Captain Schinzinger and the Avenging Samurai
Here’s an odd, but fascinating story that seems to say more about foreign stereotypes of Japan than it does about Japan. My cousin Stefan Schinzinger found it online. It was scanned from the May 15, 1909 issue of Harpers Weekly by Google books. It is about Captain Albert Schinzinger, who was our great, great uncle, and who represented Krupps, the German arms maker, in Japan in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
MATSUDA YASUBE was running betto [groom] for Captain Schinzinger. The captain represented a foreign firm that sold high explosives to the Imperial government: therefore he was great. He lived in a fine house in the European quarter of Tokio – amid an army of servants–as every great man must. There was a squad of these boys, aged from fifteen to fifty, who swept the honorable and pebbly driveway with big brooms made of twigs, and could not do any other kind of work. Then there was the middle-aged boy who came to the front door whenever a caller pushed the electric button, swung the door open majestically, and stood in silence, a very dignified statue swathed in silk and cotton, holding forth a silver tray for the visitor’s honorable card. There were also the boys who attended the furnaces, boys who did the honorable housework, boys who waited on the honorable table of the captain, besides those who cooked the meals, the runners of errands, and various other minor boys whose slight labors no westerner may guess. Each of these attended strictly to his own duty, and could not be driven by Fate herself to do the work of any other. That is the unwritten law.
Over all ruled Takiguchi Tokutaro, whom we should call a major-domo, but whose native style and title is Number One Boy. Of middle age, his clean-shaven face a bronze mask of dignity, with a curl of the lip that recalled the swaggering old daimios [lords] who cut down any that dared stand too near when they travelled along the Tokaido, Takiguchi was a fine figure of a man. He was tall and of powerful build, too; and, although his habitual movement was slow and majestic, as became a person of his high position, he was still as agile as a youth and one to be dreaded in quarrel. It was his physical prowess as much as his lofty office that gave him a habit of truculence toward his inferiors, a habit which they all resented in secret yet dared not resist openly by so much as the angry flutter of an eyelid. No foreigner dreamed of these savage eddies beneath the placid surface of the domestic stream, and many a friend congratulated the captain upon the excellence of his smooth household machinery.
Matsuda Yasube was the only one of the domestic staff who failed to bow low and rub his knees with his palms and draw a long, hissing, deferential inhalation whenever Takiguchi honored him by giving an order. Matsuda was young and fippant, and came of a family that had been honorable for centuries. The ancient feudal idea that personal service is far nobler than any other employment still prevails in Japan. Matsuda was proud as any young lord, and the lofty airs of Takiguchi irritated him beyond endurance. Besides, his own position as running betto made him an important personage, too. He often indulged in a light glance of disrespect at Takiguchi. A betto is a groom. The running betto perches in state beside the coachman on the box of his master’s carriage. Horses and carriages are still so infrequent in Japan that even in Tokio the services of the running betto are necessary to warn people on foot to get out of the way. With arms folded across his deep chest, the running betto emits from his squeezed throat as often as necessary, perhaps oftener, a long-drawn note of warning, a curious vibrant menace, full of affectation of importance.
“Ee-ee-ee-ee!” he cries, and wayfarers scramble aside to let the carriage pass. Or if the roadway be in the least crowded the betto, still shrilling his cry, leaps down from the box, runs ahead, and thrusts and hauls the people out of the way. It is no wonder Matsuda grew prouder day by day. Witness the conduct of our own policemen and guards and platform men whose duty it is to hurl the defenseless citizens as far as they can throw him.
One evening Matsuda squatted in the kitchen, holding his blue wrists over the edge of the hibachi so that his whole body would thereby be warmed. He drew from his girdle a Japanese pipe——a long, thin reed with a tiny silver bowl at the end of it. Into this bowl he pushed a pinch of Japanese tobacco that looked like old brown corn-silk, lit it, and, after three or four pulls, knocked the glowing red dottel [half-smoked tobacco] out on his palm. He refilled the pipe, lit the fresh tobacco from the dottel, and pulled away in comfort. As a matter of fact, the fine, clinging tobacco ash was next to his palm, and the red coal of tobacco lay harmless upon it. But all this was not clear to Katrina, a maid newly come from- Berlin. Her big blue eyes stood out opened wide in amazement.
“Ach, wunderschiin!” she cried.
Matsuda grunted in disdain of admiration from a mere foreigner; above all, a mere woman. Yet he did not fail to repeat his trick several times.
Katrina, still wondering, found Takiguchi in the dining-room superintending the arrangement of the table for dinner and deferentially listening to Captain Schinzinger’s directions about the wines.
“Tell me, Number One Boy,” she said, “why is Matsuda Yasube able to hold a coal of red—hot tobacco in his bare hand and feel no pain?”
“Because he is coarse, brutal person,” replied Takiguchi, bowing politely, but with just enough respect for a foreign female. At that moment Matsuda came swaggering through the dining-room. He fixed himself at insolent ease in front of Takiguchi, his hands resting on his hips, and made a very small and mocking bow.
“Honorable Number One,” he inquired in Japanese, “are you paying the high compliment of talking about me?”
“Out of my way, beast!” Takiguchi growled contemptuously, adding to the insult by uttering it in English. The two stood eye to eye for the space of perhaps two seconds; then young Matsuda, knowing very little English and unaware of the exact meaning
of Number One Boy’s words, slowly swaggered from the room.
Late that night when off duty the runnin betto observed casually to his friend the betto: “Tell me a new word, 0 Norama. San, you who know all the thoughts and words of the outlandish English. What is the meaning of the word “beast?”
“‘Beast,’ young honored friend?” Norama replied, meditatively. “‘Beast”? Oh yes. It means an animal, low, brutal, besotted thing.”
“It has a curious sound like the hissing of a goose.” Matsuda indifferently commented. “I heard it to-day for the first time. It is a new word to me.”
But when he stretched himself on the mat that night sleep was far from him. The air of unconcern which had hidden his personal interest in the new word now gave way to an access of rage as he kept repeating it to himself over and over again. “Beast!” “Beast!” “Beast!” he whispered, and the sound hissed like a serpent in his cars. So the outrageous upstart Takiguchi, whose family dated back barely to the Gen-roku period, a mere two hundred years, had dared to apply a loathsome English epithet to him, a Matsuda, member of a most ancient family of the Satsuma clan, a people who were great long before the time of the first Shogun! The affront was [too much.]
Nevertheless. it was a serene and smiling Matsuda who went about his duties next day. He was a trifle pale, and his eyes were feverishly bright; but there was no trace upon his smooth countenance of revenge, anger, or any other passion. For what says the ancient proverb? “He is indeed a pomegranate who, when he opens his mouth, shows his heart.” So Matsuda. smiled more blandly than usual as he went about the house, and on the box of the carriage his weird, crooning “ Ee-ee-ee-ee!” of warning sounded as loud and clear as ever. Thinking it over afterward, members of the family remembered that for many days the running betto kept out of the way of the Number One Boy except when the master was present. On such occasions he was often seen edging toward Takiguchi, though he never remained near him very long. The conditions were not quite right. The precise details that should accompany a pretty and perfect taking of Japanese revenge are beyond the conception of the outlander. I shall not try to guess at their devious complications.
On the fifteenth evening after the insult Captain Schinzinger was going to dine out. The carriage was ordered for half past six o’clock, and punctually at the minute it swept up the pebbly drive and halted before the great door, Matsuda leaped nimbly down from his perch on the box and took his proper place at the horses’ heads. He was watchful, trim, and serene, without a trace of emotion. As usual, on such occasions, a dozen or so of the household boys arranged themselves in a semicircle around the portal to make proper low bows to the master and wish him good luck on his departure. Number One Boy, with all the dignity of a daimio conducting an honored guest, led the master to the carriage. Captain Schinzinger stepped into the Victoria and sat down. Takiguchi bent forward to tuck the lap robe around his master’s honorable ankles.
The running betto let go the bridle, and in two bounds was beside Takiguchi. His eyes were ablaze, and his cheeks were flushed dull red. With his left hand he plucked the Number One Boy into an upright position, while in his upraised right hand there flashed a keen, glittering knife with a blade almost as broad as a cleaver.
“Tss-ss-ss! Beast!” he hissed as he drove the blade to the hilt into the muscular neck of Takiguchi at the point where the jugular-vein descends into the body. As his victim fell, already dead, as it seemed, Matsuda started on a run, for none of his fellow servants tried to hold him. He ran all the way to the nearest police station, half a mile away. Upon entering, he made a profound bow to the captain sitting in command at the desk, and laid the red knife before him.
“Honorable captain,” he said, with a winning smile and carefully guarding glance and voice so that they should not betray unseemly exultation—“Honorable captain, I have been compelled to kill one who offered me insult. I give my weapon [to you and] give myself to be your prisoner.”
The captain bowed politely and directed the lieutenant to make careful notes of the name, age, and history of the prisoner, the place of the killing, and all other necessary details. Then a policeman, bowing very politely, requested the honorable prisoner to come to his honorable cell. There Matsuda Yasube stretched himself on the mat and slept without a care. He awoke at daylight, and, after a fine hot bath, squatted down to an excellent breakfast of boiled rice, pickled turnip, and tea. He permitted himself the luxury of an exultant smile whenever he felt quite sure no one could see him. But in the midst of one of these self-congratulations a most unpleasant thought jarred upon his satisfaction. He asked to be taken to the police captain at once.
“ Honorable commander,” he said when he had bowed before the desk, “a distressing thought is disturbing me. I have left something undone at the house of my honorable master. If it remains undone, I shall be in disgrace forever. Will you deign to send me to the house for a little time?”
“A matter of honor? You shall go by all means,” the captain graciously replied.
Therefore it was that at nine o‘clock in the morning Captain Shinzinger, upon arising from breakfast, was informed by the acting Number One Boy that Matsuda Yasube craved the honor of an interview with him. The captain went to the porch and found the running betto standing beside a policeman in uniform, who smiled and saluted.
“ Honorable master,” said Miatsuda, after bowing half-way to the floor three times, “I was very selfish last evening. I was so ill-bred, so rustic, in making my private revenge-business disturbing the good ordering of your honorable house. For this I seek most humbly gracious pardoning from you.”
Matsuda’s bowed face was a picture of distress until he heard the kindly tone of Captain Schinzinger’s voice reassuring him.
“You have my pardon, Maisuda,“ he said.
Whereupon Matsuda Yasube bowed deeper than before and cried. “Thank you, sir.” and. “Good-by, master! Sayonara!” and marched away to the police station. There he spent many happy days, indifferent to whether gallows or prison cell awaited him, for he had wiped the stain from his honor and shown true courtesy to the master. So he squatted on the mat and warmed his wrists at the hibachi, and spent most of his waking time in smoking pinches of silky brown tobacco in his little silver pipe and knocking the glowing dottels out on his bare left palm.
About the Author
Leslie Helm was born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, where his family has lived since 1869. He has worked as Tokyo correspondent for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times. It was during his years abroad that he adopted two Japanese children and began the research that would result in Yokohama Yankee. Helm is currently editor of Seattle Business magazine. Leslie graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in Asian studies. He attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on a U.S. Japan Friendship Commission fellowship. Helm is currently editor of Seattle Business magazine.