Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

“Two Poems In Honor Of Japan”

March 10, 2013

Haiku Sea Wave image

It is hard to believe it is already two years since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I composed and posted these poems right after
this national disaster, and I post these again in memory of the Japanese people who died and for a nation who is still

Banji wa yume.

Lady Nyo

Two Poems in Honor of Japan, 2011

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 graves.

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 up as prayers.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2011-2013

” A Short Presentation on Tanka”

February 15, 2013

Autumn in all its glory

National Haiku Month still:

The young plum has died
white blossoms never opened
Mockingbirds homeless

A daffodil moon
sails across a charcoal sky
Dawn-it comes too close!

Lady Nyo

A little more than a year ago, I was asked by a poetry group, “OneShotPoetry” to do a presentation on tanka. I have been studying this early Japanese form of poetry for the past five or more years. I love this form to distraction, and my own poetry has gone through many changes as I learned. I always feel that the study of tanka is a life long endeavour. It took me years to finally come to grips with the ‘hidden’ concepts, which aren’t really very hidden. The structure of tanka is rooted in the earliest poetry in Japan, before the 6th century, but blossoming into its fullest beauty before the 12 century. In my opinion, this has many reasons, in part because of the contributions of women poets in Japan. This is well before the advent of Confucianism, where the freedoms of women were corralled and their creativity also demeaned.

Lady Nyo


The morning wren sings
I stand in the moonlit dawn
Kimono wrapped close
Last night I made my peace
Now free from all attachments

Lady Nyo

To understand tanka one should go back into the Japanese literary history of the 8th and 9th century. Poets of this time, male poets, were writing in a Chinese poetic technique. They were still not able to use the language skillfully enough to present their own emotions. This would take another century but by the 10th century, women were using a new written language to write their poetry. For the next two centuries, excelled in it.

Tanka, earlier name waka, was described in this way: “ Japanese verse is something which takes root in the soil of the heart and blossoms forth in a forest of words.”

Tanka, if nothing else, was the medium for lovers: written on special paper, a fan, wrapped around a small branch of a flowering plum or cherry, it was communication between a man and a woman.

Married couples in a certain class didn’t live together. Perhaps a wife had her own quarters in a compound, or in another town. A tanka was composed, a personal messenger delivered the poem, waited, was given a drink, flirted with the kitchen maids, and an answering poem was brought back.

People were judged as to how “good” their poetry was.

During the Heian court of the 12th century, tanka became one of the greatest literary influences. Large and prestigious competitions were developed by nobles and priests alike, striving for the most ‘refined’ tanka. This led to restricted poems because of limited themes thought ‘proper’. Praise of nature, the Emperor, and loyalty were much the court poems.

However, it was still the written form of communication between lovers. Poetry from that time, outside the court issue, still exalted the passions—made connection between hearts — fertilized the soil of humanity.

Ono no Komachi, Izumi Shikiba and Saigyo are a few of the great tanka poets of the early Heian period (8-12th centuries).

The first two court women, great poets, and the third was a Buddhist priest. Saigyo is perhaps the most influential poet to come out of Japan. Even the famous haikuist Basho (17th century) said he studied Saigyo .

Saigyo came from the Heian Court in the 12 century. He was of a samurai/warrior family and at the age of 23 became a priest. He was always worried his warrior background (he did serve as samurai) would ‘taint’ his Buddhist convictions. He left the court when the Japanese world was turning upside down with politics and civil war.
For those who want a deeper history of Saigyo, read William LaFleur’s “Awesome Nightfall” about the life and times of Saigyo.

Saigyo’s wandering all over Japan was not so unusual. Saigyo travelled with other priests and welcomed their company on the lonely treks through mountains and remote terrain. Some were spies for the Court. Many priests wore a large woven basket over their heads, extending down past their shoulders. Some were Shakhauchi flute players who would play their wooden flutes under the basket as they walked.

Generally Saigyo adheres to the 5-7-5-7-7 structure of tanka . I will give the original in Japanese of one poem, because the translation into English doesn’t necessarily follow the 5-7-5 etc. structure when translated.

Kototou hito no
Naki yado ni
Ko no ma no tsuki no
Kage zo sashikuru

“This place of mine
Never is entered by humans
Come for conversation.
Only by the mute moon’s light shafts
Which slip in between the trees.

(Remembering a lover)
The moon, like you,
Is far away from me, but it’s
Our sole memento:
If you look and recall our past
Through it, we can be one mind.

Here I’ve a place
So remote, so mountain-closed,
None comes to call.
But those voices! A whole clan
Of monkeys on the way here!

This is only a teaser of Saigyo’s superb verse, but shows the brilliance, power and inventiveness of the short burst of tanka.

Ono no Komachi (8th century) and Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?) wrote during the times of the court culture’s greatest flowering. As with Saigyo, Ono no Komachi mostly writes in the 5-7-5-7-7 form of tanka.

No way to see him
On this moonless night—
I lie awake longing, burning,
Breasts racing fire,
Heart in flames.

No way to see her lover without the light of the moon, perhaps she dare not strike a light. But the repeated imagery of light: flames, fire, burning clearly relays her desire. “Heart in flames” is common, but “Breasts racing fire” pushing this poem up a notch.

Since this body
Was forgotten
By the one who promised to come,
My only thought is wondering
Whether it even exists.

Do we exist independently of the one we deeply love? Would we exist without them?

I thought to pick
The flower of forgetting
For myself,
But I found it
Already growing in his heart.

Izumi Shikibu is a poet that can make one uncomfortable in the reading. Her poems are so personal, so erotic.

Lying alone,
My black hair tangled,
I long for the one
Who touched it first.

In this world
Love has no color—
Yet how deeply
My body
Is stained by yours.

If only his horse
Had been tamed
By my hand—I’d have taught it
Not to follow anyone else!

This last poem quoted is hard to read. Shikibu’s daughter Naishi has died, snow fell and melted. The reference to ‘vanish into the empty sky’, is the smoke of cremation.

Why did you vanish
Into empty sky?
Even the fragile snow,
When it falls,
Falls into this world.

The next section will be about the formation of tanka, with classical examples and a few of my own.

Lady Nyo ( who is also Jane Kohut-Bartels)

Copyrighted, 2012-2013

“Mirror For The Moon”….a little poetry of Saigyo…and a very little of mine.

April 12, 2012


This is a very  little of Saigyo, the Heian-era priest and poet.  Reading, studying Saigyo is like falling into the rim of the Universe: you have no idea where you will land nor what you will learn.  But the trip will  profoundly change you.

In “Mirror For the Moon”, a collection of translations by William LaFleur of Saigyo, one gets the idea that Saigyo transcended the usual route, the accepted and comfortable route of poet/priests of that era.

There were tons of poetry written by many poets, officials, etc. about the moon, nature, flowers, etc.  But Saigyo’s poetry had an ‘edge’, a difference:  his view of blossoms, moon, nature, was not just the usual symbol of evanescence and youthful beauty:  his view of blossoms, nature, were more a path into the inner depth of this relationship between humanity and nature.   He spent 50 years walking the mountains, road, forests, fields all over Japan and his poetry (waka) reflected his deep understanding of the physicality of nature:  all seasons were felt and experienced not from the safety and comfort of a court, surrounded by other silk-clad courtier/poets,  but out there in the trenches of nature.  His poetry is formented in the cold and penetrating fall and spring rains, the slippery paths upon mountain trails, the ‘grass pillows’ (the term which stands in for journey) and a thin cloak, the deep chill of winter snows upon a mountain, the rising  mists that befuddle orientation,  and especially, the loneliness of traveling without companionship. He had companionship at times. Sometimes other priests, sometimes poets, and sometimes travelling prostitutes, women who went on the road from town to town, generally dancers and singers.

Saigyo became a poet/priest, but before that he was and came from a minor samurai family.  He was, at the age of 22, a warrior.  He always struggled with his past in his long years of travel, wondering how this  former life impacted on his religious vows.  His poetry reflects this issue.

I have begun to re-acquaint myself with Saigyo and his poetry, having first come across his poems in 1990. There is something so profound, different, that calls down the centuries to the heart.  His poetry awakens my awe and wonder of not only nature-in-the-flesh, but in the commonality of the human experience.

Lady Nyo

Not a hint of shadow

On the moon’s face….but now

A silhouette passes–

Not the cloud I take it for,

But a flock of flying geese.

Thought I was free

Of passions, so  this melancholy

Comes as surprise:

A woodcock shoots up from marsh

Where autumn’s twilight falls.

Someone who has learned

How to manage life in loneliness:

Would there were one more!

He could winter here on this mountain

With his hut right next to mine.

Winter has withered

Everything in this mountain place:

Dignity is in

Its desolation now, and beauty

In the cold clarity of its moon.

When the fallen snow

Buried the twigs bent by me

To mark a return trail,

Unplanned, in strange mountains

I was holed up all winter.

Snow has fallen on

Field paths and mountain paths,

Burying them all

And I can’t tell here from there:

My journey in the midst of sky.

Here I huddle, alone,

In the mountain’s shadow, needing

Some companion somehow:

The cold, biting rains pass off

And give me the winter moon.

(I love this one especially: Saigyo makes the vow to be unattached to seasons, to expectations, but fails and embraces his very human limitations)

It was bound to be!

My vow to be unattached

To seasons and such….

I, who by a frozen bamboo pipe

Now watch and wait for spring.

(Love like cut reeds:)

Not so confused

As to lean only one way:

My love-life!

A sheaf of field reeds also bends

Before each wind which moves it.

(And Love like fallen leaves….)

Each morning the wind

Dies down and the rustling leaves

Go silent: Was this

The passion of all-night lovers

Now talked out and parting?

And in this reading of Saigyo, one can not help but try their own hand at  tanka.

Like the lithe bowing

Of a red maple sapling

My heart turns to you,

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.


The full moon above
Floats on blackened velvet seas,
Poet’s perfection!
But who does not yearn for a
Crescent in lavender sky?

The sound of frog-cries
In the pond floats a pale moon
Fresh life is stirring
An early owl goes hunting
Wise mice scatter for cover.

Cranes wheel in the sky

Their chiding cries fall to hard earth

Warm mid winter day

A pale half moon calls the birds

To stroke her face with soft wings.

I am sitting outside and have just heard this dove, with it’s mournful cry. There is nothing quite so beautiful, nor quite so sad that comes at dusk.

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.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012


two of these tanka above from “White Cranes of Heaven”, 2011,

Saigyo’s from:

 “Mirror For the Moon”,  A Selection of Poems by Saigyo (1118-1190)




More Spring Haiku, Tanka, and Troubling Issues of Yugen and Mono-no-Aware

March 31, 2012


Watercolor:  Springtime Daffs, janekohut-bartels, 2006

(“Spring Daffs”, watercolor, janekohutbartels, 2006)

The plums, peach blossoms are done: the cherries and apple to come.  The pears are blooming and so are the roses. There is only what is outside, to see with eyes, as there is little energy right now with allergies.

I have struggled with terms in Japanese poetry such as yugen, mono-no-aware and other Zen and Zen-sounding concepts.  A poet strives for the quality of mono-no-aware; that the sense of a poem must reach beyond the words themselves, even to an ‘elegant sadness’.

As for yugen, an aesthetic feeling not explicitly expressed, rather a ‘ghostly’ presense.

These are noble and heady concepts, rich with cultural experience and a deeper study.  I believe you grow into this understanding only with time. For me, I am too new a poet to understand these things or to apply them with any honesty.

Saigyo says we start with direct observation and see where this takes us.  This spring, putting in my garden, suffering from a vertigo of unknown cause, being mostly on my back with plenty of time to stare out the window, to observe the passing of hours, well, these poems below are nothing more than that: they are a modest product of an attempt to get closer to an aesthetic I don’t really understand.

Lady Nyo


A pale crescent moon

The sky colored lavender

Nothing more to wish.


Acid green pollen

Stains the landscape of spring

Life-force of Nature.


Morning glories bloom

Entangling wrought-iron fence

Warms the cold metal.


Dawn east-sky moon glows

A thin half-cup spills on soil

Seeds stretch out their arms.


Under a crescent moon

The black soil of the garden

Anticipates life.


Tibetan earthworms

Bring a halt to all labor

Here? Feed lazy koi.




Smell of rose blossoms

Draws me around a corner.

A black cat sits there

The finest brocade can not

Equal this petal softness.




In the Garden at Dawn


Dawn east-sky moon gleam

A golden half-cup greets the garden,

Hands deep in soil

Planting tender shoots of life

With a reverence feeding the soul

As seedlings feed flesh later to come.


There is God in this black soil,

Earthworms and tiny bits of life

Independent of will or wishes.

Golden moonbeams spill on this tilled earth

Like a benediction or blessing,

And bathes plants and planter with promise.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2012

Two Poems in Honor of Japan

March 11, 2012

It is hard to believe it is already a year since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  I composed and posted these last year right after this national disaster, and a year later I post these in memory of the Japanese people who died and for a nation who are still recovering. 

Banji wa yume.

Lady Nyo


Two Poems in Honor of Japan, 2011


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 graves.


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,

And 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 up as prayers.

Banji wa yume.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011, 2012


Letter from Sendai, Letter of Hope

March 24, 2011

cherry blossoms from Sendai

A good friend sent me this letter yesterday. It was sent to her from a woman in Sendai.  It is a beautiful letter, full of hope and gives a clear understanding not only what has happened to life in Japan, but what is happening in  positive ways.  To pluck out the good from such a massive tragedy is truly amazing.  There are so many lessons  for us, and this short letter moved me so much, I thought it right to post it on my blog.  Thank you, Bren, for sending this to me.  It made all the difference.  It is an amazing testament to the human spirit. An enormous Cosmic evolutionary step happening all over the world, indeed!

Lady Nyo

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to
have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even
more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home.
We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep
lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly,
and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit
in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to
get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in
their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and

It’s utterly amazingly that where I am there has been no looting, no pushing
in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an
earthquake strikes. People keep saying, “Oh, this is how it used to be in
the old days when everyone helped one another.”

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens
are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.

We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half
a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all
of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not. No one has
washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more
important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of
non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of
caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some
places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun.
People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their
dogs. All happening at the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No cars.
No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with
stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.. The
mountains are Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them
silhouetted against the sky magnificently.

I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see
if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need
help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for
another month or more.. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking,
rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit
elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better
off than others. Last night my friend’s husband came in from the country,
bringing food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed
an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world
right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening
now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I
felt so small because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel as
part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of
birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and Love of me.


Basically, an anti-radiation diet should focus on the following foods:
· Miso soup· Spirulina, chlorella and the algaes (kelp, etc.)·
Brassica vegetables and high beta carotene vegetables·
Beans and lentils· Potassium, calcium and mineral rich foods·
High nucleotide content foods to assist in cellular repair including
spirulina, chlorella, algae, yeast, sardines, liver, anchovies and mackerel, Cod liver oil and olive oil· Avoid sugars and sweets and wheat

Three Poems Upon Viewing the Moon Last Night

March 20, 2011

A dear friend, Bren, issued a challenge yesterday: to write a poem about the moon last night.  No poetry of mine can capture the beauty of that particular moon.  It filled the eyes and sky as nothing I can remember.

The great tragedy in Japan was not far from my thoughts as I watched, riveted to the eastern early night sky.  I was sitting under two plum trees and gentle breezes cascaded white petals  into my lap.  Time of sorrow, time also of hope.

Lady Nyo


The moon tonight

Blood orange orb

Duenna of the cosmos

Looms in a velvet sky.

Slipping her moorings

She floats closer to earth

A commanding  presence

Creating wonderment beneath

And pulling our eyes to Heaven.


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 our eyes above the grave.


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 trees

Would have opened in Sendai.

Beautiful clouds of scented prayers

Falling upon upturned faces,

An eternal promise of hope for the earth

Swept out to sea

With a good part of humanity.

I will sit beneath the moon tonight

I will sit beneath a cherry tree

Feeling the kiss of bridal blossom

Fall upon my sorrowful face.

I will count falling petals,

And offer each up as a prayer.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011

Tsunami of Prayers…..

March 14, 2011

A very good article from the New York Times explains this issue of troubling design which complicated the Japanese reactor situation.

“Experts Criticize Design of Japanese Reactors”

I encourage people to read this article.  Sheds light on the present situation.
Lady Nyo

“Tsunani of Prayers”,  didn’t originate here. It was a small sign held up by a child.  But it seems this is the movement of the world to, in part, address this tragedy in Japan.

Someone said  they had become numb to it all; there was so much tragedy recently in the world, with New Zealand, etc. and I understand.  It’s very hard to not be overwhelmed by each tragedy as it presents itself.

The enormity of the tragedy in Japan just keeps unfolding: the death toll, the devastation, the pictures of the landscape and the people, and now the nuclear issues.  It IS overwhelming.

I also know that right now…I am feeling anger, and it has little to do with what people are suffering right now.

My anger is this: Japan is a small island with 55 nuclear reactors.  Now we read there is a possibility of another reactor emitting radiation, and a possibility of a real meltdown in the first damaged reactor.  And this isn’t an isolated situation given the amount of damage to the sites where many of these reactors stand.

Over 1500 Japanese people have had to be checked for radiation exposure.  This is surely a short list.  The USS Ronald Reagan just passed through a radioactive cloud and shipmates are being given treatment for possible radiation exposure.  Perhaps I am sensitive to this because my son is in the Navy, chasing pirates near Somalia.  I don’t know if his destroyer will be deployed anywhere near Japan, but I pray it won’t.

Perhaps I can express my anger in a better form:  With the obvious issues of nuclear power, and the inability of this writer to believe those who push this particular kind of power as it being ‘safe’, why would we continue to believe that nuclear power is a ‘safe’ response to the needs for the world?  There are other forms of power, solar and wind come to mind, that are lagging in interest and development.  These, to my mind, have less potential for such enormous destruction and impact upon life forms of  all kinds.  And why aren’t these power forms considered over nuclear reactors?

Japan could be swamped by these 55 reactors. The rest of the world certainly will be impacted by what happens in Japan, in the short term and in the long term.

I didn’t start out this morning to write this in such a way. We have a saying here in the South: “Speak truth to Power”….and I guess I slipped into this in my thoughts and anger.  I am going to try to turn my thoughts and actions to something more appropriate, to offer up a tsunami of prayers,  to remember the suffering of the Japanese people is constant and to offer up prayers for their well being.  I feel so lost right now, and that scares me.

Lady Nyo


I move my chair

to observe Mt. Fuji-

monstrous  perfection

topped with the cooling crust

of spring snows.

Languid movement

of a branch,

like a geisha

unfurling her arm

from a gray kimono,

makes petals fall,

a scented, pink snow

covering my upturned face

with careless kisses.

Timid winds caress

my limbs,

a fleeting relief

to tired bones

brittle now with

a sullen defeat of life.

Raked sand of garden

waves barely disturbed

by feet like two gray stones

as grains  flow

round ankles.

I realize once again

I am no obstacle to

the sands of time.

My heart is quieted

by the passage of nothing

for in this nothing

is revealed the fullness of life.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011, from “White Cranes of Heaven”, published by

“Maiko”, from “A Seasoning of Lust”, posted for OneShotPoetryWednesdays

December 21, 2010

A Maiko, apprentice Geisha, maica.TV

Okiya is the house where geisha and maiko live.  Oka-san is the proprietress who owns and runs the okiya.  A maiko is a very young girl, who sometimes enters the okiya at the age of six or as young as three.  She is considered a maid and is only trained as maiko if she shows some talent to be a geisha when older.  These very young girls do all the work of  chores and cleaning the okiya.  They have very long hours as they are expected to stay awake to assist the geisha who return from the teahouses in the early hours of the morning.

Many children were sold to the okiya by poor parents.  This was very common for  the survival of girl children in Japan.

Today, with general education for girls, the role of maiko is disappearing, as girls have better choices for their future.  In part, the lack of maiko means the demise of geisha in Japan.  Kyoto has a different standard for the training of maiko.  Other Japanese cities have a shortened period for this important training.

The payment for the virginity of a maiko to the highest bidder is called  mizuage.  This practice was outlawed in 1959.  The money went a long way to help the maiko, now geisha, debut into her world of entertaining.

If the geisha has a baby and it is a boy, she must leave the okiya (boys, men are not allowed) or give up the baby.  If she has a girl, the baby is absorbed into the okiya and trained as a maid.

Lady Nyo



Dirty faced little girls

imitate geisha

late at night

when chores are done.

They practice

seductive glances,

graceful movements,

pouring tea for phantom clients.

Stealing a moment,

they gaze into mirrors

making geisha- faces

preening, casting

down their eyes,

trying to catch

mirrored reflections.

Now tender maiko,

painted lead-white face,

sit silently,

knees padded by

layers of stiff underdress

stifling yawns

as Big Sister Geisha

pour sake


ever so slightly

a marble- smooth wrist

barely blushing with life-

Mysterious seduction!

Shy maiko,

silent chorus

behind performers,

observing the trade,

studying the manners,

peering with furtive


watching men

roll around tatami-

foolish, drunk-

such silly children!

Slender ‘dancing-girls’

tender split- peach hairdos

drive men to lust-

a ripe and blushing fruit

sits above the red neckline of


a sample of fruit

to be plucked

for the right price

to oka-san.

Solemn maiko,

follow the way of

full-blown geisha,


sold for a pittance,

desired and sought

for beauty, grace, talents,

trapped within silken layers-

beautiful butterflies,

night’s elusive moths,

dragging through life

clipped wings

of splendid colors.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2010

“The Stillness of Death”, from “A Seasoning of Lust”

August 28, 2009

I am down with the flu so I am coasting.  The only good thing about this is  people don’t expect you to move much.  I’m presently sitting in state surrounded with books I have been trying to read for months.  If I act sick enough family leaves me alone and the only problem with that is you can’t run a household which consists of a lot of animals without blowing your cover.  I am yelling downstairs, getting hoarse, trying to evaluate who is where (dogs) and what is happening with the cats.  I am also falling asleep with the daytime meds that claim this doesn’t happen.

I have this pile of books, one of them Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, a fascinating post WWII study of Japanese life and culture.  She was ordered to Washington to do this study, and since it was during 1944, she did it by interviewing Japanese detainees in camps here in the States.

Now we have hundreds of books on Japan and the Japanese, but back then there was only John Embree’s Japanese Nation and some few studies done in the late 19th century.  So she’s breaking a lot of ground here, and one of the sections (actually a theme that runs through the entire book) is about shame and guilt.  She was intrigued that the Japanese she spoke with were less concerned with internalized, standardized rules about right and wrong, and more interested in others’ opinions.

Frankly, this is a deep study and blows the lid off a lot of mythology we Westerners have about the Japanese psyche and culture.

Ack!  I am also trying to get my bleary eyes around Kato’s  A History of Japanese Literature (the first thousand years).

Perhaps I will need two influenza to do this.

The Japanese have the most beautiful books, bound in such lovely styles, and the glossiness of them are a delight to hold in your hand.  Love Songs from the Man’yoshu is a book so beautifully done that it seems a physical work of art.  It is, because the papercuts inside are unreal.  The poetry, too.

Perhaps it is because the heat down here in the South is abating a bit, the rains are coming and there is a touch of that lovely fall we race through August just to sniff and embrace, but I am turning my head towards this study.  “The Zar Tale” is mostly in the can, and I am anxious to get back to a half-finished novel  “The Kimono” and see what can be made with that.

Beginning that book was like falling down a rabbit hole.  It started with an actual antique kimono I bought from a dealer in Atlanta, and it’s a heavy, black silk crepe, something a married woman would wear.  There are 5 chrysanthemum crests on  the body of the piece, with an ivory tan inside, but what is most beautiful, intriguing is this river of silver cloth embossed with embroidery that runs like a river around the hem in waves and up into the inner construction of the furisode.  It dates from the Art Deco period.  When I had that gown in my hands, it was like I was transported somewhere, where I didn’t actually know at the time, but I was to soon.  Writing a physical description to someone was like a transport back into some other time.  So….this book, a time warp from the 21st century with a magical, haunted kimono to the 16th century was born.

I am rambling now, and I use the excuse of the meds.  But pick up Benedict’s book if you want a good study.  Of course, there probably are many better now, but this work was seminal.

Lady Nyo


Lady Nyo knelt on her cushion, her tea cup before her. She did not move.

Lord Nyo was drunk again and when in his cups, the household scattered for hiding places. In the kitchen was a crawl space. Three servants were hiding their heads under there and a fourth was wearing an iron pot on his head.

Lord Nyo was known for three things: archery, temper and his drunkenness.

Tonight he strung the seven foot bow and donned his quiver high on his back. He looked at the pale face of his wife, his eyes blurry, and remembered the first time he bedded her. She was fifteen. Her body had been powdered silk, bones like butter with the blush of ready passion coursing through her like a tinted stream. She was still beautiful, but too fragile for his tastes. Better a plump courtesan, not all delicate and saddened beauty.

In quick succession he drew back the bow and let five arrows fly through the shoji screen. Each grazed his wives’ ear.

Lady Nyo knew her life hung on her stillness. She willed herself dead. Death, after all these years with him, would have been welcome.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009

From “A Seasoning of Lust”

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