Botchan/Chapter 8

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CHAPTER VIII.

On my way back from the fishing to which I was invited by Red Shirt, and since then, I began to suspect Porcupine. When the latter wanted me to get out of Ikagin’s house on sham pretexts, I regarded him a decidedly unpleasant fellow. But as Porcupine, at the teachers’ meeting, contrary to my expectation, stood firmly for punishing the students to the fullest extent of the school regulations, I thought it queer. When I heard from the old lady about Porcupine volunteering himself for the sake of Hubbard Squash to stop Red Shirt meddling with the Madonna, I clapped my hands and hoorayed for him. Judging by these facts, I began to wonder if the wrong-doer might be not Porcupine, but Red Shirt the crooked one. He instilled into my head some flimsy hearsay plausibly and in a roundabout-way. At this juncture I saw Red Shirt taking a walk with the Madonna on the levy of the Nozeri river, and I decided that Red Shirt may be a scoundrel. I am not sure of his being really scoundrel at heart, but at any rate he is not a good fellow. He is a fellow with a double face. A man deserves no confidence unless he is as straight as the bamboo. One may fight a straight fellow, and feel satisfied. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Red Shirt or his kind who is kind, gentle, refined, and takes pride in his pipe had to be looked sharp, for I could not be too careful in getting into a scrap with the fellow of this type. I may fight, but I would not get square games like the wrestling matches it the Wrestling Amphitheatre in Tokyo. Come to think of it, Porcupine who turned against me and startled the whole teachers’ room over the amount of one sen and a half is far more like a man. When he stared at me with owlish eyes at the teachers’ meeting, I branded him as a spiteful guy, but as I consider the matter now, he is better than the feline voice of Red Shirt. To tell the truth, I tried to get reconciled with Porcupine, and after the meeting, spoke a word or two to him, but he shut up like a clam and kept glaring at me. So I became sore, and let it go at that.

Porcupine has not spoken to me since. The one sen and a half which I paid him back upon the desk, is still there, well covered with dust. I could not touch it, nor would Porcupine take it. This one sen and a half has become a barrier between us two. We two were cursed with this one sen and a half. Later indeed I got sick of its sight that I hated to see it.

While Porcupine and I were thus estranged, Red Shirt and I continued friendly relations and associated together. On the day following my accidental meeting with him near the Nozeri river, for instance, Red Shirt came to my desk as soon as he came to the school, and asked me how I liked the new boarding house. He said we would go together for fishing Russian literature again, and talked on many things. I felt a bit piqued, and said, “I saw you twice last night,” and he answered, “Yes, at the station. Do you go there at that time every day? Isn’t it late?” I startled him with the remark; “I met you on the levy of the Nozeri river too, didn’t I?” and he replied, “No, I didn’t go in that direction. I returned right after my bath.”

What is the use of trying to keep it dark. Didn’t we meet actually face to face? He tells too many lies. If one can hold the job of a head teacher and act in this fashion, I should be able to run the position of Chancellor of a university. From this time on, my confidence in Red Shirt became still less. I talk with Red Shirt whom I do not trust, and I keep silent with Porcupine whom I respect. Funny things do happen in this world.

One day Red Shirt asked me to come over to his house as he had something to tell me, and much as I missed the trip to the hot springs, I started for his house at about 4 o’clock. Red Shirt is single, but in keeping with the dignity of a head teacher, he gave up the boarding house life long ago, and lives in a fine house. The house rent, I understood, was nine yen and fifty sen. The front entrance was so attractive that I thought if one can live in such a splendid house at nine yen and a half in the country, it would be a good game to call Kiyo from Tokyo and make her heart glad. The younger brother of Red Shirt answered my bell. This brother gets his lessons on algebra and mathematics from me at the school. He stands no show in his school work, and being a “migratory bird” is more wicked than the native boys.

I met Red Shirt. Smoking the same old unsavory amber pipe, he said something to the following effect:

“Since you’ve been with us, our work has been more satisfactory than it was under your predecessor, and the principal is very glad to have got the right person in the right place. I wish you to work as hard as you can, for the school is depending upon you.”

“Well, is that so. I don’t think I can work any harder than now….”

“What you’re doing now is enough. Only don't forget what I told you the other day.”

“Meaning that one who helps me find a boarding house is dangerous?”

“If you state it so baldly, there is no meaning to it…. But that’s all right,… I believe you understand the spirit of my advice. And if you keep on in the way you’re going to-day…. We have not been blind… we might offer you a better treatment later on if we can manage it.”

“In salary? I don’t care about the salary, though the more the better.”

“And fortunately there is going to be one teacher transferred,… however, I can’t guarantee, of course, until I talk it over with the principal… and we might give you something out of his salary.”

“Thank you. Who is going to be transferred?”

“I think I may tell you now; ’tis going to be Announced soon. Koga is the man.”

“But isn’t Koga-san a native of this town?”

“Yes, he is. But there are some circumstances… and it is partly by his own preference.”

“Where is he going?”

“To Nobeoka in Hiuga province. As the place is so far away, he is going there with his salary raised a grade higher.”

“Is some one coming to take his place?”

“His successor is almost decided upon.”

“Well, that’s fine, though I’m not very anxious to have my salary raised.”

“I’m going to talk to the principal about that anyway. And, we may have to ask you to work more some time later… and the principal appears to be of the same opinion…. I want you to go ahead with that in your mind.”

“Going to increase my working hours?”

“No. The working hours may be reduced….”

“The working hours shortened and yet work more? Sounds funny.”

“It does sound funny… I can’t say definitely just yet… it means that we way have to ask you to assume more responsibility.”

I could not make out what he meant. To assume more responsibility might mean my appointment to the senior instructor of mathematics, but Porcupine is the senior instructor and there is no danger of his resigning. Besides, he is so very popular among the students that his transfer or discharge would be inadvisable. Red Shirt always misses the point. And though he did not get to the point, the object of my visit was ended. We talked a while on sundry matters, Red Shirt proposing a farewell dinner party for Hubbard Squash, asking me if I drink liquor and praising Hubbard Squash as an amiable gentleman, etc. Finally he changed the topic and asked me if I take an interest in “haiku.”[1] Here is where I beat it, I thought, and, saying “No, I don’t, good by,” hastily left the house. The “haiku” should be a diversion of Baseo[2] or the boss of a barbershop. It would not do for the teacher of mathematics to rave over the old wooden bucket and the morning glory.[3]

I returned home and thought it over. Here is a man whose mental process defies a layman’s understanding. He is going to court hardships in a strange part of the country in preference of his home and the school where he is working,–both of which should satisfy most anybody,–because he is tired of them. That may be all right if the strange place happens to be a lively metropolis where electric cars run,–but of all places, why Nobeoka in Hiuga province? This town here has a good steamship connection, yet I became sick of it and longed for home before one month had passed. Nobeoka is situated in the heart of a most mountainous country. According to Red Shirt, one has to make an all-day ride in a wagonette to Miyazaki, after he had left the vessel, and from Miyazaki another all-day ride in a rikisha to Nobeoka. Its name alone does not commend itself as civilized. It sounds like a town inhabited by men and monkeys in equal numbers. However sage-like Hubbard Squash might be I thought he would not become a friend of monkeys of his own choice. What a curious slant!

Just then the old lady brought in my supper–“Sweet potatoes again?” I asked, and she said, “No, Sir, it is tofu to-night.” They are about the same thing.

“Say, I understand Koga-san is going to Nobeoka.”

“Isn’t it too bad?”

“Too bad? But it can’t be helped if he goes there by his own preference.”

“Going there by his own preference? Who, Sir?”

“Who? Why, he! Isn’t Professor Koga going there by his own choice?”

“That’s wrong Mr. Wright, Sir.”

“Ha, Mr. Wright, is it? But Red Shirt told me so just now. If that’s wrong Mr. Wright, then Red Shirt is blustering Mr. Bluff.”

“What the head-teacher says is believable, but so Koga-san does not wish to go.”

“Our old lady is impartial, and that is good. Well, what’s the matter?”

“The mother of Koga-san was here this morning, and told me all the circumstances.”

“Told you what circumstances?”

“Since the father of Koga-san died, they have not been quite well off as we might have supposed, and the mother asked the principal if his salary could not be raised a little as Koga-san has been in service for four years. See?”

“Well?”

“The principal said that he would consider the matter, and she felt satisfied and expected the announcement of the increase before long. She hoped for its coming this month or next. Then the principal called Koga-san to his office one day and said that he was sorry but the school was short of money and could not raise his salary. But he said there is an opening in Nobeoka which would give him five yen extra a month and he thought that would suit his purpose, and the principal had made all arrangements and told Koga-san he had better go….”

“That wasn’t a friendly talk but a command. Wasn’t it?”

“Yes, Sir, Koga-san told the principal that he liked to stay here better at the old salary than go elsewhere on an increased salary, because he has his own house and is living with his mother. But the matter has all been settled, and his successor already appointed and it couldn’t be helped, said the principal.”

“Hum, that’s a jolly good trick, I should say. Then Koga-san has no liking to go there? No wonder I thought it strange. We would have to go a long way to find any blockhead to do a job in such a mountain village and get acquainted with monkeys for five yen extra.”

“What is a blockhead, Sir?”

“Well, let go at that. It was all the scheme of Red Shirt. Deucedly underhand scheme, I declare. It was a stab from behind. And he means to raise my salary by that; that’s not right. I wouldn’t take that raise. Let’s see if he can raise it.”

“Is your salary going to be raised, Sir?”

“Yes, they said they would raise mine, but I’m thinking of refusing it.”

“Why do you refuse?”

“Why or no why, it’s going to be refused. Say, Red Shirt is a fool; he is a coward.”

“He may be a coward, but if he raises your salary, it would be best for you to make no fuss, but accept it. One is apt to get grouchy when young, but will always repent when he is grown up and thinks that it was pity he hadn’t been a little more patient. Take an old woman’s advice for once, and if Red Shirt-san says he will raise your salary, just take it with thanks.”

“It’s none of business of you old people.”

The old lady withdrew in silence. The old man is heard singing “utai” in the off-key voice. “Utai,” I think, is a stunt which purposely makes a whole show a hard nut to crack by giving to it difficult tunes, whereas one could better understand it by reading it. I cannot fathom what is in the mind of the old man who groans over it every night untired. But I’m not in a position to be fooling with “utai.” Red Shirt said he would have my salary raised, and though I did not care much about it, I accepted it because there was no use of leaving the money lying around. But I cannot, for the love of Mike, be so inconsiderate as to skin the salary of a fellow teacher who is being transferred against his will. What in thunder do they mean by sending him away so far as Nobeoka when the fellow prefers to remain in his old position? Even Dazai-no- Gonnosutsu did not have to go farther than about Hakata; even Matagoro Kawai[4] stopped at Sagara. I shall not feel satisfied unless I see Red Shirt and tell him I refuse the raise.

I dressed again and went to his house. The same younger brother of Red Shirt again answered the bell, and looked at me with eyes which plainly said, “You here again?” I will come twice or thrice or as many times as I want to if there is business. I might rouse them out of their beds at midnight;–it is possible, who knows. Don’t mistake me for one coming to coax the head teacher. I was here to give back my salary. The younger brother said that there is a visitor just now, and I told him the front door will do; won’t take more than a minute, and he went in. Looking about my feet, I found a pair of thin, matted wooden clogs, and I heard some one in the house saying, “Now we’re banzai.” I noticed that the visitor was Clown. Nobody but Clown could make such a squeaking voice and wear such clogs as are worn by cheap actors.

After a while Red Shirt appeared at the door with a lamp in his hand, and said, “Come in; it’s no other than Mr. Yoshikawa.”

“This is good enough,” I said, “it won’t take long.” I looked at his face which was the color of a boiled lobster. He seemed to have been drinking with Clown.

“You told me that you would raise my salary, but I’ve changed my mind, and have come here to decline the offer.”

Red Shirt, thrusting out the lamp forward, and intently staring at me, was unable to answer at the moment. He appeared blank. Did he think it strange that here was one fellow, only one in the world, who does not want his salary raised, or was he taken aback that I should come back so soon even if I wished to decline it, or was it both combined, he stood there silent with his mouth in a queer shape.

“I accepted your offer because I understood that Mr. Koga was being transferred by his own preference….”

“Mr. Koga is really going to be transferred by his own preference.”

“No, Sir. He would like to stay here. He doesn’t mind his present salary if he can stay.”

“Have you heard it from Mr. Koga himself?”

“No, not from him.”

“Then, from who?”

“The old lady in my boarding house told me what she heard from the mother of Mr. Koga.”

“Then the old woman in your boarding house told you so?”

“Well, that’s about the size of it.”

“Excuse me, but I think you are wrong.

According to what you say, it seems as if you believe what the old woman in the boarding house tells you, but would not believe what your head teacher tells you. Am I right to understand it that way?”

I was stuck. A Bachelor of Arts is confoundedly good in oratorical combat. He gets hold of unexpected point, and pushes the other backward. My father used to tell me that I am too careless and no good, and now indeed I look that way. I ran out of the house on the moment’s impulse when I heard the story from the old lady, and in fact I had not heard the story from either Hubbard Squash or his mother. In consequence, when I was challenged in this Bachelor-of-Arts fashion, it was a bit difficult to defend myself.

I could not defend his frontal attack, but I had already declared in my mind a lack of confidence on Red Shirt. The old lady in the boarding house may be tight and a grabber, I do not doubt it, but she is a woman who tells no lie. She is not double faced like Red Shirt, I was helpless, so I answered.

“What you say might be right,–anyway, I decline the raise.”

“That’s still funnier. I thought your coming here now was because you had found a certain reason for which you could not accept the raise. Then it is hard to understand to see you still insisting on declining the raise in spite of the reason having been eradicated by my explanation.”

“It may be hard to understand, but anyway I don’t want it.”

“If you don’t like it so much, I wouldn’t force it on you. But if you change your mind within two or three hours with no particular reason, it would affect your credit in future.”

“I don’t care if it does affect it.”

“That can’t be. Nothing is more important than credit for us. Supposing, the boss of the boarding house….”

“Not the boss, but the old lady.”

“Makes no difference,–suppose what the old woman in the boarding house told you was true, the raise of your salary is not to be had by reducing the income of Mr. Koga, is it? Mr. Koga is going to Nobeoka; his successor is coming. He comes on a salary a little less than that of Mr. Koga, and we propose to add the surplus money to your salary, and you need not be shy. Mr. Koga will be promoted; the successor is to start on less pay, and if you could be raised, I think everything be satisfactory to all concerned. If you don’t like it, that’s all right, but suppose you think it over once more at home?”

My brain is not of the best stuff, and if another fellow flourishes his eloquence like this, I usually think, “Well, perhaps I was wrong,” and consider myself defeated, but not so to-night. From the time I came to this town I felt prejudiced against Red Shirt. Once I had thought of him in a different light, taking him for a fellow kind-hearted and feminished. His kindness, however, began to look like anything but kindness, and as a result, I have been getting sick of him. So no matter how he might glory himself in logical grandiloquence, or how he might attempt to out-talk me in a head-teacher-style, I don’t care a snap. One who shines in argument is not necessarily a good fellow, while the other who is out-talked is not necessarily a bad fellow, either. Red Shirt is very, very reasonable as far as his reasoning goes, but however graceful he may appear, he cannot win my respect. If money, authority or reasoning can command admiration, loansharks, police officers or college professors should be liked best by all. I cannot be moved in the least by the logic by so insignificant a fellow as the head teacher of a middle school. Man works by preference, not by logic.

“What you say is right, but I have begun to dislike the raise, so I decline. It will be the same if I think it over. Good by.” And I left the house of Red Shirt. The solitary milky way hung high in the sky.



  1. The 17-syllable poem.
  2. A famous composer of the poem.
  3. There is a well-known 17-syllable poem describing the scene of morning glories entwining around the wooden bucket.
  4. The persons in exile, well-known in Japanese history.