Hachiro Tametomo, The Archer

Long, long ago there lived in Japan a man named Hachiro Tametomo, who became famous as the most skilful archer in the whole of the realm at that time. Hachiro means “the eighth,” and he was so called because he was the eighth son of his father, General Tameyoshi of the house of Minamoto. Yoshitomo, who afterwards became such a great figure in Japanese history, was his elder brother. Tametomo was therefore uncle to the Shogun Yoritomo and the hero Yoshitsune, of whom you will soon read. He belonged to an illustrious family indeed.

As a child Hachiro gave promise of being a very strong man, and as he grew older this promise was more than fulfilled. He early showed a love of archery, and his left arm being four inches longer than his right, there was no one who could bend the bow better or send the arrow farther than he could. By nature Hachiro was a rough, wild boy who did not know what fear was, and he loved to challenge his elder brothers to fight. He ever a grew wilder as he grew older, till at last he acted so rudely and wilfully, respecting and obeying no one set over him, that even his own father found him unmanageable.

Now it happened when Hachiro was thirteen years old that a learned man, named Fujiwara-no-Shinsei, came to the Palace of the Emperor one day to give a lecture on a certain book. During the lecture he said that there could not be found in the whole of Japan a warrior whose skill in archery could match that of Kiyomori, the chief of the Taira clan, or of Yorimasa, the Minamoto knight. These two knights, though belonging to two different clans, were the best archers throughout the land. Now Hachiro, when he heard these words, laughed aloud in scorn, and said, so that every one might hear him, that Fujiwara-no-Shinsei was right about Yorimasa, but to call their enemy, that coward of a Kiyomori, a clever archer, only showed what a foolish and ignorant man Fujiwara-no-Shinsei was.

This rude speech, so contrary to the rules of Japanese courtesy, which commands young people to maintain a respectful and humble silence in the presence of their elders, made Fujiwara very angry. When the lecture was finished, he therefore sent for Tametomo and rebuked him sternly for his behaviour, but the daring Tametomo, instead of being ashamed of his unmannerly conduct and prostrating himself in apology before the learned man, would not listen to anything he had to say, and was so boisterous in declaring that he was right that Fujiwara gave up his task of correction as a hopeless one.

But the lad’s father, Tameyoshi, when he heard of what had happened, was very angry with his son for daring to dispute with his elder and superior, especially in the sacred precincts of the Palace. He was so wroth indeed that at last he refused to see him or to keep him any longer under his roof, and to punish him he sent him far away from his home to the island of Kiushiu.

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Now Tametomo, like the wilful, headstrong boy that he was, did not mind his banishment at all; on the contrary, he felt like a hound let loose from the leash, and rejoiced in his liberty, even though he had incurred his father’s displeasure.

When he reached the island of Kiushiu he made his way to the province of Higo, and finally settled down in the plain of Kumamoto. Now that Tametomo found himself free to do just as he liked, his thirst for conflict became so great that he could not restrain himself. He gathered round him a band of fighters as wild as himself and challenged the men in all the neighbouring provinces to come out and match their strength against his. In twenty battles which followed this challenge Tametomo was never once defeated, so great was his strength, and his cleverness in directing his soldiers. He was like a silkworm eating up the mulberry tree. Just as the silkworm devours one leaf after another, with slow but sure relentlessness, so Tametomo fought and fought the inhabitants of the provinces round about till he had brought them all into subjection under him. By the time he was eighteen years old he had made himself chief of a large band of outlaws, distinguished for their reckless bravery, and with them he had mastered the whole of Kiushiu, the western part of Japan. It was now that the name of Chinsei was given him on account of his having conquered the West. Chin means “to put down,” and sei means the “West.”

Tidings travelled slowly in those days, for there were no railways or telegraph wires forming a network of lightning speed communication across the land, and all carrying of news was done on foot by messengers; so it was a long time before the Government at the capital heard of the wild and lawless doings of Chinsei Hachiro Tametomo, but at last his daring exploits became known, and the Government decided to interfere and to put a stop to his outlawry. They sent a regiment of soldiers to hunt him down and take him prisoner, but Tametomo and his band were not only strong and fearless, but sharp of wit, and in the frequent skirmishes that took place they always came out victorious. At last the soldiers gave up their task of capturing him, for they found it impossible to overcome him and nothing would make Tametomo surrender. So the general returned to the capital and confessed that his expedition had failed. The Government now decided to arrest the outlaw’s father, Tameyoshi, and so try to bring the rebel to bay. Tameyoshi was therefore seized and punished for being the parent of such an incorrigible rebel.

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Now even the wilful Tametomo was moved and distressed when he heard of what had happened to his father, because of him. Although he was undisciplined by nature, and ever ready to rebel against all authority, yet hidden deep in his heart there was still a sense of duty to his father, and on this his enemies had counted. He knew that it was inexcusable to let his father suffer punishment for his misdoings. As soon as the bad tidings reached him, he gave up without the least hesitation all the land in Kiushiu, which had cost him several years of hard fighting to wrest from the inhabitants, and taking with him only ten of his men, with all the speed he could make, he went up to the capital.

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As soon as he reached the city he sent in a document signed and sealed in his blood, asking pardon of the Government for all his former offences, and begging that his father might be released at once. He then waited calmly and quietly for his sentence of punishment to be declared.

Now when those in authority saw his filial piety and his good conduct at this crisis, they could not find it in their hearts to treat him with severity.

“Even this man who has behaved like a demon can feel so much for his father,” they exclaimed; and merely rebuking him for his lawlessness they handed him over to his father, whom they had set free.

At this time civil war broke out in the land, for two brothers, sons of the late ex-Emperor Toba, aspired to sit on the Imperial throne. Owing to the favouritism of their father the elder brother, Sutoku, was forced to abdicate and retire, while Go-Shirakawa, the younger brother, was put on the throne. On his deathbed the ex-Emperor Toba (also called the Pontiff-Emperor) had foreseen that there would be strife between the two, and left sealed instructions in case of emergency. On opening this document it was found to contain a command to all the principal generals to support Go-Shirakawa.

Hence the great chief of the Taira, Kiyomori, and Tametomo’s eldest brother, Yoshitomo,—indeed all the warriors of repute and strength,—supported Go-Shirakawa, while such nobles as Yorinaga and Fujiwara-no-Shinsei, who knew nothing of fighting, sided with the retired Emperor Sutoku. Yorinaga, it is said, could not mount his horse. Indeed the only efficient soldiers on Sutoku’s side were Tameyoshi and his seven younger sons, Tametomo, the reformed rebel, amongst them. Sutoku was told of Tametomo’s strength and wonderful skill as an archer, and was advised to make use of him, so Tametomo was summoned ere long to the ex-Emperor’s presence.

Tametomo was now just twenty years of age; he was more than seven feet in height; his eyes were sharp and piercing like those of a hawk, and he carried himself with great pride and noble bearing. As he entered the Imperial Audience Hall, so strong and brave and such a fine soldier did he look, that Sutoku at once felt confidence in him, and without delay consulted the young knight about the impending war.

Then Tametomo told the Emperor of how, when he had been banished to the West by his father, he had lived the life of an outlaw for many years—all that time his hand had been raised against every one, and every one had fought against him. It had been his delight and pastime to fight all who opposed his being lord of Kiushiu. He and his band had always conquered, he said, because they had always fought at night. It would be a good plan, he thought, for Sutoku and his men to attack the Palace of Go-Shirakawa by night, to set fire to the Palace on three sides and to place soldiers on the fourth side to seize the new Emperor and his party when they tried to escape. If the ex-Emperor would follow his advice, Tametomo said he felt sure that he would win the victory.

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Yorinaga, who was attending the Council when he heard Tametomo’s plan, shook his head in disapproval, and said that Tametomo’s scheme of attack was an inferior one; that in his opinion it was a coward’s trick to attack by night; and that it was more befitting brave soldiers to fight by day in the ordinary way. When Tametomo saw that his advice was overruled and that Sutoku’s Council would not follow his tactics, he left the Palace.

When he reached home he told his men of all that had passed, and added in his anger that Yorinaga was a conceited fellow who knew nothing of fighting, though he had dared to give his worthless opinion and to contradict him, Tametomo, who had fought without once being beaten all his life long. Thus giving vent to his disappointment, Tametomo seated himself on the mats, and as his anger passed away, he added with a sigh: “I only fear that Sutoku will be defeated in the coming struggle!”

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Had Tametomo’s tactics been followed, Japanese history would certainly have been different, for Kiyomori and Yoshitomo won a victory by the very plan which Tametomo had advised Sutoku to follow.

That night, without any warning, the enemy made an attack on the ex-Emperor’s Palace.

The wary Tametomo, however, expected an assault and had stationed himself at the South Gate on guard. On seeing Kiyomori and his band approaching he exclaimed: “You feeble worms! I’ll surprise you!” and taking his bow and arrow shot a samurai named Ito Roku through the breast. The arrow was shot with such skill and force that it went right through the soldier’s body, and coming out through his back, pierced the sleeve of the armour of Ito Go, his younger brother, who was riding close behind him.

Ito Go, when he saw the precision and strength with which the arrow was shot, knew that they had to deal with no common foe, and in alarm carried the arrow to his general, Kiyomori, to show it to him. Kiyomori examined the arrow carefully and found that it was made from a strong bamboo of more than the usual thickness, and that the metal head was like a big chisel, a formidable weapon indeed! It was so large that it resembled a spear more than an arrow, and even the redoubtable Kiyomori trembled at the sight of it.

“This looks more like the arrow of a demon than of a man. Let us find another place of assault where our enemies are weaker and where the leaders are not such remarkable marksmen!” said he.

Kiyomori then retired from the attack on the South Gate.

When Yoshitomo (who was now supporting Kiyomori, though later on he left the Taira chief) heard of his brother Tametomo’s doings, he said: “Tametomo may be a daredevil and boast of his skill as an archer, but he will surely not take up his bow and arrow against the person of his elder brother,” and he took Kiyomori’s place at the South Gate of the Palace which Tametomo was guarding.

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Drawing near the great roofed gate, Yoshitomo called aloud to Tametomo and said: “Is that you, Tametomo, on guard there? What a wicked deed you commit to fight against your elder brother? Now quickly open the gate and let me in. Tametomo! Do you hear? I am Yoshitomo! Retire there!”

Tametomo laughed aloud at his elder brother’s command and answered boldly: “If it is wrong for me to take up arms against you, my brother, are you not an undutiful son to take up arms against your father?” (Tameyoshi, his father, was fighting on the ex-Emperor’s side.)

Yoshitomo had no words wherewith to answer his brother and was silent. Tametomo, with his archer’s eye, saw what a good mark his brother made just outside the gate, and he was greatly tempted to shoot at him even for sport. But he said that though war found them fighting on opposite sides, yet they were brothers, born of the same mother, and that it would be acting against his conscience to kill or hurt his own brother, for surely he would do so if he took aim seriously! He would however for the sake and love of sport continue to show Yoshitomo what a clever marksman he was.

Taking good aim at Yoshitomo’s helmet, Tametomo raised his bow and shot an arrow right into the middle of the star that topped it. The arrow pierced the star, came out the other side, and then cut through a wooden gate five or six inches in thickness.

Even Yoshitomo was astonished at the skill which his brother displayed by this feat of archery. He now led his soldiers forward to the attack.

But Sutoku’s army was far outnumbered by the enemy, who swept down upon the Palace in overwhelming numbers, and though Tametomo fought bravely and with great skill, his strength and valour were of no avail against the great odds which assailed him. The enemy gained ground slowly, inch by inch, till at last the gates were battered down, and they ruthlessly entered the Palace. Calamity was added to calamity, the foe set fire to several parts of the building, and great confusion ensued.

The ex-Emperor, in making a vain attempt to escape with Yorinaga, was caught and taken prisoner. Seeing that for the present there was nothing to be done, Tametomo, with his father Tameyoshi and his other brothers, all loyal to Sutoku’s cause, made good their escape and fled to the province of Omi.

Tameyoshi was an old man unable to endure the hardships of a hunted life, and he found that he could go no further; so he told his sons that, as the Emperor had been taken prisoner, and as there was no hope of raising Sutoku’s flag again, at any rate for the present, it would be wiser for them all to return to the capital and surrender themselves to the conquerors—the Taira. They all agreed to this proposal except Tametomo, so Tameyoshi, the aged general, and the rest of his sons went back to Kyoto.

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Now Tametomo was left behind, alone in his brave resolution to fight another battle for the ex-Emperor Sutoku. As soon as he had parted, sad and determined, from his father and brothers, he made his way towards the Eastern provinces. But unfortunately, as he was journeying, the wound he had received in the recent fight became so painful that he stopped at some springs along the route, with the hope that the healing waters, a panacea for so many ills in Japan, would heal his hurt. But while taking the cure, his enemies came upon him and made him prisoner and he was sent back a captive to the capital.

By the time Tametomo reached the city, his father and his brothers had been put to death, and he was soon told that he was to meet the same cruel fate.

But courage always arouses chivalry in the hearts of friends and foes alike, and it seemed to Tametomo’s enemies a pity to put such a brave man to death. In the whole land there was no man who could match him in bending the bow and sending the arrow home to its mark, so it was decided to spare his life at the last moment. But to prevent him from using his wonderful skill against them, his enemies cut the sinews of both his arms and sent him away to the island of Oshima off the coast of the province of Idzuto live. Lest he should escape on the way they bound him hand and foot and put him in a palanquin. He was surrounded by a guard of fifty men, and so big and heavy was he that twenty bearers were required to carry the palanquin.

In spite of all the misfortunes that had befallen him, he carried the same courage, the same stout merry heart, the same love of wildness with him, even into exile. As the twenty men carried him along in the palanquin, Tametomo just for fun would now and again put forth all his strength. So great was his weight then that the twenty bearers would stagger and fall to the ground. These feats of strength alarmed the escort of fifty soldiers. They feared lest he should act more savagely and become unmanageable, past their power of control, so they treated him in much the same way as they would have treated a lion or a tiger. They tried not to anger him, but did their utmost to keep him in a good humour during the journey.

At last they reached the province of Idzu and the seashore from whence they had to cross over to the island. Here they hired a boat, and putting Tametomo safely on board they took him to his last destination and left him there. Though Tametomo was banished to this island, yet once there his enemies left him free to do much as he liked. He was not treated as a common prisoner, but as a brave though vanquished foe. The simple islanders recognized in him a great man and behaved to him accordingly and listened to everything he chose to say. So he led an unmolested life, free from care, except the sorrow of being an exile—but his was a nature which took life as it came, without worrying about what he could not help.

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Now one day Tametomo was standing on the beach gazing out to sea, thinking of the many adventures he had passed through and wondering if fate would ever bring any change in the quiet life he was leading, when he saw a sea-gull come flying over the water. At first Tametomo with his keen eyes saw only a speck in the distance, but the speck grew larger and larger till at last the seabird appeared. Tametomo now guessed that there was an island lying in the direction from which the bird came. So he got into a boat and set out on a voyage of discovery.

As he expected, he came to an island, after sailing from sunrise to sundown. To his amazement he found the place inhabited by creatures very different from human beings. They had dark red faces, with shocks of bright red hair, the locks of which hung over their foreheads and eyes. They looked just like demons. A whole crowd of these alarming-looking creatures were standing on the beach when Tametomo landed. When they caught sight of him they talked and gesticulated wildly amongst themselves and with fierce looks they rushed towards him.

Tametomo saw at once that they meant him harm, but he was nothing daunted. He went up to a large pine tree that was growing near by, laid his hands on it, and uprooting it with as much ease as if it were a weed, he brandished it over his head and called aloud threateningly: “Come, you demons, fight if you will. I am Chinsei Hachiro Tametomo, the Archer of great Japan. If you will henceforth become my servants and look up to me as master in all things, it is well; otherwise I will beat you all to little pieces.”

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When the demons saw Tametomo’s great strength and his fearlessness they trembled. They held a short parley amongst themselves, and then the demon chief stepped forward, followed by all his band. They came in front of Tametomo and prostrating themselves before him on the sand, they one and all surrendered. Tametomo with much pride took possession of this island of demons and made himself monarch of all he surveyed. Having subdued the demons he returned to Oshima with the news. Great was the praise and merit awarded him by all the islanders.

Another day, soon after this, Tametomo was walking along the sands of the seashore, when he saw coming towards him, floating nearer and nearer on the top of the waves, a little old man. Tametomo could hardly believe his sight; he had never seen anything so strange in his whole life; he rubbed his eyes, thinking he must be dreaming, and looked and looked again. There sure enough was a tiny man, no bigger than one foot five inches high, sitting gracefully on a round straw mat.

Filled with wonder, Tametomo walked to the edge of the sand, and as the little creature floated nearer on an incoming wave he said: “Who are you?”

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“I am the microbe of small-pox,” answered the stranger pigmy.

“And why, may I ask, do you come to this island?” inquired Tametomo.

“I have never been here before, so I came partly for sight-seeing and partly with the desire to seize hold of the inhabitants—” answered the little creature.

Before he could finish his sentence Tametomo said angrily: “You spirit of hateful pestilence! Silence, I say! I am no other than Chinsei Hachiro Tametomo! Get out of my presence at once and take yourself far from this place, or I will make you repent the day you ever came here!”

As Tametomo spoke, the small-pox microbe shrank and shrank from the form of a tiny man one foot five inches high, till only something the size of a pea was left in the middle of the straw mat. As he dwindled and dwindled, the little creature said that he was sorry that he had intruded into the island, but he had not known that it was in Tametomo’s possession; and he then floated away out to sea on his straw mat as quickly and mysteriously as he had come.

The island of Oshima has always been free from small-pox, and to this day the islanders ascribe the immunity they enjoy from the horrible pestilence to Tametomo, who drove away the microbe when the hateful creature would have landed there.

Now that Tametomo had subdued the demons on the neighbouring island and had driven away the spirit of small-pox from Oshima, he was looked upon as a king by the simple islanders. They rendered him every possible honour and bowed their heads in the dust before him whenever he went abroad.

At last this state of affairs was reported to the authorities in the capital. The Ministers of State decided that it was unsafe to allow this to go on. Such a popular and powerful hero was a menace to the Government. Tametomo, the Champion Archer, must be put down and without delay. Such was the decree. A messenger was then and there despatched with sealed orders to General Shigemitsu, in Idzu, to set sail with his men for Oshima and subdue Tametomo.

One day Tametomo was standing on the beach and watching with pleasure, as he often did, the ever-whispering sea laughing and sparkling in the sunshine, when he saw fifty war-junks coming towards the island. The soldiers standing on the fifty decks were all armed with swords and bows and arrows, and clad in armour from head to foot, and they were beating drums and singing martial songs. Tametomo smiled when he saw this fleet all mustered in martial array and sent against him, a single man, for he knew, somehow or other, what they had come for.

“Now,” he said proudly to himself, “the opportunity is given me of trying my archer’s skill once more.” Seizing his bow, he pulled it to the shape of a full moon, and aiming it at the foremost ship, sent an arrow right into the prow. In an instant the boat was upset and the soldiers pitched into the sea.

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Till that moment Tametomo had feared that his arm had lost its first great strength, since his enemies had cut the sinews; but on the contrary he now found that not only were his arms as strong as ever, but that they had even grown longer, and that he was able to pull his bow wider than before. He clapped his hands with joy at the discovery and called aloud: “This is a happy thing!”

But now Tametomo reflected that if he fought against those who had been sent by the Government to take him, he would only bring trouble on the people of the island, who had been so kind to him and who had sheltered him in his exile; he thought of how in their simple reverence for his great strength they had almost worshipped him as a deified hero and had looked up to him as their leader. No,—he would not, could not, bring war and trouble and certain punishment upon these good folk, so for their sake he decided not to fight more. He looked back with the keen flight of thought that comes to mortals in moments of great crises, and he remembered how with special mercy his life had been spared when he was taken prisoner in the civil war. Since then he had enjoyed life for over ten years. As a strong, brave man he could not grudge losing it now. He had made himself owner of the islands and the people called him their king; he felt that there was no shame or regret in dying when he had reached the height of his glory. Therefore, with firm and quick decision he made up his mind to die. He withdrew at once from the beach and retired to his house, and here he committed suicide by harikiri, thus saving himself from all dishonour and the islanders from all trouble. He was only thirty-two years of age when he died. His death was greatly regretted by all who loved him. But his glory did not die with him. The people ever afterward honoured and reverenced him as a great hero.

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Such is one story of the death of Tametomo, but legend has created another, still more interesting, about him. Instead of taking his own life, this tradition says that he escaped from Oshima and reached Sanuki. Here he visited the late Emperor’s tomb and offered up prayers for the illustrious dead. He then, believing that his day of usefulness was over, prepared to kill himself; when suddenly, as in a dream, the Emperor, Yorinaga, his father, and all those royalists who had fought and died in the civil war, or had been taken prisoners and killed by the victorious parties of the new Emperor, appeared to him in the clouds and with a warning gesture prevented him from committing the dread deed of harakiri. As Tametomo gazed wonderingly at the beautiful vision, the bamboo curtain which hung before the ex-Emperor’s palanquin lifted, and as the sunshine and grace of His Majesty’s smile fell upon the awe-stricken man, the sword dropped from his hand and the wish to die expired in his breast. He fell forward in humble prostration to the ground. When Tametomo lifted his head, the vision had vanished within the clouds; nothing remained to be seen of the royal array which had saved him from his self-imposed death.

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This wonderful visitation changed Tametomo’s mind. He gave up all idea of seeking death, and, leaving Sanuki, journeyed to Kiushiu, and took up his abode on Mount Kihara. Here he collected a band of followers, and with them embarked on board a ship with the intention of reaching the capital and once more striking a blow at the arrogant and usurping House of Taira. But misfortune followed him. He was overtaken by a storm, his ship was wrecked, his men lost, while he only narrowly escaped with his life to the island of Riukiu. Here he found the people in a state of great excitement, for a party of rebels had risen against the King, who was greatly oppressed by them, Tametomo put himself at the head of the loyalists, rescued the King, who had been taken prisoner, subdued the rebels, and then restored peace to the disturbed land. For these meritorious services the King adopted him as his son, bestowed upon him the title of Prince, and married him to one of the royal Princesses. At last one day, when Tametomo had reached a good old age, happy in the life of peace and bliss with which his later years had been crowned, as he was walking along one of the spacious verandahs of the Palace, his attendants noticed a trail of cloud coming towards their master from the sky. As soon as the cloud touched Tametomo, he began to rise in the air before their astonished gaze.

Lost in speechless amazement, they watched the hero mount higher and higher, till the clouds closed round him and hid him from their view. Such is the pretty legend of the earthly end of the brave archer Tametomo, one of the most interesting figures in Japanese history, who conquered the trials and misfortunes of his youth, and won through to bright days of prosperity. He left a son called Shun-Tenno, who became King of Riukiu in due time.


Hachiro Tametomo, The Archer – Warriors of Old Japan and Other Stories

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