Posts Tagged ‘Lord Tetsu’

“The Kimono”, Chapter One.

August 17, 2019

Kimono Cover

I published this novel on in October 2018 on Amazon.  It took 12 years to research and write. It’s a novel of magic, time warp and love, plus war and revenge.  You don’t have to know anything about Japan to read this book.

Lady Nyo

It hung in the window of a shop as Mari walked around old Kyoto. The shop looked out on a very small, shaded garden. With the sun overhead piercing the fan-shaped leaves of a gingko, the ground beneath looked like a yukata’s repeat pattern. Mari’s gaze was drawn to a slim beacon of light. It was enough to make her enter the small shop.

“Ohayo!” The shopkeeper came from behind his counter and bowed respectfully to Mari.

“Ohayo.” Mari bowed back.

Mari was Japanese-American, married to an ex-military man and this was their first trip to Japan. The only Japanese thing she knew was food. This culture was no more hers than being American. She felt she would forever be caught in the middle, a tug of war between two sides, and neither to claim her.

Behind the counter, Mari saw what had caught her attention: a kimono, a black, formal tomesode that a married woman would wear, not dyed with the usual flowers worn by young, unmarried women. Winding around the hem in mountains and valleys and up in a serpentine path high on the left front was a wide silver band. Looking closer, she saw the intricate handwork of what looked like stitched, silver cloth.

“That is surihaku, embossed silver sewn foil.”

The voice of the shopkeeper startled her. She blushed, not hearing him approach.

“How old is this kimono? May I look at it closer?”

The shopkeeper took it down from the pole and carefully draped it over his arm. Mari traced the river of silver from the hem to where it stopped. She noticed the kimono also had five white crests stamped on the front, shoulders and back. The shopkeeper opened the left panel of the kimono. Mari saw black knotted embroidery around the tan, the part that encircled the hips. The silver was only the outside decoration. The embroidery inside was heavy and patterned.

Mari could not restrain from touching the embroidery. She wanted to close her eyes and read it like Braille. She had never seen a kimono quite like this. It wasn’t new but it couldn’t be too old, perhaps no more than sixty years. It seemed in excellent condition. Even the white thread that was used when the kimono was washed was still fresh.

“Do you know anything about this tomesode? Where it came from, perhaps?”

The shopkeeper sighed. “No. I am a widower. My wife must have bought it. I found it after she died, in a chest.”

Mari decided to purchase the black kimono. The shopkeeper wrapped it in a box and she brought it home.

Four years ago, she had married Steven. They had never really settled down, for his company sent him for long stays in different countries. She went along because it was what was expected. It was never clear to her what he actually did, something to do with numbers and systems and computer codes. He was an expert in his field and the company was happy to uproot them both and send them afield.

Mari was not unhappy in the marriage, just restless. Steven had his work but she had nothing to do except knock about the streets and look at people, read and think. Mari’s mother thought her malaise was over the issue of children but Mari didn’t think this was such a big issue for her. Steven complained children would complicate their movements and Steven was all about keeping things simple. Mari put up little resistance to whatever her husband wanted. Perhaps her mother, who was a traditional Japanese wife, had influenced her attitude. Her mother always submitted to what her husband wanted. Mari did likewise.

It was two days before she tried on the kimono. After carefully untying the string and opening the box, she took it out and held it in front of her. The weight of the winter crêpe felt heavy. Mari laid the kimono on the bed, kneeled, and again traced the silver river, this time with her face pressed on the cloth, her eyes following the winding course of silver. It was as cool as water on her skin. Laying it open on the bed, she looked carefully at the black embroidery, wondering if there was a pattern in the high knots that coursed around the silk. She couldn’t tell because the pattern was like hieroglyphics, perhaps a secret language sewn into the silk, something indiscernible.

Mari stripped and pulled the kimono around her, binding it to her firmly. It was heavy on her body, clinging like a second skin. She sat on the floor feeling suddenly overwhelmed with a heaviness her legs could not support. She held out her arms, the dull silk rippling like water. It fell into the form of her breasts and she felt her nipples harden. It must be the cold of the crêpe, she thought.

Sitting on the floor, Mari hugged herself. She watched the river of silver course up her leg and disappear into the interior of the kimono. She wondered about the course of her own life. What would the years with Steven bring and could she endure this dullness inside? With a start, she realized that was exactly what she was feeling, a leaden dullness that leached out all color around her. Perhaps that was the attraction of the kimono now wrapped around her, the silver surihaku that led to her noticing it in the shop, the brightness of something to catch her eye and fire her imagination.

Mari didn’t know how long she’d been sitting on the floor. Her thoughts spiraled inward like the design of a nautilus shell. She looked at the clock next to the bed and was amazed an hour had passed. She stood and dropped the kimono on the floor. It puddled into a landscape of black hills, valleys and rivers.

Mari touched her left hip and discovered a series of indentations in her skin. In fact, all around her hips, stretching from one side to the other, there was a definite pattern pressed into her flesh. She thought of the weaves of a basket, the marks of a rope, the binding of her flesh to something stronger than her own mind.

When Steven came home, she showed him the kimono.

“Why a black one, Mari? You will look like an old crow in that.”

A less than flattering characterization but Stephen was sometimes rather critical of how she dressed. Mari did not go for floral designs and bright colors. She picked colors that were neutral, earth tones, colors that made her disappear.

“Married women in Japan always wear black kimonos, Steven. It’s the unmarried women who wear floral designs.”

“Well, get a red one and I’ll be interested in your choice of bathrobes.” Stephen was not taken by Japanese culture. His whole purpose in life was to do his job and move on.

That night when they went to bed, Mari was cold. The weather had changed and fall was becoming chilly. She got out of bed and padded to where she hung the kimono. Pulling it around her body, its heaviness and drape comforted her. She returned to bed and fell asleep.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2019









“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


“The Kimono”, Chapter 11

April 9, 2018

Kimono Cover


Working on final edits of “The Kimono”.  The name change from Lord Mori to Lord Tetsu (Iron) is appropriate and needed.  Hopefully, when  the smoke clears, I will be able to publish this novel by summer/fall.


KIMONO, Chapter 11


Steven drove Mari to the doctor for the abortion. She was emotionally exhausted, and couldn’t fight him anymore.

A nurse, bowing respectfully, met them in the lobby. They sat in hard chairs, Steven saying nothing and Mari too nervous to talk.

What am I doing? Why would I kill this baby, my first and perhaps my only? What options do I have? Steven demands this and if I refuse? Can I chance a refusal?

A nurse called her name and Mari stood, not feeling herself rise. Steven placed his hand at her waist, prodding her to move. She turned and looked at him, tears in her eyes. Unthinking, like one of those Japanese robots, she moved across the room and out the door. It had been raining since they entered the doctor’s office.

“Mari! What are you doing? Come back here.” Steven’s harsh voice followed her out of the doctor’s office. She did not turn her head. She kept walking, tears falling down her face, startling a few passersby.

Mari walked through Kyoto, her hair wet with rain, her shoulders slumped and huddled in her coat. It was early spring and the rain was to be expected. Mari did not notice her surroundings, not caring where she went, what she saw, lost in her own misery.

What are my options? If I keep this baby, what can I do? Go back to the States and live with my mother? I married Steven to get away from her. He will leave me, divorce me, abandon me if I keep this child.

I am friendless here, thought Mari, biting her bottom lip. I am basically alone in this world. I have to decide for myself what to do.

She walked on aimlessly, thinking of her marriage. Flipping back and forth between guilt and resentment, she was torn in two. She knew she was not happy, hadn’t been happy with Steven for a long time. A baby would probably make it worse.

She finally returned home after tramping the streets with her hands shoved in her pockets of her coat, her shoes and hair wet, her body sodden with rain. Steven wasn’t home yet.

That night she made a decision, though in the light of reason it had none. She placed her wedding ring on the nightstand, pulled the kimono around her tightly and secured it with the red silk rope. She lay down in her bed under a full moon, awaiting the magic and dropped off to sleep.

“What? Do I hear more mice? I must remember to set traps before I am overwhelmed with invasion. Or perhaps a hungry cat? What do you think, Lord Ekei?”

Lord Tetsu was standing over his table, looking down at maps. Across from him was his counselor, Lord Ekei. He was looking  at Mari who had materialized on the floor by the window, trussed with her arms behind her back.

“Ho! Said Lord Ekei in surprise. “It looks more like a large, black rat to me. Perhaps a couple of very hungry cats or maybe even a dog. What should we do with such a large rodent? Ah! It is trying to speak.”

Mari struggled in her rope, rocking from side to side, her kimono splayed out from her body, her flesh on the tatami mat.

“Lord Tetsu, please! I am very uncomfortable. Please let me up.”

“Ah, this is quite interesting, Lord Ekei. The rat speaks clearly, implores me to untie it. Yet it comes and goes with little regard and less manners. Now, what would be the proper course to take with an ill-mannered large rat?”

Bowing to Lord Tetsu, Lord Ekei started to draw his long sword.

“With your permission, my lord, I would cut off its head.”

“No!” yelled Mari from the floor. “Lord Tetsu, please, I beg of you, untie me and let me stand up.”

“Ah! Did I hear the word beg? Perhaps this rat is learning something of manners. Perhaps I will indulge her. She squeaks like a female rat.”

Walking over to where Mari lay on the floor, he grinned down at her.

“So, girl, you make your way back to me. Is it because you missed my company or you missed writing your verse? Perhaps you can write more and entertain Lord Ekei this morning?”

Mari turned her head as far as she could and looked up at him. Tears were gathering in her eyes and her lip trembled.

Lord Tetsu drew his shoto and cut her bindings. Mari lay before him quietly, exhausted.

Lord Tetsu crouched down besides her, and spoke in a whisper.

“What am I to do with you, girl? Will you stay this time and become useful?”

Mari struggled to sit up, pulling the kimono around her and rubbing her wrists.

“Lord Tetsu, I will stay if you allow me. I have left my husband.”

Lord Tetsu stood up slowly from the floor.

“Ah. And how did you explain this state of affairs?”

“I didn’t. I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I just put on the kimono and it worked its magic.”

“Did you not think he would believe you? He would think that the moon had robbed you of your senses.”

Mari looked up at him, shivering with emotion and cold. “How could I explain anything to him? What reason would I be able to give?”

“Come, Mari”, said Lord Tetsu, lifting her to her feet and leading her to the brazier. He went to a chest, took out the quilted kimono and standing in front of her, stripped the black one from her body.

“There, you will be warmer now.”

Lord Ekei was standing across the brazier solemnly watching Mari. She stared at him for a few seconds and then gave a polite bow, her hands on her thighs as she had seen Miyo bow. Lord Ekei inclined his head to her, not speaking a word.

“Mari, sit and have some tea. You look worse than usual.” Lord Mori’s eyes searched her face as he gave her the tea.

Mari’s hands shook as she accepted the cup, holding it to her and warming her hands around the bowl.

Both lords knelt on their cushions and watched her quietly while they sipped their own tea.

Mari was lost for words but the warmth of the tea stopped her from shivering.

“So, Mari-who-was-married”, said Lord Tetsu, with a slight smile, “you have come a long way to escape a bad marriage, neh? Perhaps you will inform us why it is so?”

Mari put down her cup and stared from one face to the other.

“Do not fear Lord Ekei, Mari. He is a very old friend with much patience in his belly.”

Mari looked down at her hands, now gripped tightly in her lap.

“Lord Tetsu, all I can say is that there is little love between us now, and hasn’t been for a while. I left because I could not bear conditions between us.”

Lord Tetsu stared at her, not uttering a word. Lord Ekei snorted, folded his hands over his prominent belly and closed his eyes like a cat.

Mari looked at Lord Tetsu and tears flooded her eyes. “I wanted to have a child, and Steven did not.”

Lord Tetsu looked at her sharply. “What husband does not want his woman’s belly to grow large with many sons?”

Mari’s hands shook as she held the teacup. “Steven has always said a child would interfere with his career.”

Lord Ekei snorted again and opened one eye. This was most interesting.

“I will send you to Lady Nyo for your comfort, Mari. We will speak later,” said Lord Tetsu.

He clapped his hands once, and his chamberlain, the husband of Lady Nyo, slid back the shoji screen and entered, kneeling inside and bowing low.

“Take Lady Mari to your wife and tell Lady Nyo that she is to be the advisor and companion of Lady Mari for now. I trust your lady wife is in good health?”

“Hai, my lord. She will be honored to do as you command.” Lord Nyo bowed again.

Mari followed Lord Tetsu’s chamberlain out with only one backward glance at both of the men. She tried to make her face a mask, but her ability was impaired by her emotional turmoil. She knew her present secret would become known in a matter of days.


“So, what of her story did my lord believe?” The words of Lord Ekei were delivered with a chuckle.

Lord Tetsu walked to the window where he watched the early morning unfold. The Sandhill cranes were back. He watched them dip their heads into the water, feeding on his goldfish in the big pond. The cherry blossoms were just buds, too early for their magnificent display to come. Lord Tetsu started to hum an off keyed tune. He finally turned to answer Lord Ekei.

“Most of it. I am still troubled by her story about her husband.”

“Well, my lord, perhaps he was short-shafted and dull in pillowing. Forgive me, but women have little sense. They run away with the first man who rolls his eyes, waves his cucumber of love and pledges his everlasting devotion. Perhaps she is kurage? A changer of saddles?”

“No, I don’t think she is a run-away. It is something else, something unknown for now.
She reminds me of the poem:

“So lonely am I
My soul is a floating weed
Severed at the roots.”

“Ah, my friend, the great Basho! Yes, I could see how you would sense that in her. She is rather rootless. Without a strong husband or male member in a woman’s life, she is drifting through life.”

Lord Tetsu started humming again. Then he turned and spoke softly, more to himself.


“There is something important the Lady Mari is leaving out. I could see it in her eyes.”

“And that is?”

“She feared being a stone-woman. She feared never having a child.”

Lord Tetsu looked steadily at Lord Ekei.

“Perhaps she is with child already. Perhaps it is mine.”



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