granted. I am truly grateful for that. Even if I were given a million of treasures, those would be only an ephemeral dream, but the script you gave me will lead me to the afterlife. Three of us shall certainly be reunited in Paradise."
Sobbing her heart out, the girl left for Amano for good. Saigyo gazed after her for a long time.

[Saigyo sees off his daughter.]
[Saigyo sees off his daughter.]

        The daughter headed for the foot of Mt. Koya, but she had no idea where to find her mother. She went on her uneasy journey with only relying on her strength of will. Even passers-bye shed tears when they looked on her manner.
"Poor thing! There must be some reason for her situation."
Somehow she managed to find her mother's hermitage in Amano. They rejoiced over their reunion and talked a lot about what had happened to them. The mother and daughter practiced asceticism together.

[Mother and daughter's reunion.]
[Mother and daughter's reunion.]

        As for Saigyo, he kept practicing Buddhism in a hinterland of Ohara. Afterwards he moved his hermitage beside the Sorin Temple at the foot of the Higashiyama and practiced asceticism very hard.
        There were cherry trees beside the temple. He composed a poem,
Negawakuwa        Hananomotonite        Harushinan        Sonokisaragino        Mochizukinokoro
"If I may I wish to die
under the blossoms in a spring day
In that February when the moon is full."
(I'm going to die anyway, so I wish I could die in the morning of February 15 (*based on the lunar calendar) which coincides with the day when Buddha had gone to nirvana.)

Saigyo departed this life, chanting sutra towards the west on February 15, 1190, just like the poem he wrote. The sound of music was heard from the sky, purple clouds were trailing, and there was an unworldly aroma. That was the time when Amida Buddha and two Bodhisattvas from Paradise led other saints to meet Saigyo. The sight astounded people and the talk spread that Saigyo has gone to nirvana.

[Saigyo's peaceful death.]
[Saigyo's peaceful death.]

        Meanwhile the mother and daughter kept practicing Buddhism in Amano. The mother nun sensed her death was nearing. She went to Paradise, chanting sutra as if she had fallen asleep. The daughter nun passed away likewise in the equinox of August in 1200.

** The End **

Copyright 2002. Kyoto University Library