Posts Tagged ‘Kyoto’

“The Kimono”, Chapter 30.

March 27, 2018

Kimono Cover

“Kimono” is finally finished, except for some final edits.  They never end. This novel was started in 2007 and it has a long life.  Nick Nicholson researched and picked a cover, one of two. We will make a final decision soon.  I’m posting a chapter just for fun.  It is not the final edit. Sorry for the formatting issues.

Lady Nyo

Summer had just begun to turn. The plums, maples, and cherries were turning into brilliant reds, golds and purples.  Most days Mari sat in a park under some gingkoes. It was mid-morning and though there wasn’t a chill  in the air, she could tell the season was changing. The wind would pick up and blow early fallen leaves around her feet. She had recovered from her long stay in hospital and her face was not so thin. Even her bobbed hair was growing out and now swept her shoulders.

She dressed in cotton kimonos in the summer wearing the blue and white yukatas. With autumn approaching, she was changing into a lined kimono, more appropriate for the weather  that could take by surprise. She was always cold, as if something in her body was turned off. Her hands and feet were especially cold, as if her circulation was impaired.

She looked healthier, less haunted. Her friend Miyo said so. Steven was not so sure. He was growing impatient with her, claiming she was not trying harder to rejoin life. He wanted her involved with random things: taking courses at some local college, perhaps flower arranging which seemed to be the rage among Japanese women. Something besides sitting on park benches staring off in the wilderness. Mari could feel the tension that existed between them. They had little to say to each other. Mari thought she had become an emotional burden to him. He was still puzzled about her miscarriage. It seemed to him that she was pregnant one day, and then, not. Mari couldn’t remember much herself. It all seemed to be as a dream.

Her marriage certainly was strained. It was so before but now? She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have much emotion concerning her husband, but Miyo thought this was because of the ‘unknown’ trauma she had suffered. Mari couldn’t remember much but she knew what people around her were calling trauma was more. The two strangling marks on her throat had disappeared. What was left was a wavering emptiness teetering between untouchable memory and a desire not to remember.
Mari was trying to read “The Narrow Road to the Interior”, a collection of Basho’s travel haibun. Sometimes she could concentrate on the passages, and sometimes they made no sense at all. At times  words swirled together  and she would shake her head to clear. This morning, tears fell on the pages, obscuring her sight.
Mari was sitting on the usual bench with her book, now in her lap. She had given up trying to read, her thoughts a jumble. A tall man approached, bowed and without a word, sat down. This was not unusual in a crowded city where people by necessity and custom shared public spaces. Mari was about to pick up her book and attempt to read, when the man pushed a small, pale fan in her direction. It was a plain, paper fan with covered wooden ribs. It looked old.
“Please, this fan is for you.”
Mari looked at him and something in his face made her uneasy. He had a sharpened face, with a long nose. He was rather handsome in a way, elderly but looking at his feet, Mari saw his toe nails seemed to have grown over the front of his sandals.
Her breath caught in her throat.
“Nah, don’t be afraid. Should an old Tengu of your acquaintance rattle you so? I bear a message from one who knew you rather well.”
The man placed the fan in Mari’s hand and nodded his head.
Mari opened the fan and in Kanji was penned the words:

“The firefly misses your laughter.”
Mari’s heart raced. Something so strange. What did it mean? The word “firefly” had some meaning but what?
Suddenly, she knew. Like a door opening, memories came flooding back. She shook her head, trying to get control of herself. She felt dizzy as if someone or something had spun her around violently. Flashes of color, voices, and scents started to swirl together and she gasped. She felt like she had been punched in the stomach. Taking a deep breath she addressed the man.

“You are Lord Yoki.”
“You’re a fast study, girl. At least all that time travel crap didn’t leach that out of your head.”
Mari turned to him. “This fan is from Lord Mori.”

“Yes, right again.”

Suddenly, she remembered the earthquake, feeling the swaying ground under her feet, the fires and the uprooted cherry trees. She remembered the groaning of the earth and people who were half buried under the trunks and flowering branches. She saw, again, the horror of a man pierced with a cherry branch, the blood of his chest mingled with the blossoms. She remembered a woman who was bleeding, and she saw again this woman cradling her arm, the blood coursing down her face.

“Did Lord Mori survive?”

“He did. Though many that day didn’t. He sent you back to now because he didn’t know what was ahead. He sent you back and continued on to Gassan.”

Mari was stunned. All these images, the cries of the servants and the groans of the men under these fallen trees came back with force. She threw up her hands over her ears and her body trembled. The memories were too much to bear. She thought she was losing her mind. She felt she would vomit.

Lord Yoki moved closer to her, in an attempt comfort.

“Mari, what is it you want? Are you happy here?”

Mari looked up at him, tears flooding her eyes, trying to gulp air, trying not to spew her guts.

“I don’t know what I want, Lord Yoki. But I don’t want what I have now. I don’t have a life here. I am always waiting for something to happen, but I don’t know what it is supposed to be.”

“Ah. Have you thought of the possibility of going back?”

“Don’t hold out that feather to me! I have just remembered what was before. How can I compare then with now?”

Mari’s words were fierce, her desperation obvious. These memories, coming back in such a rush, had unsettled her in the extreme but there was more. A glimmer of hope in the midst of all these events, so small she couldn’t see it.

Lord Yoki grimaced and nodded his head.

“Speaking of feathers, there is a way.”

Mari was confused. Then she got angry.

“What do you mean? Don’t joke with me. I don’t see any magic kimono hanging around.”

“Oh, you have grown fierce! Perhaps a tad bitter? Never mind, this old tengu has seen and heard much worse.”

He smiled and folding his hands over his stomach, blinked his eyes and looked like he was going to sleep.
Mari looked off into the distance, her thoughts fighting, tumbling in her mind. She didn’t know what to hope for. Was this actually happening, or had she fallen into a dream? How had he found her, and why?

“Forgive me, my lord. My wits are scrambled and my heart full of rancor.”

“It’s to be expected, Mari. You have gone through Hell.”
Lord Yoki chuckled. He had gone through his own particular Hell a number of times. He had suffered all that was possible yet he didn’t die. Perhaps this was the one consolation of being mythological. Or perhaps it was a curse.

He looked up in the sky at clouds and for something else. He finally found it. Three cranes flew low, their black legs streaming like ribbons against their white bodies. It must be a sign, he thought. In any case, it would do.

“Mari”, he said softly. “There is a way, but you have to be sure you want to do this. It might be a one-way ticket to Hell, there is no telling what fate has in store for you.”

Mari looked at him, eyes brimming with tears.

“My lord, Hell is preferable to the emptiness I feel. It would be welcome.”
She looked at the twisting hands in her lap.

Lord Yoki could feel her despair.

“Well, you have to be sure. My magic has been faulty of late.” He reached high in a sleeve of his kimono and with a grimace and a yelp of pain, brought out a feather. It was a long flight feather he handed to Mari. She saw the blood on the end, where the follicle had been attached to his upper arm.

“As you say, not a kimono, but magic has other ways up its sleeve.” Yoki grimaced as he rubbed his arm.

“That will ground me for a while, or if not ground me, I’ll be flying in circles.” His laughter was bitter.

“Take this home, Mari, and be very sure you want this. If you decide to use this feather, the first night on the next full moon, wear a decent kimono, or a couple of them for warmth, and tuck it in your bosom. The rest will be left up to the kami who controls these things. Buddha only knows who that is.”

Mari started at the feather and suddenly she realized Lord Yoki had disappeared. She looked around, but he was gone.

So typical of that damn bird. Doesn’t stay around for the important stuff, like where will I land and will I survive the process?

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

“The Kimono”, a chapter from a novel

July 21, 2016

images (8)


Plum Blossom Snow


The present snowstorm of

White plum blossoms

Blinds me to sorrow.


They cascade over cheeks

Like perfumed, satin tears

Too warm with the promise of life

To chill flesh.


(poem by Jane Kohut-Bartels, copyrighted, 2008)

It has taken me 8 years to finish this long novel.  It is a time warp, from 21th century Japan to late 16th century Japan.  Mari is a 32 year old Japanese/American, in Kyoto with her husband Steven, a computer consultant.  For the majority of the novel, Mari has been snatched by a magical kimono, appearing in feudal Japan where she meets Lord Mori, a powerful daimyo in North Japan…around Akito,  the Gassan (Moon) Mountain.

The ending didn’t come to me easily, until last night.  Fighting with stupid Geeksquad, I got little sleep, and when I did awake, the next chapter, the ending …was in my mouth.

I am grateful.  I have a couple of long novels floating around, mostly unfinished but at that stage where it would take only a couple of months to do so.  So whatever propelled me into the ending (of which this next to last chapter isn’t….) I am grateful.  Even to stupid Geeksquad.  Who knows where inspiration comes from?

The character Lord Fudo is obviously a Tengu….a mystical being, usually birdlike who can transform themselves into (mostly) human appearance.  In the novel, he is called Lord Yuki…who is also a Yamabushi.

Lady Nyo

Chapter 27


Mari was dreaming of snow. Snow was falling on her face, but somewhere in her mind she knew it was spring, and now too far from winter. She woke up, cold, as Lord Mori had turned in the night from her, and had taken all the quilts.

She sat up, pulling her thin kimonos around her. The dawn’s light hardly infused the bay before them, only thin tendrils of light skimmed the sky above the distant mountains.

Something was wrong. It wasn’t snow, but cherry blossoms. They covered the ground. There was a humming beneath the soil and Mari placed her hands firmly on the ground, feeling the vibrations. She wondered why Lord Mori did not awake.

Mari stood to get a better look at the bay, but even standing was difficult. She felt drunk, unstable on her feet. Something was wrong, and the water before her looked as if something was punching beneath with a million fists, causing it to roil and churn.

Lord Mori woke up with a start, sat up and for the first time, Mari saw fear on his face.

“Do not try to stand, throw off your geta and run”, he whispered.

He grabbed her hand and at a crouch, they ran up the hill towards the others, Mari gathering her robes above her knees. They were knocked to the ground with the tremors of the earthquake a number of times, and each time Lord Mori covered her with his body.

They could hear screams and shouts in the distance. Nothing seemed real to Mari, and those beautiful cherry trees were uprooted and fallen in a jumble against each other. Lord Mori saw Lord Nyo scrambling towards him and shouted for him to try to get back to town and get their horses. They must ride to Gassan or get as high as possible. They were in the lowlands and following an earthquake could come the feared tsunami.

A small fire had started with a brazier turning over on some quilts. Lord Mori stamped it out, and then looked for survivors. Lady Nyo and her servants were lying under some branches of a fallen cherry tree, and Lord Mori and some of the men lifted the tree to pull them out. Lady Nyo had blood streaming down her face mixed with soil, but other than a flesh wound, she would survive. Some others were not so lucky. A few servants from the inn were buried by a few fallen trees, or laid out like they were just asleep on the soil. Lord Mori’s men dragged them out and laid them together on the ground. Someone covered them with the half-burnt quilts.

Mari scrambled to where Lady Nyo was sitting against a half-fallen tree and with her kimono sleeve, wiped the blood from her face. Why didn’t Lord Nyo free his wife first before he obeyed orders from Lord Mori to bring their horses? Clearly the rules of this century, and this country were very different than her own. She would hope that Steven would have attended to her first, but then again, this was a very different culture.

“I am fine, don’t worry about me, please”, whispered Lady Nyo. Mari could see that she had suffered shock and her pale face showed the effects of this trauma.

“Is my Lord Nyo alive?” Mari nodded her head, and told her that Lord Mori ordered him to bring the horses from the town.

Lady Nyo looked doubtful. “Surely the town has suffered what we have here. The horses might have bolted and he will not find them.”

“We can only hope he does. Lord Mori wants us all to ride to Gassan Mountain. He says the higher we are the safer we will be.”

Suddenly a man appeared over them. Mari looked up startled. It was Lord Yoki.

“Do not fear, my ladies”, he said bowing. “Lord Mori is right. The higher we get the better our chances of surviving will be.”

Another tremor, this one lasting only a few seconds, but Mari screamed in fear. Lord Yoki laid his hand on her shoulder to steady her. Mari buried her face in his robes. Either he had very hairy legs or she was feeling feathers through his clothing. In any case, she was glad he was there. Lord Mori was off directing the men, gathering what they could that would be useful for their flight to Gassan Mountain. He was not around to comfort a hysterical woman.

She continued to wipe the blood from the face of Lady Nyo, using the sleeve of her kimono. Lady Nyo was chanting something in a low voice. Mari thought she was praying.

Suddenly, Lord Mori was bending over her and he pulled her to her feet, leading her away from the others.

He put his arm around her waist and drew her to him.

“You must leave. If you stay, you will die.”

“Yes. I will die with you.”

Lord Mori grimaced and  put his hand around her neck, close to her chin, bending her head back. He increased his hand’s pressure on either side of her jaw and the last thing Mari saw was his eyes staring at her, two liquid black pools to drown in.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016

“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.

%d bloggers like this: