I must tell you now of something we Japanese call ishin-denshin...one thought, one mind. Others who heard this tale called it telepathy, or reading minds. They may be correct, but only in part. A mans mind is not a scroll to be unrolled and read, backwards and forwards. It is more akin to a river, alive, sometimes frothy and agitated over rapids, other times deep, calm, serene, always flowing. No, ishin-denshin is something else: it is knowing. Some achieve this ability after long training in the art of the sword. Others seem to be born with the talent, and training hones it to a fine edge, while a few possess the ability only sporadically.
You must decide, after you hear this tale, if it is blessing, or curse.
I am Tsuji Ryuzo, the third son of Tsuji Samedo; descended in the tenth generation from Tsuji Girijin. Born in the seventeenth year of the Emperor Ogimachi (being 1574 by Western reckoning) it was a time we called The Age of the Country at War. For almost two hundred years each neighboring warlord defended his holdings from all others, civil war ripping the entire country. It was also the time of the Three Unifiers.
Oda Nobunaga occupied Kyoto six years before my birth. He started the process of ending the centuries of civil war by commanding the strongest, best equipped army ever seen by any daimyo. In my eighth year one of his generals assassinated him, burning his great castle Azuchijo to the ground, never to be razed again. Into his place stepped Toyotomi Hideyoshi, by avenging Lord Oda, catching and executing the assassin. Then Hideyoshi took command over Nobunaga's army. He proceeded to complete what his master had started, by statecraft, or with hostages; and when that failed by conquest.
My father's fief lay at the extreme northern shore of the big island of Honshu; yet even he felt the touch of Hideyoshi's hand. When I was ten, he sent Eldest Brother to Osaka as an emissary, but really he was hostage for Father's good behavior. Being so far north our lands were nearly wild, desolate. Though he controlled a large area, he did so mostly because few people lived there. He relied on his sons to carry messages and perform other duties, even before their gembuku ceremony which marks a boy of fourteen's transition from childhood to manhood. Shortly before my fourteenth birthday I returned home from just such an errand to my first experience of ishin-denshin.
Late in the evening I arrived, glad to be back in the relative warmth of the house out of winter's chill winds. The family had eaten earlier, but Cook clucked over me, providing a hot bowl of soup and some rice. Elder Brother slid open the shoji. Looking up I nearly dropped my rice. I knew he meant me no good that night.
I raised the bowl back to my face, hashi trembling slightly as I scooped rice into my mouth with the chopsticks. He approached, sitting opposite me.
"Good evening, Elder Brother," I said. “Do you want to share my rice?”
"Good evening, Younger Brother. I do not intend to share any rice with you. I intend to inherit the family holdings."
"But what of Eldest Brother? He will surely be Father's heir."
"I will deal with Eldest Brother when the time comes,”he said. “Meanwhile, I can insure my position as much as possible right now!" His hand gripped his sword. I threw the rice bowl into his face and grabbed his wrist, pushing with all my strength against his attempt to draw his blade. My other hand rocklike around my hashi I stabbed upwards. The points entered his nostrils, caught briefly then burst through bone thrusting into his brain. His body stiffened, eyes widened in surprise. Then their light faded, his body relaxed. The smell of urine tinged the air.
We sat there an eternity, myself supporting his head by the handle inserted into his nose. Red warmth flowed over my hand... my brother's blood. Slowly I eased him down to the tatami. When I let go the hashi remained in place, a mockery of his last breath.
As so often happens in times of stress, a haiku poem came to my mind. Using my finger as a brush, dipping into the flowing blood for ink, I wrote the characters across his forehead:
Hashiku is an attitude of mind. Sayonara.
The shoji slid open. There stood Father. I knew by the look on his face I could never explain what happened. Taking up my sword I ran from the room, not bothering to open the other shoji. I dashed across the garden, vaulted the wall, forever leaving Father's fief.
Branches snatched at my sleeves and hakama, slashed at my face as I ran. Drifted snow snared my feet trying to trip me fleeing the smell of my brother’s blood. When pain in my side stopped my breath I finally stopped running. The wind died off sometime while I ran. Deep in a forest, I sat on a rock under a tree, chest heaving as I fought the urge to cough when the frigid air bit my throat and lost myself in slowly swirling snowflakes. My breath frosting, time passed unnoticed in the stillness as the realisation spread. I’d lost family, home, everything. Waiting for the snow to bury me with my troubles, a sudden gust of wind swooped out of the night, rattling the tree limbs. I sputtered as snow fell on my head and down my back.
Then I laughed. I could see clearly the tree's kami. Disgusted with the self-pitying human sheltering in it's presence, it threw a tree-sized handful of snow to chase him away. Clapping twice, I bowed, and spoke aloud: “I offer you this in thanks, Tree Kami.
Sitting on a rock, frosted breath like windblown thoughts vanishes in snowfall.”
Two haiku in one night! Life couldn't be so black after all.
I remembered my aunt once told me of an uncle who left home under dubious circumstances. Auntie said he now lived in a monastery near Fuji-san, the magnificent mountain overlooking the Kanto Plain. Though a long way off, it seemed my only hope. Elder Brother set me upon this journey. I stood and stepped off briskly.
Weeks later, barefoot and ragged I arrived at the gates of Takafuji-in. Uncle still lived. He convinced the abbot to admit me despite my lacking letters of introduction. Instead of having my forelock cut and my hair bound into a man's queue on my fourteenth birthday, my head was shaved in the manner of a Buddhist monk. I spent several years at Takafuji Monastery. Uncle continued my training with the sword and spear. The abbot introduced me to Chanoyu, the art of Boiling Water for Tea. They also taught me another thing: my brother desired more than his karma intended him to possess. In greed he lost sight of a bushi's responsibility to serve the people. I had not so much killed him, as he committed suicide on my chopsticks.
Into Sengoku-Jidai, the Age of the Country at War, a nation and a young man sought maturity like a sapling in the forest reaching for the sun.