Posts Tagged ‘Japanese culture’

“Twelve Tanka”…..

October 23, 2014


"White Cranes of Heaven", cover painting by the author

“White Cranes of Heaven”, cover painting by the author

These tanka were composed when I was writing  ” The Kimono”, yet to be published. Some violate the pivot line and other ‘rules’ of tanka.  There are many parts to tanka and it is wise to learn them.  It just takes time.

A few of these tanka are published already in “White Cranes of Heaven”,, 2011.

Lady Nyo~

This is the problem!

Do not give over your soul,

it returns tattered.

What tailor can mend the rips?

The fabric too frayed by life.

A modest woman

does not seek comfort with thieves

Emptiness is fate.

Better her eyes turn upwards

to Heaven, soul comforted.

Human frailties

wounds that bleed such heated blood

leave a dry vessel.

Without the moisture of love

the clay reverts to the ground.

Tears soften venom.

Knives bring satisfaction to

hands still covered with love.

Trembling, can’t find the mark

but the shame returns, pierces.

The heart is brittle.

Hands can not soothe its aching

only honest words

can make the sore mind attend

unless pain ever constant.

A woman in grief,

is force that races nature.

Better now anger

contempt will replace her love.

She will be stronger for it.

Minute to the hour

The heart races on the edge,

sharpened existence.

Feet trammel the rocky ground

While pain flies up to Heaven.

Birds fly in the blue.

All is gray upon the earth,

heart is stopped with bile.

White crane lifts off lake water,

my heart follows them.

The tanka below is the Lady Nyo’s (from ” The Kimono”) death tanka.

Shall an old gray wolf

subdue a woman like me?

I shall be born soon.

The wolf head I will cut off

and nail the pelt to the cross.

The morning wren sings,

I stand in the moonlit dawn

kimono wrapped tight.

Last night my final peace made,

now free from all attachments.

Bolts of lightening flash!

The sky brightens like the day

too soon it darkens.

My eyes opened or closed see

the futility of love.

Had I not known life

I would have thought it all dreams.

Who is to tell truth?

It comes at too sharp a price.

Better to bear flattery.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008-2014

‘The Temptation of Lady Nyo’, from “The Nightingale’s Song”

June 6, 2013

samurai women 2

A while ago, I started to write about the marriage between this mythological Lord and Lady Nyo in 17th century Japan. It started as a few short pieces, and grew into a 14 part story. Magic, Tengus, good and bad people, deceit and love, the usual things of relationships.

Nick Nicholson is a great and long term friend. He is coming from Canberra, Australia to visit us in October. We are going to work together on this book, “The Nightingale’s Song”, Nick to do all the graphics and cover, and me to tighten up the writing.

I have posted pieces of this book-to-be on this blog, and will again. It’s wonderful working with someone you love and respect, and Nick is one great friend.
Two heads on this will be better than just mine.

Lady Nyo


Does he know?
Does he know?
Does he know about the letters?

The court of Lord Mori
Was a small one
Where the men,
Lord Nyo included
Sat and discussed business:
The pleasurable business of hunting,
Archery, drinking
And on occasion,
Just for form’s sake,
Wrote bad poetry.

The women of course
Were positioned behind carved screens,
Where the eagle-eyed Lady Mori,
An old and powdered dragon
Conducted her own court of
Writing more bad poetry, finger games
And layering sleeves and hems for the
Best effects…unseen by anyone
Except the other women.

There was a break in this
Unending monotony one day;
Lady Nyo received notes
From some unknown admirer
Stuffed in different places where
She would find them:
Her screen at court,
On her silk, embroidered cushion,
And even penned on her fan.
She never knew who was so bold,
Never saw even a glimmer of him-
He could have been a ghost.
She recorded her answers in her journal
So she could have evidence of her innocence
Yet she buried his letters in the garden under
A bed of peonies.
She could not bear to burn them.

Yesterday I found a fan with a poem
Stuck in the screen.
Today I found another one placed
On my cushion at court.
Do you have a death wish?
Do you desire the death of me?
You know my husband is known for his temper.
Would I end my life so dishonored?

I see you are as persistent
As the rain in Spring.
Have you no fear?
What is your interest?
Surely I am just another painted face.

I read your poem.
I could do nothing else.
This time it was inked upon
MY fan.

“The wind blows from the north
Chilling my heart.
Only the thought of a touch of your sleeve
Warms me.”
Very nice, but my sleeves are not interested.

“I throw acorns
To the darting carp.
With each nut I say a
Prayer for your health.”
Lovely sentiment, and I am
Always grateful for prayers.
But do you think of my reputation
And what you risk?

I see no poetry this morning
Though I searched for your usual offering.
I knew your interest was as capricious
As a flight of moths.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2013

‘The Stillness Of Death’, posted for d’

September 27, 2011

Lady Nyo is a character I developed for a novel about 17th century Japan (“The Kimono”, still working on it).  She is a samurai wife, something not at all uncommon from the 13th to the 17th century.  These women were trained in martial arts, and especially skilled in the naginata, a long shafted weapon with a blade on the end.  They had much status in feudal society. Today in Japan the training of young women in the naginata is still popular and a form of extreme exercise.

A lot of our concepts about Asian women are skewed by history and culture.  Samurai women were called upon to defend castles, villages, and were organized into fighting units.  They generally did not march with troops, but were more local in fighting. They were sometimes the only defense of a home front, the men being off fighting for a daimyo (war lord).  Things changed around the 17th century when the status of the samurai changed.  The gun, originally introduced by the Portuguese, made their weapons and fighting styles almost obsolete. 

The influence of neo-Confucian philosophy and the practice of using daughters as pawns for power marriages combined to reduce the status of female samurai.  The ideal of fearless devotion was replaced by one of passive obedience.  This social trend was reflected in the new words for wife: Kani and okusan (meaning a person who resides in the house and rarely goes out of the courtyard). A surprising contrast to this is sometimes the life of a samurai wife who becomes a widow.  Many became Buddhist nuns, and  actually were able to impact upon the local politics of their towns and villages and even farther into the court.

Though this poem might seem to portray Lady Nyo as passive, this view is deceptive.  In this unfinished novel, Lady Nyo is fully in command of herself and her husband, Lord Nyo.  The only one she bows her will to is the local daimyo, but that comes from the structure of ‘giri’.

Kyudo is the martial art of archery, a very formal and stylized form.  Lord Nyo is demonstrating this form, though it is not done to my knowledge, drunk.


The other Lady Nyo 


Kneeling before her tea,

Lady Nyo did not move.

She barely breathed-

Tomorrow depended

Upon her stillness 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:



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

And remembered the first time

He pillowed her.

She was fifteen.

Her body powdered petals,

Bones like butter,

Black hair like 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 , 2011

“The Punishment”, for OneShotPoetry

January 25, 2011





Four years ago I discovered shibari.  In Japan, it means the tying of something, usually packages, but an earlier meaning is “the tying of the heart’.  It has a long history in Japan and was used to secure prisoners.  In the West, it refers to the practice of rope bondage, and the word shibari has become common for this practice.

Shibari is a powerful practice.  It can be abused and misused.  In my experience I came to understand that shibari was a many-layered issue.  I have written about Shibari, in “The Shibari Series” in my first book, “A Seasoning of Lust”, and also numerous essays on my blog.  Some can be found with a Google search on Shibari.

“The Punishment” was a poem written from that time.

Different  opinions abound on rope bondage.  There is the issue of control and power, but this entry is not the place to discuss that topic.  I have had different experiences with shibari, but one thing I do believe:  the intent or the expectations of either the binder or the person bound are trumped by what I call “the power of the ropes”.  To the Japanese, in the religion of Shinto, everything has a spirit.  It is called Kami.

From a writing on Shinto religion:

“Kami  is the sacred or mystical element in almost anything. It is in everything and is found everywhere, and is what makes an object itself rather than something else. The word means that which is hidden.

Kami have a specific life-giving, harmonizing power, called musubi, and a truthful will, called makoto (also translated as sincerity).”

I don’t believe in much mystical stuff, but I do believe in kami, especially as it pertains to the practice of shibari.

I have experienced them.

Lady Nyo

THE PUNISHMENT  (Shibari Series)

While binding me for his pleasure

I uttered displeasing words,

And with a level glance

He considered his options.

Too soon he knew

What punishment to apply!

Grabbing my hair

Twisting it in his hand

He pulled me to my feet

And opening the shoji

Pulled me out into

The spring’s snowy morn.

Telling me to kneel,

This time I obeyed,

shivering in fear.

Drawing an early cherry blossom from his sleeve

(a gift that was to be mine)

He threw it in the snow.

It was his pleasure for me to feel

The sharpness of morning

Until the soft snow had covered the blossom.

I, who a month ago would have not cared

What I said,

Now trembled with humiliation

Feeling more than the cold air.

When sentiment grows deep and the heart is overflowing

One submits and becomes a slave to love.

I knelt in the snow,

my nakedness and tears

Showing my shame to the courtyard.

A crow in the cherry tree

Laughed without mercy.

Fearing I would die

The blossom now covered with snow,

He came and

Picked me up in his arms-

Carried me to the warm brazier,

Tucked me deep amongst his robes

And sang a soft song of the foolish maiden

Who would die for the last word.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008, 2011

“The Kimono”…and the blog.

January 17, 2010

The Kimono that started the book.

For  two years  I have been writing a novel that delves into 16th century Japan.  It’s basically a time warp, with a Japanese/American woman, Mari, who buys and dons a magical kimono and lands at the feet (literally) of a powerful 16th century daimyo.

Writing this novel meant an immersion into Japanese culture, and from just these beginning tentative stages, the poetry of  the character, Lady Nyo…developed.

After 32,000 words, the novel stalled.  I had written into the middle part of the novel, and it was flowing well.  Of course, there is always an issue of rewrite.  However, along the way I was pushed to study Japanese archery, cruxification, pottery and of course, Japanese forms of poetry and their usage. Most of this last was reading the poetry  developed from the 8th through the 12th century Japan.

I don’t think it was …(this stalling)…a question of nothing to write. I even have the ending, and I can’t wait to get to that!  It is something of a dream sequence, but I am my own worse spoiler on these things.

Back in the Fall, I made myself a promise: I would give over January on for the writing and FINISHING of  “Kimono”.  Things have been a bit jerky on that promise, but I am getting back  into the study and swing of Japanese history, culture and customs.

The ‘dead’ middle part of this book is because I came to an impass:  I didn’t have the necessary knowledge of things military in the Japan of the 16th century.  This was quite a difference between knowing ceramics and kimono styles and ichibani.  Armor, the different weapons, banners, that floated over armies to distinguish battalions and friend or foe, the sheer ‘ weight’ of all this was a bit overwhelming.

Well, identifying the stoppage as a source of knowledge that was missing was comforting; it wasn’t an abandonment of the work because I had lost interest.  I was deeply interested in Japanese culture.  I just allowed myself to get waylaid.

Life can do that, but hopefully works for a purpose.

I will float a few chapters of “The Kimono” on this blog….because it pleases me to do this and it seems to please others.  And that is the point of writing to me.  In that order.

I am still going to post some information on the development of tanka and different poetry forms around the Heian Court of 12 century Japan.  But there is so much in there, and that is….hopefully, related to the novel.

I also have wanted to do a few interviews of other writers:  Bill Penrose, Steve Isaak, mostly.  But that takes some questions on this side.  However, Bill and Steve are great writers and they can handle an amateur’s interview.

I am mostly going to work on this book, and the blog will just have to coast for a while.  I hope friends and readers will find something to enjoy in these next few months on the blog, but I am going to try and keep entries  down.

The kimono I bought from Marla Marlett’s website is pictured above.

Lady Nyo

(Chapter 13 below. Forgive the lack of proofing.)

Kunu: state…territory.  Japan was made of 68 states, the Western daimyos fighting the Eastern.

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

Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what is that, my friend?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I think we better do—“

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

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

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

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

“Lice,” he announced with a grin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He punctuated his statement with a belch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scratching his scrawny beard absentmindedly, the Yamabushi priest coughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Temptations of Lady Nyo…..

November 12, 2008

Not THIS Lady Nyo…..THAT Lady Nyo….though I did go to a munch, which is rare for me….and had a lot of fun. Saw old friends….. Willow, John Taurus, who has written for this blog on Dominance, bratty kitten and Mr. Big, and it was packed. Joy Spreader was there and a host of other people. It was crowded. Some times it does a girl good to wear a mini and new thigh high boots and sashay around the room, flaunting her ‘stuff’. Although I don’t do the BDSM scene, the munches are always fun. Since Bill Penrose from ERWA has taken over publishing “Seasoning of Lust” (THANK YOU, Bill…) I can make more of the book now with confidence. That was one reason to go to the munch because there are other writers there interested in erotica and who write it, too.

Teela yesterday, Lady Nyo today.

(Note on Temptation: Lady Nyo is a 16th century court woman, (from “The Kimono” a book I am writing) who is happily married.  However, she has attracted the attentions of an unknown lover who leaves poetry written on her fan, or placed where she would discover them.  Women in Japanese courts would be sitting together behind carved wooden screens, hence the poetry she finds on her cushion.  This intrigue was a welcome distraction from the formality of the court customs, and was indulged by most women attendants.  Poetry was the main written form of communication between men and women, and one was judged on the ability to write poetry as much as other manners, perhaps more. At different times, different forms of poetry came into fashion, but tanka (waka) was the universal form.  These are not tanka, which adheres to the form of 5/7/5/7/7 syllables)

Lady Nyo is Samurai by rights of marriage.

The Temptation of Lady Nyo

Yesterday I found a fan with a poem
stuck in my screen.
Today I found another one placed
on my cushion at court.
Do you have a death wish?
Or do you desire the death of me?
You know my husband would kill me.
Would I end my life dishonored?

I see you are as persistent
as the rain in Spring.
Have you no fear?
What is your interest?
Surely I am just another painted face.

I read your poem.
I could do nothing else.
This time it was inked upon
MY fan.

“The wind blows from the north
Chilling my heart.
Only the thought of a touch of your sleeve
Warms me.”
Very nice, but my sleeves are not interested.

“I throw acorns
To the darting carp.
With each nut I say a
Prayer for your health.”
Lovely sentiment, and I
always grateful for prayers.
But do you think of my reputation
and what you risk?

I see no poetry this morning
though I looked for your usual offering.
I knew your interest was as capricious
as a flight of moths.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008

%d bloggers like this: