The Devil and Tobacco
translated from the Japanese by Edwin McClellan
TOBACCO IS A PLANT that once was not to be devil brought tobacco into Japan are liars?
found in Japan. Written records unfortu- And even if the story is indeed a lie, it per-
nately do not agree as to when it was brought haps contains greater truth than we may at
in: some say during the Keich6 era, and first suspect.
others, the Temmon era. There seems little Such are my thoughts, then, as I begin
doubt, however, that by the tenth year of to tell you the legend of the devil and
Keicho, tobacco was known in various tobacco.
places, and that in the Bunroku era, it be-
came universally popular. It was in the eighteenth year of Temmon
Moreover, historians seem not at all cer- that the devil, disguised as one of the
tain of the identity of the person that intro- brothers in the company of St. Francis,
duced it to us. According to some, it was a arrived in Japan after a long journey across
Portuguese, and according to others, it the sea. The disguise was made possible by
was a Spaniard. But there is also a legend the fact that in some port-perhaps it was
which tells us that it was without doubt the Macao-one of the brothers had stayed
devil himself that gave us tobacco. We are ashore too long, and the ship, with the rest
told in this legend that the devil was brought of the company aboard, had sailed away
here by a Jesuit priest: this priest being without him. His absence was not noticed, .
none other than St. Francis Xavier. and the ‘devil, who was hanging upside-
As I say this, I realize that I may dis- down from the yard-arm by his tail, watch-
please those of the Christian faith; I cannot ing all the while for such a chance to ap-
but confess, however, that the legend seems pear, quickly changed his form to that of
to me to be telling the truth. After all, is it the missing brother, and became St. Francis’
not only natural that with the god of the personal attendant. This was quite easy
West, the devil of the West should have for one so accomplished in the art of dis-
come too? And that with the good things guise as the devil, who could transform
of the West, must also come the bad things? himself into a magnificent gentleman wear-
I cannot prove, either to my own satisfac- ing a red coat when visiting Dr. Faust.
tion or to yours, that the devil actually did Surprise awaited him when he first set foot
bring tobacco with him. But it may interest in Japan. Marco Polo’s writings had led
you to know that Anatole France, in one of him to believe that all the streets of Japan
his books, tells us that once the devil tried were paved with gold; but even after a
to tempt a priest with a sprig of mignonette : careful search, he could not find one such
in the face of such evidence, who can know street. He was, however, pleased rather than
with certainty that those who say the same disappointed; for now he could hope to
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tempt the Japanese with gold, which he Every time the distant bell sounded, the
could produce easily enough by rubbing devil would grimace, as though it gave him
his thumb-nail against a cross. Also, it greater displeasure than the bells of St.
seemed that Marco Polo had told another Paul’s, and would set himself to work
lie, when he said that the Japanese knew a harder than before. For he found that what
way of regaining lifc after death through with the soothing sound of the bell and
some magical use of pearls or some other the warm sunshine, he was lapsing into a
gem. The devil saw they were as other state of pleasant lethargy. He did not mind
mortals, and was pleased. It would be easy, being too lazy to do good, but he saw that
he thought, to spread an epidemic by spit- if he was not careful, he would lose all de-
ting into their wells; and if they suffered sire to do evil, and so fail in his mission,
badly enough, they surely would soon for- which was to lead the Japanese into tempta-
get their priests. tion. Therefore the devil, who hated manual
Such were his happy thoughts, then, as labor, worked with the hoe in his uncal-
he walked behind St. Francis through the loused hands, so that he might rid himself
streets of Japan. There was one difficulty, of his desire to sleep.
however, and even the devil could do noth- Finally, after many days on the field, he
ing about it. For it was only a short while was able to draw the seeds out of his ears,
since the arrival of the company in Japan, and to plant them.
and St. Francis had not yet had the time
to spread the teachings of Christ or to make Some months passed, and the seeds
any converts. And without converts, the sprouted, and the stems grew; and by the
devil had no one to tempt. He found him- end of the summer, large, deep green leaves
self becoming bored, and began to wonder covered the entire field. But there was no
what he could do to pass the time. one who could tell the name of the plant.
After giving the problem of his growing And even when St. Francis asked him what
boredom much thought, he finally decided the plant was that grew in the field, the
to while away the hours in gardening. devil said nothing. He merely smiled, in a
Luckily, he had brought with him many knowing and somewhat oily manner.
different seeds, carefully hidden in his Then, there began to appear pale blue
ears. He could easily hire a neighboring flowers that were shaped like a funnel; and
field for that purpose; besides, St. Francis perhaps because they were the result of
wholeheartedly approved of his attendant’s his own labor, he appeared to be very
plan. He was under the impression that his pleased with them. Every day, after his
subordinate had brought over the seeds day’s work was done, he would go to the
with honorable intent, such as growing field, and tend the flowers.
medicinal herbs. One day, during St. Francis’ absence-
Having borrowed the necessary imple- he had gone away for a few days on a mis-
ments, the devil began to cultivate with sion-a certain cattle-trader happened to
great energy a field by the roadside. pass by the field, leading a cow. And he
The time was early spring, when the air saw, over the fence, a foreigner dressed in
is heavy with dew, and as the devil worked, the black clothes of a religious order, stand-
he could hear the sleepy bnnm. of a bell ing among his flowers, and busily picking
carried gently over the floating mist from bugs off the leaves. The cattle-trader was
some distant temple. The sound was quite much taken with the flowers, the like of
unlike that of the Western church bells, which he had never seen before; so he
to which he had become accustomed, and stopped, and taking off his hat, politely
which had seemed to him so unpleasantly addressed himself to the foreigner.
piercing. But even in such a restful atmos- “Pardon me, sir priest, but what is the
phere, he could not feel at peace. name of the flower?”
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The brother turned. He seemed to the so sharp and crow-like, that it gave the
trader to be a pleasant-looking foreigner, cattle-trader a momentary shock.
with a small nose and small eyes. “If your guess is wrong, you can give me
“Oh, you mean this.” something. Why don’t we make it a bet?
“Yes, sir.” Don’t forget, if you are right, you’ll get
The brother leaned over the fence,.and everything that’s in this field.”
shook his head. Then, in halting Japanese, “Well, all right. I’ll give you anything
he said: you ask for.”
‘‘I am sorry, but I cannot tell anyone “Anything? Even that cow?”
the name of this flower.” “Oh yes. If you want it, I’ll give it to
“I see. Perhaps it was master Francis you right now.”
that forbade you to tell?” Laughing, the cattle-trader stroked the
“No, that is not so.” cow’s head. He seemed to persist in think-
“Well, in that case, won’t you be good ing that it was all a joke on the part of
enough to tell me? As you see, I have been the good-natured brother.
receiving instruction from master Francis, “But if I win, you must give me all
and am now of your faith,” So saying, the those plants.”
trader pointed proudly at his chest. A brass “All right, it’s a promise then.”
crucifix hung from his neck, shining bright- “Certainly, it’s a promise. And I’ll
ly in the sun. Scowling slightly-it may swear by the name of our holy master,
perhaps have been the glare-the brother Jesus Christ.”
lowered his eyes for a moment; then he When he heard this, the brother seemed
began to speak a little more familiarly, in very pleased. His little eyes were shining
a tone half serious and half playful. as he grunted contentedly. Then, resting
“I am afraid not. You see, it is against his left hand on his hip, he began to caress
the law of my country to tell anyone. But a nearby flower with his other hand.
why don’t you try and make a guess? You “If you guess wrong, I shall have your
Japanese are a very intelligent people, and body and soul.” And so saying, he drew
I’m sure that your guess will be right. And himself up, and took off his broad-brimmed
if it is, 1’11 give the produce of this entire hat with a majestic sweep. Growing out of
field to you.” his thick curly hair were two horns, like
those of a mountain-goat. The cattle-trader
It is likely that the cattle-trader thought
turned pale, and dropped his hat on the
the brother was pulling his leg. With an
ground. At the same time, perhaps because
exaggerated air of concentration, he cocked
the sun had gone down, the flowers and
his head to one side. There was a smile on
leaves in the field lost their brightness.
his sunburnt face.
Even the cow, as though afraid of some-
“I wonder what it is,” he said. ‘‘I don’t thing, hung its head, and began to low.
think I can give you the answer right <C
A promise is a promise, even when
it’s made to me. And don’t forget, you
“Oh no. There’s no hurry. I’ll give you swore by the name of someone I myself
three days to think of an answer. I won’t cannot mention. We shall meet again when
mind if you go and ask someone else. And three days have passed. Well, fare thee well,
if you guess right, I’ll give you all this, my dear sir.”
and some foreign wine besides, or if you And so saying, he bowed in mock polite-
wish, a nice religious picture.” ness.
The cattle-trader seemed a little surprised
at the brother’s earnestness. The cattle-trader was of course extremely
“But what if I guess wrong?” sorry that he had so unwittingly thrown
The brother laughed. And his laugh was himself into the devil’s hands. Now, it
Modern Age 83
seemed almost certain that the devil would the devil’s. Perhaps it was his imagination,
possess him, and that he would burn, body but he thought he could see the clear out-
and soul, in eternal hell-fire. It seemed that line of two horns.
his recent conversion to Christianity, and “Confound you, you beast, you are ruin-
his rejection of his old faith, had done him ing my tobacco field!” cried the still sleepy
little good. devil, waving his arms about angrily. In-
But having sworn by the sacred name deed, he seemed very annoyed that his
of Jesus Christ, he could not now break sleep had been interrupted.
his promise. Had St. Francis been there, To the listening cattle-trader, these words
he no doubt would have helped him out of of the devil seemed to ring through the
his predicament, but unfortunately he was night as though they came from God.
away. Confound you, you beast, you are ruin-
, He spent two sleepless nights desperately ing my tobacco field!”
trying to think of a way to find out the
name of the cursed plant; but if even the Our story, as with all stories of this sort,
great Francis Xavier did not know, who ends happily. The cattle-trader, much to
could possibly know, except . .. ? the devil’s dismay, revealed that he knew
The last night of the promised three days the name of the plant, and won the bet.
finally arrived, and the cattle-trader, lead- All the tobacco in the field became his.
ing the same cow, slowly and silently made But, I sometimes wonder, cannot one see
his way towards the house of the brother, a hidden meaning in this ancient legend of
which was on the same side of the road ,ours? True, the devil failed to gain posses-
as the field. The brother apparently had sion of the cattle-trader’s body and soul;
gone to bed, for no light showed through but did he not also leave tobacco behind,
the windows. Though the moon was out, to be smoked by everyone in Japan? Was
it was not a clear night, and over the there not, perhaps, an element of failure
silent field, the flowers were gently sway- in the cattle-trader’s success, and an ele-
ing; in the semi-darkness, they looked like ment of success in the devil’s failure? The
ghosts. The cattle-trader had come with a devil falls, and when he rises again, he
plan, but in the still of the night, he began does so at some cost to us. And sometimes
to be afraid, and wished he were home. when we resist temptation, we may unwit-
And it was not comforting to think of the tingly be the losers.
horned gentleman behind the walls, hav- As to the fate of the devil in this country
ing pleasant dreams, no doubt, of the in- after his encounter with the cattle-trader,
ferno. But he could not afford to be a I shall say very little. Upon the return of
coward. His body and soul were at stake. St. Francis, the devil was driven out of the
And so the cattle-trader, praying to the neighborhood. But it appears that he re-
Virgin Mary for protection, decided to act. mained in Japan, and wandered about from
He unleashed his cow, and giving it a place to place, still disguised as a brother.
mighty smack on the rump, drove it According to one account, he was occa-
towards the field. sionally seen in Kyoto, after the establish-
Jumping with pain, the cow crashed ment of the Christian church. He lingered
through the fence, and begar? to run wildly for a while even after its abolition under
around the field, More than once, its horns the Toyotomi and Tokugawa governments,
collided with the walls of the house. The but finally he disappeared. There is no more
sound of beating feet and loud moans mention of him in the records.
broke through the thin mist of the night. The black ships and the Meiji Revolu-
Then a window opened, and a face ap- tion brought him back t o us, but nothing
peared. In the dark, the cattle-trader could seems to be known of his movements in
not see it distinctly, but he was sure it was recent years-which is a pity.
84 Summer 1957