On the last day of March, the King had fallen. The emptiness was deafening in the wake of the coup. The children were abandoned, teachers were lost and every servant waited in fear for the inevitable plunge into the ensuing turmoil. The king had been toppled.
More than seven years of loyal service to the kingdom of Sapporo, supplying teachers across the district, King Interac was not altogether faithful but certainly a mostly reliable ruler. But in the late winter nights, out there in the snow, the King was discovered paying foreign officials bribes to maintain his own stability. Sovereignty was bought in cold corruption and when the people of the Board of Education learnt of this, retribution was swift. Rulers are not voted by the people; they are appointed by the Board. By their whim, Kings rise and fall in the kingdom of Sapporo. It was from their smite, the rage that burned through the ice and into bureaucratic paperwork, that they dragged the king down from his throne of English textbooks.
I was a loyal teacher in service to the King and after he fell, I was out of a job. What could a humble native English speaking servant do without a kingdom to serve? I was not alone in my distress. The schools were cut off from their English teachers; the entire feudal hierarchy was at stake. Every kingdom, bound by law, needed English teachers. But only a king would hire us. The board certainly could have, but social order and a desire to screw people about compelled them from hiring us directly. The ronin teachers needed a new lord to serve.
The board shortly chose a new lord to take the throne, appointing a new king by the name of Nova. Without a reasonable alternative, ronin teachers flocked to the new king seeking employment and house name. I had lost my home as well as my king in the coup, and now I sought out help from Nova. They assigned me a new school in Shin Sapporo, far to the East where the sun never dies, and offered me lodgings nearby. I mourned the loss of my previous lord but hope for a bright new future soon took hold of me and I travelled East in search of it. But when I arrived, there was nobody there to meet me. No school, no representative. No word from Nova. I sent a messenger as soon as he was available to make his way across the kingdom back to the city centre, to discover what had happened. There was no school. They had made a mistake and changed plans but forgotten to inform me of it. The trip alone was tiresome enough but worse still was my lodgings. I could no longer live in Shin Sapporo and I was running out of time to move into a new place. Soon I would be thrown out of my old apartment.
My lodgings were reorganised no less than three times in their struggle to maintain control. I was due to move into the latest place on the same day that I would be kicked out of my old apartment, but I would be busy with other matters that day. We had training to attend. Six hour long training. Nova, in its blind stumble throughout their responsibilities, hired new servants to assist in the new regime and I met them all on this day. Fresh, hopeful, full of life and ready for all that energy to be slowly sucked out of them by 6 hour long training. At the end of it, I would collect my key and move all of my luggage during the evening. A long but necessary day.
It took more than 5 hours before we received the bad news. A Nova messenger rushed into the office, fatigued from the hard ride from the Board. We could barely comprehend it. Another coup and yet another fallen king. Nova was out. Ousted by the board for failing to provide enough bushi to adequately control the region, Nova could no longer support us. We had lost our jobs and titles a second time in the same month. With some lacklustre a Nova representative handed me a key to my new apartment just before I left.
“The key to my new apartment? The one I can’t pay for anymore without a job. The one that I just lost the guarntorship to and may have to leave regardless if I find the rent money somewhere. The one I’m moving into tonight because I have nowhere else to go right now”
The representative looked at his feet before facing me again. Yes, he said, maybe don’t get too comfortable. You need to laugh in these situations, bitter laughter is preferable to bitter tears.
Along with the rest of the ronin teachers, we desperately sought out new work but the board was dragging its feet. Who was left to fill the vacuum? The fallen king Nova, had a temporary solution. Eikawa. Mercenary instructors to be sent across the lands when and where we were needed. I packed some meagre belongings and left Sapporo in search of fortune, praying that when I returned it would be with success and prosperity. For over a month I resided in Tokyo, the grand metropolis the south, built upon commerce and walled in by humidity. Without air conditioning, the fight against the elements was a gruelling daily struggle. Without set structure to the new work and very late working hours, little comfort could be gained from service.
It was a hot Tuesday afternoon when the message came in. The king had returned. Under pressure from the increasingly chaotic situation of limited English education in Sapporo, the board were forced to appoint the only remaining candidate to the high position. Interac was back and they swiftly called upon their servants and vassals to come to their aid. Most of the ronin teachers answered and once again we rejoined the fold, declaring our allegiances and proving our loyalty.
And from the king to us? Honour, frugality and loyalty were among the fundamental qualities expected of the bushi, and in spite of everything that had happened, we, the ronin teachers, had returned to serve. When we arrived were given one simple statement.
“Here is the new contract. There are no changes. No compensation. No pay rises. No holiday allowances. No advantages for seniority. Don’t worry if you won’t sign. We can replace you”.
Loyalty and dedication it seems, counts for shockingly little here. You see, it can be replaced.
You might be wondering why I’ve mixed medieval and Japanese feudalism together here in order to explain this, or why I’ve done this at all. The answer is because I want to and because it makes a rotten mess all the easier to accept.