Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

“Sumo Wrestling”….a haibun.

August 8, 2018

sumo

Sumo Wrestling

 

I love Sumo wrestling. Or at least I think I do. Perhaps it is the only sport where I don’t feel  I have to hold in my stomach sitting there. Watching those mountains of flesh-men grapple with each other makes my heart beat hard. But women are not to enter or touch the sand of the ring. There is such history around this sport, and such a deep tradition. The fact that they gorge themselves with a purpose makes my heart sing. How wonderful that you can eat and eat without any concern for weight or fashion!

And, did you know that those belts they wear can cost a million yen? Or so I have read. I have also read that Sumo Wrestlers are some of the most humble and gentle of men. Here, have another bowl of rice.

 

Mountains of flesh pound

A ring of sandy earth

Cunning and strength vie.

 

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 

“The Geisha”

June 26, 2018

Geisha

Computer really screwed up today: If I am slow (or swimming in the wrong direction) please be patient with me.  I don’t know what happened but perhaps if I go eat ice cream it will self-correct?  Dogs want some, too.  93 today. Ugh.

Toni Spencer (from d’versepoets.com and other sites) and I have been recently discussing jisei, death poems of samurai and others. At the end is a further explanation of this ritual and definitions.  Toni is an expert on Japanese poetry and culture.

Lady Nyo

THE GEISHA


Moon sits low
above solemn pines.
The night is cold.
As dawn breaks
the geisha kneels, waiting.

Plum tea kimono wraps
her tightly-
white would be right
color of mourning,
color of death.

Her lover, disgraced
has embraced
Death-
blood the sacrifice
to wipe clean a
particular stain.

She to follow
Honor fulfilled,
death follows death
rigid path of decree.

A life mostly of sorrow.

Opening her gown,
she exposes white skin,
her maid, quietly weeps
slides back the shoji
exposing a winter landscape-
white snow on rocks
white snow like her skin
soft, soon to disappear,
one to melt,
one to white ash.

Yes, life mostly of sorrow.

Outside
winter is silent,
no wind at all,
snow falling like silken petals
Ah! She will never see spring
or cherry blossom time!

Floating over muted,
glassine air
comes the sound-
two monks
playing flutes
welcome the day.
Shakuhachi artists,
mournful sound,
sound that brings
peace to an anxious heart.

 

She bows her head,
picks up the tanto-
and opens the vein.

Blood of her line
answers to that
of another.

Life.
So full of sorrow.

I wrote this short poem listening to Shakuhachi artists. The sound of their intertwining flutes, poignant, heartbreaking, set this poem going. The raw, alien nature of their music was transporting, bringing peace.

There are a few issues to explain. This is a ritual suicide, (for women, called jigai) not uncommon in feudal and even modern Japan. A geisha, an entertainer, could take lovers, and even become a favored member of a family. She could not get married and remain a geisha.

This geisha has decided to follow her disgraced lover into death. However, she is wearing a kimono that is not ‘proper’ for a ritual suicide. I think she does this to embarrass the officials. Perhaps it is a personal protest. The tea ceremony is imbued with its own ritual and I link these two together.

Depending on the original offense of her lover, his death and the death of part of his family would restore the honor of the family. She chose to sacrifice her life for his honor.

A tanto is a short knife. A woman would not cut her abdomen (seppuku), but would open the main vein in her neck. She would have tied together her legs at the knees, over her kimono, so she would have some modesty in death.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010-2018

 

“The Kimono” Chapter 17

April 10, 2018

Kimono Cover 2

 

Mari stood at the window, a copy of the Man’yōshū in her hand. It was a book of love poems, the “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves”. She couldn’t read the language but a scribe had taken the time to carefully illustrate this book with erotic drawings. They were exquisite, though rather pornographic in her opinion. Compiled during the 8th century, this book was considered the pinnacle of Japanese verse, even in this more “modern” 17th century. To the Japanese, eroticism didn’t seem to have many boundaries. Sex, and even nudity, was very natural to them. They did not have a concept of sin, at least none she understood.
Lord Tetsu had ordered Lady Nyo 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, the Man’yōshū. Entertained? How different their cultures, stretching across the centuries like two oceans separated by mountains and sand.
It was now two months since her miscarriage but Lady Mari’s mood had not greatly improved. Her heart was a mass of confusion. She would wake in the night, sweating. She dreamed constantly but could not remember much, just disjointed scenes in clashing and violent colors. 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 with a hidden terror.
With patient instruction by Lady Nyo, Mari was beginning to recognize some Japanese words. She still couldn’t construct a decent sentence. There were all sorts of issues with the Japanese language and her attempts in forming a sentence sent Lady Nyo into peals of laughter. Well, at least she was entertaining to someone if not exactly “entertained” herself.
The house was a flurry of activity. Lord Tetsu was to visit sometime in the afternoon and Mari felt anxious. He had not visited her since her miscarriage. Lady Nyo said he had come to see her but apparently she was asleep due to the medicine prescribed by the doctor. The only evidence of his visit was a short poem inked on his fan. Something about laughter and fireflies.

 

 
Mari turned from the window. There were two small women kneeling outside the entrance to the room. They bowed their heads to the wooden floor as soon as she saw them. Lady Nyo came up behind them 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 word “rokka” as the porch overlooking the garden and “niwa” as garden. She was beginning to learn the names of things in her environment.
“Oh, Lady Mari! If you would like, I will come with you and we can read those wonderful poems together.”
What she really meant, thought Mari, is I can read these poems because you are still stupid about our language. Of course, Lady Nyo was the picture of decorum and would never say such but Mari was foul in mood and took offense secretly at many things.
The house was like a cottage with small, bare rooms constructed from a central passageway, closed off by shoji screens. They walked through the house towards the back where Lady Nyo kneeled and pushed a screen open. They faced a narrow platform looking out upon a small garden.
Enclosed by a low stone wall, the garden was very old and had a misshapen tree in the middle. There were raked pebbled paths and small green bushes with buds and a few open flowers beneath. Upon the wall were small plants growing out of the rocks. The cherry trees were almost ready to blossom. This event was as important to the Japanese of this century as much as it was in Mari’s. She heard how beautiful they were in the castle grounds when in full bloom.
The kasumi, the morning mist, had lifted but there was a possibility of rain. Mari liked the rain, it suited 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. It put a barrier between her and the world. Any rain or mist was welcomed by the people around her. There had been a drought for a couple of years. Lord Tetsu had mentioned that rice production had dropped. Famine was always around the corner.
Mari sat on a wooden bench on the rokka overlooking the garden and above the pebbled paths. The mists had all evaporated from the morning, replaced by a gentle wind. White cranes lifted off the water down by the shore, their black legs trailing 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 within the garden wall. The wind made cascades of plum snow litter the raked pebbles.
“Lady Mari, I have brought your book. If it pleases you, may I read a few poems aloud?”
Mari could not refuse this simple request. Lady Nyo’s role was to educate her in the finer arts. It was not as if it were her idea to do this. Clearly, it came from Lord Tetsu. 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 of poems?” Lady Nyo clasped 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 the 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 with hopeful expectation. 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 was modern in sentiment but why were the man and woman separated? There were more secrets than answers in this sort of poetry. “Read more.”
Lady Nyo smiled and looked for another poem to please her.

 

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 top of 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, she thought. A man who shows his main concern in bed: warm feet.
Lady Nyo read another:

 

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.
Mari saw her reaction. “Lady Nyo, I am a stranger here. I have no history among your people. That is obvious. But please tell me: does Lord Tetsu have a wife or children?”
Lady Nyo’s face showed a sadness. She moved closer to Mari and spoke softly. “This was a long time ago but I believe Lord Tetsu still mourns. It is hard to tell with men but Lord Tetsu, though a powerful daimyo, is still a man. Years ago, before my Lord Nyo and I were vassals to Lord Tetsu, he lost his young wife and children to the sea. They were sailing to a city on the southern coast when a terrible storm took hold of the boat and all were lost. Lord Tetsu was not with them, he was on land. I understand he travelled to a sacred mountain and for years lived in the forests. He talked to the ghosts of his wife and children and shunned all men.”
Mari’s breath caught in her chest. Perhaps this was the key to his personality. He was certainly a strange man, even for a 17th 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 Tetsu has never remarried. If he had, his wife would be amongst the women with Lady Idu. Oh, it would be hard to ignore a daimyo’s wife!”
Yes, she would be first among all the women in the castle, thought Mari. “But perhaps he has a wife that lives apart from him?”
Lady Nyo shook her head. “No, not that I have ever heard, Lady Mari. Of course, many husbands and wives do not live together, which would explain why we know nothing about a wife. If that were the case, surely my husband would 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 spoke, she realized her 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 business.”
“Oh! People are so different it seems. Here, 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. Visits were planned and each was notified by a messenger. That poem about autumn winds and swaying bamboo blinds now made sense. These marriages were conjugal visits.
“No,” continued Lady Nyo. “Lord Tetsu has no wife, as far as I know, but the finest courtesans do visit him…or he them, from time to time. It is only right and proper. He is not a hermit.”
“Who? Tell me, Hana, do you know the women? What do they look like? Have you seen them?”
Lady Nyo, heartened that Mari would use her name, blushed and shyly touched Mari’s hand. “Well, there was the beautiful courtesan, Midori, last year. Oh, Lady Mari! You should have seen her kimonos! Such silks and colors! She looked like a beautiful butterfly!” Lady Nyo giggled 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 as glossy as a blackbird’s wing. Long, too. She wore it unencumbered and it swept her hems.”
Mari chuckled to herself. So, Lord Tetsu wasn’t the hermit he appeared at first to her. He was man enough.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

 

” Moon Viewing in Japan”, two poems.

April 7, 2018

 

Kohut-Bartels-LS-10

Painting by the author

 Written after the tsunami….

 

 

 

Is there a moon viewing party

In Japan tonight?

Destruction, sorrow

Covers the land,

Despair, loss

Regulates the heart.

 

Perhaps the moon’s presence

Is of little interest

And less comfort.

Perhaps sorrow goes too deep

To raise eyes above shock and debris.

 

Yet,

Her gleam falls upon all

A compassionate blanketing

Of the Earth,

Softening the soiled,

Ravaged landscape,

A beacon of promise

Of the return to life,

Beauty to nature.

 

Two weeks and the cherry blossoms
Would have opened in Sendai.
Beautiful clouds of scented prayers
Falling upon upturned faces,
The eternal promise of hope for the earth,
Swept out to sea
With a good part of humanity.

I will sit beneath the moon tonight
Listening to frogs sing,
An owl in the woods
The birds settling in the dark—

My cherry tree is blooming
A small cloud of satin blossom–
I will count falling petals,
And offer these  as prayers.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2011-2018

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

“The Stillness of Death”

February 6, 2018

Japanese Lovers II

 

From “Song of the Nightingale”.  this is the first episode of “Song”.  A few readers were curious about this series, so…..

Lady Nyo

 

 

“My heart, like my clothing
Is saturated with your fragrance.
Your vows of fidelity
Were made to our pillow and not to me.”
—-12th century

Kneeling before her tea
Lady Nyo did not move.
She barely breathed-
Tomorrow depended
Upon her action today.

Lord Nyo was drunk again.
When in his cups
The household scattered.
Beneath the kitchen
Was the crawl space
Where three servants
Where hiding.
A fourth wore an iron pot.

Lord Nyo was known
For three things:
Archery-
Temper-
And drink.

Tonight he strung
His seven foot bow,
Donned his quiver
High on his back.
He looked at the pale face
Of his aging wife,
His eyes blurry, unfocused.
He remembered the first time
pillowing her.

She was fifteen.
Her body powdered petals,
Bones like butter,
Black hair like trailing bo silk.
The blush of shy passion
Had coursed through veins
Like a tinted stream.

Still beautiful
Now too fragile for his taste.
Better a plump whore,
Than this delicate, saddened beauty.

He drew back the bow
In quick succession
Let five arrows pierce
The shoji.
Each grazed the shell ear
Of his wife.

Life hung on her stillness.
She willed herself dead.


Death after all these years
Would have been welcome.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted , 2015

Song Book cover

 

“Ten Thousand Leaves”, Love Songs from the Man’yoshu.

November 22, 2016

spring garden 4

(my spring garden of a few years ago.)

 

“Thick and fast stream my thoughts of you

Like the layers

Of endlessly falling snow

Upon the cedars.

“Come to me at night, my man.”

—– from the Man’yoshu

 

 

It was the first golden age of Japanese civilization.  In the eighth century appeared the great metropolis of Nara, (the imperial capital) its broad avenues lined with magnificent temples. Culture rushed in from Korea, China and over the Silk Road, from as far away as Persia, and even from Venice.

We think of Japan in isolation, as it was to become centuries later, but in the 7th to the 10th centuries (approximately) the cultural influences were vast and wide and foreign.

In the 8th century, Japan found it’s first voice, a clear and powerful voice to become one of the most impressive, sophisticated and frank compilations of poetry the world has ever seen.  (There are other earlier and then later collections of poetry, but the Man’yoshu is considered to be the best of the poetry collections.  There are many reasons (cultural and court changes, etc) but this is a long study and can’t be done in this short presentation.

There are not 10,000 poems (leaves) but over 4,500.  Most of these are love poems, where lovers speak with disarming frankness and clarity, speak to us across 1300 years as if they were us.

Actually, the poems express a decided lack of neurosis that we have come to view sex in the last few centuries.  There is nothing of barriers when it comes to the human heart, longing, emotions and sexuality in these poems.  Many of them are openly, expressly erotic.

The authors or contributors of these poems extended from Emperors, Empresses, courtesans, samurai, priests, beggars, fishermen, peasants: a cross section of remarkable variety.  A truly democratic endeavor.  This was never again to happen in Japan, not at least to this extent.

Otomo No Yakamochi (718-785) is considered to be the main compiler of the Man’yoshu.  These poems actually span a 130 year history, from around 630 AD to 759 AD.

There are three basic divisions of the poetry in the Man’yoshu.

 

Banka: elegy on the death of an Emperor or a loved one.

Somon:  mutual exchanges of love or longing poetry.

Zoka:  Poems of Nature, hunting, etc.

This short presentation will focus only on the Somon form.

Generally the Man’yoshu poetry is considered to be declarative rather than introspective, imagistic rather than abstract.  There is an incredible freshness to it all.

There are basically two forms of poetry in the Man’yoshu: choka (long poem, 5-7-5-7-5-7, etc. ending in 7-7) and tanka.  (5-7-5-7-7). The ‘long poem’, choka (which isn’t very long by our modern and Western standards) died out of fashion, and tanka became the predominant form of Japanese poetry for the next 1200 years.

Although one would think so, there isn’t a lot of Buddhist influence in the poems.  If any religion, there is more Shinto influence especially in the Zoka form, but even that isn’t large.  This may seem strange to us, with our notions of culture in Japan, but even centuries later, with the Priest-Poet Saigyo, there is little Buddhist thought within his poems.  Religion just doesn’t play such a dominant role in most Japanese poetry, especially at this time.

“Going over the fields of murasaki grass That shimmer crimson, Going over the fields marked as imperial domain, Will the guardian of the fields not see you As you wave your sleeves at me?”

— Princess Nukata

This poem is considered by many to be one of the greatest poems in the Man’yoshu.  It is presented near the beginning of the collection, giving it prominence.  The answer by her former husband (she is now married to the Emperor) Prince Oama, (his brother) is a beautiful poem in its own right.

“If I despised you, who are as beautiful As the murasaki grass, Would I be longing for you like this, Though you are another man’s wife?”

— Prince Oama

“Do not let men find out By smiling at me so apparently, Like the clouds that clearly cross Over the verdant mountains.”

— Lady Otomo Sakanoue

There are more poems by this poet than any other woman in the Man’yoshu.  What is remarkable are the amount of women poets included in the Man’yoshu.  This is only possible because the Confucian philosophy was not prominent yet in Japan.  When it became influential, women lost much status: before they were allowed to own property, title, name, divorce, to keep custody of their children.  After, they were relegated to indoors, stripped of much power and status.

“Whose words are these, Spoken to the wife of another? Whose words are these, That bade me untie The sash of my robe?”

— Anonymous

Many of the poems in the Man’yoshu were folk songs, or parts of folk songs. And this repeated interest in ‘the wife of another’ was an object of male desire; the Man’yoshu is full of this theme.

“As I turn my gaze upward And see the crescent moon, I am reminded Of the trailing eyebrows Of the woman I saw but once.”

— Otomo Yakamochi

This was written by Otomo at the age of 16!

“I have fallen into a yearning With no requite, For a girl who, when night comes Sleeps pillowed in another’s arms.

— Anonymous

“If men can touch Even the untouchable sacred tree, Why can I not touch you Simply because you are another’s wife?”

— Otomo Yasumaro

 

To finish with some anonymous poems:

“The flowers of the plum, Were covered with fallen snow Which I wrapped up But when I tried to have you see It was melting in my hands.”

“This body of mine Has crossed the mountain barrier And is here indeed! But this heart of mine remains Drawing closer to my wife.”

“The moon crossed the sky And I saw him only once In its pale light Yet, the person whom I saw Does appear to me in dreams.”

“I shall not take a brush To this hair that lies Disheveled in the morning, For it retains the touch Of my dear lord’s arms that pillowed me.”

— Anonymous

I’ll prime the pot with one of my own:

“Glimpse of a white wrist

Feel the pulse of blood beneath-

This is seduction!

But catch a wry, cunning smile

One learns all is artifice.”

Or something a bit different.  Many of the poems were built one upon the other, answers brushed upon a fan, or something suitable, even a large leaf. In the ‘spirit’ of this method that is found in the Man’yoshu, I offer this modest poem:

Thick and fast stream my thoughts of you Like the layers Of endlessly falling snow Upon the cedars. “Come to me at night, my man.”

 

Come to me

If  only in my dreams

Where my head rests upon my arm

And not yours–

Let this veiled moon

Above and these dark, brooding pines below

“Be witness to our love, my man.”

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels (aka Lady Nyo)

Copyrighted, 2015

 

The Geisha

April 16, 2016

 Geisha picture 2016

The tragedy in Japan continues.

I wrote this short poem listening to Shakuhachi artists. The sound of their intertwining flutes, poignant, heartbreaking, set this poem going. The raw, alien nature of their music was transporting, bringing peace.

 

 Lady Nyo

 

The Geisha

 

Moon sits low

above solemn pines.

The night is cold.

As dawn breaks

the geisha kneels, waiting.

 

Plum tea kimono wraps

her tightly-

white would be right

color of mourning,

color of death.

 

Her lover, disgraced

has embraced

Death-

blood the sacrifice

to wipe clean a

particular stain.

 

She to follow

Honor fulfilled,

death follows death

rigid path of decree.

 

A life mostly of sorrow.

 

Opening her gown,

she exposes white skin,

her maid, quietly weeps

slides back the shoji

exposing a winter landscape-

white snow on rocks

white snow like her skin

soft, soon to disappear,

one to melt,

one to white ash.

 

Yes, life mostly of sorrow.

 

Outside

winter is silent,

no wind at all,

snow falling like silken petals

Ah! She will never see spring

or cherry blossom time!

 

Floating over muted,

glassine air

comes the sound-

two monks

playing flutes

to welcome the day.

Shakuhachi artists,

mournful sound,

sound that brings

peace to an anxious heart.

 

 

She bows her head,

picks up the tanto-

and opens the vein.

 

Blood of her line

answers to that

of another.

 

Life.

So full of sorrow.

 

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

Disaster in Japan today.

April 15, 2016
My beautiful picture

Peach blossoms in the back yard. Spring

Another earthquake hit Japan today, registering 6.5.  Numerous dead and many more injured.  It’s exactly 5 years since the horrible earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.  The resilience of the Japanese people in the days and weeks after, the courageous work of the nuclear workers, some who sacrificed their lives and the more than 30,000 lives lost is something that can not be forgotten.  Today, another earthquake in the southwestern part of Japan.  At this point, there isn’t a tsunami on the horizon. The center of the quake was in an urban area and much destruction of buildings and searches for survivors are going on right now.

Then, I wrote three poems about the earthquake, shocked by the destruction. I present two of them in sympathy, with great compassion for what the Japanese people are once again facing.

Lady Nyo

1.

Is there a moon viewing party

In Japan tonight?

Destruction, sorrow

Covers the land,

Despair, loss

Regulates the heart.

 

Perhaps the moon presence

Is of little interest

And less comfort.

Perhaps sorrow goes too deep

To raise eyes above the debris.

 

Yet,

Her gleam falls upon all

A compassionate blanketing

Of the Earth,

Softening the soiled,

Ravaged landscape,

A beacon of promise

Of the return to life,

Beauty to nature.

 

—————————-

Sendai flowers

cherry blossoms from Sendai

2. ————————————-

 

Two weeks and the cherry blossoms

Would have opened in Sendai.

Beautiful clouds of scented prayers

Falling upon upturned faces,

The eternal promise of hope for the earth,

Swept out to sea

With a good part of humanity.

 

I will sit beneath the moon tonight

Listening to frogs sing,

An owl in the woods

The birds settling in the dark—

 

My cherry tree is blooming

A small cloud of satin blossom–

I will count falling petals,

And offer these

as prayers.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011-2014

“The Kimono”, Chapter 3 ….. with a few Japanese Ghost Stories

November 2, 2015

japanese ghosts

This weekend I was talking to another writer, who happens to be Japanese.  We read each other’s blog when we can, and we got on the subject of Kaidan, Ghost Stories.  I have read many, but not as much as he. However, ghost stories are a fascination in all cultures, and I mentioned this chapter of “The Kimono” where Mari, a Japanese-American woman in Kyoto has been  invited to a ritual: a storyteller of ghost stories.  This novel will confuse those reading isolated chapters, but the short story is this:  Mari finds an antique kimono in a shop in Kyoto, and upon donning it, is transported back to the 17th century Japan.  A different region, but she lands on her face in front of a daimyo, Lord Mori. He is also Yamabushi. She travels back and forth, from the 21st century to the 17th and seems to have little control over events.  She supposes (and hopes) Lord Mori is controlling the kimono, but it seems the kimono has a mind of its own.

Lady Nyo

CHAPTER 3, KIMONO (Part of Chapter)

Mari awoke next to Steven. She watched him breath, his chest rise and fall, heard his gentle snoring. The kimono lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. She 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 breast, she buried her face in its heavy silk. Tears wet her cheeks.

Only a strange dream, Mari, nothing more.

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

Later that morning after Steven had left, Mari dressed and went to the Higashiyama region in Kyoto by the eastern hills, where she had 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. The street was crowded with people, mostly Japanese, but she spied some tourists. Though she had not been in Kyoto for long, she realized this area was a popular spot for sightseeing and buying souvenirs.   She looked into the windows and saw the kiyomizuyaki sets, traditional and simple ceramics used in the tea ceremony, other ceramics and woven goods, wooden geta and other products that were small enough to purchase and be shipped back home.

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 walk 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 wooden geta.

The light 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. Almost beckoned by her thoughts three white cranes flew overhead and Mari’s eyes followed their flight, her eyes filling 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 many 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.

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, a Japanese friend had already invited them to an unusual ritual, something she called Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai. There would be a storyteller, a member of the Yamabushi sect, or so said Miyo. Mari had met her at a small company function when they first arrived in Kyoto.

Ah, thought Mari, 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 had to go 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 in Kyoto.

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 like 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 already there, mostly elderly people, more of Miyo’s age than Mari’s. Everyone 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 farther 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 dimmed. 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 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.

The next day Mari was going to bury the kimono in the bottom of an old chest. She lay it out on the bed, her hand running over the knotted embroidery inside where it wrapped around, leaving a tattoo on her hips. She closed her eyes and read the small mounds of stitching like Braille. Picking up the heavy crepe she buried her nose in the cloth, smelling its scent. She thought of the first time she saw it in the window of the shop near Sannenzaka Street. It had attracted her like a dull, muted beacon, and she thought about the candles, the stories and the face of Hiro Takado. A heaviness fell over her limbs and she shook off the desire to lay face down over the kimono and go to sleep. She quickly folded the kimono and put it under blankets and sweaters at the bottom of the chest.

For a month Mari attended to the routine with Steven, kissing her husband goodbye in the morning. She spent her days roaming the streets and temples of Kyoto, learning the different districts and feeding the ducks bread in the waterways.

It took a couple of weeks for her depression to become evident. Her daily walks were unvarying, the district’s streets and parks beginning to have a dull, sameness that did nothing to lift her spirits. She felt disconnected to everything and rarely now smiled. If anyone had bothered to ask after her, she would have told them she felt numb, detached from life.

One day Mari decided to sit at her desk and scroll through the internet. Nothing much interested her anymore. The morning was overcast anyway and threatened rain. She thought about the story teller, Hiro Takado, the ghost stories he told, the transformation of his face, and decided to research the Yamabushi. She found little except this cult was well established by the 9th century. They were mystics, healers and hermits. Apparently they got too powerful for the different ruling families and were bribed to fight and serve depending which mountain region they came from. They were mountainous warriors, and skilled in different forms of magic.

Mari sat back, wondering at the behavior of Hiro Takado, thinking the night was just some weird happening and not that she was crazy. The dream haunted, pressed inward on her, disturbed her sleep and relations with Steven. She needed relief for her face took on a haunted look, with dark circles under her eyes. She lost weight and was now thin.

One afternoon Mari opened the chest at the bottom of the bed, removed the blankets and carefully lifted the kimono out. The black crepe was heavy and cool in her hands as she draped it over the chair. Sitting on the bed, she wondered what she would do with it? Was what she remembered just an erotic dream brought upon by her unhappiness with Steven?

Later that night the full moon rose, shone on the rooftops and distorted the trees. Mari slipped out of bed, pulling the kimono around her. She carefully stepped back into bed, and watched the moon pattern the floor with its light. Finally she fell asleep, wrapped in the warming embrace of the kimono.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2015

Mimi Cat August

Mimi acting very silly.

‘Lord Nyo’s Lament’ from “Song of the Nightingale”

October 21, 2015

Song_of_the_Nightingale_COVER

http://amzn.to/1Cm8mZi

 

Oh my wife!

My feet take me over mountains

In the service to our lord

But my heart stays tucked in the bosom

Of your robe.

Lord Nyo’s Lament

The song of the arrow

As it arced into the sea

Was as tuneless

As a badly strung samisen.

Gun- metal clouds

Stretched across a dull horizon

The sun still asleep

As he should be

His quiver empty

His heart, too.

When had the callousness of life and death

Become as comfortable as breath to him?

He had become too much the warrior

And too little the man.

His distance from his wife,

From most of life

Was as if some unseen object

Kept them ten paces apart.

Perhaps it was the cloud-barrier

Of earthly lusts which obscured

The Sun of Buddha?

Perhaps he should pray.

What God would listen?

Then it came to him

That joker of a Buddha, Fudo

With his rope to pull him from Hell

And his sword to cut through foolishness-

Fudo would listen.

Fudo knew the quaking hearts

The illusions embraced

To stomach the battlefield

The fog of drink,

To face life

In the service of Death.

Fudo would save him from

The yellow waters of Hell.

He remembered those years

When she could bring him to his knees

With the promise of dark mystery

Between silken thighs,

And the glimpse of her white wrist-

A river of passion

Just beneath the surface.

How he had steeled his heart

Believing himself unmanned

For the love she induced!

Three cranes flew low to the shore,

Legs streaming like black ribbons behind.

Three cranes, three prayers, three chances

To find his way back

Bound up in Fudo’s ropes,

Prodded in the ass by Fudo’s sword.

He would write a poem

On a bone-white fan

To leave on her cushion.

She would know his love

She would know his sorrow.

The sea took his arrows

Beyond the breakers,

The glint of sleek feathers

Catching thin rays of light.

An unexpected peace came over him

As they journeyed far from his hands.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted,  2015, “Song of the Nightingale” is published by Createspace, Amazon.com, 2015


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