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Ango Sakaguchi – Darakuron – On Decadence – Part 1

13/10/2010

Over the course of half a year, our lives changed completely. The humble shield of our sovereign lord (1). Oh to die for the Emperor, would leave me no regrets (2). Many of the young men who professed these words fell gracefully in battle like withered blossoms, while those who survived returned home to form our black-market. To desire a long life is shameful, to one day serve as the Emperor’s loyal shield is our vow. After six month’s time, the faithful women who had sent their men off to battle now perform the chore of kneeling, forehead to the ground, in front of their husband’s graves. All the while, the day when their hearts will welcome in some new desire, growing closer at hand. It wasn’t people that had changed. People are the same as they have always been. What changed was merely the surface of our lives.

One of the reasons why the shogun refused pardon for those 47 ronin (3), why they were sentenced to death, was out of concern that should they be allowed to live they would live in shame, that it would be unacceptable should someone appear to sully their names. This kind of human emotion does not exist in our modern legal system. Still, I imagine that this tendency still lives on in hearts of many of us. It is perhaps an emotion common to all mankind, the desire to end something that started beautiful while it is still beautiful. More than a decade ago, the public expressed such great sympathy when, somewhere near Oiso, a student and his lover chose to kill themselves, to end their love while they were both still chaste. I myself had similar feelings when my niece, with whom I had been extremely close, killed herself at the age of 21. I felt almost relieved that she had died while she was still beautiful and pure. For, while at first glance she was that beautiful and pure young girl, there was also terrible delicacy to her, and I worried that she would slip and fall head first into the fires of hell. My relief came because I couldn’t bear to watch her live that life.

(1)    A phrase widely used in pre-war Japan. It means, “though I may be lowly and base, I will protect the Emperor with all my might.”

(2)    One line from a patriotic song. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umi_Yukaba

(3)    The 47 ronin mentioned here are from an actual historical event in which 47 samurai exact revenge on the court official Kira Yoshinaka for killing their master. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forty-seven_Ronin

半年のうちに世相は変った。醜(しこ)の御楯(みたて)といでたつ我は。大君のへにこそ死なめかへりみはせじ。若者達は花と散ったが、同じ彼等が生き残って闇屋(やみや)となる。ももとせの命ねがはじいつの日か御楯とゆかん君とちぎりて。けなげな心情で男を送った女達も半年の月日のうちに夫君の位牌(いはい)にぬかずくことも事務的になるばかりであろうし、やがて新たな面影を胸に宿すのも遠い日のことではない。人間が変ったのではない。人間は元来そういうものであり、変ったのは世相の上皮だけのことだ。
昔、四十七士の助命を排して処刑を断行した理由の一つは、彼等が生きながらえて生き恥をさらし折角(せっかく)の名を汚す者が現れてはいけないという老婆心であったそうな。現代の法律にこんな人情は存在しない。けれども人の心情には多分にこの傾向が残っており、美しいものを美しいままで終らせたいということは一般的な心情の一つのようだ。十数年前だかに童貞処女のまま愛の一生を終らせようと大磯のどこかで心中した学生と娘があったが世人の同情は大きかったし、私自身も、数年前に私と極めて親しかった姪(めい)の一人が二十一の年に自殺したとき、美しいうちに死んでくれて良かったような気がした。一見清楚(せいそ)な娘であったが、壊れそうな危なさがあり真逆様(まっさかさま)に地獄へ堕(お)ちる不安を感じさせるところがあって、その一生を正視するに堪えないような気がしていたからであった。

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