The Story of the Pots of Plum, Cherry, and Pine
by Yei Theodora Ozaki
Long, long ago, in the reign of the Emperor Go-Fukakusa, there lived a
famous Regent of the name of Saimyoji Tokiyori. Of all the Hojo Regents
he was the wisest and justest, and was known far and wide among the
people for his deeds of mercy. At the age of thirty, Tokiyori resigned
the regency in favour of his son Tokimune, who was only six years old.
He then retired to a monastery for several years. Sometimes stories
reached his ears of the miscarriage of justice, of the cruelty of the
officials under him, and of the suffering of the peasants, and he
determined to find out for himself if all these things were true. It was
the desire of his life to see the people governed wisely and justly and
impartially, to deal reward and punishment fairly alike to the rich and
the poor, to the great and the lowly. After much thought he decided that
the best way to achieve his end would be to find out for himself the
condition of the people, so he determined that he would disguise himself
and travel about amongst them unknown. He had it given out that he was
dead, and had a mock funeral performed with all the pomp and ceremony
due to his exalted rank. He then left Kamakura disguised as a travelling
priest unknown to any one.
After journeying from place to place, he came one day to Sano, in the
province of Kozuki. It was in the depth of winter, and on this day he
found himself overtaken by a heavy snowstorm. There were no houses near.
Tokiyori then ascended a hill, but even from that height, search as he
might, he could see no sign of any dwelling, near or far. Confused and
lost, he wandered about for hours. The darkness began to fall when he
found himself in a hilly district. Tired and hungry, he resigned himself
to passing the night under the shelter of a tree, when suddenly he
espied in the distance the brown line of a thatch-roofed cottage
breaking the white slope at the foot of the nearest hill. He made his
way quickly towards it and knocked at the closed storm-doors.
Tokiyori heard some one move within and then come to the porch. The
storm-shutter was pushed aside and a beautiful woman looked out.
"I have lost my way in the storm, and know not what to do! Will you be
so kind as to give me the shelter of your roof this night?" said
The woman scanned the traveller from head to foot. Then she said: "I am
very sorry for you. I would willingly give you shelter, but my husband
being absent I must not let you in. You had better go on to the next
village of Yamamoto, which is very near, and there you will find a good
inn and accommodation for travellers!"
"You are right," answered Tokiyori; "but alas! I am so tired that I can
walk no more. For pity's sake, let me sleep on the verandah or in your
storehouse; for so much shelter I shall be grateful."
"I am indeed sorry to refuse you," answered the woman; "but in the
absence of my husband I must not give shelter to a strange traveller.
Were he at home, he would with pleasure take you in and give you lodging
for the night. Try to make your way to the next village."
Tokiyori, greatly impressed by her virtuous and modest behaviour, bowed
and said as he took his leave: "There is no help for it! I must try to
reach Yamamoto, since you cannot shelter me to-night."
So the ex-Regent of Kamakura, spent and cold and hungry, turned once
more to meet the inclement weather. He took the direction pointed out to
him and plodded on through the snow. But alas! the storm had increased
in violence, and the snow fell faster and faster, and the wind howled
across the white drifts, whirling clouds of snow in his face till at
last he found it impossible to go on. He stood still in the storm, not
knowing what to do. Exerting all his strength, he found it difficult to
put one foot before the other. Just as he began to give himself up for
lost, he heard a voice calling him from behind.
"Stop! stop!" at first faintly, then gradually the cries grew nearer and
Wondering who else could be out in such merciless weather, Tokiyori
turned in the direction whence the cries came and saw a man beckoning to
him to turn back.
"Are you calling me?" asked Tokiyori.
"Yes indeed," replied the man; "I am the husband of the woman who turned
you away from that cottage just now. I regret that I was not at home to
offer you the poor hospitality that is all I have to give. Please turn
back with me. I can at least give you shelter for the night, though my
house is only a small hut. You will be frozen to death if you go on in
The priest rejoiced when he heard these kind words, and as he turned
back with his host he uttered many words of thanks. When they entered
the porch, the woman whom he had already seen came forward and welcomed
the stranger cordially, apologizing for her former behaviour.
"I pray you pardon me," she said, bowing to the ground, "for my rude
words a short time ago; but now that my husband has returned I hope you
will pass the night under our humble roof. I beg you not to be angry
with me, knowing the custom of these times."
"Don't mention it, my good woman," replied the priest in disguise. "It
was quite right of you to refuse me admittance in your husband's
absence. I admire your prudent conduct."
While the priest and the hostess were thus exchanging civilities, her
husband had entered the little sitting-room and arranged some cotton
cushions on the mat. Having done this, he came out to usher in the
"Thank you," answered the priest, taking off his snow-covered hat and
rain-coat; and, slipping his feet out of the sandals, he entered the
The host turned again to his guest and said: "Now, as you see, I am a
very poor man and I cannot give you a good dinner such as the rich can
offer, but to our coarse, simple fare, such as it is, you are very
The priest bowed to the ground and said that he would be grateful for
any food that would stay his hunger; he had walked all day in the cold
and had eaten nothing since breaking his fast in the early morning.
Meanwhile the wife busied herself in the kitchen, and as it was now the
hour of sunset, the meal was soon ready to be served. The priest noticed
that millet instead of rice filled the bowls, and that there was not a
sign of fish in the soup, which was made of vegetables only. The
disguised ex-Regent had never eaten such coarse food in his life before,
for millet is the poorest peasant's fare; but "Hunger needs no sauce,"
says the proverb, and so Tokiyori was surprised to find with how great a
relish he could eat what was set before him, for he was ravenously
hungry. Never had food tasted so sweet to him before. He long remembered
the sensation of pleasant surprise as he partook of the first mouthful.
The good wife waited on them during the meal, according to Japanese
When supper was over, they all sat round the hearth, talking of the good
old times and telling each other amusing stories to while away the time.
The hours flew quickly by and it was midnight before the host and his
guest knew it. The fire had burned very low without their noticing it,
and they began to shiver with cold. The host turned to the fuel-box, but
all the charcoal and wood had been burned up. Then the host arose, and,
regardless of the falling snow and the bitter cold, went into the garden
and brought thence three pots of dwarfed trees, for the training of
which Japanese gardeners are famous all the world over.
"On such a winter's night a good fire is necessary for the entertainment
of a traveller, but, alas! all the charcoal has been used up and I have
no more in the house. To warm you before you retire I will therefore
bum these trees!"
"What!" said the astonished guest, for he saw that the trees were of no
common kind, but were of some value, for they were old, and their
training showed the skill of an experienced gardener; "these pine, plum,
and cherry trees are too good to be used as fuel—they are finely
trained. No! no! you mustn't burn them for me—they are far too
"Don't trouble yourself," said the host. "I loved them once when I was
rich and had many more such valuable trees in my possession. But now
that I am ruined and living in this miserable condition, of what use are
such trees to me, pray tell me?" and with these words he began to break
up the trees and to put the pieces on the fire. "If they could speak, I
am sure they would say how pleased they were to be used for such a good
purpose as your comfort!"
The disguised ex-Regent smiled as he watched the kind man break up his
pet trees, and make up the fire. Since Tokiyori had first entered the
house, small and poverty-stricken though it was, he had felt that his
host was no common farmer as he pretended to be; that he must be a man
in reduced circumstances.
"I feel sure," said the priest, "that you are no farmer by birth; indeed
in you I recognize the a courtesy and breeding of a samurai [a
knight]. Will you add one more favour to the rest you have shown me this
night and tell me your real name?"
"Alas," answered the farmer in disguise, "I cannot do so without shame."
"Do not trifle with me," said the priest, "for I am very much in
earnest. Tell me who you are. I should very much like to know."
Pressed so earnestly to reveal himself, the host could no longer refuse.
"Since you wish so earnestly to know, I will tell who I am, without
reserve," he answered. "I am no farmer, as you rightly guessed. I am in
reality a samurai, and my name is Sano Genzaemon Tsuneyo."
"Indeed? Are you Sano Genzaemon Tsuneyo? I have heard of you. You are a
samurai of high rank, I know. But tell me, how is it that you are now
in such reduced circumstances?"
"Oh, that is a long story," replied Sano. "It was through the dishonesty
of an unworthy relation. He seized my property, little by little,
without my knowing it, and one day I found that he had taken everything
and that I was left with nothing except this farmhouse and the land on
which it stands."
"I am sorry for you," said Tokiyori; "but why haven't you brought a
lawsuit against your relation? Were you to do that, I am sure you would
recover your lost property."
"Oh yes, I have thought of that," said the farmer; "but now that
Tokiyori, the just Regent, has died, and as Tokimune his successor is
very young, I felt that it was useless to present my petition, so that I
determined to resign myself to poverty. But though I live and work like
a farmer, in heart and soul I am still a samurai. Should war break out
or even a call to arms be sounded, I shall be the first to go to
Kamakura, wearing my armour, dilapidated and torn though it may be,
carrying my halberd, rusty as it is, and riding my old horse, emaciated
and unpresentable though he is, and I will do glorious deeds once more
and die a knight's death. I never for one moment forget my ambition.
This alone buoys me up through all my trouble and poverty," he added
cheerfully, looking up at his listener with a smile.
"Your purpose is a good one, and worthy of a true samurai," said the
priest, and he smiled and looked at the knight intently. "I prophesy
that you will rise in life in the near future, and I feel sure that I
shall see you and congratulate you at Kamakura on obtaining your heart's
While they were talking, the night had passed and day began to break.
The snow had ceased to fall, and as Sano and his guest rose to open the
storm-doors, the sun rose bright and shining on a silvered world.
The priest went to put on his rain-coat and hat.
"Thank you," he said, "for all the kindness and hospitality you have
shown me. I will say good-bye. Now that the storm has ceased, I need
trespass no longer on your goodness; I will be getting on my way!"
"Oh," said the knight, "why need you hurry so? At least stay one more
day with us, for you seem to me no longer a stranger but a friend, and I
am loth to see you depart."
"Thank you," replied the priest, "but I must hurry on. I take my leave,
however, with the firm conviction that fate will give us the pleasure of
meeting again ere long. Remember my words. Good-bye!" And thus speaking,
with several bows the priest turned from the porch and wended his way
through the snow.
When he had gone the knight remembered that he had forgotten to ask the
traveller's name, so he and his wife would probably never know who the
sympathetic stranger was.
The next spring the Government at Kamakura issued a proclamation calling
upon all knights to present themselves in battle-array before the
Regent. When Sano Genzaemon heard of this, he thought that some
extraordinary event must have taken place. What it was he could not
imagine. But he was a knight and must answer the summons promptly. Here
might be the chance of proving his knightly prowess, for which he had
been waiting so long, hidden away in obscurity and the poverty of his
circumstances. The only thing that weighed him down was the thought that
he had no money either to buy a new suit of armour or a good horse. No
hesitation, however, showed itself in the despatch with which he
hastened to Kamakura, clothed only in his suit of shabby armour, a rusty
halberd in hand, and riding an old broken-down horse, unattended by any
When Sano reached Kamakura, he found the city crowded with warriors who
were riding in from all parts of the country. There were thousands of
great and eminent samurai clothed from head to foot in beautiful
armour, their suits, their helmets, and their swords glittering with
ornamentation of silver and gold. It was a goodly sight that the sun
shone on that day, framed by the great pine trees against the background
of the glimmering sea beyond. The pride of life and race were there, the
hauteur of birth and rank, the glory and parade of war, the glinting of
helmet and clanking of steel,—every knight's armour was composed of
fine metal scales woven and held together by silken threads of ruby,
emerald, scarlet, sapphire, and gold. Each knight wore his favourite
colour, and as the ranks moved into the sunlight or fell into the shade
the whole formed an army of moving splendour, the brilliant and
variegated colouring of which was like a river of rich and magnificent
As Sano, clothed in his shabby armour and riding his broken-down horse,
rode in amongst the bright phalanx of warriors, how they all jeered and
scoffed at him and his horse! But Sano cared little for their scorn, the
consciousness that he was a samurai as good as most of them bore him
up, and he laughed to himself at their pride and swagger.
"These men wear fine armour, it is true," he said to himself, "but they
have lost the true samurai spirit; their hearts are corrupt or they
would not glory so in appearance; though my armour cannot compare with
theirs, yet in loyalty I can never be outdone, even by them, braggers
though they be."
As these thoughts passed through his mind, Sano saw a herald approaching
the gay concourse of knights. He rode a richly caparisoned horse, and he
held aloft a banner bearing the house-crest of the Regent. The warriors,
their armour and their swords clanging as they moved, parted to the
right and left, leaving a road for him to pass. As he rode up their
lines he called aloud: "The Regent summons to his presence the knight
who wears the shabbiest armour and who rides the most broken-down
When Sano heard these words he thought:
"There is no soldier here but myself clothed in old armour. Alas! the
Governor will reprimand it me for daring to appear in such a state. It
can't be helped; come what will, I obey the summons—such is my duty!"
So with a sinking heart Sano, the dilapidated knight, followed the
herald to the Governor's house. Here the messenger announced that the
knight Sano Genzaemon had come in answer to the proclamation summoning
the poorest-clothed knight to the Regent.
"I am the poorest knight here, so the required man can be none other
than myself," said Sano, as he bowed low to the retainers who came out
to receive him at the porch.
Sano was then ushered along endless corridors and through spacious
rooms. At last the ushering officer knelt on the polished wood outside a
large room, and, pushing back the white paper screen, told him to enter.
The knight found himself in the presence of the handsome young General
Tokimune. On his head he wore a helmet with golden horns and the small
plates of his armour were woven together with silken threads of scarlet.
The young General bowed to the knight in answer to his prostrations and
said: "Are you the knight Sano Genzaemon Tsuneyo?"
"Yes, I am he," answered Sano.
"Then," answered the young man, "I have to present you to some one!"
and he made a sign to an attendant.
Upon this the servant pushed open the screens of an inner room, and the
Regent Saimyoji Tokiyori, who had been reported dead for a year, was
revealed, magnificently dressed in his robes of office. Over his armour
he wore a sacerdotal robe of rich brocade, and on his head a white
Bewildered by all the strange things that were happening to him, and
fearful of he knew not what, the knight had kept his face to the ground.
He heard the rattle of armour and the swish of heavy silk moving towards
him over the mats, and he wondered if it were not all a dream.
Then a voice said: "Oh, Sano Genzaemon—is it you? It is long since I
saw you! Look up! Don't be afraid! Don't you know me?"
The poor knight knew at once that he had heard that voice before, and at
last found courage to raise his head and to look at the resplendent
figure that addressed him.
An exclamation of surprise burst from the lips of Sano, for he
recognized in the personage who addressed him the priest whom he had
sheltered on the night of the great snowstorm a year agone.
"You are surely," said Sano after a pause, "the travelling priest who
passed that night of the great snowstorm under my roof last year, are
"Yes, I am that priest, and also I am the Regent Saimyoji Tokiyori."
"Oh!" exclaimed Sano, bowing to the ground, "pardon my rudeness to you
that night, for I did not know who my august visitor was," and his heart
filled with fear at the remembrance of his unceremonious behaviour on
Then the ex-Regent spoke again, and this time solemnly: "Sir Sano, you
have no need to apologize, far from that. Do you remember what you said
to me that night when the snowstorm took me to your house? You told me
that through unfortunate circumstances you were now obliged to work like
a farmer, yet if ever the occasion arose that should sound the call of
knights to arms, you would, regardless of your shabby accoutrements,
answer the summons and come forth in the spirit of a samurai to do
glorious deeds worthy of your sword once more before you died! Herewith
I give you back the thirty villages in the district of Sano, of which
you were robbed by your unworthy kinsman. And do you think I have
forgotten your kind action when you burned your precious trees, the last
relics of your prosperous past, to minister to my comfort during that
terrible storm? The glow of that fire remains in my heart to this day.
By way of expressing my thanks for your hospitality that cold and dreary
night, in return for the Matsu [pine tree], I am going to give you
the village of Matsu-ida, in the province of Kodzuke; in the place of
the Ume [plum tree], the village of Umeda, in the province of Kaga;
and for the Sakura [cherry tree], you shall have Sakurai, a village
in the province of Etchiu."
As the knight listened to these golden words of fortune, which dropped
like jewels from the mouth of the beneficent Regent, it seemed to him as
if he must be dreaming, it was all so unexpected. He could not speak,
for the tears rose to his eyes, and sobs of joy choked his utterance.
When at last he looked up, he was alone. He made his way out of the
mansion as in a trance, oblivious of all around him. The news of his
promotion and of the favour he enjoyed in the estimation of the Regent
had already spread outside, and the men who had laughed and jeered at
him before now smiled graciously and bowed respectfully as he passed
along the ranks.
So Sano Genzaemon returned to Kodzuke, not as a poor farmer, but as a
lord under the special favour of the Regent, having won the esteem of
all his countrymen by his knightly conduct in adversity.
All rejoiced that faithfulness, honesty, and kindness had received their
just reward, and none more than the good Regent Tokiyori.