A Different Tack

The story goes like this: While offering tea to the monk Takuan Soho, Iemitsu (1604–51, the third Tokugawa shogun) had his servants out in the garden fire a gun. It was a loud bang, but Takuan did not flinch at all. He remained quite calm and drank his tea. Iemitsu’s mischief had had no effect on him at all.

Iemitsu wanted somehow to knock Takuan down a peg or two, but he had remained composed even when a gun went off nearby. What could he do? One day Iemitsu was presented with a tiger from Korea. He smiled. If he could get Takuan into the cage with the tiger, even the monk was sure to break down and plead to be let out.

Of course, all would be revealed if Iemitsu called only Takuan and sent him into the cage, so the shogun gathered a number of feudal lords to see the tiger as well. The lords gasped in amazement at the sight of the grand tiger, which measured over two meters in length.

“Now,” asked Iemitsu, “is there anyone who would like to go inside the cage?” Iemitsu looked at the lords, who all looked downward so as to avoid his gaze.

“Tajima, how about you?” Iemitsu challenged the swordsman Yagyu Munenori, who was also known as Tajima no Kami. “Yes, certainly,” replied Yagyu. He approached the cage, held his sword in the Shinkage-ryu style, and stared at the tiger. The tiger bared its teeth and stared back at Yagyu. “Okay, open up!”

Yagyu entered the cage and, without pausing for a moment, confronted the tiger, approaching it step by step. Moving backward, the tiger kept staring at Yagyu, but it did not attack.

“Enough!” shouted Iemitsu. Yagyu nodded and cautiously moved backward, keeping his eyes on the tiger. When he reached the entrance of the cage, he called “Open up!” and stepped outside. Yagyu then breathed a sigh of relief, bowed to Iemitsu, and returned to his seat. His face was covered in sweat. The lords were full of admiration.

Turning a mischievous face to Takuan, Iemitsu then said, “And how about you, Takuan?” “Certainly,” the monk answered. He stepped forward to the cage and called “Open up!” The lords sympathized with Takuan, who was only wearing a robe. Iemitsu also was about to tell him to quit, but before he could do so, Takuan was already in the cage. Rather than pouncing on him, however, the tiger began to nestle up to him and eventually went to sleep, snoring away peacefully. Realizing that he had lost, Iemitsu called out “Enough!” As if parting with an old friend, Takuan stroked the tiger’s head, said he would come again, and came out of the cage.

It is a true story. Yagyu confronted the tiger without giving it an inch. Takuan gave it miles. The tiger confronted the person who challenged it and snuggled up to the person who did not. What Takuan did was to change tack from confronting the tiger to not confronting it. If the other party feels at ease with someone, they will speak to and trust that person. If they feel challenged, they will adopt a defiant attitude without giving an inch.

When the situation is unfavorable, you only make it more so by thinking and acting within the adverse conditions. You must move away from such an environment and alter your approach?in other words, take a different tack. As a result, unexpectedly favorable conditions will emerge.

Our current prime minister seems to have returned to his role as a civic movement activist. His pursuit of self-interest is giving rise to more and more difficulties and bringing distress to the nation. Obviously he has not thought about the meaning of this story.