When I lived at the British Embassy, there was a British bulldog who used to sit on the steps of the central building. The bulldog is a thickset animal, bred for fighting, and with a terrifying face. This one was supposed to be a symbolic guardian of the Embassy. A dog normally regards himself as a guardian of the house where he stays, and he barks at (and if necessary attacks) any strangers who come, not accompanied by a member of the family. But in this case there were people coming and going all day, and he had learned when he was a puppy that day-time visitors were not to be challenged. So in the end he tended just to sit there and occasionally walk round a little.
At night he changed, and challenged any outsider. Even in the daytime, he would occasionally bark excitedly at nothing, just to prove that he existed, I suppose. He looked formidable, but really he was rather lazy. His name was Bonzo, and some of the maids who worked in the Embassy houses called him Bonzo San. When I first heard that, I was surprised; in England, a dog would never be called Mr. which I understood to be the equivalent of the Japanese San. I asked the Japanese language teacher, and he said: `Japanese culture, and especially the language, has a sort of respect for Nature, and a sort of affection too. This shows itself in the honorific attached to things such as tea and cold water, but it is not only in language.’
Many years later I recalled this remark, when I saw a Kidotai policeman – the toughest of the tough – on duty near the Palace. Behind him was a low wall about three feet high, bordering the garden. A beetle had fallen from the wall on to the path, where it would soon be crushed by pedestrians. The policeman’s expression became gentle as he put down his thick fighting staff, and picked up the beetle, placing it carefully back in the garden where it would be safe. Then he picked up his staff and looked fierce.
I once saw Bonzo, or Bonzo-san, in a surprising confrontation. The Embassy compound was spacious, and at one part there was a long hedge separating two areas of it. The bottom of the hedge was thin so that one could get a glimpse of the other side. The hedge continued unbroken for about a hundred yards, and then there was a little iron gate of three bars; on the other side of the gate, the hedge continued on and on. It happened that I was waiting for someone, and standing near one end of the hedge. I noticed that Bonzo was on the other side of the hedge. Then the friend I had been waiting for came along, followed by his own dog, an Akita. When Bonzo glimpsed the other dog, he began to growl and then bark. The Akita growled back,j and then barked too. They began to glare at each other through the hedge, hurling curses at each other.
Each was clearly saying, or rather shouting: `If I could get at you, I would kill you!’ They began to run two or three yards each way, apparently hoping to find an opening in the hedge. We too men were walking slowly, talking, along this side of the hedge, and the dogs kept pace with us. Then they seemed to agree that they must find an opening, and ran together along the hedge, snarling and cursing all the time. Suddenly they came to the gate, which as it happened was half open. Now they could meet and fight it out! We got ready to separate them. But nothing like that happened. Their barks and growls stopped abruptly as they faced each other, apparently bewildered. Then with one accord they dashed past the gate and along the hedge again, growling and cursing in their dog language: `If only I could get at you!’
We men laughed at this, but afterwards I thought about it, and realized that it is not only dogs who put on a fierce expression and attitude, though they have no intention of actually fighting. At that time, I was practising Judo several hours a day. I used to go first to one of the University dojos, which generally had their practice sessions for a couple of hours from about mid-day or 1 o’clock. After that we used to have a tea or ice in some little restaurant, and then walk from Kanda to the Kodokan, which was then near Suidobashi station. The practice began there about 3 and went on till 6. The custom then was that the respective Dan groups would stand together in particular places round the walls of the big dojo. This system was convenient, because it meant that one could choose the rank of an opponent by going to that section. I never voluntarily practised with anyone below the Fourth Dan rank. I thought that to practise against weaker men would make my judo worse.
As a Fourth Dan, I stood in that area with the others, and generally I was the only foreigner there. One day a thick-set Japanese judo man began to come to the Kodokan, taking his place among the Third Dan area. He had one of the most aggressive expressions I have ever seen – a permanent scowl and glare. His judo was a rough affair, and I noticed that he never practised with anyone above Third Dan; in fact he mostly chose Second Dan opponents, whom he could easily beat. He used to give a growl as he threw some of them, who were little more than boys.
Soon after he began coming, he noticed me standing among the Fourth Dans, and came across. He scowled at me and growled: `O negai….’ At that time there were hardly any foreigners practising judo, and the few foreign judo men were mere beginners. I suppose he thought that I must be a beginner, who was standing among the Fourth Dans because I did not know the custom of the Kodokan. He made his usual hacking Osotogari, which I easily stopped. He looked surprised, but clearly thinking this must have been a sort of accident, he tried again, very roughly. This time I made a big counter, smashing him down on the floor. When he got up I threw him again and then again. As a fairly strong Fourth Dan, I was simply much better than he was. The frowning scowl disappeared from his face, and turned into a look of bewilderment.
He stammered: `Sore de …’ and dropped into the kneeling bow to end the practice. He went back to the Third Dan section, and re-assembled his terrifying appearance. A friend of mine who had been watching, said to me quietly; `He’s got a terrifying look, hasn’t he? I expect he practises at home in front of a mirror! This remark has come back to me several times in life, when faced with someone very impressive and even threatening. The thought comes up: `Perhaps he practises at home in front of a mirror!’ and I feel relieved.
I got another hint from a Japanese naval officer whom I knew well, about a Japanese Rear-admiral who paid a courtesy call on the Italian dictator Mussolini, when the latter was at the peak of his power in 1930. Mussolini ruled Italy for 20 years, and was widely respected both at home and abroad, till he led his country into disastrous foreign wars. He had volunteered to be a soldier in world War I and was wounded in the fighting; he was an educated man who wrote plays. He founded the idea of Fascism, later taken up by Hitler and others. He specialized in impressing people. His desk was at the end of a long room, and a visitor had to come down three steps and then walk across a long expanse of carpet, under the gaze of Mussolini at his great desk. The steps were designed to be awkward: they were just too wide to come down in three steps; the visitor had to take two little steps on each one, and it is difficult to do this in a dignified way.
Well, the Japanese Rear-admiral was a Kendo man, an expert in good posture. He negotiated the steps calmly, walked across and sat down in front of the dictator. He said that Mussolini sat up very straight, and stared challengingly down at him. However, instead of being intimidated, the Kendo expert himself sat up and stared back. Mussolini looked surprised, but put his hands on the arms of the chair, and reared up still higher, almost as if he was going to stand up. The Japanese Rear-admiral did the same. Suddenly (he said) Mussolini laughed, relaxed and waved his hand. He put his hands on the desk and smiled. `Well, my friend, let us have a little talk.’ Evidently he too practised in front of a mirror, and he could be outfaced.
However, there is something even higher than outfacing. I once stayed at the great Kasuisai temple at Shizuoke, and learnt how it got its name. Ieyasu’s life was saved by the abbot of that temple, and when Ieyasu established the Tokugawa Dynasty, he paid a Thank-you visit to the old abbot. They talked together. And then, it seems, this Zen abbot, though facing the most powerful man in Japan, began to doze off. The awesome presence of the man of power impressed him so little that he did not feel even wakeful. I was told that Ieyasu, at first amazed, was then himself impressed, and quietly took his leave, bestowing on the temple the name Kasuisai – which I could translate into English as The Temple for Sleep. I slept there myself, but I was not facing a dictator.
© Trevor Leggett