“The Stillness of Death”, from “A Seasoning of Lust”

I am down with the flu so I am coasting.  The only good thing about this is  people don’t expect you to move much.  I’m presently sitting in state surrounded with books I have been trying to read for months.  If I act sick enough family leaves me alone and the only problem with that is you can’t run a household which consists of a lot of animals without blowing your cover.  I am yelling downstairs, getting hoarse, trying to evaluate who is where (dogs) and what is happening with the cats.  I am also falling asleep with the daytime meds that claim this doesn’t happen.

I have this pile of books, one of them Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, a fascinating post WWII study of Japanese life and culture.  She was ordered to Washington to do this study, and since it was during 1944, she did it by interviewing Japanese detainees in camps here in the States.

Now we have hundreds of books on Japan and the Japanese, but back then there was only John Embree’s Japanese Nation and some few studies done in the late 19th century.  So she’s breaking a lot of ground here, and one of the sections (actually a theme that runs through the entire book) is about shame and guilt.  She was intrigued that the Japanese she spoke with were less concerned with internalized, standardized rules about right and wrong, and more interested in others’ opinions.

Frankly, this is a deep study and blows the lid off a lot of mythology we Westerners have about the Japanese psyche and culture.

Ack!  I am also trying to get my bleary eyes around Kato’s  A History of Japanese Literature (the first thousand years).

Perhaps I will need two influenza to do this.

The Japanese have the most beautiful books, bound in such lovely styles, and the glossiness of them are a delight to hold in your hand.  Love Songs from the Man’yoshu is a book so beautifully done that it seems a physical work of art.  It is, because the papercuts inside are unreal.  The poetry, too.

Perhaps it is because the heat down here in the South is abating a bit, the rains are coming and there is a touch of that lovely fall we race through August just to sniff and embrace, but I am turning my head towards this study.  “The Zar Tale” is mostly in the can, and I am anxious to get back to a half-finished novel  “The Kimono” and see what can be made with that.

Beginning that book was like falling down a rabbit hole.  It started with an actual antique kimono I bought from a dealer in Atlanta, and it’s a heavy, black silk crepe, something a married woman would wear.  There are 5 chrysanthemum crests on  the body of the piece, with an ivory tan inside, but what is most beautiful, intriguing is this river of silver cloth embossed with embroidery that runs like a river around the hem in waves and up into the inner construction of the furisode.  It dates from the Art Deco period.  When I had that gown in my hands, it was like I was transported somewhere, where I didn’t actually know at the time, but I was to soon.  Writing a physical description to someone was like a transport back into some other time.  So….this book, a time warp from the 21st century with a magical, haunted kimono to the 16th century was born.

I am rambling now, and I use the excuse of the meds.  But pick up Benedict’s book if you want a good study.  Of course, there probably are many better now, but this work was seminal.

Lady Nyo


Lady Nyo knelt on her cushion, her tea cup before her. She did not move.

Lord Nyo was drunk again and when in his cups, the household scattered for hiding places. In the kitchen was a crawl space. Three servants were hiding their heads under there and a fourth was wearing an iron pot on his head.

Lord Nyo was known for three things: archery, temper and his drunkenness.

Tonight he strung the seven foot bow and donned his quiver high on his back. He looked at the pale face of his wife, his eyes blurry, and remembered the first time he bedded her. She was fifteen. Her body had been powdered silk, bones like butter with the blush of ready passion coursing through her like a tinted stream. She was still beautiful, but too fragile for his tastes. Better a plump courtesan, not all delicate and saddened beauty.

In quick succession he drew back the bow and let five arrows fly through the shoji screen. Each grazed his wives’ ear.

Lady Nyo knew her life hung on her stillness. She willed herself dead. Death, after all these years with him, would have been welcome.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

From “A Seasoning of Lust” lulu.com

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