48 HOURS A DAY - S01 E546

5 days ago

Read Story: SEASON 1 EPISODE 546

Who Are You?

Japan was going through troubled times, where peace and order were absent throughout the country. The choppy waters gave birth to many job opportunities, especially for the samurai. Because of the uncertainty of the country’s situation, the clans changed their ways, recruited troops, and bought horses, actively saving as much as they could as they awaited the future. It was still a far better period than the time after the Meiji Restoration when the Sword Abolishment Edict was issued. The move caused the samurai to lose their jobs overnight and their swords confiscated from them.

Especially for those who were very skillful, they had the luxury of choosing their employers, which was whoever offered the highest pay-Both shogunate and Tobaku supporters were all actively seeking manpower.

Zhang Heng, however, wasn’t interested in going down that path. Once he joined a particular establishment, food and clothing wouldn’t be a problem, but for that, he would have to give up his freedom. This era strongly emphasized Kashindan’s* absolute obedience to their landlords. If he was assigned a task, he was unwilling to do, he could never refuse. If he did, he would be sent to the frontlines.

Zhang Heng’s other mission objective for this quest was to find a sword that suited him and could challenge a skilled samurai. It would be an excellent opportunity to break through his sword skills. So, be it the Tokugawa Shogunate or Satsuma Domain, he didn’t want to get tied up to either side. For now, the best course of action was to play by ear.

In fact, he did not have to solely rely on his samurai status to make a living. Many foreign merchants in Kyoto now, and Zhang Heng had mastered quite a number of foreign languages. In any given period, translators were always a scarce resource. He could make money doing translations for foreign merchants, and it also would not hurt that he would be able to travel around Kyoto for free.

Having made up his mind, Zhang Heng decided to head for the pier. It was getting late, and if he failed to find a job before sundown, he could be spending the night sleeping rough on the streets. Zhang Heng was about to leave when he heard someone calling out, “Excuse me, my lord, would like to have some grilled eels?”

Zhang Heng looked down and saw a timid little face looking back at him. It was a girl of about twelve years of age carrying a tiffin box. Even though she had mustered every last bit of courage she had, she still looked a little nervous. Those tiny hands holding the food container trembled.

But before Zhang Heng could say anything, her companion, looking to be slightly older than her, pulled her away.

The latter whispered, but Zhang Heng could still make out a few words.

“Psst. Chiyo, don’t provoke the ronin. They are dangerous!”

The girl named Chiyo stole a glance at Zhang Heng. As the two girls were busy trying to escape Zhang Heng, the “dangerous man,” they ran into a passer-by.

Chiyo’s companion looked up, and the color drained from her face as he stammered, “S… Sorry, I didn’t see you.” “Delinquent little rascal!”

The person they ran into was also dressed like a warrior, except he carried a far more intimidating demeanor than a ronin. This warrior had two companions with him, looking like they had a little too much to drink—they had probably been drinking at some nearby pleasure quarters. The man shoved the tiffin the girls were holding, rudely tipping them over, then bellowed, “It is thanks to you idiots that those Westerners bully and humiliate this country!”

“Brother Yamada, watch your tongue. You wouldn’t want those guys from the Shinsengumi* to hear you,” advised a companion of his.

“What is there to be afraid of, Matsuo? Times have changed…”

The warrior named Yamada didn’t seem worried. “In fact, I’ve meant to ask Kondo Isami to teach me his Tennen Rishin-ryū.”

Yamada bellowed, and his companions were terror-stricken when the word ‘Shinsengumi’ was mentioned. They glanced nervously at Zhang Heng. After the Ikedaya incident, Kondo and his ronin group, the Shinsengumi, rose to fame, earning themselves the moniker ‘Wolves of Mibu.’ They were staunch supporters of the shogunate and helped it maintain law and order in Kyoto. On top of that, they also dealt with Tobaku supporters. Ruthless and vile, they made for excellent assassins, and an immense multitude feared the Shinsengumi.

Matsuo did not know why Yamada would suddenly mention the Shinsengumi. He shot Takahashi a dirty look as if blaming him for letting Yamada drink that much.

The pair wanted to drag Yamada away before he made a scene, but he was already getting out of control.

It was a mistake mentioning those westerners. It made him reenact the anger he harbored against them for all those years, and in a fit of fury, he grabbed the Tachi at his waist.

Matsuo and Takahashi shrunk away from their companion. Yamada was furious, and he was quite the swordsman-he wasn’t just the best out of the three, but he was relatively well-known among the samurai community. Matsuo and Takahashi were not about to compromise their own safety.

The little girls were so terrified that they forgot to run for their lives. Instead, their legs were cemented to the ground as they watched Yamada draw his sword.

Yamada’s brows furrowed. He wanted to scare the two little rascals and watch them pee in their pants, but he interpreted it as silent opposition when the girls did not move. Combined with the intoxication, the scene brought up some unpleasant memories.

Of course, he had every reason to be resentful. Three years ago, he followed the radical Kusaka Genzui to save the emperor as a samurai of the Choshu domain. At that time, he was a high-spirited warrior, but the Hamaguri Gate Rebellion did not defeat the Kyoto defenders. Kusaka Genzui committed suicide to avoid capture. The shogunate joined forces with Britain, the United States, France, and the Netherlands to attack Shimonoseki, forcing the Choshu Domain to concede. Shinsaku Takasugi, one of the leaders of the shogunate, was forced to rove the streets. Things did not pan out well for the samurai who participated in the Hamaguri Gate Rebellion.

Yamada had drawn his sword because he was sloshed, but mostly because of his rancor for his unfulfilled aspiration. Seeing the two undaunted little girls “resisting” him, he was overwhelmed with hatred. Yamada raised his sword above his head.

Even though the little girls selling grilled ill were just strangers to him, and he had no interest in improving Kyoto’s security, they had only got into trouble because they were trying to get away from the “dangerous man”Zhang Heng. He wasn’t just going to stand on the sidelines and watch the kids getting hacked to death by a madman in a drunken rage.

But as Zhang Heng was about to draw his sword, something at the corner of his eyes made him stop. On the other side, Yamada yelled at the top of his lungs, his sword raised above his head. As he swung the blade downward, a wooden sword met it, subsequently blocking the attack. “WHO ARE YOU?!” Yamada roared, his nostrils flaring, eyes wide, and chest heaving vigorously. “Koyama-dojo, Akane Koyama,” said the rescuer in a clear, crisp voice.

To everyone’s surprise, the person who stepped in was a young girl, holding off the attacker with a wooden sword with one hand and carrying some tuna she bought from the market in the other.

Footnote:

Kashindan: a Japanese feudal Daimyo’s band of retainers, something similar to a small elite military company or a unit of faithful bodyguards Shinsengumi: a special police force organized by the Bakufu during Japan’s Bakumatsu period in 1863

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