Peasant Autonomy
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Story 7

A small village in Japan – sixteenth century


for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Isriya Paireepairit)


“Don't do it, Genjurō, think of me, think of Genichi, our little son. Stay with us. What will become of us, when the enemy soldiers come? Who will protect us? Who will help us to escape? We don't need that money. Forget about it! It can wait.” But while Miyagi is begging, her husband Genjurō remains adamant. He must and will go to the town, where the official army has arrived. “Miyagi, this is our chance. Now, we will become rich. I can sell a lot. War is good for commerce.” Miyagi moans, her talk is not helping. In other circumstances, he is such a nice man, such a loving father, but now all he is thinking of is money.

Genjurō and Miyagi have a small farm in a mountain village. Like the other villagers, they grow rice. But Genjurō is also a potter. With the help of his wife he makes fine pottery. Since the official army established itself in the nearby town, he once sold quite a lot, because the soldiers and the officers needed all sort of things. Since then he is obsessed by the idea of becoming rich.
Meanwhile, from the other direction, enemy soldiers are on their way. The old village head urges everyone to prepare for war, to hide valuables well, and to bring as many goods and as much food as possible to the hidden encampment in the forest. Then the villagers can later flee to it, and hide there for a while. But as to Genjurō, it fell on deaf ears.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Robert Izumi)


Genjurō is not the only one who has lost his senses. Also his neighbour, the penniless peasant Tōbei, has grand ambitions. He will enrol as a soldier, he will become a real samurai. He will show what he's made of. He will become famous, and rich by looting. His young wife Ohama is furious with him. “You cannot even handle a sword, you idiot. You are a peasant, so remain a peasant. You will regret this terribly.”
A while later, Genjurō and Tōbei depart together to the town with a cart full of pottery. Ohama and Miyagi, holding Genichi in her arms, watch them go with worry in their eyes.


The movie Ugetsu (1953) from the Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi is about obsession, but also gives a penetrating image of village life in wartime.

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= the next page: The old samurai - a Japanese village – 1586, story 8.
= the Table of contents, story 7.