Posts Tagged ‘mythological creatures’

“Kimono”….a Tengu speaks.

December 8, 2017


(Not a Tengu, …European Eagle Owl, but just as fierce…Jane Kohut-Bartels, watercolor, 2005)

I have finished a 10 year project: a novel about a 21st century Japanese-American woman who is pulled back into Japan, 16th century by a possessed kimono.  Lord Yoki is a Tengu, a (supposively) mythological creature (originally from China) who has fallen in love with her.  He bemoans his karma, to be  besotted with a mortal woman, hardly a proper mate for a shape shifting bird.

“Kimono” will hopefully be published in 2018.

Lady Nyo…..who has come to love Tengus. 


Kimono, Chapter 42:  Lord Yoki speaks.


Lord Yoki perched on the window ledge.  He felt most comfortable perching.  A Tengu was just a big bird, after all.

He still dressed in an old linen kimono, badly patched and stained. It was this one or feathers.  It was harder and harder to maintain the glamour.  He had to concentrate on those parts that were reverting back.  His hair, his limbs, but he could do nothing about the feet. They would always remain clawed.

He was conflicted.  This was the first time in centuries (for he was very old) that his heart hurt.  He was racked with emotion from the time he awoke until the time he roosted.

He thought he might be in love.  And of course, his beloved would be one out of his league.  A mortal woman.

How could he have fallen to such a state?  He prided himself on being a tough old bird. He looked at the world through a cynical eye.  He only believed in the warmth of the thermals and sake. And a few pretty trinkets for he had a magpie nature.

And now he found himself in love.  How could he reveal himself to her? Would she find him distasteful, ridiculous, and insane?

He pecked at a flea amongst his breast feathers. He remembered the story of Lucifer.  He had fallen in love and knew she would be horrified if he revealed the truth of his form. He was a skinny, molting old bird, and a skinny old ‘man’. A devil cannot hide in the form of an angel for long.  The nature rebels.

He felt like Lucifer, the Great Deceiver.  Could she overlook his appearance to see into his heart?

He was fooling himself.  He was up against too powerful a force opposite him.  A mortal man, even if he didn’t have the magical advantages of a tengu. Surely the man would win in any battle between them.  And he knew that he had much more to lose than a friendship.  His rival would wear his head on his battle helmet.  The man had joked before to the woman about this, but he knew this man was  a barbarian at heart.

No, his love, his admiration for her would have to remain secreted in the bottom of his heart.  He chanced losing both of them and that would be unbearable, even for a stoic tengu.

If not love, how could he protect her?  Only the mystical gods knew what would happen and even they sometimes faked it.

Bah.  He wished he was back in San Francisco, in that park, in the form of a pigeon.  Then he could look up skirts as he strutted around and there would be no complaints.

Still, he knew why he mourned. She was the only one who knew what the world was about.  The parochial mentality of the people around him drove him nuts. Though he wasn’t affected by the diseases of humanity, (except for bird flu), they still waved their  amulets in the faces of the sick, they smoked up the room with incense until the sick couldn’t breathe, and brewed noxious potions for them to swallow.  They usually died. Or maybe, because all of this.   A little common sense and some soap and water would work miracles.

She knew this.  She also knew nostrums that could save lives.  He was sure of it.  Further, she was the only one he could talk with about history.  He couldn’t read, not many birds could, there were not schools for them, schools were for fish, but still he could ask questions.  And he did.  She told him about the world before their century, and of course, after it.  The world was a pretty big place, and though his eyes were closed as he flew by the moon, he knew something of this.

These generals!  These nobles! They thought they knew about warfare?  Hah!  They knew nothing.   As a pigeon walking around San Francisco, he had seen television in store fronts.  His hackles raised at the inhumanity of nations!  Atomic bombs, nuclear bombs, these were just some of the arsenal of these modern warlords.  These daimyos who went to war against each other?  They might have been hurling rocks and sticks at the opposition, jumping up and down like baboons considering what was to come.  His century, right now, hadn’t really seen the guns yet.  These men only had the blunderbusses of the Spanish who threw them away.

The men of this century were savages.  They killed for the sport of it.  The  samurai were the worse.  They killed commoners for anything they thought an offense,  The only laws were those that came from Edo, and most of those were ignored.  The real law lay within the two swords carried by men, and there were too many walking the streets.  He had trained the yamabushi, who trained many samurai, but things had gotten out of control.

He picked at his feathers.  Even if she could come to love him, where would he take her?  Tengus lived in mountains, in nests, where they fought other tengus for territory and tripped up arrogant Buddhist priests.  What would she think of that?

She didn’t lay eggs, and she wouldn’t know how to clean a nest properly.  And she didn’t have feathers to fluff in the cold months. She would be disgusted by the food she would have to eat.  It would be a bitter life for her.  He loved her more than that.

He knew she was a pawn in this bigger game.  Lord Mori needed her knowledge to build a bigger life for himself.  He was ambitious, he was a daimyo.  But could she deliver what he wanted?

Then he realized  if she tied her wagon to Lord Mori, he would have to secret her away from court life.  She would always live in the shadows of the castle. Was that any better than living in a warm nest in the mountains?

Perhaps there was hope.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2017



‘Inspired By The Great Man’yoshu’

February 19, 2014
Heian era Woman with Tengu

Heian era Woman with Tengu


This short work will be published in “The Nightingale’s Song”, along with other essays. 


Inspired By The Great Man’yoshu

 It is right and proper to draw inspiration from other poetry. This pulls your own poetic voice into the mystery of love and passion. It’s fun and also a challenge to ‘fit’ your poetic voice into existing classical poetry. I have taken the words from poems from the great 8th century Man’yoshu and either fashioned an answer…or a continuation of the top poem. What I believe to be termed “call and answer”.

The Man’yoshu’s poems are in bold type. All else are my own poetry. These poems are a small part of poems I am working in this fashion. Most of these poems, both from the Man’yoshu and my own are used to head up the 14 sections of “The Nightingale’s Song”.

“The Nightingale’s Song” will be published late this autumn or early next year.

TENGUS: Tengus are mythological creatures that originated in China but have been very popular in Japanese  literature and mythology.  They are shape shifters and forever are tripping up arrogant Buddhist priests.  They come as a large bird, but assume human dimensions when they want.  They are recognized by long red noses. In mythology (???) they were teachers of martial arts to the yamabushi (mountain (yama) dwellers).  A Tengu figures prominantly in “The Nightingale’s Song”.

“My heart, like my clothing
Is saturated with your fragrance.
Your vows of fidelity
Were made to our pillow and not to me.”

Oh my wife!
My feet take me over mountains
In the service to our lord
But my heart stays tucked in the bosom
Of your robe.

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

“I stay here waiting for him
In the autumn wind, my sash untied,
Wondering, is he coming now,
Is he coming now?
And the moon is low in the sky.

The only company I have tonight,
Now near dawn, is the paling Milky Way,
And Oh, my husband!
There are not stars enough in the heavens
To equal my sorrowful tears.”

Strong man as I am,
Who force my way even through the rocks,
In love I rue in misery.

Perhaps a strong man
Should not offer love without
Having love returned
But this grieving ugly warrior
Still finds his love is growing


“The cicada cries
Everyday at the same hour
But I’m a woman much in love and very weak
And can cry anytime”


My thoughts these days
Come thick like the summer grass
Which soon cut and raked
Grows wild again.

Oh, I wish these
Obsessive love-thoughts
Would disappear!
As they fill my head
They empty my sleep!

I who have counted me
For a strong man
Only a little less than heaven and earth,
How short of manliness that I love!

On this earth and even heaven
This weakness in love
Turns my sword
Into a blade of grass.

Come to me
If even only in my dreams
Where my head rests upon my arm-
not yours.
Let this veiled moon
Above and these dark, brooding pines below
Be witness to our love, my man.”

Come to me,
When the rocks have disappeared
Under sheets of snow,
The moon appears through tattered clouds.
I will be
Listening for the sound of
Your footfall in the dark.

Come to me, my man,
Part the blinds and come into my arms,
Snuggle against my warm breast
And let my belly
Warm your soul.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014



“The Kimono”, Chapter 23, of Lord Jizo and a Tengu.

March 20, 2013

Lord Jizo

Tengu stone

“The Kimono” is a novel I started a few years ago. I had to research the 17th Japanese culture and history to write this. However, with other projects now out of the way, I am going back this spring to try to complete this tale.

It will be confusing to new readers, though I have posted chapters of this developing novel for a couple of years now. The book opens with Mari, a very 21st century Japanese-American woman buying an old kimono in Kyoto. She is married to Steven and the marriage isn’t going well. The kimono is possessed by some hidden force and upon donning it and going to sleep, Mari is transported to the 17th century of Japan. She lands literally at the feet of Lord Mori, a powreful daimyo (warlord) in what is now Akito, Japan. Lord Yoki is a monk, but more so, he’s also a tengu. The tengu (mythological creatures originally from China) are also involved with the Yamabushi. Tengus are shape shifters, and this tengu, Lord Yoki, is also a time traveler.

Lord Jizo is one of my favorite Shinto figures.

Lady Nyo

The Kimono, Chapter 23

Mari and Lady Nyo returned from their shopping, and Mari went to lie down. Her feet hurt in the high geta. It took careful steps and concentration not to twist an ankle.

When they were out, Lady Nyo told her of a small shrine close by, dedicated to Lord Jizo. Mari wanted to make an offering. When they passed the shrine on the road a few days before, Mari was deeply moved. She had lost her first and possibly only child and perhaps now she could face grief. She put it out of mind because of the disruption, and mostly the shame.

Lord Mori and Lord Ekei disappeared during the morning. Neither Mari or Lady Nyo had a clue where the men were. They were just women and not to be informed. Lord Nyo was left in charge. Mari thought it a good time to approach Lady Nyo. She wanted to walk the short way to the shrine, to spend some time in thought and she wanted to do it alone. Lady Nyo’s expression was one of doubt, but she promised to talk to Lord Nyo.

Mari knew she would have to have protection, either in the form of Lady Nyo with her husband’s men or men of Lord Mori. This was not of her choosing. She had no say in these things.

Lady Nyo found her in the tiny garden in the back of the inn, watching goldfish in the small pond before her stone bench.

“Lady Mari”, she softly called.

At the sound of her voice, Mari looked up. It was still early, just past the noon hour, and the day was overlaid with clouds. It had turned misty, but Mari was still hopeful she could make her visit.

“My Lord Nyo has agreed and is to send you with two men and I will send you with a servant. I will provide you with coin to buy incense.”

Mari smiled. She knew Lady Nyo was risking much in not accompanying her, but Mari wanted some distance from everyone. She wanted some privacy to think and to be alone. It didn’t seem possible in this century.

Lady Nyo was kind. She sensed what Mari needed. After all, this foreign looking, foreign acting woman was full of secrets, and she knew in time the tight ball who was Lady Mari would unravel. She was willing to wait. There was something much bigger about this woman, this unusual and rather ugly favorite of Lord Mori. What it was, Hana Nyo did not know, but sensed it was worth her patience. There were clues, but these were too fantastic to believe.

Mari set out with two armed guards and one of the two women servants. This time she wore her straw sandals and her traveling kimono, with an oiled paper cloak to protect from the rain. Mari had not been raised in either Shinto or Buddhist beliefs, though her mother privately offered prayers and burned incense at a small family shrine set up in a corner of their house. Mari for a time had attended a Unitarian church, the religion of her father. Who Lord Jizo was remained unclear to Mari. The only knowledge she had was that he was the patron ‘saint’ of unborn, miscarried and stillborn children. It seemed enough of a starting place for her. Perhaps she wouldn’t feel so empty after offering prayers for her dead baby.

The walk to the shrine was not far, and the road was banked with mulberry trees and beyond the road, bamboo stands looking like small forests of waving greenery. A drizzle had started; it served to dampen the dust on the road.

There were few travelers today. When they got to the shrine, Mari was surprised how primitive it was; not more than a raised open shed, a stone pillar with a carved face set back from the entrance. There were offerings of toys, incense, pebbles, a few small coins. Children’s clothes were folded and laid at the base of Lord Jizo. One mother had put a red bib around his neck and a white, knitted hat sat on his head.

The men and the servant stood back by the road, but not so far they couldn’t see Mari. She walked up the few wooden stairs to kneel on the rough wooden floor. There was a crow in the rafters, who looked at Mari, curious as to her presence.

Mari placed her unlit incense in the bowl of sand in front of the statue. She raised her eyes to his face, and realized his features were faint, dissolved by time. A small, smiling mouth, long earlobes, closed eyes. Mari felt tears forming and gulped to swallow them. She didn’t know what to say, what to pray for. She had not been a religious person back in her own century, and things were too disrupted and strange to even contemplate the spiritual now. The presence of magic had destroyed her belief in comforting things.

A strange sensation came over her. She did not recognize it at first, but soon realized she was feeling more than the usual emptiness. She felt—filled with something, and at first she didn’t understand. Tears coursed down her face, and raising her eyes to Jizo these ancient details dissolved even more. Whether it was her tears or some magic, she was looking at the face of a laughing baby. She clasped her hands to her chest and uttered a soft, marveling cry. Then, the vague stone features of Lord Jizo reappeared.

Mari was deeply moved, but frightened. Perhaps it was the dim light of the shrine playing tricks or perhaps it was her confused mind. Whatever it was, she felt a peace, something she had not felt in a long time. She felt as if a rock had been lifted from her chest.

The faint sound of a flute came to her ears. Sad, consoling music. She looked up in the rafters to the left of the Jizo statue and saw a monk sitting there, or what she thought was a monk. He was playing a bamboo flute and floated down like a dust mote. Mari looked around at the men and the girl outside. They seemed oblivious to anything happening inside the shrine. In fact, they weren’t moving. They looked frozen.

“Do not be afraid”. The monk, a very dirty, dusty man in a ripped kimono, spoke in a raspy voice, clearing cobwebs from his face as he stood there.

Mari for some reason did not feel afraid. Perhaps she was enchanted and this was a spell?

“Nah, you‘re under no spell. But the men outside are.” He giggled.

Mari blanched. This monk could read her mind?

The monk coughed, and spat, very unmonk-like behavior in a shrine.

“Were you the crow in the rafters?” Mari’s voice was soft, disbelief making it hard to speak.

“You’re a fast study, girl.” The monk laughed, seeing the astonishment on Mari’s face.

“What are you?”

“Ah….you are a rude one! Perhaps the shock of seeing a crow transform into a man has robbed you of manners?”

“But what are you?”

“You already asked that. I am Lord Yoki.”

“You obviously are not human. Are you a figment of my mind?”

“Oh, I am much more than that, girl. I am a Tengu. Are you familiar with tengus?”

Mari shook her head, eyes wide in shock, now beyond speech.

“Ah….we have met before, Mari.”

“How do you know my name?”

The tengu laughed, a raspy sound from a thin, wizened throat. Mari’s eyes traveled over his kimono. It was patched and stained, none too clean for a monk. His toenails were very long, in fact they had grown over his straw sandals and seemed more like bird claws. He was scratching at his hindquarters, too.

Lord Yoki smiled, blinked, and closed his eyes to mere slits. Mari noticed his nose was very long and red. Probably drank too much sake.

“You were visiting a friend in Kyoto. Coming home one night, I called out to you.”

Mari couldn’t think of where she had seen this creature.

“Ah…your friend, Miko? “

Mari gasped. Miko was back home…in her century, the 21st, not the 17th! What was happening here? Was she losing her mind?

Suddenly, she remembered. There was a large bird on a wire high above her one cold night. She remembered that night with Miko, telling her about the dream….a dream that turned out to be another reality. She remembered being scared by a voice, and looking up in the dark, she saw a huge bird with a long red beak.

“Yup, at your service.” The tengu bowed and giggled, like a girl would.

“But, but….how?” That was another century, hundreds of years from now. “How are you here?”

“Better you ask me why.”

Mari went to rise, and fell back on her backside. Her legs would not support her.

“And….you speak English! I must be losing my mind!”

“Oh, don’t get overly excited, girl”, he said, making a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Weirder things have happened.”

The tengu grimaced, scratched at his scraggly beard. “Lice”, he said flatly.

Mari twisted from the floor, trying to see the men outside. They had not moved an inch.

“Oh, don’t worry about them. We have things to talk about.”

The tengu folded his legs and sat facing her, tucking his flute into his robe.

“I am sure you have some questions for me?” He looked at her expectantly.

“What questions could I have for you?” Mari’s shock was lessening and she began to feel danger.

“Perhaps you would like to know what your husband Steven is up to.”

Steven! Mari gasped, her eyes opening wide. What would this old man, if he was one, know of Steven?

“Well, why don’t we start by you asking me some questions? I bet I know more than you could guess.” He folded his hands in front of him, looking rather pleased with himself.

Mari swallowed hard, wishing she had some water. Her throat was dry.

“What could you know about my husband?”

The monk lifted his eyebrows a few times and winked. Mari almost laughed. He looked like Groucho Marx.

“I travel in many circles, girl. I get around.”

Mari would have dismissed him as insane, but uttering Steven’s name meant something else.

“Then tell me what he is doing. Is he worried about me? Is he ok?”

The monk ‘s face softened.

“You don’t understand much about this time travel, do you? Has no one explained to you what happens?”

Mari remembered only that Lord Mori said a year here in this century would be like a minute in hers.
Haltingly Mari told the monk what she knew.

“Yes, yes, that is part of it. Going back and forth can be confusing, but do not worry. You have no reason for concern about husband Steven. See those men out there? And your servant? “

Mari saw the men and woman in the same position. Still frozen.

“That is how your disappearance has seemed to Lord Steven. He doesn’t have a clue.”

The monk chortled and the hair stood on the back of Mari’s neck.

Mari wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the floor. Tears started to form. What had she done to Steven, to her marriage? Was she already dead and this was some kind of Hell?

“Mari”, said the monk in a soft voice. “You are caught up in a web of magic, and none of this is of your doing. You only bought a kimono having some history and you fell under its power. What happens now is out of your control. From the beginning, it was your fate.”

“What is going to happen to me?” Mari raised her eyes to the monk, her face full of despair.

The monk, or tengu, or whatever he was, almost scowled, and spit again on the boards of the shrine.

“Do I look like a fortune teller? I have no idea, girl, what is to be your destiny, but I know you are a pawn in a larger game.”

“One of Lord Mori’s making?”

“Lord Mori is also a pawn, but a much more important pawn. We all are pawns in this present game, Mari.”

“What does he want of me?”

Lord Yoki looked at Mari, studying her face, but said nothing for a few seconds.

“Our Lord Mori is a complex man. He can wield his own small magic, more tricks than anything else. There are other forces at work and our Lord is determined to find them out. This, in part, is the reason for this pilgrimage to Gassan Mountain.”

“But how do I figure in all of this?”

The monk laid his head to one side and narrowed his eyes as he looked at Mari. He looked like a blinking owl.

“I have no answers for you, girl. I just know that you do. You will have to cultivate patience. You have no control or power as to what happens. “

Mari did not get much from his answers. At least she now knew something about Steven, if she could believe this monk. If it was true her absence had gone unnoticed by him, then perhaps there was something good in this.

What her role was to be here, in this century, in the presence of Lord Mori and the others, there had to be an answer for her. At least she had the small comfort about Steven. If she could believe the monk.

She looked at him, but he had vanished. In less than a blink of the eye, he was gone. Mari stretched out a hand to where he had been sitting. Had she dreamed all this? Was she also under a spell?

She heard voices. The men were talking amongst themselves, leaning on their nagatas. The woman servant was plaiting reeds from her basket.

Mari left the shrine, only turning back once to look at Lord Jizo. She still had no answers, but for some strange reason, she felt comforted. Whether it was Lord Jizo or the monk, she didn’t know.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008-13

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