An account of a duel between “ragpickers” in Tokyo, from the Madera (California) Tribune, February 16, 1955.
“Japanese Ragpickers Duel With Sharp Kitchen Knives”
“TOKYO (IP) – Duelling for the sake of honor is not a monopoly of the West not titled gentry.”
“Toku Mizuo, 35, and Tetsujiro Hirata, 28, don’t look like the type who live by the gentleman’s code. They are “bataya,” or ragpickers. But they duelled for honor just a stone’s throw from the peaceful shrine to one of Japan’s heroes, the Emperor Meiji.
Their weapons were kitchen knives, their armor, rags.
Mizuo and Hirata were once friends and partners. They met while going through trash cans and took a liking to each other. Mizou, who had a room, took Hirata in as boarder and partner. Their agreement was that each would bring home the day’s pickings and share and share alike.
The partnership worked well for six months. But lately Mizuo suspected his friend was holding out. Hirata’s contributions to the arrangement were dwindling.
One day Mizuo followed his partner. He claimed he discovered Hirata literally eating the fish off the fish dumplings he picked up in a well-stocked trash box.
Bitter words followed and the slurs against each other’s character were unacceptable to men of honor.
They decided on a duel. The time was just before midnight under the lonely Sendagaya bridge.
Mizuo, who arrived first, primed himself with two cups of shochu, a potent bootleg potato alcohol, Hirata arrived two minutes later. They squared away with two new kitchen knives bought for the occasion.
The spot was deserted but the yells of the contestants drew horrified watchers who called police. Half an hour after the first blow was struck the police arrived.
By that lime the two were staggering from shochu amid loss of blood.
The police officers dragged the bloody pall to a hospital where Mizuo was treated for 11 knife wounds and Hirata for eight.
Later, the two were booked at the police station—not for violating the law against duelling which had gathered dust since 1898, but on a more prosaic charge—”assault with dangerous weapons.”
Jailers at Kosuge Prison said they have decided to forget wounded honor and become buddies again in their trash bin partnership.”
Glossary and links:
- Ragpickers formed the core of a post-war Catholic Church community in an abandoned riverside lot near Asakusa. The community became famous for the involvement of a young woman from a well-to-do background. See: Satoko Kitahara, Maria of Ants Town 蟻の町のマリア
- In Japanese: ばたや, ばた屋, or バタヤ , and pronounced bataya