The traditional era of Kyoto, Japan brings forth strict expectations regarding honor and social status. Isao, an heir belonging to the wealthy Hirada family, lives a rather dull and sorrowful life under the cruelty of his father. That is, until a gardener for the temple is hired in place of another, a young man of the lower class with a passion for landscaping. Over time, Isao encounters a long lost innocence within the gardener named Ryo, who provides a brighter view on life.
Affections begin to unintentionally spark, causing the heir to seek more information and connect until a hidden relationship is formed. With this secret, however, follows potential downfall for both men.
The new gardener seemed unfit for the position, much less appropriate for the Hirada household. Not only did his physical appearance deem him too young and inexperienced, but it also revealed his dirtied clothes from which he had not seem to notice on himself, thus leading to the assumption that he was both irresponsible and belonging to the lower class. However, despite these flaws, the boy was accepted into the role -partly due to desperation to maintain the garden’s brilliance- and promptly assigned a schedule on which his duties were scripted, including aggressively specific times. Although there read a minimum amount of time for meals, he was relieved to have been granted any at all. Regarding work hours, it seemed he would remain in the garden from mid-afternoon to the hour of dinner, leaving little to no spare time in which he could familiarize himself with his new surroundings. In concluding the paperwork, he bowed respectfully to the household’s landlord in understanding.
Followed by the absence of complaints, he was then properly, if not suspiciously carefully, escorted to his living quarters. As generous as it may have been to be granted such a luxury to himself, it failed to erase the strict aura that had radiated off of the man who he would be serving under. Nonetheless, the labor served as both a temporary residence as well as earning a living to, in all hopes, raise his social status; but the move from the lower class to the middle class was especially rare for his people. Nevertheless, his childish youth gifted him with unlimited amounts of optimism and hope for what life held in store for him, and with this he believed such a responsibility could assist in the goal. Hard labor would righteously reward him to a certain extent. Whatever that extent turned out to be, he assumed it would be just enough to call himself worthy of his family’s name.
Left to settle and situate his things, the newcomer peered about with thirstful eyes of curiosity. Although his doors did not consist of flowery and fanciful images that fusuma doors incorporate -much to his disappointment- he managed to find comfort in the simple shoji construction that drank in heavy beams dancing off of the sun; it shimmered exquisitely against the cream of the walls, reflecting an angelic beam of warmth down the center of the tatami flooring. Given the temptation to bathe in that warmth, he stepped into it and the pale of his skin illuminated like the delicate petals of a fragile daisy in the midst of sunrise. The gold of the day caught in his eyes, creating sunrises dyed a perfect combination of brown and yellow hues threatening to drown out the irises. As the warmth tickled his skin, a sense of comfort washed through him, amplifying an abrupt peace within his bones. A relaxed sigh left his lips, escaping to the nearest window to fog up the glass in hazy retirement.
Just as his mind fell to the oncoming thickness of drowsiness, there arrived a demanding knock that shook him free of the quiet. Immediately following came an intrusion by a man he judged to be slightly more aged than himself, but who he had not been introduced to during his seminar. The intruder stood tall inside the doorway with what appeared to be a defiant expression of either disapproval or irritation. His stature resembled that of a samurai’s, whereas his dark hair betrayed the idea in being choppy and just short of being capable of being tied back. His lips parted as the lower class man made his discreet observation, and he began to spout in an authoritative voice.
“Matsumoto Ryo,” he addressed bitterly, “during your full employment and residence in the Hirada household, you are to abide by all of the rules assigned to you. If you are to stray from them at any time, you shall expect severe punishment.” He went on to list those punishments carefully without abandoning his declarative tone. “Loss of daily meals, increased work hours, additional work related responsibilities, decreased payment, physical consequence, removal from the household…” Pausing, he narrowed his eyes in expectation of an outburst or retort, though he received none and continued, “These are but few punishments you shall receive upon failure of your duties and acts of disobedience. If you are, however, to prove yourself responsible, then you may disregard everything. Furthermore, you are to uphold dignity and honor for the sake of this household before yourself.” With these words left to linger in the tense atmosphere, he bowed as though it were required of him to do so. “That is all.”
Stunned by the intrusion, Ryo stood frozen with a demoralized heart reflected heavily in his physical features. The reality came crashing down on him that freedom was limited here and that life may not be as comfortable as he had formerly held in mind. Physical consequence? his conscience echoed as a stone passed down his throat. Mistakes of any kind would not be tolerated, forcing him to wonder if a warning would be issued beforehand. Even so, the consequences listed seemed too cruel, shaping his former thoughts into concerns. Surely, he thought, it is all in jest; the hearty laugh of the other man would sound any second and they would go off for a drink to make proper introductions. Instead, much to Ryo’s disappointment, his intruder merely stood at the doorway with a piercing stare, followed by uncomfortable, suffocated silence. He cleared his throat now, gathering up his will to speak.
“Surely these are not the circumstances-”
“I assure you, they are quite serious,” the other interrupted matter-of-factly. “It is in your best interest not to test them.”
“A warning will be issued, I assume? Warnings are always-”
“Warnings, as we believe in this household, are for children. Those who are responsibly aware of their faults are given immediate consequences.” Pausing, he scanned the younger man over with a bitter look of disgust. “That is,” he added, “if you are responsible of yourself.”
Ryo bit back a sudden urge to retort and took a brief moment to steal a glance at his clothes as if noticing them for the first time. As he brought his eyes back up he frowned, ashamed of his displayed poverty. In his disgrace, he lowered his eyes to his feet and rediscovered his bitterness for both his social status as well as for the other man. But what could be done about either? His former days, stretching back so far as his youth, were spent scrounging around for pay to get by; the absence of rich resources never provided his family with luck, nor did their endless attempts at raising crops year after year due to lack of experience. Jobs were so few nowadays, especially for a peasant man. Even the self-degrading ones hardly produced enough to last more than a day. His overall situation forced him to show gratitude for his position, even when he only began to despise it.
“You ought to be grateful,” the other continued roughly. “We may as well have tossed you back into the streets. It would have been easy to hire a much more professional gardener, one more worthy of the stay. But unfortunately-” he cut off to sigh before finishing, “-we settled for a mere peasant who likely cannot differentiate a rose from its thorn.”
Offended, Ryo clenched his fists tightly at his sides and parted his lips to defend his pride. It felt unreasonable for the other man to assume how experienced he was and, on top of that, make such judgement based upon social class. This he made clear in his argument before adding, “You know nothing about me. As grateful as I am for this opportunity, I must say that it should not require my being degraded merely because my family did not have as much luck with money.” Raising a hand to to his heart, he clutched the fabric in his fingers. “I’ll earn my way to a higher class, even if it ends up being just one step, no matter what hard labor I may come across. It certainly won’t be easy, I’m aware. But I will do it, one way or another.”
At that, the intruder scoffed as he crossed his arms over his chest. He waved a hand in the air in front of him in dismissal, showing his disinterest by rolling his eyes up to the ceiling. “Do as you wish,” he muttered under his breath. “However, do not forget your duty.”
“What is it?”
“I have brought what was requested, and your father wishes to speak with you.”
“Very well. Let him know I will be there shortly.”
“As you wish.”
The exchange ended with a nod from the other man to the guard, then a change of clothes was offered to Ryo who stood frozen and stiff. Father…? He echoed. If that is the case…
“Well?” the other prompted impatiently.
“..Sir?” Ryo turned away from his thoughts, noticing the clothes being presented to him in confusion.
“You were not listening. I will not repeat myself again. I have told you to change into these-” he lifted the clothes in his hands to gesture to them, “-and prepare yourself for today’s meal.” With that, he handed off the weight and backed out of the room with a stern look to the gardener. “You have one hour. An escort will arrive to show you the way.”
Ryo nodded in silent understanding, followed by a formal bow until the other disappeared from view. Straightening his back out, he swallowed at his mistake for talking against the heir of the family.