“The Kimono” Chapter 20, a rewrite….

Some here have read a few chapters of “The Kimono“, a novel I have been writing for about three years.  A friend asked me to give an explanation of the book because it was rather confusing to come in on a few chapters and understand what was going on.

Mari is a Japanese/American woman, married to an American, and now in Kyoto, Japan while her husband, some systems analyst, is doing a big job for some corporation.

Mari buys an ancient kimono and when she dons it, is transported from the 21st century to the 16th.  There she literally lands at the feet of a daimyo (feudal warlord) in the North West region of Japan. He has utilized the kimono before to bring him women, where he plays with them like they are mice. But this is the first time it has snagged a ‘modern’ woman.

He has ‘magical’ abilities because he is also one of the Yamabushi.  He runs afoul of things because he can’t summon the kimono to take this annoying modern woman back to her century, but decides she might be useful to him because of her (as he supposes) view of history:  will he vanquish another daimyo who threatens his territory?  Mari doesn’t have a clue, isn’t that versed in Japanese history, but she is about to become acquainted with Japanese mythology. She decides that her supposed knowledge of history is keeping her alive within this warlord’s presence.

Plus, she writes good tanka and he admires this in her.  This period was a generally peaceful time when daimyos developed a taste for the arts and culture.

What is important to me in writing this book is to delve into the fascinating mythology of both Shinto/Buddhist/Yamabushi belief systems and how it impacts upon the culture.  The mythology holds throughout the centuries and the Yamabushi hold center stage in the struggle against the Tokugawa dynasty.

This isn’t exactly history, though.  It’s also a quirky love story.  Maybe.

Lady Nyo

Chapter 20, THE KIMONO

They continued on the coastal road hugging the dark sea, taking detours as Lord Mori desired.  Some ri they walked on well- maintained wide, sandy roadways.   Stands of cherry trees like pink sentinels stood at attention along the road.  Some detours were travelled upon stony descents.  Going through forests of pine and camphor wood the roads were of pounded rock with smaller rock wedged for a smoother surface.

Mari’s feet were chaffed by the straw sandals.  Her legs were starting to hurt because even though she had been relatively athletic back in her century, this journey had lasted all day and into the early evening.  Lady Nyo kept up chatter to entertain her, but Mari wanted to sit and be still:  the kago would have to do.  When Mari told Lady Nyo she could no longer walk, Lady Nyo clapped her hands and the bearers appeared.  Mari sat in the wicker chair and pulled the gauze mosquito net around her.  She would watch and think in silence.

The small detours Lord Mori took did not have many fellow travelers, but on the main roadway they were part of the great, busy stream of humanity.  Most travelers walked, but some rode as they did, and there were many kagos with straw sandaled bearers naked except for loincloths and twisted towels around their heads.  Mari saw an old woman bent double with a huge bundle of twigs gathered for firewood. Peasants with their children as pack animals got off the road as they approached and bowed to the ground, not daring to look up at the horses or men.

There were merchants with hired guides and guards, going from one town to another, their pack mules almost invisible with goods.  Minor officials with their small black hats and their straw travelling robes were accompanied by their servants.  There were lantern makers swinging poles with bamboo ribbed paper lanterns, and scribes who would write letters and poems for a few paper wrapped stringed coin.  There were travelling priests, their prayer boxes around their necks and their begging bowls attached at their waists with twine. Some women, probably merchants wives, rode in swinging kagos like their own.

They met other samurai, but people were always respectful. All bowed from their horses if they were mounted, or bowed from the road if not.

Of course all were polite to Lord Mori’s retinue, for any man mounted on a good horse with two swords was accorded the greatest respect.  That they rode with no standard in front nor a large group of men or servants still accorded them the regard of other travelers.  To show a lapse in manners could have a head roll in the sand from a flash of a sword. Had their fellow travelers known the powerful daimyo that passed them on the road in such humble attire, they would tremble in fear and relate this day to their grandchildren.

They passed many road side shrines, and Mari glimpsed small temple shrines set back from the road, the paved stone approaches sprinkled by a temple monk to keep the dust of the road down.  Lady Nyo walked beside Mari’s kago for awhile and they came upon a group of stone sculptures, surprisingly outfitted with children’s bibs and clothes.  Lord Mori stopped his horse and sat under a tree with Lord Ekei and Nyo and talked, ignoring the women behind him.

“What are these stones, Lady Nyo? Why are they dressed in children’s clothes?”

“Ah.  Do you not recognize the Lord Jizo?  He, the protector of deceased children?  Do you not have the Lord Jizo in your graveyards?”

Mari looked at her for a long moment, and found her eyes filling with tears.  She could not answer.

“My Lady Mari”, said Lady Nyo softly, placing a smooth stone atop a group of others.  “Your baby is within the warm robes of Lord Jizo.  He is protecting him from the torments of Hell.  You have no fear your unborn child will be forgotten by Lord Jizo. He protects all the lambs.”

Mari approached the statue and placed a small, round pebble on the pile.  Her tears blurred her vision, and an unexpected sob rose in her throat. Gulping down her grief, so unexpected, she looked at the fine stitching of some mother’s hand, at the bib that surrounded the neck of Lord Jizo.  There was something so unbearably sad, so poignant in the humble piece of faded cloth.

“You know, the Lord Jizo has refused the Buddha state.  He has declared he would remain amongst us until hurt and suffering had fallen away from mankind.”

Lady Nyo sighed, and touched the sleeve of Mari’s travelling cloak.  “He is the most compassionate of Gods and a great comfort to us poor women.”

When the evening crickets started to sing, they entered a village, lit with paper lanterns strung from low poles along the road.  There was a small inn on one side of the road, topped with a cedar shake roof and a wide porch. A  low bench hugged  the wall outside the inn.

Lord Mori and the others dismounted while servants ran from the inn to help with the horses.  Even though they were not carrying any standard, it was clear to the innkeeper these were travelers with full purses.  The innkeeper and his family  stood on the porch bowing low while other servants came out with hot water and towels.

Mari and Lady Nyo sat on the bench while servants removed their sandals and washed their feet.  The smells of cooking inside wafted out to them and with much bowing by the innkeeper’s wife, they were lead to the baths.  Mari and Lady Nyo sat on a bench in a small room where they were stripped of their travelling kimonos and scrubbed with small bags of buckwheat hulls. Though nudity was not accorded much notice in this century, Mari still was uneasy.  Privacy was of a very different standard amongst these Japanese.

Rinsed with buckets of hot water, Mari watched it flow through the slatted wooden floor.  They climbed into a large wooden tub, heated with a charcoal burner beneath the structure and eased into the scalding water.  Mari was startled at the temperature, the steam making Lady Nyo look like a wavering ghost across from her. Before she closed her eyes she saw the plump, little breasts of Lady Nyo bob in the water as she lowered herself onto the seat. Mari had little room for herself because the tub was not that big.  The water started to work its magic and Mari’s bones started to melt.

She had lost all sense of time, but time for the last few months meant nothing to her.  No watch, no clock, the day was regulated by the almost silent activity of the servants around her. The nights were heralded by the soft music of crickets and the calls of bullfrogs in the pond.  Sleep came easily enough: it was as if her body ran on a different system.  She was almost undisturbed by dreams.

Her mind stilled and she was floating away in some strange and new way. Her sense of her own body disappeared as the heat of the water took over.  She had no idea how long she had been in this state when she felt her arm shaken.  Opening her eyes reluctantly, she saw Lady Nyo smiling at her.

“Lady Mari!  You must be hungry. We should dress and join the rest of our company.”

No, Mari was not hungry. The bath had taken all sensation of hunger or anything else from her.  She just wanted to go to sleep.

They were helped from the bath by two female servants and vigorously rubbed with thin towels. Mari was beet red from the neck down.  She felt like a boiled lobster, her bones like butter.

They were dressed in thin, white cotton kimonos with blue kimonos over these from the inn.  After a day on the road, they welcomed the clean clothes, which were scented with cedar from a chest somewhere in the inn.

Sitting on a cedar bench inside the small room, they were fitted with white tabi and then were bowed out of the bath.  In the corridor more servants bowed and led them to a private dining room where a maid outside the shoji screen knelt and pushed back the wood and paper panel. There was Lord Mori, Lord Ekei and Lord Nyo seated upon cushions around a low table in the middle of the room. Bowing to the men, they knelt and placed themselves on one side of the table.  Mari’s hair was damp but it had been combed and twisted with paper ribbons.  She felt presentable, and the dust from the road was forgotten.

Lord Mori had the same blue kimono on as did the other men.  She could see that they also had bathed, as his skin had a fierce blush beneath his chin.  He bowed from his seat to both of the women.

Immediately servants brought in trays and stacks of small, bamboo containers.  The smell of barbequed eel filled the room when the containers were opened.  Mari regained her hunger in a rush. Bowls of steamed, fragrant rice, dishes of pickled vegetables, raw fish so thin you could see the porcelain through it, steamed fish swimming in soy sauce, steamed vegetables, rice flavored with bean curd in gravies, thinly sliced bamboo and chestnuts, soups with miso and seaweed, dumplings stuffed with chicken and vegetables and more bamboo boxes of steamed rice, and bowls of boiled eggs.

Lady Nyo picked morsels of food from plates and platters and delicately placed them in front of Mari.  Lord Ekei said something too fast for Mari to understand, but the table erupted into laughter.  Lord Mori narrowed his eyes and cocked his head as he stared at her, an enigmatic smile crossing his face.  Mari blushed, supposing the joke was about her.  Lady Nyo whispered something about ‘boiled fish’ but Mari didn’t understand the reference.

When more servants had cleared the dishes from the low table, others brought brown bottles of saki and cups.  The men belched and burped and there was the occasional fart heard.  This was of no consequence apparently and Mari suppressed her surprise.  Of course! Manners would have been different four centuries from her own, and she had no reason to judge.

Bottles of warmed saki were replaced with new ones, and Mari and Lady Nyo’s cups were filled over and over.  Mari did not drink sake, but there was no helping it this night.  It was a deceptive liquor and if she didn’t use caution, she could easily become drunk.  The bath had worked on  her body, melting her bones and easing her muscles after a day in the kago and walking, but the sake would finish the job in no short order.

Lord Mori called for a story and Lord Ekei, his eyes bright with sake volunteered with a bow.

“Perhaps a ghost story to haunt our dreams?”  Lord Mori smiled broadly at Lord Ekei.

“Perhaps that would scare the women too much for them to sleep.  I have a better idea.”

A maid poured sake into the cups of all who sat listening, and then retreated to kneel by the door.  Lord Ekei drank his cup in one gulp and belched.

“In this very inn, many, many years ago, there was a guest named Hanshiro.  He was a hard working man, but not an especially fortunate man.”

Lord Ekei lowered his voice dramatically, drawing in his listeners and Mari could not help but lean forward, anticipating his story.

“Hanshiro was rich enough.  He owned a small family sake factory and was able to afford a pilgrimage to Ito.  He joined those of his village, which is not too far from here, only across the mountain and through the salt marshes.  These other travelers were drawn by lottery, and they all had joined a club and paid their dues.  Hanshiro wasn’t one who won that year’s lottery, but was rich enough to afford to travel.  He wanted, as the rest of them, to visit the many shrines and to attend the Ito festival where the dancers are considered the most beautiful in the whole region.  The musicians were famous, too.”

Lord Ekei paused in his story while the maid refilled his sake.

“Now Hanshiro hadn’t been married all that long, and though he tried to enjoy himself away from his village and mother and father, he started to miss his bride.  He did watch the Ito dancers, and compared their beauty  to his wife at home.  It was not that he knew his bride very well, she being a very shy and silent woman, but he thought perhaps she would grow fonder of him, and he of her after the children started to come.”

Lord Ekei looked around at his listeners.  He had their attention.

“He was on the road for weeks, far from home, and with each day he missed his new bride more and more.  When he got home there was a great party in honor of the village pilgrims, and their return, and so he did not have any time to greet his wife in the proper way.  The celebration lasted all night and into the early hours of the next day.  Hanshiro drank much sake, and staggered home to his house, the cheers and blessings of his friends and neighbors ringing in his ears.  There, through blurry eyes, he saw his modest wife, kneeling besides the downturned bed, waiting patiently for Hanshiro to make his way home.  She helped him undress and put him to bed, slipping under the covers and turning her back to him.  Hanshiro fell into a drunken sleep and snored until the morning.

When it was barely light, he could hear his mother wailing and grabbing his sword, he staggered to the kitchen.  There he learned that his bride, his new wife, had run away with the head clerk of the sake factory in the early hours of the night.  Hanshiro could not think straight, but his father could.  He immediately sent out men to capture and return both lovers and make them face their punishment.”

Lord Ekei sighed, and drew a long breath.

“They found the lovers in a cheap inn, and recovered the money the clerk had stolen from the factory.  They tied them back- to- back on a horse and placarded them with signs telling their crimes of thievery and adultery, and led them off to the execution grounds. Hanshiro never married again.”

The men in the room erupted in laughter.  Even Lord Mori grinned, but the rest of the men sitting there pounded the table and laughed as if this was a funny story.  Mari was shocked, so shocked that her mouth hung open and she stared rudely at the men.  She caught the glance of Lady Nyo seated next to her husband, and saw the look of concern.

What could these morons be laughing at, thought Mari.  This is a tragedy, not a comedy.

She glanced at Lord Mori, and he narrowed his eyes, yet continued to watch her.  Mari broke her stare and looked at her hands in her lap.  Apparently these men, these people, were very different from the Japanese she thought she knew from her own century.  Did Lord Ekei pick this story to rattle her? To make her ashamed of her own deeds?

“Lady Mari, have you heard of Saigyo, the priest poet?” said Lord Ekei.

Mari’s thoughts were stopped by his voice, and she raised her head and stared at him.

Of course she had, but only as one of the poets who were travelling monks. She couldn’t place the era of Saigyo, but thought it rather strange Lord Ekei would ask her in such a public way.  Of course as he was the closest advisor to Lord Mori information about Mari would have been shared.  Perhaps dangerous information, too.

“Yes, my lord, but I haven’t read his poems in many years,” said Mari  with a polite and distracted bow.

Lord Ekei looked at her through sake blurred eyes. He chuckled softly and blinked.

Mari wondered just how drunk this devil was.  And what was his agenda?

Jane Kohut-Bartels,

Copyrighted, 2010

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2 Responses to ““The Kimono” Chapter 20, a rewrite….”

  1. Malcolm Says:

    I want to read more! And I have one small crit – the word you want about her feet is “chafed”, not ‘chaffed’.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Oops! My bad….

    I would like to read more, too…Malcolm. But it will have to be written first.

    The Universe grant us more years and life to do so…. There are kami around the corner from this chapter and it should be funny.

    Thanks, Malcolm for reading and that…ah…correction.

    Lady Nyo


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