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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

THE FUGITIVE PRINCESThe Emperor Seinei had no offspring


THE FUGITIVE PRINCES

The Emperor Seinei had no offspring, and for a time it seemed that the succession in the direct line would be interrupted. For this lack of heirs the responsibility ultimately rested with Yuryaku. In his fierce ambition to sweep away every obstacle, actual or potential, that barred his ascent to the throne, he inveigled Prince Oshiwa, eldest son of the Emperor Richu, to accompany him on a hunting expedition, and slew him mercilessly on the moor of Kaya. Oshiwa had two sons, Oke and Woke, mere children at the time of their father's murder. They fled, under the care of Omi, a muraji, who, with his son, Adahiko, secreted them in the remote province of Inaba. Omi ultimately committed suicide in order to avoid the risk of capture and interrogation under torture, and the two little princes, still accompanied by Adahiko, calling themselves "the urchins of Tamba," became menials in the service of the obito of the Shijimi granaries in the province of Harima.

Twenty-four years had been passed in that seclusion when it chanced that Odate, governor of the province, visited the obito on an occasion when the latter was holding a revel to celebrate the building of a new house, it fell to the lot of the two princes to act as torch-bearers, the lowest role that could be assigned to them, and the younger counselled his brother that the time had come to declare themselves, for death was preferable to such a life. Tradition says that, being invited to dance "when the night had become profound, when the revel was at its height and when every one else had danced in turn," the Prince Woke, accompanying his movements with verses extemporized for the occasion, danced so gracefully that the governor twice asked him to continue, and at length he announced the rank and lineage of his brother and himself. The governor, astonished, "made repeated obeisance to the youths, built a palace for their temporary accommodation, and going up to the capital, disclosed the whole affair to the Emperor, who expressed profound satisfaction."

Oke, the elder of the two, was made Prince Imperial, and should have ascended the throne on the death of Seinei, a few months later. Arguing, however, that to his younger brother, Woke it was entirely due that they had emerged from a state of abject misery, Oke announced his determination to cede the honour to Woke, who, in turn, declined to take precedence of his elder brother. This dispute of mutual deference continued for a whole year, during a part of which time the administration was carried on by Princess Awo, elder sister of Woke. At length the latter yielded and assumed the sceptre. His first care was to collect the bones of his father, Prince Oshiwa, who had been murdered and buried unceremoniously on the moor of Kaya in Omi province. It was long before the place of interment could be discovered, but at length an old woman served as guide, and the bones of the prince were found mingled in inextricable confusion with those of his loyal vassal, Nakachiko, who had shared his fate.

The ethics of that remote age are illustrated vividly in this page of the record. A double sepulchre was erected in memory of the murdered prince and his faithful follower and the old woman who had pointed out the place of their unhonoured grave was given a house in the vicinity of the palace, a rope with a bell attached being stretched between the two residences to serve as a support for her infirm feet and as a means of announcing her coming when she visited the palace. But the same benevolent sovereign who directed these gracious doings was with difficulty dissuaded from demolishing the tomb and scattering to the winds of heaven the bones of the Emperor Yuryaku, under whose hand Prince Oshiwa had fallen.


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