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There is nothing as deep as giri Lord Naoshige once said, “There is nothing as deep as the sentiment of gratitude and honour (giri)”. There are cases where one does not shed tears even if one’s cousin dies, but when one hears about people of fifty or a hundred years ago, even though one has no blood relationship with them and has never even seen or become acquainted with them, when it comes to matters of giri one is overwhelmed with tears.


Skill in presentation is more important than the words When Kobayakawa Takakage1 was going to send an envoy to convey a difficult message to a certain person, he first sent the envoy to Saga to seek guidance from Lord Naoshige. Naoshige met directly with the envoy and when he heard Takakage’s message, he said: “Regarding the content of the message, I have nothing at all by way of advice. However, this is a matter that requires careful thought be given to the manner in which the message is presented. When one sees a Nō drama or hears the Tales of the Heike chanted by a biwa player, when the performer is skilful, one is moved to tears. When the player is not skilful, even though the words and the melody are the same, no tears

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will come. I mention this so that you may take proper prudence.”

Then he presented them to Hideyoshi, who said, “The flowers are

The envoy returned to Takakage with a deep feeling of gratitude.

unsightly, but the way they are stood in the vase is superb”.


The real way to express gratitude


In war there is no law When Lord Hideyoshi advanced into Satsuma, the officials in the

The abbot of Gyokurinji temple, Master Kinpō, was Lord Naoshige’s

war magistrate’s office reported to him that his advance guard, the

prayer master. When Kinpō retired, a domicile was arranged for

Saga forces of the Ryūzōji–Nabeshima house, were marching in a way

him in Kase. Lord Naoshige said, “My debt to him for his many

contrary to military law, saying that this was quite outrageous and that

years of favour is more than I can ever repay. I wish to donate a fief

he should order them to rectify their ranks. When Lord Hideyoshi

of one hundred koku to his retirement residence in Kase”. When

heard this, he castigated them saying: “In war there is no law. Being

Kinpō heard this, he got extremely angry, saying, “Have you already

victorious over the enemy is the law of the military. The Ryūzōji are

forgotten how all of your distinguished military service has been

famous in Kyushu for their skill in battle. Thus they must have the

accomplished with the aid of my prayers, to the point that I have

confidence to handle themselves in this way. If you say such indiscrete

worn the tassel off of my prayer beads? Now you seem to think you

things about them, it will just bring shame upon yourselves.”

can buy me off by giving me a fief of a hundred koku! If you really


knew the meaning of gratitude, one would think you would remain on friendly terms with me for the rest of my life. Your future destiny


looks perilous.” Upon hearing this Lord Naoshige said, “In that case I will not give you the fief. I beg your forgiveness”.

The art of ikebana Once the daimyō were performing flower arrangement (ikebana) before Hideyoshi. The ikebana implements and materials were laid


out before Lord Naoshige as well. Naoshige, however, had never tried his hand at ikebana, and he knew nothing at all about it.

Lord Naoshige inadvertently exorcises the hungry ghosts

Accordingly, he simply grasped the flowers, evened up the stems,

A couple was found to be engaging in a secret liaison in the third

and stuck them plunk into the vase without rearranging them.

outwork of the castle. After investigation, both the man and the


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woman were sentenced to death. After their execution, ghosts


started to appear every night in the third outwork. The women who worked there were afraid, and they were no longer able to go out

What will be, will be, but make it gallant

of the castle at night. As this situation continued for a long time,

At one time Lord Naoshige said to his grandson, Lord Motoshige:

Lord Naoshige’s spouse, Lady Yōtaiin, was informed of the matter,

“Regardless of whether its status is high or low, if the time comes

and she ordered that prayers be said and a service performed for

for it to happen the house will perish. At such a time, if one tries

feeding the “hungry ghosts”. But the ghosts continued to appear.

to ensure that the house will not perish, it will perish in a way that

When this was further reported to Lord Naoshige, he said, “Indeed,

leaves regret and brings shame to the clan. When you think that that

good things also happen! Those two detestable characters thought it

time has come, the clan must perish cleanly and gallantly. If so, then

was not enough just to have their heads cut off. Yet it’s a good thing

at times it is even possible to turn back fortune and save the house.”

that even in death they are not able to go where they are supposed

Lord Motoshige passed on these words to his second son, Lord

to go, wandering around as ghosts, continuing to suffer and

Naoaki, who remembered them.

not being able to let go of this world? It is fine if they just go on being ghosts for a long time!” From that very night the ghosts


stopped appearing.

Lord Naoshige’s loyal lance Lord Ryūzōji Takanobu performed spendidly on the battlefield


again and again, and his name was becoming more and more widely

When Lord Naoshige was passing through the village of Chiriku,

of the garden where you are going to hold the banquet tonight, we

someone said to him, “Here there is a person who is over ninety

caught sight of a human figure”. The lord immediately went there

years old! Since it is a joyous thing for a person to live to such an

to have a look, and he challenged the man, calling out, “Identify

age, I urge you to meet with this person”. Hearing this Naoshige

yourself!” The person answered, “I am Zaemon Tayū” (Naoshige),

replied, “Can there be a more pitiful person than this? Just think of

and a figure appeared holding a lance in his hand. Lord Takanobu

how many deaths of children and grandchildren this person has had

asked him what he was doing there. The figure answered, “There

to suffer! What is joyous about that?”

are many enemies in the world. This is not the time for us to be off


The pity of long life

known. One evening his maid and others told him, “In the corner

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our guard! As I heard there is a banquet tonight, I was worried, and I came here to stand guard”. Takanobu was struck with admiration, and he said, “Come and have a drink here with us!” Lord Naoshige came to take his seat at the banquet. It was a cold night and his hands got very numb, but not for a moment did he let the lance slip.


A great general is a good judge of people Hideyoshi once said, “This fellow Ryūzōji Takanobu must be a great general. The reason I think so is because of the fact that he left his domain in the hands of Nabeshima Hidanokami (Naoshige), which shows that he is a very good judge of people. I just met with Hidanokami and it was very obvious”.


The origins of a national treasure The Arita Sarayama ceramics centre was established as follows. When Lord Naoshige returned to Japan from Korea, he brought six head potters highly skilled in ceramics back with him, thinking that their skills could become a national treasure in Japan, and he set them up in Kinryūzan, north of Saga city, to make ceramics. Later he relocated them to Fuji no Kōchiyama in Imari to continue making ceramics. From that point on Japanese began studying under them, and this gave rise to the ceramics centres of Imari and Arita.


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Lord Naoshige apologizes to Tenjin The Tenjin shrine at the Ryūshōji temple in Kanoko village3 was restored using funds contributed by Lord Takanobu to the Dazaifu shrine. When Nabeshima Akinokami Shigemasa4 was still young, he once tried to shoot a pigeon in the forest around the shrine, but he missed. He then lost his temper and shouted, “The fact that I missed must be the work of Tenjin. Despicable Tenjin!” With that he fired two shots into the central hall where the god’s image was housed, and the bullets went right through the hall from back to front. Then he reported what he had done to Lord Naoshige. Lord Naoshige said, “You have truly committed an impious act”. Then Naoshige immediately bathed and purified himself, put on his ceremonial robe, and headed for the shrine. He threw himself prostrate on the ground before the shrine and pleaded for Tenjin’s forgiveness, saying, “Just now a rude and ill-mannered person did an unpardonable thing, and I am sure you are very angry. I am also extremely embarrassed. That fellow, as you have seen, is extremely uncouth and ill-mannered. I beg for your forgiveness. I have come out here to apologize to you”.


Lord Naoshige and the yamabushi A certain yamabushi 5 paid a visit to Kuroda Nagamasa, lord of Chikuzen domain, saying, “I had a dream last night in which


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you, Lord Nagamasa, had become a great lord with five domains.

daimyō were sitting assembled before Hideyoshi, he said, ‘Since all

Nagamasa replied, “I am truly honoured that you came to tell me

of you have worked very hard for the past several years, I would like

about such a good dream. When I have become the lord of five

to increase your fiefs. But no matter how I think about it, because

domains I will certainly give you a reward”. He then sent the man

Japan is a small country there is just not enough land to go around.

away. The yamabushi, his hopes foiled, crossed over to Saga domain

Accordingly, I have decided to take China and India as well and turn

and met with Lord Naoshige, saying, “My lord, I had an oracular

their lands as I please into fiefs for all of you. What do you think of

dream in which you had become a great lord with five domains”.

this?’ At that time we all thought he must have gone crazy, and no

Lord Naoshige answered,”I am truly honoured that you came to

one made any response. Then Takakage alone spoke up and said,

tell me about such a good dream”, and then he gave the man 100

‘Indeed, it is just as you say. I also think that that is the appropriate

gold coins. Some time later the lord’s conversation attendants said

thing to do’. Hideyoshi was greatly pleased, and he brought out a

to him, “We have heard that in Chikuzen he met with a different

map and started to discuss the various mountains and rivers, roads

reception. The retainers all the way down the ranks are gossiping

and bridges, provisions and so on. Takakage offered his directions

about why you gave the man the gold”. The lord answered:

regarding each item. At this time, I thought, ‘He is just speaking off

“Generally speaking, people who practice a certain line of work

the top of his head. How could he possibly know all this without even

must rely on that line of work to support themselves. The yamabushi

leaving Japan?’ Then later I actually crossed over to the continent,

support themselves by telling people such things so that people

and I found that there was not the slightest error in everything that

will give them alms. For that reason I gave him the gold.” This is

Takakage had said. Truly it is he who is the great general!”

something that I heard from Lord Suke’emon.



A docile temperament undermines the ability to work like a man

Takakage – a truly great general

Lord Nabeshima Shigemasa had some matter to discuss with Lord

Once the lord’s conversation attendants said to Lord Naoshige, “At

Naoshige, and he paid a visit to him at the third bailey6 of the

present everyone is saying that the two greatest generals in Japan are

castle, but he was not in and no one knew where he was. The next

Kobayakawa Takakage and you, my lord”. The lord answered: “No, I

day Shigemasa paid another visit, but his whereabouts was still

am absolutely no match for him. Some years back, when the various

unknown. Finally, it turned out that he was at a turret on a corner


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of the castle wall. Shigemasa immediately went out to it and asked

sightseeing or going on excursions, it is desirable to be promoted

Lord Naoshige, “What are you doing out here?” The lord said, “I

by others. When someone is talking about something you know

am observing the customs of the domain here for a couple of days”.

nothing about, it is not good to pretend that you know. Further,

Shigemasa asked further, “What is the purpose of that?” “I am

when you are asked about something you do know about, it is not

watching people as they pass by and thinking about what I see. It

good to be unwilling to talk about it.”

is a lamentable thing, but it appears that the spearheads of Hizen


have already lost their sharpness. It would be good if you take this


to heart. When I watched the people coming and going, just about all of them had their eyelids lowered and they were looking at the

Lord Naoshige encounters a storm in the Inland Sea

ground as they passed. This is because their temperaments have

Lord Naoshige had always disliked ships, and he was unable to eat a

become docile. If one has no vigour and spirit, one cannot thrust a

meal if his breathing was choked by the smell of ships or the smell of

spear properly. If one only feels prim and proper about everything,

the seashore. In the Keichō period [1596–1614], he was returning

one’s heart gets constricted and one cannot work like a man. One

from the Kyoto–Osaka area in the morning of the eighth day of the

has to feel stretched taut like a drawn bow, and at times one has

tenth month, and his ship departed with a favourable wind. But

to talk in a grandiloquent way – then one can fulfil the work of a

from two o’clock in the afternoon the winds got violent, and by

bushi.” From that time on, Shigemasa indulged in a lot of big talk.

evening huge waves were washing over the deck. Finally the waves reached the helm and broke it, and it became impossible to discern the direction or whereabouts of the ship. The captain and the sailors

Carelessness leads to mistakes


– one sailor and Fujishima Shōeki – were running around the ship

Lord Naoshige once said to his conversation attendants: “For a

and doing whatever they could, but in spite of all their efforts, the

samurai, to be careless in ordinary times is unforgiveable. For one

situation became very dangerous. Thereupon Shōeki came running

will always run into unexpected circumstances. If you are careless,

into the lord’s cabin, where he somehow managed to wake up the

you will surely make mistakes. Further, even if other people say

lord’s attendant, Mochinaga Suke’emon. Then the two of them put

bad things about you, you must not say bad things about others.

their arms around the lord to wake him up, and, supporting him

In matters of work (hōkō), it is best to promote others. When

on both sides, took him out of the cabin to the deck above. There


could not tell fore from aft. Through all of this, only two people

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they had him grab onto the railing and said to him, “In case there

At this the lord got very angry again, and stormed, “He is deceiving

is an accident, you must hang onto anything that you can get a

me. Off with his head!” The ship again looked like it might

hold of ”. Suke’emon was pressing his body up against the lord from

sink at any time.

behind to hold him against the railing. Suddenly the lord vomited,

The lord summoned Shōeki and said to him, “It already looks like

and so did Suke’emon, and the vomit went all over their faces and

there is nothing we can do. Bring me my short sword.” Shōeki

chests. At that point Shōeki tried to cheer them up by saying, with a

replied, “It is particularly at times like this that people make

laugh, “you look like a couple of kids playing the game of ‘catch the

mistakes. When the end has really come, I will bring it right away.

baby rabbit’!” Finally, the sailor and the two of them took out the

For now, please wait a while.” Nevertheless, the lord persisted, “No.

spare helm that was tied in the bottom of the ship, and with much

Let me do it. Let me do it even if just with my short sword. Though

difficulty they managed to install it in place. It was now possible to

I am unworthy, the name of Nabeshima Kaganokami (Naoshige) is

steer the ship, and nearing midnight the winds subsided a bit so that

known in the world, and now my corpse is going to be washed up

the swaying of the ship became less severe. At this point two or three

on some unknown beach. If my sword still sits unused in its sheath,

escort ships passed by. When the lord saw them in the moonlight,

the shame will be passed down to my descendents. I beg you.” From

he called out in a loud voice, “Come over and tie your ship to ours!”

these words Shōeki realized that the lord’s temperament was such

The others on the lord’s ship also called out loudly, but it seems that

that he had resolved to take his own life before the last possible

because of the wind and the waves they could not be heard and the

moment arrived. Thus, without obeying the lord’s request, Shōeki

escort ships passed by without taking any notice. Thereupon the

went down again to the bottom of the ship, took out two large bags

lord got very angry and said, “I definitely saw so-and-so on that ship

of rice, tied them together with a rope, and hung them down from

with my own eyes! When my ship arrives safely in port, I will order

the rudder hole. With that, finally, the heaving of the ship ceased,

him to commit seppuku!” Shōeki said, “In a storm like this, one

and the lord’s mind was put at ease.

cannot trust one’s judgment. It was probably just an unknown face

Meanwhile a sailor called out, “The dawn is breaking, and the

that you thought you recognized.”

mountains are coming into view!” As everyone looked at the

A strong gale arose again for a while, and now the spare helm broke,

mountains in delight, it became apparent that they were not far

causing the ship to start drifting around again out of control. The

from the town of Akashi in Harima domain8 – about 500–600

lord asked, “Did the helm break again?” Some unidentified person

yards [460–550m] offshore. Since the wind and waves had

answered, “No. One of the deck planks broke when stepped on.

subsided, the lord was taken ashore in a shuttle-boat, handed his


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short sword and other things, and allowed to take some rest in a salt-drying hut

seems funny now, but I surely had no heart for laughter then. If Shōeki had given me my short sword, I would have slit my

that they commandeered for the

throat and died, but he wouldn’t give it to me. I thought this

purpose. After he changed his clothes

was inexcusable, but now it is a matter of great joy. At the time

and got some sleep, the colour of his

I didn’t even have the strength to lift my short sword.” After the

face returned to normal. He then

lord returned to the domain, no proceedings were taken against

took a bath, and at about ten o’clock

the man who had passed the lord’s boat by without paying heed,

in the morning he had a meal, which

and everyone felt very much relieved. When Kiyozaemon asked

put him in good spirits. While saying

the name of the man concerned, Shōeki was extremely angry and

that if it were not for Shōeki staying

scolded him severely saying, “Do you think that I would speak to

up all night without rest or sleep he

you about something that even our lord subsequently said nothing

would not be safe and sound, he took out

about? Would a person who is in a position of service (hōkō) say

some of his Enreitan stamina medicine from

such an inconsiderate thing?”

his inro and gave it to Shōeki to drink. After that he returned safely to the domain. When Lady Yōtaiin and Lord Katsushige heard about what had happened, Lady Yōtaiin presented Shōeki with a kerchief, and Lord Katsushige increased his fief. Lady Yōtaiin begged Shōeki to tell them in detail about what they had been through, so Shōeki, at a time when all of the lord’s children were present, told them the story. When he reached the part about the lord’s near-suicide, Lady Yōtaiin became unable to contain her feelings and she broke into tears, putting her palms together in obeisance to Shōeki. The chief steward of the imperial household told this to the wet nurse of Kiyozaemon, Shōeki’s grandson. Lord Naoshige also heard this story, and he laughed and said, “It


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2 There is nothing as deep as giri Lord Naoshige once said, “There is nothing as deep as the sentiment of gratitude and honour (giri)”. Ther...