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[A Historical Fiction]
By Shimaoka Akira
Published in Japan, 1995.
The Birth of the Little Monkey
6th year of Tenbun (1537), February 6th. The plum tree buds were still hard, a thin sheet of ice still covered the rice paddies. Owari province, the district of Aichi, Nakamura village. In the front yard of the small farmers straw hut, a few small girls played toss with a ball while rubbing their runny noses. One of these girls, a four year old occasionally blowing on her frostbitten fingers, pricked up her ears. On this cold morning, behind a torn shoji door which fell under the shadow of a persimmon tree, a midwife's voice could be heard.
By and by, through its energetic cries, a child announced the fact that it had been born into this world. The cries were stronger than any other baby born in Nakamura village, and the girls all paused, and looked at each other.
"Tomo, you've got a little brother!" A thin and sickly man with a limp appeared on the veranda of the straw hut. The girl named Tomo let out a cry of joy, and attempted to run into the hut, but was stopped by her father. "You can't go in yet," he said, and began to cough unhealthily. Tomo and her playmates ran out to the cold, windy village road.
"Waa!" Tomo cried joyously, "I have a little brother!"
After a while, Tomo had returned in order to see her little brother, who was sleeping soundly next to her mother. The disappointment showed in her face. What an ugly baby, she thought. He looks like a little monkey! Of course, she could never have known that this child would eventually take control of Japan, or that it would be her fate to become the mother of the Kampaku, Hidetsugu.
"Yaemon, we hear you have a son!" Various villagers came to the hut, and brought raw saké in congratulations. "Isn't that great, Tomo," they would say, and pat her on the head, and she would look away. She put the unappealing baby on her back.
Yaemon, who had once been a footsoldier for Oda Nobuhide (Oda Nobunaga's father), had injured his leg, and was forced to become a farmer. Unfortunately, in his sickness, fieldwork was nearly impossible for him. Tomo's devoted mother, Naka, would work about the fields and rice paddies, and at those times, Tomo would have to take care of her brother - something she hated to have to do.
"I'll put the baby monkey on my back and go somewhere." Where ever she went, the village boys would jeer and make fun of her. Whats more, her little brother's cries were so loud, if she didn't do all she could to keep him from crying, he would get so loud she would not know what to do.
In Nakamura village, which is now a district of modern day Nagoya city, her little brother became know to the villagers as 'Yaemon's little monkey'. "Are you sure thats not a little monkey?" Tomo would try to protect her brother, and her face would turn into a scowl. When she did this, the villagers would say "sister-monkey is bearing her teeth at us!"
Her brother actually looked like his mother. However, her mother didn't have such a horrible, monkey-like face. Tomo felt bad about her brother's monkeyish face; she pitied him. Yaemon was big-hearted, and tried to comfort her. "If everyone calls him 'baby monkey', then 'baby monkey' it is. A child's face changes; he'll grow out of it." Eventually, before he knew it, he found even himself referring to his son as 'monkey' as well, and never bothered to think of a real name for him. "Human's ancestors were monkeys. There's nothing to be ashamed of. After all, he doesnt look like a mole or a weasel. We should be proud!"
Tomo's mother Naka was from Gokiso village, and was by nature a strong-willed farming woman. Even if she did give birth to a child that looked like a mountain monkey, she really didn't worry about it. "Okay, little monkey, time for some milk!" In her spare moments, she would sit on the footpath running between rice paddies, and with muddy hands, would breastfeed him. Who could have imagined that in the future, this woman would come to be known as Ômandokoro?
A New Father
The year 'little monkey' turned seven years old, his father Yaemon died. The Autumn flowers along the edge of the rice paddies were still in bloom.
Before his death, he waved Little Monkey to his pillow with a wasted hand. "Even if I die, don't be sad. And don't worry about your looks… and never give up your dreams. Also, take care of your mother. She'll probably come in handy sometime." Little Monkey rubbed his nose and nodded.
Underneath the bright red foliage of the persimmon tree at the edge of the garden, Little Monkey first heard about the Tanegashima - the foreign guns. Chikuami, an old friend of his dead father's - and an Oda Clan wannabe of sorts, spoke to his mother on the porch. Little Monkey listened closely.
"I've heard it is far more accurate and at longer distances than even a warrior's bow. Apparently, the Portuguese brought them here. If those were used in war, what could we do?" After Chikuami left, Little Monkey climbed the persimmon tree and picked a ripe persimmon. He greedily munched it while watching the setting sun sink beyond the edge of the field. Guns… I don't really know what they are, but I want to fight in a battle! He thought to himself.
Little Monkey didn't really understand it yet, but Japan was in a state of upheaval. About sixty years before the birth of the little monkey, was the 12 year Onin war. This came about from a power struggle between two Bakufu retainers, Hosokawa Katsumoto, and Yamano Mochitoyo over the succession problems involving the Shôgun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa.