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Sayonara! Post by :b2wforum Category :Essays Author :Lafcadio Hearn Date :September 2011 Read :1605

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Sayonara!

I am going away--very far away. I have already resigned my post as teacher, and am waiting only for my passport.

So many familiar faces have vanished that I feel now less regret at leaving than I should have felt six months ago. And nevertheless, the quaint old city has become so endeared to me by habit and association that the thought of never seeing it again is one I do not venture to dwell upon. I have been trying to persuade myself that some day I may return to this charming old house, in shadowy Kitaborimachi, though all the while painfully aware that in past experience such imaginations invariably preceded perpetual separation.

The facts are that all things are impermanent in the Province of the Gods; that the winters are very severe; and that I have received a call from the great Government college in Kyushu far south, where snow rarely falls. Also I have been very sick; and the prospect of a milder climate had much influence in shaping my decision.

But these few days of farewells have been full of charming surprises. To have the revelation of gratitude where you had no right to expect more than plain satisfaction with your performance of duty; to find affection where you supposed only good-will to exist: these are assuredly delicious experiences. The teachers of both schools have sent me a farewell gift--a superb pair of vases nearly three feet high, covered with designs representing birds, and flowering-trees overhanging a slope of beach where funny pink crabs are running about--vases made in the old feudal days at Rakuzan--rare souvenirs of Izumo. With the wonderful vases came a scroll bearing in Chinese text the names of the thirty-two donors; and three of these are names of ladies--the three lady-teachers of the Normal School.

The students of the Jinjo-Chugakko have also sent me a present--the last contribution of two hundred and fifty-one pupils to my happiest memories of Matsue: a Japanese sword of the time of the daimyo. Silver karashishi with eyes of gold--in Izumo, the Lions of Shinto--swarm over the crimson lacquer of the sheath, and sprawl about the exquisite hilt. And the committee who brought the beautiful thing to my house requested me to accompany them forthwith to the college assembly-room, where the students were all waiting to bid me good-bye, after the old-time custom.

So I went there. And the things which we said to each other are hereafter set down.

DEAR TEACHER:--You have been one of the best and most benevolent teachers we ever had. We thank you with all our heart for the knowledge we obtained through your kindest instruction. Every student in our school hoped you would stay with us at least three years. When we learned you had resolved to go to Kyushu, we all felt our hearts sink with sorrow. We entreated our Director to find some way to keep you, but we discovered that could not be done. We have no words to express our feeling at this moment of farewell. We sent you a Japanese sword as a memory of us. It was only a poor ugly thing; we merely thought you would care for it as a mark of our gratitude. We will never forget your kindest instruction; and we all wish that you may ever be healthy and happy.

MASANABU OTANI, Representing all the Students of the Middle School of Shimane-Ken.


MY DEAR BOYS:--I cannot tell you with what feelings I received your present; that beautiful sword with the silver karashishi ramping upon its sheath, or crawling through the silken cording of its wonderful hilt. At least I cannot tell you all. But there flashed to me, as I looked at your gift, the remembrance of your ancient proverb: 'The Sword is the Soul of the Samurai.' And then it seemed to me that in the very choice of that exquisite souvenir you had symbolised something of your own souls. For we English also have some famous sayings and proverbs about swords. Our poets call a good blade 'trusty' and 'true'; and of our best friend we say, 'He is true as steel'--signifying in the ancient sense the steel of a perfect sword--the steel to whose temper a warrior could trust his honour and his life. And so in your rare gift, which I shall keep and prize while I live, I find an emblem of your true- heartedness and affection. May you always keep fresh within your hearts those impulses of generosity and kindliness and loyalty which I have learned to know so well, and of which your gift will ever remain for me the graceful symbol!

And a symbol not only of your affection and loyalty as students to teachers, but of that other beautiful sense of duty you expressed, when so many of you wrote down for me, as your dearest wish, the desire to die for His Imperial Majesty, your Emperor. That wish is holy: it means perhaps even more than you know, or can know, until you shall have become much older and wiser. This is an era of great and rapid change; and it is probable that many of you, as you grow up, will not be able to believe everything that your fathers believed before you--though I sincerely trust you will at least continue always to respect the faith, even as you still respect the memory, of your ancestors. But however much the life of New Japan may change about you, however much your own thoughts may change with the times, never suffer that noble wish you expressed to me to pass away from your souls. Keep it burning there, clear and pure as the flame of the little lamp that glows before your household shrine.

Perhaps some of you may have that wish. Many of you must become soldiers. Some will become officers. Some will enter the Naval Academy to prepare for the grand service of protecting the empire by sea; and your Emperor and your country may even require your blood. But the greater number among you are destined to other careers, and may have no such chances of bodily self-sacrifice--except perhaps in the our of some great national danger, which I trust Japan will never know. And there is another desire, not less noble, which may be your compass in civil life: to live for your country though you cannot die for it. Like the kindest and wisest of fathers, your Government has provided for you these splendid schools, with all opportunities for the best instruction this scientific century can give, at a far less cost than any other civilised country can offer the same advantages. And all this in order that each of you may help to make your country wiser and richer and stronger than it has ever been in the past. And whoever does his best, in any calling or profession, to ennoble and develop that calling or profession, gives his life to his emperor and to his country no less truly than the soldier or he seaman who dies for duty.

I am not less sorry to leave you, I think, than you are to see me go. The more I have learned to know the hearts of Japanese students, the more I have learned to love their country. I think, however, that I shall see many of you again, though I never return to Matsue: some I am almost sure I shall meet elsewhere in future summers; some I may even hope to teach once more, in the Government college to which I am going. But whether we meet again or not, be sure that my life has been made happier by knowing you, and that I shall always love you. And, now, with renewed thanks for your beautiful gift, good-bye!

The students of the Normal School gave me a farewell banquet in their hall. I had been with them so little during the year--less even than the stipulated six hours a week--that I could not have supposed they would feel much attachment for their foreign teacher. But I have still much to learn about my Japanese students. The banquet was delightful. The captain of each class in turn read in English a brief farewell address which he had prepared; and more than one of those charming compositions, made beautiful with similes and sentiments drawn from the old Chinese and Japanese poets, will always remain in my memory. Then the students sang their college songs for me, and chanted the Japanese version of 'Auld Lang Syne' at the close of the banquet. And then all, in military procession, escorted me home, and cheered me farewell at my gate, with shouts of 'Manzai!' 'Good-bye!' 'We will march with you to the steamer when you go.'

But I shall not have the pleasure of seeing them again. They are all gone far away--some to another world. Yet it is only four days since I attended that farewell banquet at the Normal School! A cruel visitation has closed its gates and scattered its students through the province.

Two nights ago, the Asiatic cholera, supposed to have been brought to Japan by Chinese vessels, broke out in different parts of the city, and, among other places, in the Normal School. Several students and teachers expired within a short while after having been attacked; others are even now lingering between life and death. The rest marched to the little healthy village of Tamatsukuri, famed for its hot springs. But there the cholera again broke out among them, and it was decided to dismiss the survivors at once to their several homes. There was no panic. The military discipline remained unbroken. Students and teachers fell at their posts. The great college building was taken charge of by the medical authorities, and the work of disinfection and sanitation is still going on. Only the convalescents and the fearless samurai president, Saito Kumataro, remain in it. Like the captain who scorns to leave his sinking ship till all souls are safe, the president stays in the centre of danger, nursing the sick boys, overlooking the work of sanitation, transacting all the business usually intrusted to several subordinates, whom he promptly sent away in the first hour of peril. He has had the joy of seeing two of his boys saved.

Of another, who was buried last night, I hear this: Only a little while before his death, and in spite of kindliest protest, he found strength, on seeing his president approaching his bedside, to rise on his elbow and give the military salute. And with that brave greeting to a brave man, he passed into the Great Silence.

At last my passport has come. I must go.

The Middle School and the adjacent elementary schools have been closed on account of the appearance of cholera, and I protested against any gathering of the pupils to bid me good-bye, fearing for them the risk of exposure to the chilly morning air by the shore of the infected river. But my protest was received only with a merry laugh. Last night the Director sent word to all the captains of classes. Wherefore, an hour after sunrise, some two hundred students, with their teachers, assemble before my gate to escort me to the wharf, near the long white bridge, where the little steamer is waiting. And we go.

Other students are already assembled at the wharf. And with them wait a multitude of people known to me: friends or friendly acquaintances, parents and relatives of students, every one to whom I can remember having ever done the slightest favour, and many more from whom I have received favours which I never had the chance to return--persons who worked for me, merchants from whom I purchased little things, a host of kind faces, smiling salutation. The Governor sends his secretary with a courteous message; the President of the Normal School hurries down for a moment to shake hands. The Normal students have been sent to their homes, but not a few of their teachers are present. I most miss friend Nishida. He has been very sick for two long months, bleeding at the lungs but his father brings me the gentlest of farewell letters from him, penned in bed, and some pretty souvenirs.

And now, as I look at all these pleasant faces about me, I cannot but ask myself the question: 'Could I have lived in the exercise of the same profession for the same length of time in any other country, and have enjoyed a similar unbroken experience of human goodness?' From each and all of these I have received only kindness and courtesy. Not one has ever, even through inadvertence, addressed to me a single ungenerous word. As a teacher of more than five hundred boys and men, I have never even had my patience tried. I wonder if such an experience is possible only in Japan.

But the little steamer shrieks for her passengers. I shake many hands-- most heartily, perhaps, that of the brave, kind President of the Normal School--and climb on board. The Director of the Jinjo-Chugakko a few teachers of both schools, and one of my favourite pupils, follow; they are going to accompany me as far as the next port, whence my way will be over the mountains to Hiroshima.

It is a lovely vapoury morning, sharp with the first chill of winter. From the tiny deck I take my last look at the quaint vista of the Ohashigawa, with its long white bridge--at the peaked host of queer dear old houses, crowding close to dip their feet in its glassy flood--at the sails of the junks, gold-coloured by the early sun--at the beautiful fantastic shapes of the ancient hills.

Magical indeed the charm of this land, as of a land veritably haunted by gods: so lovely the spectral delicacy of its colours--so lovely the forms of its hills blending with the forms of its clouds--so lovely, above all, those long trailings and bandings of mists which make its altitudes appear to hang in air. A land where sky and earth so strangely intermingle that what is reality may not be distinguished from what is illusion--that all seems a mirage, about to vanish. For me, alas! it is about to vanish for ever.

The little steamer shrieks again, puffs, backs into midstream, turns from the long white bridge. And as the grey wharves recede, a long Aaaaaaaaaa rises from the uniformed ranks, and all the caps wave, flashing their Chinese ideographs of brass. I clamber to the roof of the tiny deck cabin, wave my hat, and shout in English: 'Good-bye, good- bye!' And there floats back to me the cry: 'Manzai, manzai!' (Ten thousand years to you! ten thousand years!) But already it comes faintly from far away. The packet glides out of the river-mouth, shoots into the blue lake, turns a pine-shadowed point, and the faces, and the voices, and the wharves, and the long white bridge have become memories.

Still for a little while looking back, as we pass into the silence of the great water, I can see, receding on the left, the crest of the ancient castle, over grand shaggy altitudes of pine--and the place of my home, with its delicious garden--and the long blue roofs of the schools. These, too, swiftly pass out of vision. Then only faint blue water, faint blue mists, faint blues and greens and greys of peaks looming through varying distance, and beyond all, towering ghost-white into the east, the glorious spectre of Daisen.

And my heart sinks a moment under the rush of those vivid memories which always crowd upon one the instant after parting--memories of all that make attachment to places and to things. Remembered smiles; the morning gathering at the threshold of the old yashiki to wish the departing teacher a happy day; the evening gathering to welcome his return; the dog waiting by the gate at the accustomed hour; the garden with its lotus-flowers and its cooing of doves; the musical boom of the temple bell from the cedar groves; songs of children at play; afternoon shadows upon many-tinted streets; the long lines of lantern-fires upon festal nights; the dancing of the moon upon the lake; the clapping of hands by the river shore in salutation to the Izumo sun; the endless merry pattering of geta over the windy bridge: all these and a hundred other happy memories revive for me with almost painful vividness--while the far peaks, whose names are holy, slowly turn away their blue shoulders, and the little steamer bears me, more and more swiftly, ever farther and farther from the Province of the Gods.


(The end)
Lafcadio Hearn's essay: Sayonara!

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