Cornerstone: Chapter 1-1

The following is a translation of an excerpt from Ishizue: Kashihara Genjiro no shinko to shogai (Cornerstone: The Faith and Life of Genjiro Kashihara) by Teruo Nishiyama. Note: This translation is a provisional one and may need to undergo further revision.

By the Yoshino River

The Yoshino River is one of Japan’s great rivers. It is even called “Shikoku Saburo,” with “Saburo” being a common name given to a third son. Located downstream was the Tokushima Plain. In the past, indigo was grown in large amounts in the area.

Genjiro was born on October 5, 1875 in a farming village called Furukawa on the northern bank of present-day Yoshinogawa Bridge (Route 39). He grew up watching the flows of the abundant waters of the river.

His parents were Katsuzo and Koto Tenma. The Tenma family owned roughly two hectares (five acres) of fields, which were mainly used to raise indigo. Genjiro, the second son of five children (three sons and two daughters) was born in poor health and people said they didn’t expect him to live long after he grew up.

Being that Genjiro was the second son and that Katsuzo felt that his son’s physical weakness made him unsuited to farming, he had him study instead. Fortunately, Genjiro got excellent grades in elementary school. It could be imagined that Katsuzo sought to have Genjiro become an elementary school teacher.

At age 12, Genjiro was sent with his older brother Eki’emon to a school specializing in classical Chinese literature in Tokushima City. After studying there for two years, he further continued his classical Chinese studies until he was 16 at a private institute called Umezono Academy, located east of Tokushima Castle.

Based on his age, although it cannot be considered that Genjiro learned anything profound, his studies in classical Chinese must have had a large influence on the development of his personality. The majority of what Genjiro learned was the Four Books and Five Classics of the Confucian tradition as well as historiographies. Although such a curriculum might not have touched upon the Daoism of Laozi and Zhuangzi, classical Chinese offered sound and pragmatic ideas intended for the student to train the self. There was an undercurrent of the ideal that aimed to settle all things not with military or financial power but by the power of virtue. It had a strong inclination toward self-discipline that cast away material desires.

Among the lessons he learned were: honoring one’s parents was the foremost undertaking a person could dedicate oneself to; debauchery and idleness does not lead to enjoyment in the future; and human fundamentals amounted to righteousness rather than sensual pleasures. Ideas such as these were repeatedly imparted as teachings of saints and sages. Genjiro accepted them earnestly, believed them to be ideals people ought to strive for, and sought to master them himself.

The road to Umezono Academy was roughly 4 kilometers (2.44 mi.). Since this was before the Yoshinogawa Bridge was built, to commute to the academy, Genjiro went over a bridge from Furukawa that was barely wide enough for one person to cross. It was during this time when Genjiro had a valuable experience.

Although it is unimaginable that the Tenma family was hard-pressed financially at the time, when it came to Genjiro’s school fees, his father Katsuzo thought to eke it out by cutting his evening sake from 360 to 180 mL (0.76 to 0.38 U.S. pints). Doing so would have added up to 5.4 L (1.43 U.S. gallons) in a month, which would cost 1,500 yen for any second-class sake today.

At the end of a busy day of work, Katsuzo took a bath and delighted in his evening drink with Koto at his side. He stroked and cradled his second sake flask and spoke of how it was time bade farewell. Genjiro happened to overhear his father from a neighboring room. He was impressed at how a parent would sacrifice his pleasures for his child.

A typical young man his age may not be so greatly moved over such a thing, but it was quite an enduring scene for Genjiro. Later, when his eldest son Yoshinori went off to school, Genjiro vowed never to bring a cup of liquor to his lips until Yoshinori grew up. Part of his motivation to make such a vow stemmed from his memory of his father Katsuzo.

Genjiro devoted himself fully to his studies to respond to his father’s love. He may also have harbored an ambition to become a lauded scholar. His teacher Daisuke Tsutsumi appeared to have recognized this and instructed: “If you study aiming to be the best scholar in the world, you’ll only be the best scholar in Japan. If you study aiming to be the best scholar in Japan, you’ll only be the best scholar in Tokushima.”

Although there may have been a hint of self-depreciation in the teacher’s words, Genjiro was pure enough to come away aspiring for great things thereafter. Nevertheless, Genjiro was not destined to become a scholar.

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