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In one of my recent Usagi Yojimbo posts, user [personal profile] janegray commented on the values dissonance between East and West, especially regarding sepukku, or ritual suicide to cleanse one's honour.

This is the premise of Usagi Yojimbo's #150, a recent story that introduces the first European in the UYverse, the Spaniard Rodriguez. The story is called "Death of a Tea Master".

We begin with Rodriguez, an envoy of the Spanish king to Japan, fighting Lord Odo's samurai in a duel, in which his European swordsmanship has a clear advantage over the samurai style. The flourishes of Western fencing confuse the Japanese swordsmen, accustomed to fights that end with one swift stroke.

Lord Odo had promised Rodriguez a reward if he beat one of his samurai in a friendly duel, and the Spaniard demands to see hara-kiri (or seppuku), the ritual suicide, performed in front of him. Not anyone's suicide, though: it has to be Nobu's, the teamaster, since he declined to perform a tea ceremony for Rodriguez.

And that is why you should think before you promise 'anything'.

Meanwhile, Usagi is being honoured by Nobu with the tea ceremony when Lord Odo's guards come to take the tea master away.

(Usagi mentions partaking the tea ceremony with his friend Tomoe. It is a beautiful story called Chanoyu which is, unfortunately, "unscannable", because each and every frame contributes to the flow of the story, moreso than most of Usagi's stories).

Usagi tries to help Nobu but is overwhelmed by the soldiers and, since he respected the tradition of entering the teahouse unarmed, and the other samurai didn't, is beaten and tied up. A beautiful thing, though, is that the soldiers were disgusted with the order and unhappy to beat and tie Usagi up but, nevertheless, carried their mission to a T.

Lord Odo orders Nobu to commit suicide. Nobu says he will, not because of Odo's request, but as a protest for such an unreasonable request. The lord and Rodriguez do not care, since he will get what he wanted anyway. Following protocol strictly, Nobu composes a haikai, or three-sentences poem, and performs seppuku, much to Rodriguez's delight.

Usagi is informed that, since Nobu is dead, he will be released. Meanwhile, Rodriguez gets really carried away:

All the samurai, in protest, stand up to fight the Spaniard but, for our long-eared ronin, it is personal. They fight and Rodriguez has the upper hand.

That is, until Usagi pulls a deliciously ironic move on him.

You see, one of Usagi's advantages over other samurai is that he knows how to handle both swords simultaneously. Whereas most fight with the long sword and leave the short one as a backup, the rabbit ronin is proficient with both. And guess which is the one used to carry out seppuku? Yes, the short one - the one he slays Rodriguez with!

I really despise Rodriguez in this story. He has nothing to show for him: no compassion, no regard for human life, no deeper understanding for other cultures. Is it a critique of the European mores at that particular time, or is Stan projecting this into our here and now? I don't think it's the last case, because besides being born in the US and raised here, such aggressive criticism is not his style. Nevertheless, it is food for thought.

This story was collected in Usagi Yojimbo volume 30: Thieves and Spies TPB, the same one you'll find the hilarious "The Thief and the Kunoichi", which I took my avatar from.

In the letters column to issue 152, Sakai said that "Rodriguez was the first European shown in the Usagi stories. There will, gradually, be more as I set the stage for another multichapter storyline". Can't wait! :D
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