Kyorai Mukai, Part 3

WHR December 2011

 Special Commemorative Key-Note Public Lecture

At World Haiku Festival 2010 In Nagasaki



 Susumu Takiguchi

Chairman, The World Haiku Club



Kyorai Mukai (16511704):

Part Three


The thirty years during which Kyorai lived away from his hometown Nagasaki also saw many vicissitudes of his life itself in Kyoto. The time had moved to one of stability and prosperity. The disturbances of the Civil War Era were becoming a distant memory. Many radical reforms introduced for the establishment of the new Tokugawa Bakuhan regime had been translated into stable government. In the hard-won domestic peace, Japan was enjoying the blossoming of cultural and economic life under the Isolationist policy which shielded the country from the outside interference. Studies in such areas as jugaku (Confucianism), medicine, mathematics and agricultural science flourished and the pursuit of tea ceremony, shohekiga (sliding door paintings), ukiyoe (woodblock prints) and haikai became popular as well as what was called the chonin-bunka (townsman culture). Japan had already entered the Genroku Era (1688-1704) which was the Golden Age of the whole Edo period. This was the Japan in which Kyorai lived from the age of eight to thirty-nine. He had fifteen years to go before his death at fifty-four. As we will see, the passage of Kyorai’s life reflected such a time.


Kyorai’s father Gensho was originally a prominent Confucianism scholar and was famous for designing and building the Nagasaki Seido, a shrine dedicated to Confucian and his teachings. He was also a renowned medical doctor. No sooner did he take family to live in Kyoto than he made his name as one of the best doctors in the capital and was appointed as an Imperial Palace doctor. His patients included the Imperial family and high aristocracy. He could be said to be an elite doctor. He was also interested in Western medicine and authored a book entitled Komo-ryu Geka Hiyo (secret book on western surgery). He translated Western books into Japanese too. For example, his book called Kenkon Bensetsu (an account of cosmology) is a translation to which he added his own comments and criticism. Also, he wrote a book called Hochu Biyo Wamyo Honzo (a botanical book on vegetables for cooking in Japanese). These books numbered over twenty, which suggest that he was a highly intellectual person, a Renaissance man. He died on 1 November of Enpo 5 (1677) at the age of sixty-nine. He was originally from Hizen Kanzaki-gun (present-day Saga prefecture).


After Kyorai’s family moved to live in Kyoto there was an important period when Kyorai left the family for a long time (some asserts 7 years, others 9). During this period Kyorai was staying with his uncle on his mother’s side who lived in Chikuzen Fukuoka. The uncle was called Kume Morozaemon Toshikatsu, a samurai serving the Kuroda Han Domain. One scholar, Dr. Sakurai Takejiro, asserts that Kyorai went there when he was sixteen. Not a lot is known but Kyorai trained in bugei (martial arts) and kyuba (horse riding and archery), i.e. all the things one had to do to become a proper samurai, and it is believed that he mastered these arts.


Kyorai’s father was a scholar and a medical doctor and it is generally held that he was not a serving samurai, i.e. a hanshi. However, his father (Kyorai’s grandfather) on his mother’s side was a proper samurai. As things stood Kyorai would not have become qualified as samurai from his father’s occupation. Also, since his elder brother had become a medical doctor and therefore an heir apparent, Kyorai had to find for himself what to do in life. It is believed that he wished to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a serving samurai. People in the samurai class in those days were very precautious by our modern standards and it was common that they should be seriously thinking even as a boy what they wanted or should do in the real world when they grew up. Kyorai’s grandfather’s side, i.e. Mukai family, was a samurai family and was famed for producing brave warriors. Thus, both of Kyorai’s parents came from the samurai class. An article entitled “Rakushi Sensei Gyojo” (Records of Master Rakushi) in the book “Zuisai Kaiwa” talks about Kyorai. It says that Kyorai was taught by renowned experts martial arts, jujutsu (judo), swordsmanship, horse riding, military studies, shintoism etc. It adds that Kyorai worked very hard and became extremely knowledgeable and experienced in these fields. He also studied yusoku-no-michi (knowledge of correct manners, ceremony procedures and ancient matters), astrology and calendar study. These studies were to come in handy for Kyorai in later years.


As was mentioned before, Mukai family was not in the serving samurai status when Kyorai was born in the sense that his father was not formally appointed by a feudal lord, pledging absolute loyalty in return for horoku (stipend) and land. However, this was an exception in the family history. Distant ancestors included distinguished samurai in the Nancho Era (the South Court, 14 century). During the Sengoku Jidai (the civil war period) his ancestor was decorated with military merit for bravery in the Hizen Province (Saga). Kyorai’s grandfather offered his service to the Nabeshima family (the feudal lord of the Saga Han) but, unsatisfied with the terms of employment, moved to Nagasaki. This created the gap in the Mukai family lineage when they became technically not samurai.


The time when Kyorai’s grandfather lived was the one of radical social changes, being the transitional period from the Civil War Era to the formation of the Tokugawa regime. The new measures adopted in quick succession in the formation included harsh ones to consolidate the power base of the new regime in order to maximise the interest of the Tokugawa Family which would last for a long time. Conversely, whatever was thought to undermine their interest or threaten the long reign by them was relentlessly destroyed. Those who were suspected as potential danger were harshly treated and forced to put up with unacceptable conditions. As a result what is known as Ronin class emerged. These were samurai who lost the employment with their lords and could not find any other lords who would give them work, i.e. unemployed samurai. Mukai family may not have been targeted as anti-government but undoubtedly a victim of the social instability of the time.


Interestingly, Nagasaki provided anyone having talent and drive with the opportunity of coming and exploring his possibilities there. It was possible for those who had experienced difficulties elsewhere to build a new life in Nagasaki. This was the same much later on with the hero, Sakamoto Ryoma, who made a dramatic exodus from the Tosa Han Domain (a serious offense), becoming a wanted person, and escaped to move and live in Nagasaki towards the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. He and his friends enjoyed the freedom the city gave them and established a new life and worked hard to search for a new direction in which Japan must be guided in the new age.


(End Of Part Three)

Part 1                        Part 2