Welcome back! I'm getting anxious for the release of The Samurai's Garden, which won't be for another two months. I'm sharing another excerpt with you today. Hiro, a former samurai, has come to help Hanako on her tiny subsistence farm in the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan.
"Why did you come here?" she asked one day as they returned to the hut after a trip into the village.
"I felt I needed to pay a debt incurred by my brothers in war."
"No, I mean why were you in our particular village? I understand many of the samurai are finding other uses for their skills. Did you truly expect to find anything suitable here, so far away from the capital city?"
Hiro took his time answering. After his best friend had died, he had lost his will to fight. When the Emperor Meiji put an end to the samurai class, his duty there had ended, and he had traveled north, farther away from the capital and the political wars. He’d wandered across the countryside, watching people, sleeping wherever he could find shelter, and working when he needed to. The money he had used to purchase Hanako’s animals had come from a wealthy merchant who’d been grateful for Hiro’s temporary services as a bodyguard.
"I was ready for a change from my life in the city. I needed to find another path, one with more peace and harmony. I have grown to appreciate the life you lead, the way you supply most of your needs from the land around you."
There was much more to his story, but thankfully, Hanako seemed to accept his answer.
"Don't you have responsibilities to your family?" she asked.
"I am the second of four sons. My eldest brother is now a member of the Imperial Guard. He has primary care for my mother, now that my father is gone."
"Will you return to the city after the harvest?"
"I am not sure about my future. I think I would like to stay here for some time. If you will agree to teach me all you know, I will continue to stay and help you with your farm."
She regarded him thoughtfully. "The life of a farmer is difficult. It is hard physical labor, and one is always dependent on the weather. Many other things can go wrong, destroying all your work. Fire, drought, disease, and of course —" She swallowed convulsively before continuing, "— invasion by ronin."
Hiro had taken seriously his vows of samurai ethics, and he was repulsed by the antics of the ronin. "The emperor’s men are clamping down on them," he began.
"The emperor’s men cannot be everywhere," she argued. "The ronin travel at night and take people by surprise. No one is exempt from the terror they impart."
He stopped walking and turned to face her, but waited until she met his eyes before he spoke. "They will not harm you again. I swear it."
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