To Live
Author: Yūzaburō Otokawa
Specifications: ISBN  978-4163206806
234 pages
13.8 x 19.0 cm / 5.5 x 7.6 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Bungeishunju Ltd.
Tokyo, 2002
www.bunshun.co.jp/
Awards: Naoki Prize, 2002
Buy now: amazon.co.jp

Synopsis

Its straightforward title an expression of the author's confidence in his craft, this compilation brings together three historical novellas. The title piece centers on a disturbance accompanying the death of an Edo-period (1603?1867) daimyo. One practice in the world of warriors of that time was oibara, whereby a retainer would display fealty to a deceased lord by slicing open his own belly to follow him in death. Not all were in favor of this practice, as it robbed a domain of much of its leadership at once, making it difficult to manage the territory thereafter. Others argued that if no warrior were to take his own life at such a critical time, it would be a poor reflection of the domain's dedication to the samurai ethic, lowering its status in the eyes of other domains throughout the land.

Mataemon, a key retainer to an ailing feudal lord, is called in by one of the domain's ruling elders and made to sign a pledge that he will not commit oibara. The lord passes away soon afterward, and loyal suicides begin to take place. After Mataemon's son-in-law kills himself, his daughter reproaches him for not having stopped her husband's death, and cuts off all ties with her father. Criticism of Mataemon mounts. A year later his son and heir cuts his own belly and dies.

Time passes, and Mataemon's wife succumbs to a long battle with illness. One of Mataemon's fellow warriors who had also signed the pledge not to commit oibara refuses all food, eventually starving himself to death. This tale is a relentless depiction of the bitter dregs tasted by a warrior who is prepared for death?indeed who wants only to die?but who must go on living, steeped in shame.

The compilation also contains Annon-gawara (Tranquil Riverbed), about a former warrior forced by poverty to sell his daughter to a house of ill repute, and Sobaiki (A Tale of Early Plum Blossoms), about a samurai who abandons a woman he was once fond of in pursuit of higher social standing.