E84 The Three Bonsai


Show Notes for episode 84 of our Podcast – The Three Bonsai.

Story Notes

The Three Bonsai

In the reign of the Emperor Go-Fukakusa there lived a celebrated Regent, Saimyoji Tokiyori. When thirty years of age this Regent retired to a monastery for several years, and not infrequently his peace of mind was sadly disturbed by stories of peasants who suffered at the hands of tyrannical officials. Now Tokiyori loved above everything the welfare of his people, and after giving the matter careful consideration he determined to disguise himself, travel from place to place, and discover in an intimate way the heart of the poorer people, and later on to do all in his power to suppress malpractice on the part of various officials.

Tokiyori accordingly set out upon his excellent mission, and finally came to Sano, in the province of Kozuki. Now it was the time of winter, and a heavy snowstorm caused the royal wanderer to lose his way. After wearily tramping about for several hours in the hope of finding shelter, he was about to make the best of the matter by sleeping under a tree when, to his joy, he noticed a small thatched cottage nestling under a hill at no great distance. To this cottage he went, and explained to the woman who greeted him that he had lost his way and would be much indebted to her if she would afford him shelter for the night. The good woman explained that as her husband was away from home, it would be disloyal as his wife to give shelter to a stranger. Tokiyori not only took this reply in good part, but he greatly rejoiced, in spite of a night in the snow, to find such a virtuous woman. But he had not gone far from the cottage when he heard a man calling to him. Tokiyori stood still, and presently he saw some one beckoning him. The man explained that he was the husband of the woman the ex-Regent had just left, and cordially invited one whom he took to be a wandering priest to return with him and accept such humble hospitality as was available.

When Tokiyori was sitting in the little cottage simple fare was spread before him, and as he had eaten nothing since the morning he did full justice to the meal. But the fact that millet and not rice was provided clearly conveyed to the observant Tokiyori that here was poverty indeed, but with it all a generosity that went straight to his heart. Nor was this all, for, the meal finished, they gathered round the fire that was fast dying out for want of fuel. The good man of the house turned to the fuel-box. Alas! it was empty. Without a moment’s hesitation he went out into the garden, heavily covered with snow, and brought back with him three pots of dwarf trees, pine, plum, and cherry. Now in Japan dwarf trees are held in high esteem; much time and care is bestowed upon them, and their age and unique beauty have made them dear to the people of Nippon. In spite of Tokiyori’s remonstrance his host broke up these little trees, and thus made a cheerful blaze.

It was this incident, scarcely to be fully appreciated by a Westerner, that caused Tokiyori to question his host, whose very possession of these valuable trees strongly suggested that this generous man was not a farmer by birth, but had taken to this calling by force of circumstance. The ex-Regent’s conjecture proved to be correct, and his host, with some reluctance, finally explained that he was a samurai by the name of Sano Genzalmon Tsuneyo. He had been forced to take up farming owing to the dishonesty of one of his relatives.

Tokiyori readily recalled the name of this samurai before him, and suggested that he should make an appeal for redress. Sano explained that as the good and just Regent had died (so he thought), and as his successor was very young, he considered it was worse than useless to present a petition. But, nevertheless, he went on to explain to his interested listener that should there come a call to arms he would be the first to make an appearance at Kamakura. It was this thought of some day being of use to his country that had sweetened the days of his poverty.

The conversation, so rapidly suggested in this story, was in reality a lengthy one, and by the time it was concluded already a new day had begun. And when the storm-doors had been opened it was to reveal sunlight streaming over a world of snow. Before taking his departure Tokiyori warmly thanked his host and hostess for their hospitality. When this kindly visitor had gone Sano suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to inquire the name of his guest.

Now it happened that in the following spring a call to arms was instituted by the Government at Kamakura. No sooner had Sano heard the joyful news than he set out to obey the summons. His armour was shabby in the extreme, his halberd covered with rust, and his horse was in a very poor condition. He presented a sorry figure among the resplendent knights he found in Kamakura. Many of these knights made uncomplimentary remarks concerning him, but Sano bore this insolence without a word. While he stood, a forlorn figure, among the sparkling ranks of samurai about him, a herald approached riding on a magnificent horse, and carrying a banner bearing the house-crest of the Regent. With a loud, clear voice he bade the knight wearing the shabbiest armour to appear before his master. Sano obeyed the summons with a heavy heart. He thought that the Regent was about to rebuke him for appearing in such a gaily decked company clad in such miserable accoutrements.

This humble knight was surprised by the cordial welcome he received, and still more surprised when a servant pushed aside the screens of an adjoining room and revealed the Regent Saimyoji Tokiyori, who was none other than the priest who had taken shelter in his little home. Nor had Tokiyori forgotten the burning of the dwarf pine, plum, and cherry-trees. Out of that sacrifice, readily given without a thought of gain, came the thirty villages of which Sano had been robbed. This was only Sano’s due, and in addition the grateful Tokiyori had the happy idea of presenting this faithful knight with the village of Matsu-idu, Umeda, and Sakurai, matsu, ume, and sakura being the Japanese names for pine, plum, and cherry.

Sumikko no Heather

Today Heather has found for us a humourous little senryū. We hope you enjoy.


Waiting for the next sneeze, what a funny face!

Header Image: Bonsai Trees from Pixabay.


  • Davis, F. H. (1992) “Myths and Legends of Japan.” New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

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Heavenly Spear