This is a story that happened in the Kamakura era.
A priest was walking along a solitary country road in Kozuke (Gunma Prefecture).
He had been traveling around Shinano (Nagano Prefecture).
“Now that it is getting cold, I should be headed back to Kamakura,”
It started snowing, and became heavy that night.
He had to find a place for a night.
Luckily he soon found a house and knocked on the door.
“Excuse me,” he said.
“Who is it?”
An elegant-looking woman opened it.
She seemed to be a little surprised to see a priest there, and looked back at her husband, a muscular man.
“I’m an ascetic Buddhist traveling around the country.
It’s already been dark outside.
I’d be happy if you’d give me a place to stay for a night,”
the priest said.
“Even if my husband allows you to stay here, we can’t afford to treat a guest.
We have nothing but only millet rice,”
said the woman.
“That’ll be good enough for me, thank you,”
said the priest.
The three sat around the fireplace and each ate a cup of millet rice.
The husband said to the priest,
“We used to be rich and lived comfortably.
At that time we wouldn’t dream that we should have to eat millet rice.
But now we eat it to survive.”
The husband stood up to go outside and brought three bonsais (or three dwarfed trees.)
“They all are nice bonsais, aren’t they?”
the priest said.
“I’ll chop and burn them to warm you.
When I was rich, I enjoyed growing many bonsais.
Now that I am poor, I can’t afford to keep them.
I had given most of them to others.
Nevertheless, I’ve kept three Bonsais left, a plum-tree, a cherry-tree and a pine-tree.
I’ll put them into a fire and warm you to show our hospitality.”
The priest said to the husband,
“No kidding! I have already been given your heartwarming kindness.
If you are lucky, you will be able to have a good life again.
You should keep them as your treasures until then.
You must not chop and burn them recklessly!”
“No, no. I’m now like a dead tree.
I don’t think I will bloom again.”
He began to chop the plum-tree at first and put it into the fire, thinking it would bloom in spring at first.
Next he chopped the cherry-tree, thinking of the beautiful blossoms.
At last the pine-tree, thinking of the ever green leaves.
They began to burn vigorously and warmed those three people sitting around the fireplace.
The priest said to the husband afresh,
“By the way, if you don’t mind, I’d like to know your name.”
“My name is of little importance.” the man said.
“Even if you say so, I’m sure you are not an ordinary man. Please let me know.”
“If you insist, I’ll tell you.
Though I am so miserable now, I used to be the lord of a region, called Sano (in Takasaki city).
I’m Sano Tsuneyo.”
“What on earth made you change your life?”
“There was a rebellion against me in my clan.
Traitors deprived me of my possession and excluded me from the region.”
“Why didn’t you report it to the Kamakura Shogunate?”
“Unfortunately the Shikken was not in Kamakura at that time.
(Shikken was the next highest rank in the shogunate, whose role was to help the shogun.)
It seemed like he was traveling around the country.
Even if I am poor now, I am proud of being a samurai.
Look over there,”
He pointed at the alcove.
“I keep armor, a helmet and a long sword.
Moreover, I still keep a horse.
When the time comes, I’ll put the old armor on, with the sword at my side, and rush to Kamakura on horseback.
If a battle begins, I’ll rush to the head of the enemy to fight.
I’ll rather choose a heroic death than living here like a miserable old dog.”
He spoke passionately while the priest listened to him seriously.
It stopped snowing the next morning.
When the priest left the house, he said,
“If you come to Kamakura, never fail to visit me. I’ll help you.”
In reality, the priest was the 5th Shikken Tokiyori himself.
No sooner had he arrived in Kamakura than he sent a notice;
All feudal lords in Kanto area should come to Kamakura immediately with their men.
The very same man thought that something serious had been happening in this country.
He wore the old armor with the sword at his side, mounted on the horse and hurried to Kamakura.
Thousands of people had already gathered in the rendezvous.
Those who saw the poor man’s old and dirty armor laughed at him.
The Shikken told one of his retainers,
“Bring here the most poorest-looking man, whose armor must be the shabbiest one.”
Of course no other person who was more miserable than the man could be found in the crowd.
The retainer said to him,
“You are wanted by the Shikken. Come with me immediately.”
“I’m not such a man. You must be having a wrong person.”
“Yes, you are. I’m sure you are the man who is wanted.”
He was afraid that some slanderers had made a false charge.
He was lead in front of the Shikken.
He bowed to him deeply,
“How have you been?
It was such a heavy snowy night.
You gave a priest a-night stay at your house.
That was me, remember?”
said the Shikken.
He was very surprised and looked up the Shikken and bowed more deeply.
“You said that night,
‘When it comes, I’ll put my old armor on, with the sword at my side, and rush to Kamakura on horseback.’
You’ve done it as you said.
I’m so impressed.
The reason why I ordered the samurais to assemble here in Kamakura is that I wanted to see whether you would keep your promise or not.
You came here as you promised.
Don’t hesitate to say what you want.
First of all, I’ll give you back your former region Sano from your traitors.
I’ll punish them later.
I was so pleased that you warmed me with your bonsais to burn as firewood.
I’ll never forget your kindness.
I remember those were a plum-tree, a cherry-tree, and a pine-tree, weren’t they?
I’ll give you three places instead: Umeda (plum field) in Kaga (Ishikawa Prefecture), Sakurai (cherry well) in Etchu (Toyama Prefecture) and Matsuida (pine well field) in Kozuke (Gunma Prefecture).”
Hojo Tokiyori, Shikken at that time, handed him a document with those places written in.
The man looked pretty happy.
Those who had laughed at him once were looking at him enviously