Ghosts and Monsters! A piece of Chapter 3, “The Kimono”.

Oni, an ogre.

This has been a wonderful week of writing and rewriting, mostly of “The Kimono”.  I was stuck for a couple of weeks how the story should continue, but characters came to my rescue and the story went on. Now I have a couple of weeks of research into the mythology of ancient Japan;  my days have begun with tales of Yokai (literally demons/spirits/monsters), oni (ogres) and obake, (yokai who are shapeshifters) and many others.

Japanese mythology is filled with terrifying and funny characters pulled from Buddhist, Shinto and earlier animistic religions.  You can get lost in this mythology, and though it is full of shapeshifters, these ‘beings’ also shift in ‘intent’.  At times, they are bad spirits, and over the centuries, they become rather benign, even helpful.

One of my favorite mythological (??) characters are the Tengu: originally from China, they were dogs with wings,   with magical powers.  Over the centuries they became more bird-like….with noses, long red noses that replaced the beaks of birds.  Still magical, they also became teachers of martial arts (The Great Lord Sojobo for one), healers and samurai.

The Yamabushi, a sect of Shugendo, were believed to be taught early on by these Tengu:  as healers, priests and warriors.  Perhaps because the Yamabushi were mountain dwellers, bands of men who could also be mercentaries, and the Tengu were also mountain dwellers, well, perhaps the mythology grows side by side.

In any case, there is a lot to study.  Although “The Kimono” is certainly a work of fiction, I try to present cultural aspects as closely to the ‘truth’ as possible.  There is just so much color and substance in this Japanese mythology that one would be robbing  readers and writers if the attempt wasn’t made.  The richness doesn’t make for boring research at all.  In fact, the problem is drawing yourself away from the  research to write.

This chapter is long, so I am posting only a piece of it.  In the writing, I wanted to show some of the stories of ghosts, and I only scratched the surface.  This culture is wild with imagination.

This was written over a year ago, and needs rewrite, but for now, I’m letting it slide.

This is a very early chapter in the novel, because this week I just finished Chapter 18.  I’m making slow progress.

Lady Nyo

Part of Chapter 3, “The Kimono”

Mari awoke next to Steven.  She watched him breathe, his chest rising and falling, heard his gentle snoring.  The kimono lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. Mari slipped out of bed and picked it up.

The trees are almost bare now, she thought distractedly, looking through the window. Holding the kimono to her naked breasts, she buried her face into the heavy silk.  Tears began to soak the dull silk.

Only a strange dream, Mari, nothing more.

She walked around in a haze, wondering what had happened to her.  Details of her dream did not dissolve like dreams generally do but became clearer. Something had happened, and the raw ache between her legs told her something had happened to her.  Not all she remembered could be a dream.

Later that morning Mari dressed and went to the Higashiyama region in Kyoto by the eastern hills, where she bought the kimono. The strange feeling Mari had when she woke that morning persisted as she walked in a gentle rain up Sannenzaka, the stair street, where the old wooden- front shops were.  She looked into the windows and saw the kiyomizuyaki sets, traditional and simple ceramics used in the tea ceremony.   There were small, narrow streets that led off Sannenzaka, but she couldn’t find the shop where she bought the kimono.  Nothing here looked familiar.  After an hour of searching, she sat down on a wooden bench under a now-naked gingko tree and watched people walking past.  Old couples leaning upon each other, garbed in dull, black kimonos, young couples with children, dressed in western clothes, and a couple of demure, giggling Maikos clattering by on their high wooden getas.

The rain stopped, barely misting the streets and air. Mari turned her eyes upwards to the clouds above her.  She remembered a part of the dream where four cranes flew in the distance as she stood in the castle’s window.  Perhaps beckoned by her thoughts three white cranes flew overhead and Mari’s eyes followed their flight, her eyes filling again with tears.  Shaking her head, she shivered though the day was not cold.

Suddenly she heard the sounds of horns and drums and down Sannenzaka street came a small procession. The horns were conch shells, the drums small hand-held instruments. They were all men and at first she thought they were priests from one of the temples in the area. She heard people say they were Yamabushi.  Mari asked a man next to her what were Yamabushi?  He looked at her askance.

“Magicians and healers, you know, kenza and miko.”

‘Ah, thank you” Mari said bowing politely.  “Yes, Yamabushi!”

As if she knew what that was, or kenza and miko for that matter.

Seeing  she obviously was a foreigner, he whispered that the fellow at the back was “Fudo”, a joker of a Buddha with a sword and noose. Mari asked him what the noose and sword represented. He said it was actually a lasso to save you from Hell, for binding up destructive passions.  The sword was for cutting through delusions, foolishness. There was something vaguely familiar in all this but Mari couldn’t place it.

That evening, Mari and Steven were expected to attend an unusual ritual, something the hostess had called ‘Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai’, ghost stories ritual. There would be a storyteller, a member of the Yamabushi sect, or so said Miyo.  Mari met Miyo at a small company function when they first arrived in Kyoto.

Ah, thought Mari, perhaps that is where I have heard the word “Yamabushi”.

It was a ritual of evocation where a hundred candles were burned, said Miyo when she telephoned Mari to invite them.  The spiritual energy was summoned along with a ghost story for each candle.  As the short story was told, the candle was blown out and the energy compounded.  This time there would be only four candles and four stories, but four was the number of Death.  Miyo said this ritual would include ofuda, strips of Buddhist sutras: prayers for the protection from the supernatural.

When Mari told Steven about the evening’s séance, he refused to go.  He claimed no interest in such superstition, so Mari went alone.  Considering Steven’s disdain, it was just as well. He could show his opinion in a nasty way, and Miyo was the only friend Mari had.

Mari walked the short distance to her friend’s house. Kyoto was a mass of building activity and Mari was glad to see these quaint frame houses preserved.  So much of the old architecture of the city had been torn down and replaced with modern structures.  She entered a little gate and found she was in a small Japanese garden, the sand raked in eddies around the boulders.  Miyo told her the house was one once owned by an old Samurai around 1910.  He had become an ardent gardener.

Miyo was standing at the door, bowing to her.  She wore the usual formal black kimono of a married woman and smiled encouraging as she came up the walk.  Mari entered the house and was led into a room on the right. There were about eight other people sitting around a low table. Mari was introduced to the friends of Miyo there, mostly elderly people, more of Miyo’s age than Mari’s. Everyone stood and bowed as Mari bowed back.

Miyo brought in a tea service and dishes of pastry with sweet bean filling.  Mari talked quietly with an elderly couple to her left. Seated to her right was a man dressed in kimono, who looked to be in his 50’s.  His name was Hiro Takado and he was the story teller.  There were four candles on the table and when refreshments were cleared, Hiro Takado lit the candles.

Mari listened to his first story, as Miyo whispered a loose translation in her ear. It was a ghost story, a man who lost his wife and  ‘found’ her again on the road.  It was not exactly scary, but did seem to impress the other listeners, who laughed and looked nervously around.

Hiro Takado blew out the first candle.  Mari noticed the room had become dimmer. Dusk had arrived. Two more stories, the third about a young woman at a crossing with no features to her face. Mari was getting into the spirit of the evening, feeling her stomach flutter. There was only one candle left on the table. The other guests, clutching their ofuda, muttered tittered nervously at the end of the story.    Each candle’s demise summoned more spiritual energy and became a beacon for the dead. They were invited amongst the living.

Hiro Takado took a sip of water and started the last kaidan.  An old samurai had fallen in love with a young woman who gave him her favor and cruelly disappeared.  She left her kimono behind in his bed.  She was a married woman, now an adulterer.  The old samurai searched high and low for his jilting lover. Finally he wrapped himself in her kimono, lay down under a cedar tree and died. The last candle was extinguished.

Mari waited breathlessly, strangely effected by the soft words of the storyteller.  The others waited in silence until Hiro Takado started a chant.

“The dead walk this night

Lost voiceless souls

Wind in the trees

Carry their moans

Carry their groans

Up to our doors.

Open and greet them

Bow to their sadness

Open and greet them

Soon we will be them.”

Miyo whispered into Mari’s ear.  “This is a prayer of invitation, do not be surprised if something happens. Mr. Takado is known for his abilities.”

Mari glanced at the storyteller and his features seemed to swim before her eyes, a slight change in his face, his brows fuller, his mouth broadened, perhaps it was the smile he gave to Mari. Something happened to his features in the half-light of the now darkening room.  With a gasp and a hand to her mouth Mari realized she was now looking at the face of the samurai in the dream.  It was only later when she was walking home, when her heart was still that could she think clearly.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008, 2010

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