The Dream of Akinosuké

THERE used to live, in the district of Toïchi, in the province of Yamato, a gōshi named Miyata Akinosuké. . . . [Here I must tell you that in Japanese feudal days there was a privileged class of soldier-farmers, freeholders, — corresponding to the class of yeomen in England, — and these were called gōshi.]

In Akinosuké’s garden there was a very old and very large sugi tree,1 under which he liked to rest on sultry days. One very hot afternoon, while he was sitting under this tree with two of his friends, fellow-gōshi, drinking wine, he felt all of a sudden very drowsy,—so drowsy that he begged his comrades to excuse him for taking a nap in their presence. Then he lay down at the foot of the tree, and dreamed this dream : —

He thought that he saw, as he lay there, a procession advancing, like the train of a daimyō, and that he got up to look at it. A very grand procession it proved to be, — more imposing than anything of the kind that he had ever seen before ; and in the van of it he observed a number of young men, in costly apparel, drawing a great lacquered palacecarriage, or gosho - guruma, hung with bright blue silk. When the procession arrived within a short distance, it halted ; and a richly dressed stranger, evidently a person of rank, approached Akinosuké, bowed profoundly, and then said: —

“ You see before you, honored Sir, a kerai [follower] of the Kokuō of Tokoyo.2 My master, the King, commands me to greet you in his name, and to place myself at your service. He also bids me convey to you this message, — that he augustly desires your presence at his palace. Be therefore pleased to enter immediately this august carriage which he has sent for you.”

Upon hearing these words, Akinosuké wished to make some fitting reply; but he found himself too much astonished and embarrassed to utter a word ; and at the same time his will seemed to melt away, so that he could do only as the kerai bade him. He entered the carriage ; the kerai took a place beside him, and gave a signal; the drawers, seizing the silken cables, turned the great vehicle southwards ; and the journey began.

In a very short time, to Akinosuké’s surprise, the carriage stopped before a huge two-storied gateway (rōmon), of Chinese style, which he had never before seen. Here the kerai dismounted, — saying, “ I go to announce the august arrival,” — and disappeared within. After some little waiting, Akinosuké saw two noble-looking men, wearing robes of purple silk and high caps of the form indicating lofty rank, come from the gateway. These, after having profoundly saluted him, helped him to descend from the carriage, and led him, through the gate and across a vast garden, to the entrance of a palace whose front appeared to extend, west and east, to a distance of miles. Presently he was shown into a reception hall of wonderful size and splendor. His guides conducted him to the place of honor, and respectfully seated themselves apart; while serving-maids, in costume of ceremony, brought refreshments. When Akinosuké had been duly served, the two purple-robed attendants bowed low before him, and addressed him in the following words, — each speaking alternately, in accordance with the fashion of courts : —

“ It is now our honorable duty to inform you . . . as to the reason of your having been summoned hither. . . . Our master the King augustly desires that you become his son-in-law; . . . and it is his wish that you wed this very day . . . the August Princess his daughter. . . . We shall soon conduct you to the presence-chamber . . . where His Augustness even now is waiting to receive you. . . . But it is necessary that we first invest you . . . with the appropriate garments of ceremony.”

Having spoken thus, they rose together, and opened an alcove at the further end of the apartment; and they took, from a chest of gold-lacquer in that alcove, various robes and girdles of rich material, and a kamuri, or regal cap. With these they attired Akinosuké as befitted a princely bridegroom. Then they conducted him to the presence room, where he saw the Kokuō of Tokoyo, seated upon the daiza,3 wearing the high black cap of state, and robed in robes of yellow silk. Before the daiza, to left and right, a multitude of dignitaries sat, motionless as images within a temple ; and Akinosuké, advancing between their ranks, saluted the King with the triple prostration. The King then greeted him with gracious words, and said : —

“ You have already been informed as to the reason of your having been summoned to Our presence. We have decided that you shall become the adopted husband of Our daughter ; and the wedding ceremony shall now be performed.”

As the King finished a sound of joyous music was heard ; and a long train of beautiful court ladies entered from behind a curtain to conduct Akinosuké to the room in which his bride awaited him.

The room was immense ; but it was scarcely able to contain the multitude of guests that had assembled to witness the ceremony. All bowed down before Akinosuké, as he took his place, facing the King’s daughter, on the kneeling-cushion made ready for him. As a maiden of heaven the bride appeared ; and her robes were beautiful and bright as a summer sky. And the marriage ceremony was performed amid great rejoicing.

Afterwards, the pair were conducted to a suite of apartments that had been prepared for them in another portion of the palace ; and there received the congratulations of many noble persons, and wedding gifts almost beyond counting.

Some days later, Akinosuké was again summoned to the presence room. On this occasion he was received even more graciously than before; and the King said to him : —

“ In the southwestern part of Our dominion, there is an island called Raishū. We have now appointed you the Governor of that island. You will find the people loyal and docile; but their laws have not yet been brought into proper accord with the laws of Tokoyo, and their customs have not yet been properly regulated. We entrust you with the duty of improving their social condition as much as possible ; and We desire that you shall rule them with wisdom and kindness. All the preparations necessary for your voyage to Raishū have been made.”

So Akinosuké with his bride departed from the palace of Tokoyo, accompanied by a great escort of nobles and of retainers, and embarked upon a ship of state provided by the King. And with favoring winds he sailed safely to Raishū, and found the good people of the island assembled upon the beach to welcome him.

Then he entered upon his new duties at once ; and they did not prove difficult. During the first three years of his governorship, he was occupied chiefly with the devising and the enactment of laws ; but he had wise counselors to help him, and he never found the work unpleasant. When it had all been finished, he had no active duties to perform, beyond attending the ceremonies and rites ordained by ancient custom. The country was so healthy and so fertile that sickness and want were unknown ; and the people were so good that no laws were ever broken. And Akinosuké dwelt and ruled in Raishū for twenty years more, — making in all twenty-three years of sojourn, during which no shadow of sorrow traversed his life.

But in the twenty-fourth year of his governorship a great misfortune came to him ; for the princess his wife, who had borne him seven children, — five boys and two girls, — fell sick and died. She was buried with high pomp on the summit of a hill in the district of Hanryōkō ; and a monument, exceedingly splendid, was erected above her grave. But Akinosuké felt such grief at her loss that he no longer cared to live.

Now, when the legal period of mourning was over, there came to Raishū a King’s messenger (shisha) from Tokoyo. The shisha delivered a message of condolence to Akinosuké, and then said to him: —

“ These are the words of our august master, the King of Tokoyo, which I am bidden to repeat: We will now send you back to your native place. As for the seven children, they are the grandsons and the granddaughters of the King, and shall be properly cared for. Do not, therefore, allow your mind to be troubled concerning them.”

On receiving this mandate, Akinosuké prepared for his departure. When all his affairs had been arranged, and the ceremony of bidding farewell to his counselors and trusted officials had been concluded, he was escorted with great honor to the port. There he embarked upon the ship sent for him ; — and the ship sailed out into the blue sea under the blue sky; — and the shape of the island of Raishū turned likewise blue, and then turned gray, and then vanished like a ghost. And Akinosuké suddenly awoke —— under the sugi tree in his own garden ! . . .

For the moment he was dazed and stupefied. But he saw his two friends still seated near him, — drinking and chatting merrily. He stared at them in a bewildered way, and cried aloud, “ How strange ! ”

“ Akinosuké must have been dreaming,” one of them said, with a laugh. “ What did you see, Akinosuké, that was so strange ? ”

Then Akinosuké told them all his dream, — that dream of three-and-twenty years passed in the island of Raishū, in the realm of Tokoyo ; — and they wondered very much, because he had really slept for no more than a few minutes.

One of the gōshi said: —

“ You saw strange things indeed ! We also saw something strange while you were asleep. A little yellow butterfly was fluttering over your face for a moment or two ; and we watched it. Then it lighted on the ground beside you, close to the tree ; and almost as soon as it perched there, a big, big ant came out of a hole, and seized it, and dragged it down into the hole. Just before you awoke, we saw that very butterfly come out of the hole again, and flutter over your face as before. Then it disappeared : we do not know where it went.”

“ Perhaps it was Akinosuké’s soul,” the other gōshi said; “ certainly I thought that I saw it fly into his mouth. . . . But even if that butterfly was Akinosuké’s soul, the fact would not explain his dream.”

“ The ants might explain it,” said the first speaker. . . . “ Ants are queer beings, — possibly goblins. . . . Anyhow, there is a big nest of ants under that sugi tree.”

“ Then let us look ! ” exclaimed Akinosuké, greatly impressed by the suggestion ; and he went for a spade.

The ground beneath and about the tree proved to have been excavated in the most surprising way by a prodigious colony of ants, whose tiny constructions of sticks and straws and leaves and clay bore an odd resemblance to miniature cities. In the centre of one construction, larger than the rest, there was a marvelous swarming of small ants around one very big ant, which had yellowish wings, and a long black head.

“ Why, there is the King of my dream!” cried Akinosuké, “and there is the palace of Tokoyo! . . . How extraordinary ! . . . Raishū ought to lie somewhere southwest of it, — to the left of that big forked root . . . Yes! here it is ! . . . How very strange! Now I am sure that I can find the hill at Hanryōkō, and even the grave of the princess.” . . .

He searched and searched in the wreck of the nest, and actually discovered a tiny mound, on the top of which was lying a water-worn pebble, resembling in shape a Buddhist tomb. Underneath it he found, embedded in clay, the dead body of a female ant . . . !

Lafcadio Hearn.

  1. Cryptomeria Japonica.
  2. This name is strangely indefinite. According to circumstances it may mean any unknown or far-off country, — or it may signify that “ undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns,” — or it may signify the Fairyland of Far-Eastern fable, the Realm of Hōrai, the Elysian Mountain. — The term “ Kokuō ” means the ruler of a country, — therefore a monarch or king.
  3. This was the name given to the Estrade, or dais, upon which a feudal prince or ruler sat in state. Literally the term signifies “ great seat.”