“THE KIMONO”, CHAPTER 13

Image result for Tengus

Seven years ago I started writing “The Kimono”.  This was during the first flush of study ofJapanese culture.  Not that I was totally unfamiliar with this  culture, but I started to be serious.  This study led to a number of Japanese inspired works, and the latest,  “The Nightingale’s Song” will be published at the end of March, 2015. 

What also  of great interest were the Yamabushi, mountain (yama) dwellers,  a particular sect of priests.  Around them was the mythology of the Tengu: originally from China in the form of ‘the Celestial Dog”.  When it was moved to Japan around the 5-6th century, with the introduction of Buddhism,  (and tengu became part of Shinto mythology) it was in the form of a  bird, not dog, though Tengu can assume the presence of human form, but  with a large red nose.  Tengu were characters who tripped up proud and arrogant Buddhist priests, and were rather evil in the beginning.  In centuries later, they reformed and were more mischief makers.  In 1860, the Shogun issued a plea to the resident Tengu of a certain mountain to either leave for a festival, or to not make trouble. Tengu, along with the Yamabushi, were heavily involved in martial arts and weapon training.

I just finished a watercolor of a Tengu who figures in “The Nightingale’s Song” but had trouble trying to rotate it for this blog. This tengu resisted my attempts. Tengu are tricky and this one was no less so.

Lady Nyo

Koku: is a measure of rice…like a bushel. Wages to samurai and others were paid in koku.

Kunu: state…territory.  Japan was made up of 68 states, the Western daimyos fighting with the Eastern. Lord Mori is a Western daimyo in the mountains near Gassen (Moon) Mountain in the North West Japan.

CHAPTER 13, “THE KIMONO”

At the Hour of the Dragon, Lords Mori and Ekei were drinking the first of many cups of cha.

The morning dawned with peach colored clouds over the lake and raucous honking by resident geese.  It was cool this morning, though late spring, and the brazier did little to boil the water for the cha as Lord Mori poked more charcoal beneath the small fire. The brass kettle sweated with the cold water filled from a jug.

“Lord Tokugama will expect a report by the new moon.”

Lord Ekei’s voice was soft.  Except for the distant sound of waterfowl, there was little noise outside the castle except for the nightsoil men making their rounds. The buckets clanged against the old cobblestones as they dropped their poles to shovel in the manure left from beasts and oxen the day before.

“I know. He is expecting much detail.”  Lord Mori sipped at his cha, his face scowling into his cup.

“Our lord is expecting troops and provisions.” Lord Ekei blinked his eyes, trying to wake up.  It was still very early and the room cold.

“He asks much to put down a peasant rebellion.  It will just rise up again when the rains wash the blood from next spring’s soil.”

Lord Mori grunted into his cup, his face a mask.

“The problem” said Lord Ekei, pushing his point, “isn’t about what the peasants do, it’s about what the daimyos don’t do.”

“And what is that, my friend?”

“The corruption from the tax collectors breeds these rebellions.  Too much koku is taken from the fields and not enough left to live upon. Under heaven, there is nothing else to do but riot. Starving bellies are invitations to rebellion.”

Lord Mori grunted.  “This is the problem. Living in Edo for six months every two years.  The cost depletes the supplies.”

Lord Mori filled both cups with more hot water, blowing over the rising steam of his cup.

“Yes, yes, that is a large consideration, but until Heaven moves its bowels, nothing can be done about that.”

“A good strategy on the Emperor’s part would help. Or rather the Shogun. The effort to mobilize each daimyo in obedience to the court’s demands keeps us from each other’s throats.”

“I think we better do—“

Suddenly an overly large bird appeared at the window, and startled both lords.  It was big like a vulture and had a long red nose and dark iridescent feathers.  It was a tengu.

Shaking its feathers violently, a dust storm obscured it for a few seconds.  Then both lords saw a skinny priest, dressed in a filthy kimono appear. They bowed respectfully from their cushions.

“Man, those air currents! They would tear a bird’s feathers from his body. Got a cup of sake around?  Travel dehydrates me.”

This tengu was a priest from the Yamabushi clan. He hopped down from the window, scratching the side of his face where a scrawny gray beard covered it.

“Lice,” he announced with a grin.

Lord Mori spooned some powdered tea in a cup, poured some hot water over it, carefully stirred and handed the cup to the scratching man.  He took it with a sour, disdainful glance at both lords, and drank it without ceremony, smacking his lips loudly and wiping his hand across his thin lips.

“Lord Yori, we are honored you have come to advise us”, said Lord Ekei with another bow.

“Well, beats hanging around  Haight-Ashbury.  Had to appear as a pigeon to fit in, and all there was to do during the day was beg for breadcrumbs.  Did look up skirts at muffs, though.”  He laughed, a coarse, wheezing sound.

Lord Ekei suppressed a smile, and Lord Mori didn’t a grimace.  They had dealt with Lord Yori before.  His antics were well known.

Lord Yori lowered himself to a cushion and rubbed his hands over the brazier. “You got any sake?  Spring is a bad time for travel.”

Lord Mori clapped his hands twice and within several minutes a servant appeared with three cups and a brown bottle of warmed sake, placing them on the low table between the lords.  Lord Mori poured three cups and offered the first to the Lord Yori.  He drank it fast and held out his cup for a refill.

It would be a long morning with Lord Yori and it best be spent drunk.

“My Lord Yori, our Lord Tokugawa in Kyoto has called upon the daimyos of the western borders to send troops and supplies to put down a rebellion of peasants in Mikawa providence.”

“Yeah?  Well, being a vassal is tough. The nature of the beast.  Too many kits and not enough teats.”  Lord Yori followed this statement with a loud burp.

“You want my advice? You got bigger problems closer to home.  I hear from some other birds Lord Kiyami is looking at your southern border with a covetous eye. That’s a dicey mountain range there, and if he controls those trade passes, he can hem you in. Adding a kunu to his territory would be a feather in his cap.”

He punctuated his statement with a belch.

“If this is true, my lord Mori” said Lord Ekei with a slight bow, “then you will have to organize two campaigns at once.  That would be very costly, neh?”

Lord Mori eyes narrowed and he grunted. “I am sure Lord Yori’s information is impeccable,” he said with his own bow to the disheveled priest.

“You bet your nuts it is”, said the priest sharply.

“Is this information you have read in history books, Lord Yori,” asked Lord Ekei?

“Can’t read, never learned” said the priest in a raspy voice. “Some things don’t make the history books.  Sometimes pillow talk is more….ah…reliable.”

Both lords considered his words.  It was not beyond the pale. Men talked to women, and men talked in their sleep. Either way, information was obtainable.

This news of Lord Kiyami’s interest in his territory disturbed Lord Mori.  It would be a very bad position to be hemmed in at that mountain range.

“Perhaps there is a need to change plans,” suggested Lord Ekei to Lord Mori.

Lord Mori looked at both of the men sipping their sake.

“Do I dare go against the desires of Heaven to thwart the schemes of Lord Kiyami?”

Scratching his scrawny beard absentmindedly, the Yamabushi priest coughed.

“You might be looking at a new portion of Hell if you ignore him.”

“If he hems you in, Higato, you will not be able to serve the needs of Lord Tokugawa in any case,” said Lord Ekei.

“Let me suggest, my lord,” said the priest with a little bow, “that you think about a spy or two in the household of Lord Kiyami.  This could glean you some important and timely information.”

“Yes, Higato, this is excellent advice. We need to know his future plans, even if he is to seize your southern territory soon.  How many forces he would deploy for this.  He also would be called upon by our Lord Tokugawa for his support.  He will have some of the same considerations we have.”

“Good.  I agree.  A couple of well placed servants should do the job.”

“I would further suggest, my lord, that you place a spy in his guard.  A samurai that can be trusted with such a task.  Perhaps an unknown captain of your own guard.”

“Again, I agree.”  Higato Mori nodded to both men.

“Now we must consider the problem of what daimyos to call upon for support. Surely we have allies, Lord Ekei?”

“Higato, without a doubt that our Lord Kiyami will be also looking with the same eyes.  Perhaps a visit to one or two would set things better for us.”

“If I may be so bold,” said the priest scratching at his skin inside his kimono, “I agree a visit be made soon.  One never knows the plans of another man, especially at a distance.”

Lord Mori picked up his cup and glanced at his advisor, Ekei, sitting across from him, and fell into deep thought.

This priest has much sense for an old crow.  Perhaps he should be the spy in Kiyami’s household?  Could he dare presume upon the favors of such a man?  Well, we are all Yamabushi, so there should be something of favor there.  Perhaps this has possibilities.  Perhaps Ekei will be able to answer to this.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

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