The Salt of Kinjiro’s Sword

This is a traditional Japanese tale of learning.

Jiroyemon Sadaji stood in the shadow of his doorway and looked thoughtfully at the back of his son Kinjiro, who leant against the fence at the edge of the farmyard, absorbed in watching two passing ronin who walked their horses slowly past, looking neither to right nor left. The dust of the roadway had settled in a patina over their clothes and horses until they resembled gray specters silently drifting by, except for the occasional rattle of their accoutrements which brought them back to reality. It was at their arms, the long swords buckled across their backs, that Kinjiro gazed in fascination. For the boy had a deep burning ambition to be a swordsman. Many times since Kinjiro was a little boy, Jiroyemon had tried to dissuade him from his dream, but Kinjiro while being a very well behaved son, would not budge from his ambition that one day he would be a fencer of great acclaim.

Now looking at his son holding the rail of the fence, Jiroyemon realised that either he must make preparations for his son to fulfil his ambition or the boy would take the matter into his own hands. With some doubt as to the wisdom of his actions, the farmer entered the house and prepared brush and paper, for he was about to write a most important letter.

It was some eight weeks before Kinjiro ran into the house with a scroll, heavily sealed, and thrust it into his father’s hand. ‘It is a letter father’, breathed the boy excitedly, for letters came but rarely to this part of the country. ‘I have been expecting it Kinjiro’, replied the old man. ‘You have?’ the boy looked at his father, ‘But who is writing to us’. Somewhere inside his stomach a knot tightened, whether from fear or excitement, the boy did not know, but he knew that this letter had to do with him. ‘What is it about father?’ Kinjiro’s voice sank to a whisper and he sat back on his heels, the tension inside him building up. Jiroyemon smiled at his son, ‘You are going to be a swordsman’. The world revolved, Kinjiro seemed to be in some spatial dimension of his own, through which his father’s voice echoed and echoed and echoed – swordsman, he blinked and Jiroyemon came back into focus sharply, ‘I’m going to be a swordsman?’. ‘Yes,’ said his father, ‘We leave tomorrow at dawn’.

The journey from Jiroyemon’s farm took several days before they arrived at the outskirts of a city and finally reached a large house, set by itself in extensive grounds. Kinjiro and his father approached the portal to be greeted by a young man, who respectfully led them into a small bare room, where a gentleman dressed in dark clothes awaited them. Jiroyemon very respectfully bowed and bade Kinjiro do the same. The man looked closely at the boy as he made his salutations and passed a few words with his father. Jiroyemon turned to his son, ‘Wait outside Kinjiro, for we have much to discuss’. Kinjiro withdrew to the front of the house, where he sat and waited. The buzz of conversation from within pierced the walls, sometimes loudly and sometimes softly, but never clearly enough for the boy to follow what was being said, even though he strained his ears to catch the words. At last Jiroyemon appeared and Kinjiro rose hastily to greet him. ‘It is arranged my son’, said Jiroyemon, “The fencing master has agreed to take you, but the lessons may not be easy for you. however, I have assured him that you will do your best and I am sure that you will not disgrace me. Kinjiro looked al his father, ‘I will work very hard father’. ‘I am sure you will Kinjiro, now this young man will take you to your quarters’. Jiroyemon indicated the youth who had welcomed them when they first arrived, and who had now appeared once again in the doorway. Jiroyemon picked up his bundle and strode down the path. Kinjiro watched until he had passed out into the road and then he turned and followed the youth into the house.