Sam Samurai

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by Jon Scieszka

  “Yeah,” I said. “Amazing anyone keeps their head on their shoulders for very long.”

  “You’ve got to check out the samurai training,” said Freddi. “I wanted to come back to do some more work on my sword moves.” She spun through a few moves with a wooden samurai practice sword.

  I saw Honda nod. Zou smiled.

  Jo noticed Honda and Zou. “Oh these must be the Time Guides you picked.”

  “Huh?” I said.

  “No,” Samm said to Jo. “They must be on total Auto Travel. The Book picks everything. I’ll bet they don’t even know where to find The Book.”

  Jo looked at us. She couldn’t be too mean. She is my great-granddaughter. “So were you going to warp home through the poetry contest, or wait for the next Time-Space Fold?”

  I remembered the haiku that got us here. “Poetry contest,” I guessed.

  “Well, let’s get going,” said Jo. “You can introduce us to your friends.”

  We had no idea what she was talking about, but we followed Jo, Samm, and Freddi. We introduced Honda and Zou.

  We walked down the seventeenth-century Tokaido Road toward Edo and the samurai warlord Tokugawa’s castle like we were strolling to the deli.

  Time travel will do that to you.


  It would take me a whole book to tell all of the strange stuff we saw and did next. It was like being on a different planet. In fact, it would probably take me two whole books. And I’m not that crazy about writing. So I thought I might make the next couple of pages like the part in movies where they show a lot of short scenes all mashed together. It’s usually in those lame movies when people are supposed to be falling in love. Or in the action movies when the good guy is getting ready to fight the bad guy. Sam told me the name for that, but I forget what it is. But now that I think of it, it’s kind of like haiku. Short and to the point.

  Pine trees along the Tokaido road. Hills. Water-front. Over a bridge and into the crazy busy city of Edo. Buildings of wood, paper windows. Looking like New York in kimonos. Samm telling us, “Edo, as you know, is the original name of modern Tokyo.” Sam says, “I knew that.”

  At a roadside food stand. Fred eating noodles (soba). We all eat raw fish on rice (sushi) with our chop-sticks (hashi). Seaweed, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs I recognize. Zou and Freddi eating octopus (tako).

  The heart of the city. A great wide street full of shops and a sea of people. A bookshop. “Do you have a thin blue book?” asks Sam. Swordmaker sharpening a pair of swords on a long flat stone. Honda tests his blades. Candlemaker. Oil seller. Puppet plays on the street. Silk sellers. Clowning entertainers. A basket full of kites. Bamboo brooms sweeping.

  People, people, people on the street. Big flat round hats. Slow, pale, kimono-wrapped ladies. Everyone steps aside for proud samurai. Shaved-head priests and nuns. Sandals. “Look at that guy’s socks with a big toe,” I say. “Everyone wears those,” says Jo, showing me hers. “They’re called tabi.” I say, “I knew that.”

  No one pays much attention to us. The Red Devils are a much more impressive sight ... and proud of it. Red Devil samurai and soldiers show off spears, lances, bows and arrows.

  Giant sweeping white stone wall. Passport check. Lady Ii Naomasa guides us through. Bridge over water-filled moat. A monster gate. Huge stone walls of the castle rise up to little narrow windows, just big enough to shoot an arrow through. Castle samurai and soldiers with different armor, blue banners.

  Inside paper walls, sliding doors. “You’re asking us to take a bath?” says Fred. “Sam, check that Auto-Translator.” Fred, Sam, and I soak in a giant warm bath. A lady tries to talk us into kimonos. Fred, Sam, and I get safely back in our jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. Jo, Samm, and Freddi in even wilder outfits than before—patterned kimonos, wide belt things. Something is going on with their hair.

  Honda: “Bushido is the Way of the Warrior.”

  Fred and Freddi practice with wooden samurai swords.

  The seven martial arts.

  “Fencing.” Whack.

  “Archery.” Whack.

  “Spearmanship.” Whack.

  “Jujutsu.” Whack.

  “Horsemanship.” Whack.

  “Firearms.” Whack.

  “Military strategy.” Whack.

  “And girls trained as samurai, too,” says Freddi.

  Fred blocks the last blow. “I knew that.”

  Sam and Samm sit cross-legged, listening to Zou. “The true samurai is a trained warrior, a trained artist, a trained mind,” says Zou.

  Carefully pouring tea into small cups. Samm arranges a stalk of flowers. Sam meditates in a garden of carefully raked stones.

  A long thin flag over the castle flaps in the wind.

  “What is moving?” asks Zou.

  “The flag is moving,” says Sam.

  “The wind is moving,” says Samm.

  “Not the flag. Not the wind,” says Zou. “Mind is moving.”

  Jo and I sit on our knees at a low table. “Samurai practice with swords ... and brushes.” Jo draws a neat Japanese character.

  I draw. Try to act casual. Find The Book. Ask, “So you were thinking of warping home with haiku, too?”

  Another neat character by Jo. “Haikai, actually. It’s a whole chain of verses. Modern haiku came from that. The verses linked all together are called renga.”

  I draw. “Right,” I say. “I knew ... it was something like that. Five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables?”

  Jo draws another perfect-looking character. “Oh no, that’s just a simplification for English speakers. It’s more about images. Like the famous poem of Basho:

  “Old pond ...

  A frog leaps in

  Water’s sound.”

  “Ms. Basho, our teacher?” I say.

  “No, Basho the famous poet who will be born in 1644,” says Jo. “Let me see your calligraphy.”

  I hold up my lettering. It’s a nice graffiti: JOE

  Fred, Sam, and I kneel facing Freddi, Samm, and Jo.

  “Wow,” says Sam. “What a day. If this were a movie it would be a great montage.”

  “Yeah, that was the word I was looking for,” I say. “So about The Book—”

  A castle samurai slides open the screen wall behind us.

  “Lord Tokugawa will see you now.”

  “Okay,” says Sam. “We’ll be right there. We just have to figure out—”

  “Now,” says the samurai.

  We believe he means it.


  There was something very scary about being called before Tokugawa—the guy we knew would soon become the samurai shogun of all Japan.

  Maybe it was the twelve fully armed, folded-ponytail, fancy-dressed samurai. Six knelt in a row on either side of us.

  Maybe it was the ladies with their eyebrows shaved off and repainted higher on their foreheads.

  Maybe it was the quiet and everyone looking at the six of us kneeling down in front of Tokugawa’s raised platform.

  I think it was mostly us knowing Tokugawa could do whatever he liked with us. That and the fact that I still didn’t have the foggiest idea how this whole haiku, renga, Book time warping thing was supposed to work.

  On the way in I saw Honda and Zou at the very back of the long room. They were the only friendly faces I saw. I did see Owattabutt. He was not a friendly face.

  We knelt there silently for what seemed like hours. You would have been proud of us. We acted very serious and didn’t say a word. Finally someone broke the silence.

  “Young strangers,” said Tokugawa. “I have heard many thoughts from others, telling me who you are. Now I would like to hear from you.”

  We all looked up from our kneeling bows. Tokugawa sat above everyone wearing a huge wide-shouldered kimono. Did he have two samurai swords? Is my name Joe? Tokugawa looked every bit like the general of generals that he was.

  So this is going to take the trick of all tricks, I thought. I took a deep breath, hopi
ng the Auto-Translator was still in working order. “I am Joe. This is Fred, Freddi, Sam, Samantha, and Jo. We are travelers from a far-off time and place—Brooklyn.”

  “You see, Lord?” said Owattabutt. “Outsiders, just as I said.” Samm was right about making that guy an enemy.

  Tokugawa held up his hand for silence. He turned to the lady just behind him. It was Jo, Samm, and Freddi’s friend. “Lady Tokugawa?”

  “Yes, Lord Tokugawa, they are outsiders. But students of our arts and way of life.”

  “Sorcerers, more likely,” said Owattabutt. “That one turned a poor old woman into a bird. I questioned people who saw it. At the very least, they are enemy spies.”

  Tokugawa turned his fierce gaze on us. “So you see my problem. Students? Sorcerers? Spies?”

  I had a sinking feeling there was no trick that could answer that question.

  “That’s it,” said Fred. “Let’s dive through that paper wall and get out of here before they toss us in the dungeon ... or worse.”

  “I don’t want to lose my head,” said Sam. “I like my head.”

  Jo whispered, just loud enough for us to hear, “Time to go.”

  Then she spoke so everyone could hear.

  “I think I can answer that question, Lord Tokugawa. If I may ask the priest Zou to bring us our book of poems, we will answer in the form of a renga for your entertainment.”

  Lord Tokugawa’s face changed from frowning general to kid in a candy store. “Renga? You are outsiders but know renga? Delightful. Please do.”

  Lady Tokugawa gave a little smile. Owattabutt ground his teeth loud enough for us to hear.

  “A what-ga?” asked Fred.

  “This isn’t a dance, is it?” said Sam.

  “I hope you know what you are doing,” I said.

  Jo smiled at us. Samm frowned. Freddi looked like she would have whacked me with a sword if she had one.

  Zou handed Jo her “book of poems.” I looked at the book and could have kissed him and her, I was so happy. The “book of poems” was a thin, blue, silver-writing, thank-goodness, time warping Book.

  Jo thanked Zou with a bow. She turned to us. “That was fun. Maybe we’ll see you some other time.”

  “But quit messing around with the Auto-Translator,” said Samm. “It really wears on the Probability Mechanism.”

  “The what?” said Fred.

  “We will,” said Sam. “But what the heck is a renga, and how do we do one?”

  “Short verses linked together,” said Jo. “Each one connects with the verse before it. The whole thing tells a story by hopping around. But the good news is, The Book scans your recent time memory, then writes out the verse you are thinking. All you have to do is read it.”

  “We knew that,” said Fred, Sam, and I.

  “Right,” said Jo. “I’ll start.” Jo turned and knelt with The Book in her lap. She opened it and read:

  “Green morning mist

  A good day to travel.”

  She handed The Book to me. I thought about our day and saw my verse write itself. I read it out:

  “Red Devils

  Red ants

  Marching on the Tokaido Road.”

  Freddi read:

  “Wooden sword

  hack attack.

  Watch out, Great-granddad.”

  Fred read:

  “Hot steaming

  Noodles are


  Samm read:

  “A butterfly flaps its wings

  in Brooklyn.

  Storm in Edo.”

  Sam looked around the room of samurai, then at Zou. Without even reading, he spoke his verse:

  “Flag moving, wind moving

  Time warping

  Mind moving.”

  Tokugawa smiled a huge samurai smile.

  The most peaceful swirl of green mist we have ever felt wrapped us up like a baby in its mom’s arms. Time Warp poetry.

  Zou and Honda dipped a slight farewell bow.

  Fred, Sam, and I bowed to Freddi, Samm, and Jo. I had a feeling we probably would see them like Jo said, “some other time.”

  Then we disappeared like Mount Fuji behind the mist.


  The green mist drained away. Fred and I were back at Sam’s kitchen table. Sam was back standing in his ready karate pose. The last of the mist slipped into The Book. Sam collapsed into a kitchen chair.

  “Oh table. Oh books. Oh home,” said Sam. He laid his hands on the table to make sure it was real. “It’s so good to be home safe and sound.”

  Fred and I looked at him.

  “Well, mostly sound anyway,” I said.

  “Safe,” said Fred. “Definitely safe.”

  We kept looking at Sam, not quite knowing how to tell him.

  “What?” said Sam. “What are you two staring at? That was a pretty amazing zen samurai verse I came up with, wasn’t it?”

  “Yeah, amazing,” I said.

  “Yeah, a real samurai verse,” said Fred.

  We couldn’t take our eyes off Sam’s head.

  “A real samurai,” I said. “I’ll bet that’s what happened. Your verse was so samurai, that The Book—”

  The downstairs doorbell buzzer buzzed.

  Sam jumped up. “That’s probably my mom. Put The Book away. We’ll tell her we learned all this stuff studying samurai.”

  “Oh yeah,” said Fred.

  I heard Sam’s mom’s footsteps coming up the stairs. Sam went to get the door.

  Time warped and started speeding up.

  There was no other way but to just tell him.

  We couldn’t take our eyes off Sam’s head.

  “Yeah, that’s it,” I said quickly. “We’ll tell her we were studying samurai and got so carried away that you ... uh ... shaved half your head and put the rest of your hair in a ponytail.”

  Sam turned back and looked at Fred and me. He reached up to feel his samurai shave and ponytail.

  “Sam Samurai,” said Fred.

  Time warped and ran out.

  Sam’s mom opened the door.


  You did come up with some interesting research on the origins of haiku. But you didn’t follow the haiku form, and didn’t each give three examples.

  Ms. Basho




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