The Blind Swordsman

Here is a story idea:

Master Ito Jituemon Muneyoshi is a newly appointed doshin, a samurai law enforcement officer, under the command of the playboyish yoriki, Master Kotani Genzaemon Yoshiaki in the city of Edo (soon to be Tokyo), investigating the murder of a blind debt collector. Blind men, believed by some to be harbingers of bad luck, were often employed to sit in front of stores of debtors, pretending not to hear the pleas to go away, in order to pressure them to pay their debts. As such, the murdered man was not a popular person. It seems at first like a simple murder by vengeance.
Master Ito was born to an impoverished samurai family and his only hope for advancement was to marry a daughter of a higher ranking samurai family who lacked a male heir, or win a job through sheer scholarship, the former being more advantageous. His childhood friend and rival of similar background, Kannoshin, a taller and more handsome man, was eventually chosen by such a noble family to become heir, but Kannoshin inexplicably abandons his family and official position and disappears.

In the opening scene, Master Ito, the green doshin investigating the murder, enters roughshod into the hall of House of Marumi, a merchant clan ostensibly three ranks lower than the samurai class in the social ladder but rich enough to have great political power. He is humiliated and driven away, but meets Kannoshin, now re-named Kanbei, dressed in commoner clothes and a leader of the fire brigade, an honorable position for a commoner. He also befriends a blind masseur named Nagi, who is secretly a master swordsman. The Kengyo, a politically powerful leader of the blind men’s guild, has ordered Nagi to investigate the murder outside the knowledge of the shogun’s police force. Master Ito, Kanbei, Nagi, and Master Ito’s ne’er do well deputy, form an uneasy alliance while they try to solve the mystery of the murder.

Meanwhile heavy construction is underway in the city of Edo. A foreign barbarian by the name of Commodore Perry had arrived the year before and he will be back in five years’ time. The shogun had ordered the construction of batteries along the coast to defend the city, soon to be called Odaiba. But rivalry among the various noble clans given the work is hindering the construction. Much money is being wasted and the construction is falling behind schedule. There are even rumors that Perry will return in two years instead of five.

Master Ito, being new to criminal investigation, is not taken seriously by his more experienced colleagues. But Master Sato Hanjiro is an exception. Sato Hanjiro is a man so ugly he can make people jump at the sight of him, and he can stop street fights with a glare. He is from the lower ranks of the samurai class and had he not inherited the position of doshin, he would not have a job at all. He cannot get any higher in the ranks, and he has only one ambition in life; to secure the honor of grand master swordsman. But the days when pure swordsmanship decided the honor of grand masters was long gone. It took political power, connections and a good name to get even a fair chance at a trial. One day, while he is practicing his swordsmanship in the dojo, he meets Sasaki Bunsho, a mysterious swordsman of great skill. They connect as only swordsmen can, though neither talks very much.

Two high class geishas appear in the story. One of them the mistress of playboyish yoriki Master Kotani Genzaemon Yoshiaki, known as Gen-san in the social circles of the night life. She has a “nephew” named Yuta who is in the care of an old samurai couple to whom she sends large amounts of money for his education. She never calls Yuta her son, or mentions his father, but is always working an angle to give Yuta a social advantage. As an owner of a large night time establishment, where lots of secrets are traded, she has a lot of chips to bargain with.

The other geisha is younger and much less powerful, but a popular entertainer and singer. She protects a witness of a murder. There was a second murder of a master of a sawmill who was killed on his way home from a bar at night. The geisha helps the witness, a prostitute, to escape to the women’s seminary, a Buddhist sanctuary beyond the reach of the law. The girl was a prostitute because her parents were in debt, and now that she had escaped the debt could not be collected. Helping her escape amounted to larceny.

Playboyish yoriki, Master Kotani Genzaemon Yoshiaki is summoned to the jonai, the shogun’s palace usually off limits to such a low level (but in reality quite powerful) bureaucrat like the yoriki. He is warned by his boss, the metsuke, not to meddle in the businesses beyond his jurisdiction. Crimes committed by high ranking lords were the province of the oh-metsuke, an enforcer of very high position. Master Kotani defiantly declares that he will arrest anyone who commits violent street crimes that are well within his jurisdiction, even though it was beyond his reach to arrest lords for graft or treason, both of which he suspected.

It is eventually found that Lord Ota, one of the high lords on the construction project, was skimming money off of the shogun’s treasury. Sasaki Bunsho was his hired assassin. An evil merchant was the middleman between Lord Ota and the skimming scheme. While blind Nagi, Master Ito, Kanbei and his firefighter commoners fight the band of rogues hired by the evil merchant, eventually arresting him, the ugly doshin Sato and the assassin Sasaki engage in a duel for keeps. When Sato cuts down Sasaki, Sasaki produces paper documents saying that he was grand master. Now that Sato has defeated a grand master in a duel, he could become grand master. He dies saying that he was happy to die in a fair fight with a friend.

The girl prostitute is captured while she is out of the sanctuary to visit her sick mother. The geisha who helped her organizes an illegal march of protest to win her freedom. She claims that she was not on an illegal march because she was singing, not shouting, her protest. She had the license to sing in the streets. The judge rules in her favor, but warns her never to do it again. He also frees the prostitute from both execution and further service as a prostitute but rules that she must work to pay off her debts. Everyone rejoices, but the few who saw the geisha’s action as a threat decides to make an example of her by slashing her face in the back alley. She loses her job because of the scar. Sato, the ugly samurai, still a low income doshin but honored a grand master of swordsmanship, asks the wounded woman, to whom he had always been in love with, to marry him. She accepts. She had always loved him too.

Lord Ota, the ringleader of the series of crimes, dies quietly in a hushed up ritual suicide. The official story is that he died of sudden illness. Since he had no heir who was not implicated in criminal activity, an official envoy is sent to fetch his illegitimate son, Yuta. His mother, the geisha, is happy to see her son in his rightful place, but she can never see him again. Her lover Gen-san had pulled considerable strings to reach this outcome. He asks if this was what she wanted. She nods and presents him with a stack of gold coins.

Perry returns just 18 months after his first visit. A state of emergency is declared. As soldiers rush from around the country to defend the city, the blind swordsman makes ominous predictions about what is about to come. The End.

I had the idea of writing this story in English about fifteen years ago. I never wrote beyond twenty thousand words into the first draft. The problem is, although the blind swordsman is a compelling character, he does not quite tie the story together. I can see now that I should delete him completely but at the time I found it difficult to kill my darlings. I lost the original manuscript and I made up the names of the samurai as I wrote the above. I think I had better names before. Kanbei, the samurai-turned-firefighter experiences a crises of sorts when he realizes that he was not really needed in his adopted family once his son was born. Then one day he sees a firefighter risking his life to save lives and realizes that is what being a samurai was supposed to be about, but he could not become a fire fighter as long as he was a samurai. So he abandons his family and disappears into the city. He finds new life among the commoners. When pressed by his old friend Master Ito about the choice he made, he takes off his clothes to reveal a large burn scar masked by a tattoo that incorporated the scar to turn it into a picture of a winding dragon. This was his life now.

The triple story lines of the political intrigue, the criminal investigation, and the rebellious geisha should give the story enough substance. I only need something to tie it all together. But the blind man is not it.

The lesson here is, sometimes you just have to kill your darlings, even if he was initially meant to be your main character.

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