I Will Not Cry
As I walked into the large room, I saw my mother kneeling on the ground, bowed over so you could not see her face. Her back was toward me, for she was bowing to my father, the Lord Aomori. My father was a samurai, one of the elite warriors of Japan. He was sitting in a beautiful ebony chair as if it were a throne, his two swords, or daisho, lying crossed on his lap. Samurai had the privilege of carrying two swords, one short and one long. They could use them to cut down any commoner who offended them, but I had never seen my father do anything of the sort. When I was younger, I believed he was too kind to do such a thing, but as I grew older, I realized that he would kill many men without a second thought in battle, and therefore he probably grew tired of cleaning the iron blades.
I walked into the room and knelt next to my mother, bowing low as she was doing. My father looked on, and then grunted approvingly, as a signal that we may look at him. I straightened and gazed into his proud, stern face admiringly. It made me proud to be the daughter of such a powerful warrior.
"Wife, daughter," my father acknowledged us, his expression grave. "I have received word this morning that the Sekighara campaign has reached a head." I knitted my eyebrows the tiniest bit, wondering what this had to do with my father. The Sekighara campaign began when a great warlord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, died. As soon as Hideyoshi died, two other warlords, Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu, fought for the title of shogun, causing all of Japan to go to war. Father was loyal to Ishida Mitsunari, but the Sekighara campaign had been going on for a very long time now, and my father still hadn't been called upon to fight. Surely he wouldn't have to fight now? My father continued speaking.
"My daimyo has ordered all of his followers to fight in battle against Tokugawa Ieyasu, for the daimyo is a follower of Mitsunari, and would die before seeing Tokugawa claim the title of shogun. I am, of course, following my daimyo. We are to leave at sunrise tomorrow morning." The room was completely silent after this announcement. I was numb with shock and disbelief, unable to think or feel. Suddenly a sob broke out, making me start out of my reverie. My father snapped his head angrily in my mother's direction. She was bent double, weeping.
"Woman!" he exclaimed sharply. "You are the wife of a samurai; therefore you know that you are forbidden to cry under any circumstance." My mother nodded, terrified, and sat back on her knees again. There were two thin stripes of skin showing where the tears had washed away her face paint. I knew that she, just as I did, wished that he could stay home and disobey the daimyo, but that wish could not come true. My father followed the code of bushido, or "way of the warrior." The central point of bushido was complete loyalty to the daimyo. If my father disobeyed his daimyo, that could mean treason, and the punishment for treason is death.
The next morning it was time for my father to depart. My mother didn't think it was acceptable for me to come and see him off with her, but I had insisted, so she finally gave in. I woke up while it was still dark, and put on my best kimono. It seemed to take ages for my nurse to comb my hair. She pulled the ivory comb through the long black strands slowly, making sure that there was not a single knot in it. I was impatient to get to the courtyard, and I fidgeted the whole time. As soon as the nurse set the comb on my dressing table and nodded I jumped up and ran out of the room. I stopped myself just outside of the door and checked myself, remembering that a samurai's daughter does not run under any circumstance. I wanted to run so badly, but I knew I must look proper for my father's departure.
When I finally reached the courtyard I saw one of the groomsmen standing in the middle of the courtyard, holding the reins to my father's beautiful warhorse. My mother was standing on one side of the courtyard, and the most important members of our staff were on the opposite side. My father was not outside yet. I walked over and stood next to my mother, who seemed to have recovered from her shock.
We waited for about fifteen minutes, and then my father walked outside. My breath caught in my throat at the sight of this noble samurai. His armor gleamed in the light of the rising sun, and his two swords were sheathed at his sides. His face looked proud and brave underneath the samurai's official topknot. The groom led my father's warhorse over to him. As he mounted his horse, I almost cried. I remembered just in time, however, that the daughter of a samurai does not cry, under any circumstance. I watched as my father turned to face the east and rode away. I did not pull my eyes away until he was just a dot on the horizon. I glanced at my mother as I turned around. There were tears in her eyes, but this time she did not let them fall.
The next six weeks went by very slowly. Nothing really changed much around the estate, for I had barely seen my father even when he wasn't away, fighting somewhere. Then, on a cool afternoon in the sixth week of my father's departure, everything changed.
I was hiding behind a screen in one of the spare rooms when it happened. I was hiding because it was time for my sewing lesson, which I despised. Somehow my stitches always ended up uneven and ugly, nothing like the beautiful embroidery hanging on the walls.
As I hid behind the screen, I heard two maids enter the room.
"…knew that he would eventually win," one continued.
"Yes, Mitsunari was always the weaker one. There was no doubt that Tokugawa would eventually become shogun," said the other. There was a pause, and then the first voice spoke.
"Do you know what I heard?" she whispered conspiratorially. "I heard that Tokugawa's army took forty thousand heads in a valley in central Japan."
"So does that mean that Lord Aomori is dead?" My breath caught in my throat at the mention of my father's name.
"No, that's the best part!" the maid exclaimed. "My sister lives a day's ride from the city, and she told me that she recognized him. He is alive!" I let out a sigh of relief, but it was quickly replaced by a troubled feeling. If my father had lost the battle, he may choose to perform seppuku, ritual suicide, over dying a dishonorable death. I had heard of it happening before. When samurai did not die in battle, it was considered dishonorable. The only way to get back your honor was to kill yourself.
The maids left while I was thinking about this. I waited a while, then crept out of the room and went into the main hall, just as a messenger was telling Mother the news. It was official. A battle had broken out in a small mountain valley in central Japan. By the end of the day, forty thousand heads had been taken, and Tokugawa was shogun. Father was alive, and he would be arriving tomorrow morning to prepare for seppuku. Once again I saw tears in my mother's eyes, but she did not cry. The wife of a samurai never cries.
I got up early the next morning and went out to the courtyard to wait with my mother, just as we had on the day of my father's departure. This time, however, we were both wearing black kimonos.
I caught a glimpse of my father riding his warhorse before he went into the house. He looked pale and weary, and his once magnificent stallion was no longer the proud, noble steed of younger days. I was shocked by the sight, but I had no time to look any longer, for then he went inside.
By the time my father came back into the courtyard, everything was set up and a crowd of people was gathered around the walls of the courtyard. It wasn't unusual for spectators to watch seppuku. It was actually considered a sort of event.
My father came outside. He was dressed in a midnight-black kimono, and his long hair was in a topknot. He looked just as proud and brave as he always had, if a little pale, and his face showed no fear. Then the ceremony began.
First my father wrote the traditional death poem. When he finished, the main part of seppuku began. A special assistant took his place behind my father as he opened his robe to expose his abdomen. My father unsheathed his two daisho, holding the short sword in his left hand and his long sword in his right. Kneeling on the ground, my father raised his right hand and plunged the long sword into his right side, then jerked it to the left side of his stomach, making a long, deep cut. He made no sound, but his jaw dropped and tears came to his eyes. Then he performed the final cut by plunging the sword in his left hand into the center of the cut and jerking it upward. As my father's innards spilled onto his lap, the assistant unsheathed his sword and walked up behind him. I turned away, hiding my eyes, just before I heard the dull thwack! of the sword beheading my father. My mother held me to her as I wept all of the tears that had been held back for the past twelve years. The daughter of a samurai does not cry, but I am no longer the daughter of a samurai.