The Rite of Passage

4 min
Image of Spring 2019
Image of Short Story
Hiro couldn’t even remember the first time that Murai-san, took him out into the garden and walked him around the house, because they had done it so many times. It was one of the favorite times of his day to walk hand-in-hand, with the big hand of the gardener enveloping his own little hand, as they walked and talked about the plants and the trees.

“That over there are the Camellias, do you remember the tree that grows the bulbous pink flowers?”

“Yes, the beautiful pink flowers that look too heavy for the tree.”

“These trees are precious because they also have a secret power.”

“What power, what power?”

“The oil from the tree have been used for hundreds of years to maintain women’s beauty.”

“Oh. I thought that it could help me fly or help me be brave.”

The gardener smiled at Hiro.

“Oh listen, Hiro, listen to the rustling of the cedars?”

Hiro loved the sound of the cedar leaves rustling in the wind. The leaves would rub against each other and create the white noise that would drown everything else. He felt like he was one with nature when he listened to the sound. The wind, the leaves, Murai-san and him. They were at peace together. He was always reminded of the power and beauty of nature when he was in the garden.

“Always remember Hiro, the trick behind creating a beautiful garden is not to try and control nature, but it’s all about finding the beauty behind each plant and letting nature take its course.”

“What’s happening over there Murai-san?” Hiro pointed at the far side of the property that seemed to be going under excavation.

“Your parents didn’t tell you? They are selling off that piece of land.”

“To whom?”

“To developers, Hiro. Just look beyond the garden and the wall that separates your house from the outside world. There was a time that your family owned all of that land.”

“How far was our land?”

“Very far, Hiro. Your ancestors were property owners all around here for many generations.”

That was a story Hiro had heard before from his father. That the streets all around their house once belonged to Hiro’s family for hundreds of years, when the Sasaki family were a respected samurai family. However, the Samurai class was abolished when Japan transitioned from a feudal state to a modern nation state in 1868, and the Sasaki family along with other samurai families fell from grace. The family was fortunate to have had amassed a lot of land over the years, because they were able to rely on income from the land to help them transition through rough times.

“People make it seem like it was a peaceful restoration of power, but remember, Hiro that it was a bloody war and lots of people lost their lives to maintain what was their rightful position in society, including your great grandfather. He fought until the bitter end.”

The heroic story of his great grandfather was a legend in the Sasaki household. He was a part of the band of samurai soldiers who at first accepted sweeping changes in society, but upon realizing that the new government intended to abolish the samurai class, fought back.

Hiro was reminded every day of his ancestral background because the wall of the main foyer was decorated with the swords of his forefathers. There were ten very long, sharp and shiny swords mounted on the wall. From the swords going to his great, great, great, he wasn’t even sure how many greats, but he knew that they went back over four hundred years all the way to the sword that his great grandfather had used to fight against the tides of change.

Each sword was curved into an arc, and each handle had a different pattern etched into them. The Sasaki household coat of arms was embossed on each sword. The three black triangles inside a circle. That was their family crest. Simple yet strong.

“Never ever touch a sword, Hiro. They are very sharp.”

He couldn’t remember how many times his parents told him not to touch the swords. Those words came out of their mouth practically every day.

Don’t touch. Just look. Hiro wasn’t even sure why his parents said that. Perhaps, they didn’t want anyone to touch the swords in case they had to be polished. But he hadn’t seen anyone touch the swords so he was perplexed.

It wasn’t long after his stroll through the garden with the gardener, that Hiro found himself in the front foyer by himself. He had got tired of playing with his marbles and was looking for something else to do. His mother was in the backroom. His older brothers and sisters were at school. His father had left the house early. The gardener was outside clipping trees and the maid was bustling in the kitchen making dinner.

He admired the swords as always. The swords glinted as the sunlight streamed in from the large window. The swords were like mirrors, and the light ricocheted off of the blade onto the wall. Don’t touch just look, played back in his mind, but he really wanted to know what would happen if he touched the sword.

Could he? Should he? He would be breaking his parents’ rule of don’t touch, just look. He had been so good until now.

No-one was looking and if no-one knew, he thought it would be alright. He looked around to make sure that no-one was coming into the foyer and he went up to the sword and put his finger to the blade. Before he knew it, red hot blood gushed from his index finger.

He had hardly touched the blade, and all he felt was pain and the red-hot blood everywhere. He panicked and put his finger into his mouth.

There were drops of blood on the floor. He pulled his finger out and wiped the blood with his shirt, more blood. Hiro put his finger back in his mouth. What to do. He couldn’t tell his mother or father. Don’t touch. Just look kept on ringing in his ears.

Don’t touch. Just look. He clearly understood why his parents told him that every day. His ancestors’ swords were supposed to cause harm. They were serious instruments of war. Now he knew why his parents said those words. Don’t touch just look because the swords are very, very sharp.

He ran out to Murai-san the gardener, and showed him the deep cut in his finger. Murai-san, shook his head.

“When will you boys learn. Your brothers did the same thing when they were your age.”

Murai-san beckoned Hiro to his living quarters at the back of the house. He fished out his first aid kit from a brown cupboard, where he pulled out a thin surgical string, and a special needle. He dabbed antiseptic on the needle and went about stitching Hiro’s finger, then wound a white bandage several times until his finger was lost in a sea of white.

“There. Come back in three days’ time and I will pull out the string.”

That night, at dinner, no one commented on Hiro’s bandage. His mother and father ate their dinner in silence as if they had not seen anything on his finger.

Hiro felt ashamed and guilty for having gone against his parents’ clear instructions. He kept his head down throughout.

After dinner, his older brothers pulled Hiro aside and showed him the scar on their own fingers. There was a line with faint marks on either side where Murai-san had sewn the stitches.

It was a rite of passage for the Sasaki boys.

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