Posts Tagged ‘maiko or tayu? Japan in 16th century’

“The Kimono” Chapter 21

October 20, 2016

Image result for 16th century Japanese dancers



I hope to publish this novel Spring, 2017.  I started this one eight years ago, but the publication of five books of poetry and a novella stopped the progress on this novel. I’ve finished it this  late summer, but there is of course. rewriting and editing to be done now.

It’s a time-warp novel…where Mari, a Japanese-American woman is in Kyoto in the 21st century, with her husband on business there.  She buys an ancient kimono, a plain black, heavy crepe kimono with a band of silver cloth running around the hem and up the side. Inside is a strange knotting of stitches, which happen to be some sort of code.  Upon wearing it, Mari is transported back to the 16th century where she lands on her face before a Daimyo…a feudal lord and samurai.   I patterned this kimono on the one I bought right before I started writing this novel.  It was exactly like I have described this magical kimono, but it hasn’t flown me anywhere.  Yet.

Lady Nyo


Chapter 21.

Mari had little chance to think more of Lord Ekei. The shoji opened and two tiny women appeared on their knees, bowing very low, their heads almost touching the tatami.

“Ah! We are to be entertained by a dancer and musician tonight”, said Lord Ekei. Apparently he wasn’t as drunk as Mari suspected, for his words were not slurred.

The two women shyly came into the room. One had a shamisen, knelt, sat back on her heels, and started to play on the three stringed instrument.

Mari could not take her eyes from the dancer: she was robed in a number of kimonos of bright colors with embroidery on the outermost robe. Her obi was not of the more familiar kind that Mari had seen in Kyoto in her century: it was of a much thinner sash, but still embroidered and of a rich pattern.

The dancer flipped out two fans from her sleeves and struck a pose. After a few moments of music, she slowly stretched out her arms and fluttered the fans. Slowly and gracefully, she moved through the dance, obviously telling some story with her movements. The expression on her face changed from placid to sorrow as she danced, barely moving her body, but swinging her kimonos around her.

The story line was lost on Mari. She felt Lady Nyo move next to her. In a few whispered words, Lady Nyo began to explain this dance. Springtime, lovers meeting, a betrayal, and the sorrow that came from such. Mari could make sense of some of the pantomime: the flutter of the fan held high and horizontally was the gentle spring rain, the positioning of her body gave clues to her happiness and sorrow. She was glad Lady Nyo was beside her, whispering, explaining the story. The music certainly told the sad tale, if nothing else. The plunking of the shamisen was strange, alien to Mari’s ears. She had attempted to play one under the tutelage of Lady Nyo and remembered Lady Nyo’s ‘excuse’ that a clumsy servant had knocked it over by accident and damaged it enough so Mari’s lessons were at a finish. Mari had found it not only discordant but alien to her ears.

Mari had only a casual knowledge of the flower and willow world. She read a few short, illustrated books in Kyoto, the writing obviously geared to tourists. It seemed there wasn’t much information given out. Perhaps this particular world had died out; perhaps Japan had become too modern to pay attention to the geisha world. There were plenty of young women in front of stores and inns who looked like maikos, but these were invariably young students, who would pose for the tourist’s cameras.

Mari didn’t have a clue as to what was before her. Was the dancer maiko or geisha? She had a suspicion the dancer was too old to be a proper maiko. She realized suddenly that the term ‘geisha’ would not be used for female performers for another 100 years! This woman before her might be a tayu, a courtesan.


Mari had seen a couple of Japanese dancers since she and Steven had arrived in Kyoto. Business dinners had always a dancer to entertain the employees. But this woman seemed different, and it was more than the four centuries between what Mari saw in her century and what she was watching now.


She decided to ask Lady Nyo when she had a chance.

The dancer and musician only did two dances and then, bowing heavily and backing out the room, they disappeared.

The party broke up soon after that, and Mari found herself sharing a 6 tatami sized room with Lady Nyo. She remembered her question about the dancer.

“The dancer?” Lady Nyo sniffed pointedly, while braiding her hair for the night.

Lady Nyo started to laugh and threw up her hand to cover her mouth. She looked at Mari, her eyes crinkled in amusement.

“Yes, the dancer. I admit I have not seen that many dancers, but perhaps she was a well-trained tayu?”

“Well trained? Oh, forgive me, Lady Mari. She was hardly tsubone-joro—third rate tayu if even good enough for a rank.”

Lady Nyo dropped gracefully to her knees and lay down next to Mari on the tatami mat.

“She probably is the elder daughter of a local official.   Perhaps she performs to help support her aging parents. Her kimonos are not very impressive.”

Well, Mari had been given an opinion. This town was a bit of a backwater, off the main road and perhaps ‘good’ entertainers could not be expected. Lady Nyo would be a better judge of all this tonight and many other things before.

Mari lay awake, tired but couldn’t fall asleep. Pictures from the day’s travel flooded her mind: it was an endless silent film unreeling before her closed eyes.

The lanterns outside had been blown out, as was the small oil lamp within the room. Mari could see a maid shuffling past a paper shoji carrying a tiny lamp. Other than this, the night was quiet, except for the song of a nightingale. The guests of the inn seemed to be asleep. Mari was grateful for the plump form of Lady Nyo next to her. That alone made the strangeness of her surroundings less so.

It was later, after she had fallen deep asleep that Mari awoke with a start. She listened for sounds, but even the nightingale was silent. The only sound in the room was the gentle snoring of Lady Nyo. There was no other disturbance that could account for Mari waking up.

There was….but it was without a sound.

Mari looked at the bottom of the tatami where her feet stuck out from the blanket. Something was snaking around her ankles, rubbing against her legs. Mari sat up and gave a loud yell.

“What is it? Did you see something?”

Before Mari could answer, Lord Mori and Lord Nyo flung open the shoji and came in with swords drawn.

The moonlight was the only light. Mari and Lady Nyo grasped each other tightly. It took a moment for them both to realize who had entered their room in such a rush.

“What has happened here?” Lord Mori’s voice cut through the darkness.

“Oh, I am so sorry, my lord, but something was wrapping itself, rubbing around my legs. I thought it was a cat but could see nothing. There was nothing there, but it wasn’t a dream.”

Mari felt like a fool. The innkeeper and his wife, followed by maids crowded the door.

Lord Mori turned to them, bowed and explained that one of the women was having a nightmare. The innkeeper and his wife were glad to go back to their bed. They bowed to the men in the room.

Lord Mori and Nyo sat cross-legged on the tatami, their swords on their knees.

Addressing Lady Nyo, Lord Mori asked her what in her opinion disturbed the sleep of the Lady Mari.

Lady Nyo had clasp herself tightly to Mari when she yelled out, waking her from a sound sleep.

“My lord, from what the Lady has said, I would think it to be a sunekosuri. I have never seen such a creature, but I have heard of their work.”

Turning his head slightly he addressed Lord Nyo sitting to his side.

“You have married a woman who believes in such spirits. Perhaps you should beat these superstitions out of her.”

Lord Nyo chuckled under his breath, recognizing a joke.

Lady Nyo responded, perhaps without deeper thought.

“My lord, there are things that exist beyond our eyes—because we can not see them or don’t believe in them doesn’t make them not exist.”

Lord Mori blinked. Whether he was in agreement or annoyed, Mari couldn’t tell.

“Have you been telling ghost stories?”

“No, my lord,” said Mari. “We only discussed the dancer before we fell asleep.”

Lord Mori blinked again, considered something and announced they would be changing arrangements for the night.

Mari sat there, looking dumb. Lord Mori rose, turned to go, and turned back. He hissed and gestured for her to follow.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008-2016

Please don’t read my work from the site: JP at Olive Grove.  Jingle Nozelar Yan owns the site and is a common thief and liar.    She said  she doesn’t have to ask permission to revise or post your work.  She said she depends upon this. She preys on real poets because she isn’t one.  She refuses to follow the US Copyright laws of the US.  This behavior is insulting to the entire poetry community.  Jingle Bells Yan is no poet If you love poetry, avoid her like the plague she is.





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