“The Kimono”, Chapter 17

For almost three years, I have been writing “The Kimono”, a time sweep from the 21st century back to the 16th.  I have posted some of this rather long novel on this blog, but it is still be be finished and rewritten.  This chapter is one to be rewritten.

It’s summer, and the heat is long and heavy on my head.  Air conditioning doesn’t do much because once out of it, the exhaustion from this incredible and unusual weather becomes overwhelming. So I apologize for the copy and hope with the cooling of weather to apply myself to the necessary rewrite.  Right now, nothing satisfies.  It is a season of disgruntlement.

Lady Nyo


Mari stood at the window, a copy of the Man’yoshu in her hand.  Love poems, and of course in a language she couldn’t read.  Literally “The Collection of a Thousand Leaves”.

Some scribe had taken the time to carefully illustrate this book with erotic drawings.  They were exquisite, though rather pornographic to her eye.  Compiled during the 8th century, the book was considered the pinnacle of Japanese verse, even in this more ‘modern’ 16th century.  But eroticism to these Japanese didn’t seem to have many boundaries.  Sex was very natural to them, and even nudity. They did not have a concept of sin, at least of sin that Mari understood.

Lady Nyo was ordered by Lord Mori to teach her to read and write.  He was of the opinion, according to Lady Nyo, that Mari should be entertained while learning a difficult language.  Therefore he gave her this book.

Entertained!  How different their cultures were, stretching across the centuries like two different oceans separated by mountains and sand.  It was now over three months since the miscarriage, but her mood had not greatly improved.  Her heart was a mass of confusion, and she would wake in the night, sweating.  She dreamed constantly but could not remember much, just disjointed scenes and sometimes in clashing and violent colors.  What they were she hadn’t a clue.  Dreams before were fathomable, but now?  They were strips of some unrolling and unending painting, without words or knowable meaning to her.  Just confused sensations but with a hidden terror.

Under the patient instruction of Lady Nyo, Mari was beginning to recognize some of the words.  She still couldn’t construct a decent sentence, though.  There were all sorts of issues with the Japanese language, and her attempts at forming a sentence sent Lady Nyo into peals of laughter.

Well, at least she was entertaining to someone, if not entertained.

The house was a flurry of activity.  Lord Mori was to visit sometime in the afternoon, and Mari felt trepidation about this.  He had not since her miscarriage, but Lady Nyo said he had come; she just was asleep each time due to the medicine prescribed by the doctor.  The only evidence was a short poem inked on his fan. Something about laughter and fireflies.  It was a continuation of the poems when they first met all those months before.

Mari turned from the window and there were two small women kneeling outside the entrance to the room. They bowed with their heads to the wood floor as soon as her eyes fell upon them.  Lady Nyo came up behind and bowed to Mari.

“So sorry to disturb you, Lady Mari.  These women are here to attend to the house.  Would you please come out to the rokka and view the niwa?

Mari nodded and put her book down on a small chest.  She recognized the words rokka and niwa as the porch overlooking the garden and niwa as garden.  She was beginning to recognize the names of her environment.

“Oh, Lady Mari!  If you would like, I will come with you and we can read together those wonderful poems.”

What she really meant, thought Mari, is I can read these poems to you, because you are still stupid about our language.  Of course, Lady Nyo was the picture of good manners and would never say anything to affront her, but Mari was foul in mood and took offense secretly at many things.

The house was more like a cottage, with small, bare rooms constructed from a central passageway, closed off to the hallway by shoji screens.  They walked through the house towards the back where kneeling, Lady Nyo pushed a screen open and they faced a narrow platform that looked out upon a small garden.

It was enclosed by a low stone wall, with a very old and misshapen tree in the middle.  There were raked pebbled paths and small green bushes with buds and a few open flowers.  Upon the wall were vines with just a touch of the spring greening.  The cherry blossoms were beginning to bloom and this event was as important to the Japanese of this century as much as it was of Mari’s own.  She was told how beautiful they were on the castle grounds when in full bloom.

The morning mist, kasumi, had lifted but there was a possibility of rain to come.  Mari liked the rain, it fit her moods.  She could withdraw from the company of Lady Nyo and look out her window, wrapped in a silk quilt against the cool air.  As she recovered, she spent less time sleeping late and would get up earlier.  She liked the kasumi, it comforted her.  Perhaps it put a barrier between her and the world, or perhaps it was something that was not overlooked in this century, but observed and remarked upon as a gift of Nature.  There had been a drought for a couple of years, and Lord Mori had mentioned the rice production had dropped.  Famine was always around the corner and after all, the basis of the economy was rice production.

Mari sat on a wood bench on the rokka overlooking the garden and above the pebbled paths.  The mists had all gone from the morning, replaced by a gentle wind.  White cranes were lifting off the water down by the shore and their black legs trailed like stiff ribbons behind white bodies.

It was peaceful.  She felt her nerves untangle, fall away.  Breathing in quietly, she could smell the scent of plum trees with the garden wall.  The wind made cascades of plum-snow litter the raked pebbles.

“Oh Lady Mari, I have bought your book outside.  If it pleases you, may I read aloud a few poems?”

Mari could not refuse this simple request.  Lady Nyo’s role was to educate her in these finer arts and see she took it seriously.  It was not as if it were her idea to do so, it was clear it came from Lord Mori.  Mari could see Lady Nyo was devotedly following orders.

“Oh, Lady Mari!  Here is a poem by the Princess Nukata.  She was very famous many centuries ago for her lovers.  She was wife to Prince Oama and then the Emperor himself!

“As I stay here yearning

While I wait for you, my lord,

The autumn wind blows,

Swaying the bamboo blinds

Of my lodging.”

“Oh, isn’t that the most romantic  poem?”  Lady Nyo clasp the book to her flattened bosom.

“Well, I would think it would be a matter of taste, my Lady.”  Mari didn’t want to sound sour, but the poem did not move her as it obviously did the reader.

“Oh, Lady Mari”, said Lady Nyo plaintively.  “Perhaps the part of the poem that is more obscure is a key here.  The autumn wind in this poem represents the visitor….or builds yearning for him.   And this morning we have such a lovely, gentle wind blowing.”

Lady Nyo looked at Mari hopefully.   Mari laughed and asked her to read more.

“Tonight, too,

Does my woman’s pitch-black hair

Trail upon the floor

Where she sleeps without me?”

Mari sat up straighter, her interest piqued.  Now, that poem had interest and so modern in sentiment.

But why were they separated? There were more secrets than answers in this sort of poetry.

“Read more.”

Lady Nyo smiled delightedly and looked for another poem to please Lady Mari.

“Though I sleep with

A single thin rush mat

For my bedding,

I am not cold at all,

When I sleep with you, my lord.”

Lady Nyo smiled over the book, again clasped to her bosom.  “She must have been a poor woman to be only able to afford such bedding. But here’s another poem that speaks to men.”

“Though I sleep beneath

soft, warm bedding,

how cold my skin is,

for I do not share my bed

with  you, my woman.”

“Now, that is nice”, said Mari wishfully.  And how modern . A man who shows his main concern in bed:  warm feet.

Lady Nyo picked out another poem.

“Brave man like the catalpa bow

That, once drawn,

Does not slacken—

Can it be that he is unable to bear

The vicissitudes of love?”

As soon as Lady Nyo read this particular poem, she blushed deeply and looked uncomfortable.  Mari was quick to see her reaction.

“Lady Nyo.  I am a stranger here.  I have no history among your people.  Clearly that is obvious.  But please tell me.  Does Lord Mori have a wife, or children?”

Lady Nyo raised her eyes to Mari’s and they expressed sadness.

“Ah, this was a long time ago, but Lord Mori still mourns, I think.  It is hard to tell with men, but Lord Mori, though powerful daimyo, is still a man.”

Lady Nyo moved closer on the bench to Mari and dropped her voice to a whisper.

“Years ago, before my Lord Nyo and I were vassals to Lord Mori, he lost his young wife and children to the sea.  They were travelling to a city on the southern coast and a terrible storm took hold of the sea and all were lost.  Lord Mori was not with them, being on land.”

Lady Nyo sighed deeply, her eyes cast down.  “I understand he travelled to a sacred mountain and for years lived in the forests.  He only talked to their ghosts and shunned all of men.”

Mari felt her breath catch in her chest.  Perhaps this was key to his personality.  He was certainly a strange man.  Even for a 16th century daimyo.

“But surely he has remarried? Does he have a wife in the castle I have not seen?”

Lady Nyo’s eyes widened.  “Oh, no!  To my knowledge, Lord Mori has never remarried.  Certainly she would be amongst the women with Lady Idu.  Oh, it would be hard to ignore a daimyo’s wife!”

Mari thought about this.  Yes, she would be first among all the women in the castle.

“But perhaps he has a wife that lives apart from him?”

“No, not that I have ever heard of one, Lady Mari.”  Lady Nyo shook her head.

“But of course men and women many times do not live together.  So that would account why we know nothing about a wife.  However, surely my husband would know of this and tell me.  But in all these years, he has said nothing.”

The expression on Mari’s face took Lady Nyo by surprise.

“ A man and wife don’t live together?  How strange.”  As soon as Mari said this, she realized she had made a mistake.

“Oh, Lady Mari!  Surely the married people where you come from don’t live together after marriage?”

“Well, actually they do.  Except if the husband has to travel for his…ah….business.”

“Oh! People are so different it seems.  Only the farmers live together, but that is because their women are needed in the fields.

That morning Mari learned that among the upper classes, and especially within the aristocracy, men and women lived apart.  The visits were planned, and each was notified by a messenger.  Now that poem of autumn winds and the bamboo blinds blowing had more meaning.  These marriages were conjugal visits.

Lady Nyo went on:

“No, no wife I think, but the finest courtesans do visit him….or he them, from time to time.  It is only right and proper.”

“Who?  Tell me, Hana, do you know of the women?  What do they look like, have you seen them?”

Lady Nyo, touched Mari would use her name, blushed and shyly touched Mari’s hand next to her.

“Well, …..there was the beautiful courtesan Midori last year.  Oh, Lady Mari!  You should have seen her kimonos!!……Such silks and such colors!  She looked like a beautiful butterfly!”

Lady Nyo giggled quite like a girl and rushed to explain.  “I was passing from one hall to another on some endless errand and I saw her with attendants.  She was so beautiful!  Her skin was as white as a lily and her hair was as glossy as a blackbird’s wing.  Long, too.  She wore it unencumbered and it swept her hems. “

Mari chuckled to herself.  So, Lord Mori wasn’t the hermit he appeared at first to her.  He was man enough.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008, 2010

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10 Responses to ““The Kimono”, Chapter 17”

  1. Berowne Says:

    Sorry to hear of your disgruntlement; hope you regain your gruntles soonest. 🙂


  2. ladynyo Says:

    It’s the weather, bro.

    My gruntles have flown out the window. Even WITH ac this weather is untenable.

    In 40 years here, I’ve never seen a spring or beginning summer like this….95+ every day. What can August (the lost month) bring???

    Tempers are flaring….here and out there. I most worry about the strays….where will they get water? My dogs and cats just want to stay in the laundry room with the fan on them. Dogs on the floor, cats well above them on the cabinetry.

    Would love some ocean breezes.


  3. Margie Says:

    Suffering from the heat here, as well. Trying to move very little, even WITH air conditioning. Whoever thought I’d be praying for temps of 85!


  4. bren Says:

    Hi Jane, sorry to hear weather is so bad there. I will not say what it is here as I am sure it would add to your disgruntlement. Hope everything improves.


    p.s. another email bounced back to me again


  5. ladynyo Says:

    Ah geez, Bren! LOL!….I bet it’s in the low 80’s where you are….

    Improvement will come with September…..LOL!


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Yeah, Margie…puts things in perspective, neh?

    85 would be nice…sigh.


  7. bren Says:

    your writing is already so good but perhaps disgruntlement will even improve it


  8. ladynyo Says:


    The secret to writing in general is 1/2 mental sweat and 1/2 disgruntlement~!

    Hugs, Bren…



  9. Malcolm Miller Says:

    In the depths of Canberra winter your stories warm my heart. I always want to read more!


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Malcolm.

    In the depths of summer here in Atlanta, I would LIKE to write more, but the effort is exhausting!!!

    Thank you for reading and for your comments…they are always thought provoking!



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