Zenkai, the son of a samurai, journeyed to Edo
and there became the retainer of a high official. He fell
in love with the official’s wife and was discovered. In
self-defense he slew the official. Then he ran away with
Both of them later became thieves. But the
woman was so greedy that Zenkai grew disgusted.
Finally, leaving her, he journeyed far away to the
province of Buzen, where he became a wandering
To atone for his part, Zenkai resolved to
accomplish some good deed in his lifetime. Knowing of
a dangerous road over a cliff that had caused the death
and injury of many persons, he resolved to cut a tunnel
through the mountain there.
Begging food in the daytime, Zenkai worked at
night digging his tunnel. When thirty years had gone by,
the tunnel was 2 280 feet long, 20 feet high and 30 feet
Two years before the work was completed, the
son of the official he had slain, who was a skillful
swordsman, found Zenkai out and came to kill him in
“I will give you my life willingly,” said Zenkai.
“Only let me finish this work. On the day it is
completed, then you may kill me.”
So the son awaited the day. Several months
passed and Zenkai kept on digging. The son grew tired
of doing nothing and began to help with the digging.
After he had helped for more than a year, he came to
admire Zenkai’s strong will and character.
At last the tunnel was completed and the
people could use it and travel in safety.
“Now cut off my head,” said Zenkai. “My work is
“How can I cut off my own teacher’s head?”
asked the younger man with tears in his eyes.
A. Check Your Vocabulary
Fill in the blanks with the missing letters to form the
words from the text whose meanings are given below.
1. _ e _ a _ _ e _ a long-employed servant
2. s _ _ w killed by violence
3. _ r _ e _ y wanting excessively to acquire
4. _ _ s _ u _ t _ _ offended
5. _ a _ _ _ r _ n _ roaming
6. _ e _ _ _c _ _ _ t beggar
7. a _ _ n _ make amends for sin
8. _ _ n _ e l underground passage
B. Check Your Reading
1. Who are the characters in the story?
2. Where did the story take place?
3. What happened between Zenkai and the high
4. What was Zenkai forced to do when they were found
5. Why did the relationship end?
6. What did Zenkai do to atone for his sins?
7. Who was Zenkai’s unexpected guest?
8. What bargain did he strike with the slain officer’s
9. While helping him build the tunnel, what did the son
discover about Zenkai?
10. Why did the son refuse to kill Zenkai in the end?
1. What great virtue did Zenkai possess despite his
2. How did the boy see Zenkai’s goodness despite what
3. Analyze the different emotions that engulfed the son
and Zenkai throughout the story. Which emotion won in
the end? Why?
4. When the boy said, “How can I cut off my own
teacher’s head?” what change took place in him?
5. How did the story reflect the great respect that the
Japanese have for their teachers?
6. Is great respect for teachers evident in our society?
Explain your answer.