Posts Tagged ‘Akito’

“The Kimono”, Chapter 15, and a new tanka.

April 12, 2013
Samurai Woman

Samurai Woman

A mourning dove cries
It is such a mournful sound
Perhaps a fierce owl
Has made it a widower?
Oh! It breaks my heart, his cry.

…a new tanka.

People who read this blog have read some of the chapters of this very long novel. It’s been incubating for 6 years. Other projects, including 3 published books and one more ” Pitcher of Moon”, have come it front of “The Kimono”.

Recently, I have gone back to reading this work. What you wrote six years before isn’t what you would write now perhaps…so there is some tinkering to be done. However, I am very close to the end of this book and that means a long rewrite. But it’s almost finished. It’s always a case of living long enough to finish something.

This is a middle of the book chapter. For those readers who aren’t familiar with this story, it’s a time-warp tale, where this Japanese/American woman Mari from the 21st century, with all the education and some knowledge of past history, buys an antique kimono and is zapped back into 17th century Japan. She literally falls at the feet of this daimyo, (feudal war lord) Lord Mori. He has been commanding the kimono for a while, toying with what it brings, and now has lost control of it. A different master commands the kami (spirit) of the kimono and Mari is now stuck in the 17th century. Before she could go back and now she can’t.

This era of Japan is particularly interesting to me. The Shogun demanded all daimyo (I believe there were 27 at the time, war lords who ruled over particular regions) travel to Edo every two years to pay tribute to him. Actually, this was a very smart idea to keep the daimyos from each others throats. It disrupted most battles between these warlords and if they did there was hell to pay from the capital.

Lord Yoki is actually a Tengu, a shapeshifter but also well known to Lord Mori and Lord Ekei. Lady Nyo is in ‘charge’ of the education of Mari and has her own thoughts about this favorite of Lord Mori. She doesn’t know about the kimono’s power and where Mari has come from, but she is more than curious. Actually, Mari, being half Caucasian, looks like the peoples from Hokkaido, which is at the top of Japan. These people have Caucasian features until the early 20th century, because they probably migrated from Russia. So Mari is supposed to be from this region.

This Lady Nyo, not the other in the chapter.

Chapter 15, The Kimono

On the first day of the month called Uzuki, or u-no-hana (flower), Lord Mori called a council of his closest advisors, minus his trusted carp. Fierce spring winds were whipping the cherry trees and petals filled the air, falling like late spring snow.

His advisers were Lords Ekei, Yoki and Nyo, with the requested attendance of the Lady Nyo.

Lady Nyo knelt behind her husband. She was not comfortable in the presence of these lords. She was not amongst Lord Mori’s advisors, and as a woman, of course was out of place. What could be her purpose for being here? She arranged her kimono hems and sleeves with little movement, and settled in to listen.

The morning was chilly –an early spring day. The fog had disappeared and she could hear the ducks and geese on the water near the castle.

She noticed an unraveling thread on top of the shoulder of her Lord Nyo. She would have to mend it before it got worse. Ah, men. They were like children without women around.

She bowed her head, as a proper wife should, but watched the men carefully. The movements of Lord Yoki caught her attention. This was a strange bird! He even looked a bit like a bird with a large, red beak. She thought he probably drank more than his share of sake. A red nose was a tell-tale sign of that. His kimono, though of a good quality, was filthy, splattered with stains. He had a disgusting way of hacking, spitting on the floor besides him. Lady Nyo shuddered. At least he could carry some paper handkerchiefs and use them.

The men’s voices droned on. She thought she should listen more closely, but by the Gods! These men were talking of how many soldiers they could gather, who was a vassal to depend upon and who would have to be nudged, bribed or threatened depending on their status. All of them were in obeisance to Lord Mori, but some had to be reminded of their obligations.

Lord Mori was a powerful lord, but these years had been peaceful. Lord Kiyami threatening Lord Mori would be a terrible thing. Lord Mori would have to wage war against Lord Kiyami.

Ah! There were so many obstacles to a quiet life!

Lady Nyo felt her head would crack. All this talking of war! By the Shogun’s decree, no daimyo could wage war against another. That was common knowledge. Exile or death would be the end for any foolhardy daimyo who dared to breech the edict of Heaven.
But the region was so far from the capitol! Akita faced the Ou and Dewa mountain ranges to the east, and the Sea to the west. Sometimes it took months before important travelers even came to the castle. If Lord Kiyami ringed the mountain passes with his vassals, well, there would be battles and hardships aplenty for all of them.

Ah, there were many obstacles to a peaceful life. It was quite the maneuver for Lord Mori to gather his vassals and men to make the trek to the capitol every two years. But it was demanded of the Shogun. It kept the daimyos from each other’s throats, but with Lord Kiyami, it might now not be working. She had gone on a number of occasions and her eyes had been dazzled by the splendor of the Shogun’s court. The silks and colors and sumptuous robes and elegant manners were enough to fill her head with dreams! She would admit, though, to be glad to go home to her more humble house back in the mountains of Akita. One could take just so much pomp and splendor.

She was descended from a powerful samurai family who was close to the Heian court centuries ago. Her family had suffered the swings of fortune and though she was from a minor wing of the Fujiwara clan, she could hold up her head. Her father had been a court official and her marriage to her Lord considered a good one. Though she had no children, she was still within the breeding age. She prayed and left small offerings at shrines.

Ah! Fate would rule, and the meek Lady Nyo knew she was a pawn in the larger game of life. Fate was on the side of men.

The men’s voices droned on. Lord Yori was still hawking and spitting. He looked like an unwashed goblin!

She fixed a small smile on her face. She had too much breeding to reveal her sentiments. She wondered though, about the Lady Mari. What kind of breeding did she have? Where did that woman come from? Her husband told her not to ask questions of the Lady Mari, but to serve with total devotion. She understood that. She had been given a great task and responsibility. Her Lord Mori had honored her with his confidence in her humble abilities. She still had her private, most inner thoughts, and no lord could stop her from thinking.

There were many things about Lady Mari that were a mystery. Lady Nyo could admit she was a bit envious of Lady Mari. How did she happen to capture the eye of Lord Mori? There were many other women who would be proper concubines, even a wife for this desirable lord. Why the rather plain Lady Mari? She was not educated as a court woman. No, she would embarrass the plainest court in the land. Only just in the last short amount of time had the Lady Mari even been able to kneel properly!

Where did she come from? Who were her family? She never talked about that, and that was of the most importance under heaven!

And she was rather….strange looking. Too tall and thin for a proper woman, of course she had been sick with the breeding and the loss of the child, but there was something strange about her.

Lady Nyo smiled. She had heard the great Lord Tokugawa had even called her ugly! Of course he was drunk at the time, but this certainly was no stain on him. Most men got drunk, some every night and such a great lord as he would be above any reproach.
But he had called her ugly and she had been present! Oh, what a loss of face for the Lady Mari!

Lady Nyo’s brow furrowed. What could be the attraction of Lord Mori to this woman? Was it possible he saw something beyond her awkward, unpolished ways and had fallen in love with this creature? Was it possible the Lady Mari could cast a spell like a mountain spirit? Surely the great Lord Mori was immune to such things.

Her husband, when drunk on sake, once said Lord Mori had his own magic. Whether this was but drunken words or something else, her husband had laughed and rolled over on his back. He refused to talk further about his lord and fell asleep, snoring loudly.
Ah, there were so many mysteries in the air!

But….what is it that makes a man and a woman know that they, of all other men and women in the world, belong to each other? Is it no more than chance and meeting? No more than being alive in the world at the same time? Do clan and family, position and status mean nothing?

Suddenly she felt sad. She had a good marriage, but her lord was not of the best temper. No, he was a man, and little of the heart could be expected of them.

Year after year, it was as if she was holding her breath, waiting for something to happen, for life to change, for life to start, something she could not even recognize…to happen. The other women had children and she had none. They drew comfort from their babies, their growing children. She had none of this comfort. No, none of this comfort. And knowing how his mother was, her esteemed mother in law, well, she already knew what the baby’s name would be: Kusako, “Shit Child” if a girl, and Akoguso, “Cute Little Shit” if a boy. Her mother, too, would nag her until they were named such names. All to keep the demons away.

Lady Nyo sighed audibly. She threw her hand to her mouth in embarrassment, glancing at Lord Mori. He was listening to another. Only her husband twitching his shoulder showed he had heard.

Men. They were strange and cruel creatures, neh? Her lord was no exception. Who knew what repelled and attracted a man?

Finally the meeting ended. She rocked back on her heels and rose, now a bit stiff, bowing to the Lord Mori. He motioned for her to come to him, and with her eyes cast down she approached.

The Lord Mori looked down on this tiny, plump woman, her hair arranged in braids pinned around her head.

“How does the Lady Mari fare, Lady Nyo?”

Ah, she thought! This is why he wanted me in the room. Well, I can tell him what I know.

“To my eyes, she is well, my Lord.”

“Does she sleep well? Is she in pain?”

“She sleeps well, my lord. The doctor gave me a potion to give to her before she sleeps, but she is now only sleeping during the night with a long nap during the day.”

“And the doctor predicts that she will fully recover?”

“He is hopeful, my Lord, the Lady Mari will regain her full strength.”

Lord Mori grunted approval, and fell silent. Lady Nyo thought he had more than a passing interest in the health of Lady Mari and she was correct.

“Since these are matters of women, I will rely upon your experience, Lady Nyo.”

Lady Nyo bowed in gratitude.

“However, …..I am thinking the Lady Mari would be bored before long and as I have these issues with my Lord Kiyami to attend, I will not be able to give her much direction. You understand?”

“Of course, my lord. I was thinking perhaps Lady Mari could compile her poetry in a book. She could ‘talk to the paper’ and perhaps that will spur her interest in life.

“Do you think she is becoming despondent, Lady Nyo?”

“Oh, my lord! I am no one to have such powers of observation! However….given a task she would enjoy would hasten her health.”
Lord Mori grunted. Whether he was expressing approval or not was hard to tell. It was always hard to tell with men.

“Has the doctor expressed why she lost the child?”

She was surprised at the directness of his question. Men usually were not interested in such things. She had her own ideas why Mari lost the baby.

“If I may venture a thought, my lord, and it is only my own.”

“Granted. Tell me your thoughts.”

Lady Nyo knew thin ice when she saw it, but she would skate on.

“Perhaps the problem lay within the fifth month of her bearing, my lord. As you know, according to the Shinto calendar, the Day of the Dog celebrates the bearing and guards the baby from harm. Since the Dog is a messenger of the Gods and chases the evil spirits away, perhaps it would have been auspicious to present the Lady Mari to the temple and for the donning of the hara-obi. As you know, this sash would have protected her baby and kept it warm.”

Lord Mori’s eyes narrowed. If Lady Nyo had looked up at his face, perhaps she would have thought to have angered him.

True, thought Lady Nyo, this presentation to the temple priests was done within the company of both grandmothers and since the Lady Mari had just appeared out of thin air with no family and no known clan…at least known to her, well, it was all rather confusing….and improper. Of course, she could not express her opinion, except to her husband and maybe not even him.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2007-2013

“The Kimono”, Chapter 23, of Lord Jizo and a Tengu.

March 20, 2013

Lord Jizo

Tengu stone

“The Kimono” is a novel I started a few years ago. I had to research the 17th Japanese culture and history to write this. However, with other projects now out of the way, I am going back this spring to try to complete this tale.

It will be confusing to new readers, though I have posted chapters of this developing novel for a couple of years now. The book opens with Mari, a very 21st century Japanese-American woman buying an old kimono in Kyoto. She is married to Steven and the marriage isn’t going well. The kimono is possessed by some hidden force and upon donning it and going to sleep, Mari is transported to the 17th century of Japan. She lands literally at the feet of Lord Mori, a powreful daimyo (warlord) in what is now Akito, Japan. Lord Yoki is a monk, but more so, he’s also a tengu. The tengu (mythological creatures originally from China) are also involved with the Yamabushi. Tengus are shape shifters, and this tengu, Lord Yoki, is also a time traveler.

Lord Jizo is one of my favorite Shinto figures.

Lady Nyo

The Kimono, Chapter 23

Mari and Lady Nyo returned from their shopping, and Mari went to lie down. Her feet hurt in the high geta. It took careful steps and concentration not to twist an ankle.

When they were out, Lady Nyo told her of a small shrine close by, dedicated to Lord Jizo. Mari wanted to make an offering. When they passed the shrine on the road a few days before, Mari was deeply moved. She had lost her first and possibly only child and perhaps now she could face grief. She put it out of mind because of the disruption, and mostly the shame.

Lord Mori and Lord Ekei disappeared during the morning. Neither Mari or Lady Nyo had a clue where the men were. They were just women and not to be informed. Lord Nyo was left in charge. Mari thought it a good time to approach Lady Nyo. She wanted to walk the short way to the shrine, to spend some time in thought and she wanted to do it alone. Lady Nyo’s expression was one of doubt, but she promised to talk to Lord Nyo.

Mari knew she would have to have protection, either in the form of Lady Nyo with her husband’s men or men of Lord Mori. This was not of her choosing. She had no say in these things.

Lady Nyo found her in the tiny garden in the back of the inn, watching goldfish in the small pond before her stone bench.

“Lady Mari”, she softly called.

At the sound of her voice, Mari looked up. It was still early, just past the noon hour, and the day was overlaid with clouds. It had turned misty, but Mari was still hopeful she could make her visit.

“My Lord Nyo has agreed and is to send you with two men and I will send you with a servant. I will provide you with coin to buy incense.”

Mari smiled. She knew Lady Nyo was risking much in not accompanying her, but Mari wanted some distance from everyone. She wanted some privacy to think and to be alone. It didn’t seem possible in this century.

Lady Nyo was kind. She sensed what Mari needed. After all, this foreign looking, foreign acting woman was full of secrets, and she knew in time the tight ball who was Lady Mari would unravel. She was willing to wait. There was something much bigger about this woman, this unusual and rather ugly favorite of Lord Mori. What it was, Hana Nyo did not know, but sensed it was worth her patience. There were clues, but these were too fantastic to believe.

Mari set out with two armed guards and one of the two women servants. This time she wore her straw sandals and her traveling kimono, with an oiled paper cloak to protect from the rain. Mari had not been raised in either Shinto or Buddhist beliefs, though her mother privately offered prayers and burned incense at a small family shrine set up in a corner of their house. Mari for a time had attended a Unitarian church, the religion of her father. Who Lord Jizo was remained unclear to Mari. The only knowledge she had was that he was the patron ‘saint’ of unborn, miscarried and stillborn children. It seemed enough of a starting place for her. Perhaps she wouldn’t feel so empty after offering prayers for her dead baby.

The walk to the shrine was not far, and the road was banked with mulberry trees and beyond the road, bamboo stands looking like small forests of waving greenery. A drizzle had started; it served to dampen the dust on the road.

There were few travelers today. When they got to the shrine, Mari was surprised how primitive it was; not more than a raised open shed, a stone pillar with a carved face set back from the entrance. There were offerings of toys, incense, pebbles, a few small coins. Children’s clothes were folded and laid at the base of Lord Jizo. One mother had put a red bib around his neck and a white, knitted hat sat on his head.

The men and the servant stood back by the road, but not so far they couldn’t see Mari. She walked up the few wooden stairs to kneel on the rough wooden floor. There was a crow in the rafters, who looked at Mari, curious as to her presence.

Mari placed her unlit incense in the bowl of sand in front of the statue. She raised her eyes to his face, and realized his features were faint, dissolved by time. A small, smiling mouth, long earlobes, closed eyes. Mari felt tears forming and gulped to swallow them. She didn’t know what to say, what to pray for. She had not been a religious person back in her own century, and things were too disrupted and strange to even contemplate the spiritual now. The presence of magic had destroyed her belief in comforting things.

A strange sensation came over her. She did not recognize it at first, but soon realized she was feeling more than the usual emptiness. She felt—filled with something, and at first she didn’t understand. Tears coursed down her face, and raising her eyes to Jizo these ancient details dissolved even more. Whether it was her tears or some magic, she was looking at the face of a laughing baby. She clasped her hands to her chest and uttered a soft, marveling cry. Then, the vague stone features of Lord Jizo reappeared.

Mari was deeply moved, but frightened. Perhaps it was the dim light of the shrine playing tricks or perhaps it was her confused mind. Whatever it was, she felt a peace, something she had not felt in a long time. She felt as if a rock had been lifted from her chest.

The faint sound of a flute came to her ears. Sad, consoling music. She looked up in the rafters to the left of the Jizo statue and saw a monk sitting there, or what she thought was a monk. He was playing a bamboo flute and floated down like a dust mote. Mari looked around at the men and the girl outside. They seemed oblivious to anything happening inside the shrine. In fact, they weren’t moving. They looked frozen.

“Do not be afraid”. The monk, a very dirty, dusty man in a ripped kimono, spoke in a raspy voice, clearing cobwebs from his face as he stood there.

Mari for some reason did not feel afraid. Perhaps she was enchanted and this was a spell?

“Nah, you‘re under no spell. But the men outside are.” He giggled.

Mari blanched. This monk could read her mind?

The monk coughed, and spat, very unmonk-like behavior in a shrine.

“Were you the crow in the rafters?” Mari’s voice was soft, disbelief making it hard to speak.

“You’re a fast study, girl.” The monk laughed, seeing the astonishment on Mari’s face.

“What are you?”

“Ah….you are a rude one! Perhaps the shock of seeing a crow transform into a man has robbed you of manners?”

“But what are you?”

“You already asked that. I am Lord Yoki.”

“You obviously are not human. Are you a figment of my mind?”

“Oh, I am much more than that, girl. I am a Tengu. Are you familiar with tengus?”

Mari shook her head, eyes wide in shock, now beyond speech.

“Ah….we have met before, Mari.”

“How do you know my name?”

The tengu laughed, a raspy sound from a thin, wizened throat. Mari’s eyes traveled over his kimono. It was patched and stained, none too clean for a monk. His toenails were very long, in fact they had grown over his straw sandals and seemed more like bird claws. He was scratching at his hindquarters, too.

Lord Yoki smiled, blinked, and closed his eyes to mere slits. Mari noticed his nose was very long and red. Probably drank too much sake.

“You were visiting a friend in Kyoto. Coming home one night, I called out to you.”

Mari couldn’t think of where she had seen this creature.

“Ah…your friend, Miko? “

Mari gasped. Miko was back home…in her century, the 21st, not the 17th! What was happening here? Was she losing her mind?

Suddenly, she remembered. There was a large bird on a wire high above her one cold night. She remembered that night with Miko, telling her about the dream….a dream that turned out to be another reality. She remembered being scared by a voice, and looking up in the dark, she saw a huge bird with a long red beak.

“Yup, at your service.” The tengu bowed and giggled, like a girl would.

“But, but….how?” That was another century, hundreds of years from now. “How are you here?”

“Better you ask me why.”

Mari went to rise, and fell back on her backside. Her legs would not support her.

“And….you speak English! I must be losing my mind!”

“Oh, don’t get overly excited, girl”, he said, making a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Weirder things have happened.”

The tengu grimaced, scratched at his scraggly beard. “Lice”, he said flatly.

Mari twisted from the floor, trying to see the men outside. They had not moved an inch.

“Oh, don’t worry about them. We have things to talk about.”

The tengu folded his legs and sat facing her, tucking his flute into his robe.

“I am sure you have some questions for me?” He looked at her expectantly.

“What questions could I have for you?” Mari’s shock was lessening and she began to feel danger.

“Perhaps you would like to know what your husband Steven is up to.”

Steven! Mari gasped, her eyes opening wide. What would this old man, if he was one, know of Steven?

“Well, why don’t we start by you asking me some questions? I bet I know more than you could guess.” He folded his hands in front of him, looking rather pleased with himself.

Mari swallowed hard, wishing she had some water. Her throat was dry.

“What could you know about my husband?”

The monk lifted his eyebrows a few times and winked. Mari almost laughed. He looked like Groucho Marx.

“I travel in many circles, girl. I get around.”

Mari would have dismissed him as insane, but uttering Steven’s name meant something else.

“Then tell me what he is doing. Is he worried about me? Is he ok?”

The monk ‘s face softened.

“You don’t understand much about this time travel, do you? Has no one explained to you what happens?”

Mari remembered only that Lord Mori said a year here in this century would be like a minute in hers.
Haltingly Mari told the monk what she knew.

“Yes, yes, that is part of it. Going back and forth can be confusing, but do not worry. You have no reason for concern about husband Steven. See those men out there? And your servant? “

Mari saw the men and woman in the same position. Still frozen.

“That is how your disappearance has seemed to Lord Steven. He doesn’t have a clue.”

The monk chortled and the hair stood on the back of Mari’s neck.

Mari wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the floor. Tears started to form. What had she done to Steven, to her marriage? Was she already dead and this was some kind of Hell?

“Mari”, said the monk in a soft voice. “You are caught up in a web of magic, and none of this is of your doing. You only bought a kimono having some history and you fell under its power. What happens now is out of your control. From the beginning, it was your fate.”

“What is going to happen to me?” Mari raised her eyes to the monk, her face full of despair.

The monk, or tengu, or whatever he was, almost scowled, and spit again on the boards of the shrine.

“Do I look like a fortune teller? I have no idea, girl, what is to be your destiny, but I know you are a pawn in a larger game.”

“One of Lord Mori’s making?”

“Lord Mori is also a pawn, but a much more important pawn. We all are pawns in this present game, Mari.”

“What does he want of me?”

Lord Yoki looked at Mari, studying her face, but said nothing for a few seconds.

“Our Lord Mori is a complex man. He can wield his own small magic, more tricks than anything else. There are other forces at work and our Lord is determined to find them out. This, in part, is the reason for this pilgrimage to Gassan Mountain.”

“But how do I figure in all of this?”

The monk laid his head to one side and narrowed his eyes as he looked at Mari. He looked like a blinking owl.

“I have no answers for you, girl. I just know that you do. You will have to cultivate patience. You have no control or power as to what happens. “

Mari did not get much from his answers. At least she now knew something about Steven, if she could believe this monk. If it was true her absence had gone unnoticed by him, then perhaps there was something good in this.

What her role was to be here, in this century, in the presence of Lord Mori and the others, there had to be an answer for her. At least she had the small comfort about Steven. If she could believe the monk.

She looked at him, but he had vanished. In less than a blink of the eye, he was gone. Mari stretched out a hand to where he had been sitting. Had she dreamed all this? Was she also under a spell?

She heard voices. The men were talking amongst themselves, leaning on their nagatas. The woman servant was plaiting reeds from her basket.

Mari left the shrine, only turning back once to look at Lord Jizo. She still had no answers, but for some strange reason, she felt comforted. Whether it was Lord Jizo or the monk, she didn’t know.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008-13


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