Posts Tagged ‘Shinto’

“Samhain- A Celtic Winter Song”

November 1, 2014


“Dawn Mallards”, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels

I love the Celtic Seasons and the mystical qualities that go with them.  After decades of struggling with the major religions, feeling beaten down by Christianity and Judaism in oppressive measures in the hands of oppressive people,  coming to Celtic Spirituality was coming home.  There was something about this devotional that fit with so much of my own questing nature. It was part of the spiritual practice that reflected an earlier, primal animistic spirituality and in a real sense, also reflected that which I had been finding in my own study of Shinto.  I felt no dogmatic pressure and found a particular peace.

There is a small book I find most helpful in a daily way:  Caitlin Matthews’ “Celtic Devotional”. A few words from this book on Samhain (Sow-when)

“The winter quarter of Samhain brings the gifts of restoration and renewal as the cold weather closes in. The soul is lead to more reflective depths.  It is traditionally associated with the remembrance of the ancestors, with the coming of death and the conception of new life. Samhain corresponds with the period of old age, when wisdom, freedom of spirit and clarity are experienced, a good time to celebrate the lives of wise elders, and those who have brought resolution and peace.”

The season of Samhain is from November 1st to January 31st.

My father, though he has been dead twenty five years this November 5th, is one of those who impacted me with his own freedom of spirit and unflagging courage.  He didn’t live to read this poem, but every line has something of him in it.

Lady Nyo

Dark mysterious season,

when the light doesn’t

quite reach the ground,

the trees shadow puppets

moving against the gray of day.

I think over the past year

praying there has been a

kindling in my soul,

the heart opened, warmed

and the juiciness of life is

more than in the loins–

a stream of forgiveness

slow flowing through the tough fibers

not stopper’d with an underlying


but softened with compassion.

This season of constrictions,

unusual emptiness,

brittle like dried twigs

desiccated by hoar frost

just to be endured.

I wrap myself in wool and

watch the migrations–

first tender song birds which harken

back to summer,

then Sandhill cranes,

legs thin banners

streaming behind white bodies,

lost against a snowy sky.

They lift off to a middling cosmos,

while I, earth-bound,

can only flap the wings of my shawl,

poor plumage for such a flight,

and wonder about my own destination.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010-2014, first published in “White Cranes of Heaven”, published by, 2011

Introduction to “The Nightingale’s Song”

July 19, 2013

Samurai Lovers, #2

I need a vacation. I also need to rewrite this series. In October, Nick Nicholson is coming from Canberra to spend time  and we are to work on this book.  He is doing the graphics. I am so happy because, frankly, I need new eyes for this piece. Rewriting is my task, and he, with his eagle eye, will come up with photos to suit the different poems.  Or something like this.

Collaborating is something new for me, but with Nick, a friend of over 7 years, this should prove interesting. Regardless how much work we get done, it’s good to have a friend here to consider life and its possibilities.

For the next couple of weeks I am going to post this series of poems…from the beginning to what I believe is the end. I started to do this before and life got in the way. So, I’ll attempt this again.  Some of these ‘chapters’ are rough, and some pieces stick out of the story and need lopping shears.  We will see.

Lady Nyo

The Introduction to “The Nightingale’s Song”

In Old Japan there was an even older daimyo called Lord Mori who lived in the shadow of Moon Mountain, far up in the Northwest of Japan.  Lord Mori ran a court that did little except keep his men (and himself) entertained with drinking, hawking and hunting.  Affairs of state were loosely examined and paperwork generally lost, misplaced under a writing table or under a pile of something more entertaining to his Lordship.  Sometimes even under the robes of a young courtesan.

Every other year the Emperor in Edo would demand all the daimyos travel to his court for a year.  This was a clever idea of the honorable Emperor. It kept them from each other’s throats, plundering each other’s land, and made them all accountable to Edo and the throne.

 Lord Mori was fortunate in his exemption of having to travel the months to sit in attendance on the Emperor. He was awarded this exemption with pitiful letters to the court complaining of age, ill health and general infirmities.  He sent his eldest, rather stupid son to comply with the Emperor’s wishes. He agreed to have this disappointing young man stay in Edo to attend the Emperor.  Probably forever. 

 Lord Mori, however, continued to hunt, hawk and generally enjoy life in the hinterlands.

 True, his realm, his fiefdom, was tucked away in mountains hard to cross. To travel to Edo took months because of bad roads, fast rivers and mountain passages. A daimyo was expected to assemble a large entourage for this trip: vassals, brass polishers, flag carriers, outriders,  a train of horses and mules to carry all the supplies, litters for the women, litters for advisors and fortune tellers, and then of course, his samurai. His train of honor could be four thousand men or more! 

But this tale isn’t about Lord Mori. It’s about one of his generals, his vassal, Lord Nyo and his wife, Lady Nyo, who was born from a branch of a powerful clan, though a clan that lost standing at the court in Edo.

Now, just for the curious, Lord Nyo is an old samurai, scarred in battle, ugly as most warriors are, and at a loss when it comes to the refinement and elegance of life– especially poetry.  His Lady Nyo is fully half his age, a delicate and thoughtful woman, though without issue.

But Lord and Lady Nyo don’t fill these pages alone. There are other characters;  priests, magical events, samurai and a particularly tricky Tengu who will entertain any reader of this tale.

A full moon, as in many Japanese tales, figures in the mix. As do poetry, some historic and some bad.  War and battles, love and hate.  But this is like life.  There is no getting one without the other.

The present Lady Nyo, descended from generations past.

Jane Kohut-Mori-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2013

“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

The Kimono, Chapter 15

November 15, 2012

This chapter is from a novel that is a work in progress. it’s a time warp, with Mari, a Japanese/American woman who is transported back to the 17th century Japan by a magic kimono she finds in Kyoto. Mari is of the 21st century, and Lord Mori, and the rest are of the 17th. Lord Mori manipulated the kimono to bring him a woman, but didn’t expect a woman from 21st century Japan. Lord Mori and the a few of the other men in this chapter are Yamabushi, mountain priests who also are magicians. Lord Mori is a daimyo, a warlord in the NW (Akito) Japan. Lord Yoki is quite the character, who appears as a Tengu, a large bird, but very human when he choses to be. Lady Nyo reveals characteristics of her personality that are rather…mean.

Chapter 15, The Kimono

On the first day of the month called Uzuki, or u-no-hana (flower), Lord Mori called a council of his closest advisors, minus his trusted carp. Fierce spring winds were whipping the cherry trees and petals filled the air, falling like late spring snow.
His advisors were Lords Ekei, Yoki and Nyo, with the requested attendance of the Lady Nyo.
Lady Nyo knelt behind her husband. She was not comfortable in the presence of these lords. She was not amongst Lord Mori’s advisors, and as a woman, of course was out of place. What could be her purpose for being here? She arranged her kimono hems and sleeves with little movement, and settled in to listen.
The morning was chilly –an early spring day. The fog had disappeared and she could hear the ducks and geese on the water near the castle.
She noticed an unraveling thread on top of the shoulder of her Lord Nyo. She would have to mend it before it got worse. Ah, men. They were like children without women around.
She bowed her head, as a proper wife should, but watched the men carefully. The movements of Lord Yoki caught her attention. This was a strange bird! He even looked a bit like a bird with a large, red beak. She thought he probably drank more than his share of sake. A red nose was a tell-tale sign of that. His kimono, though of a good quality, was filthy, splattered with stains. He had a disgusting way of hacking, spitting on the floor besides him. Lady Nyo shuddered. At least he could carry some paper handkerchiefs and use them.
The men’s voices droned on. She thought she should listen more closely, but by the Gods! These men were talking of how many soldiers they could gather, who was a vassal to depend upon and who would have to be nudged, bribed or threatened depending on their status. All of them were in obeisance to Lord Mori, but some had to be reminded of their obligations.
Lord Mori was a powerful lord, but these years had been peaceful. Lord Kiyami threatening Lord Mori would be a terrible thing. Lord Mori would have to wage war against Lord Kiyami.
Ah! There were so many obstacles to a quiet life!
Lady Nyo felt her head would crack. All this talking of war! By the Shogun’s decree, no daimyo could wage war against another. That was common knowledge. Exile or death would be the end for any foolhardy daimyo who dared to breech the edict of Heaven.
But the region was so far from the capitol! Akita faced the Ou and Dewa mountain ranges to the east, and the Sea to the west. Sometimes it took months before important travelers even came to the castle. If Lord Kiyami ringed the mountain passes with his vassals, well, there would be battles and hardships aplenty for all of them.

Ah, there were many obstacles to a peaceful life. It was quite the maneuver for Lord Mori to gather his vassals and men to make the trek to the capitol every two years. But it was demanded of the Shogun. It kept the daimyos from each other’s throats, but with Lord Kiyami, it might now not be working. She had gone on a number of occasions and her eyes had been dazzled by the splendor of the Shogun’s court. The silks and colors and sumptuous robes and elegant manners were enough to fill her head with dreams! She would admit, though, to be glad to go home to her more humble house back in the mountains of Akita. One could take just so much pomp and splendor.
She was descended from a powerful samurai family who was close to the Heian court centuries ago. Her family had suffered the swings of fortune and though she was from a minor wing of the Fujiwara clan, she could hold up her head. Her father had been a court official and her marriage to her Lord considered a good one. Though she had no children, she was still within the breeding age. She prayed and left small offerings at shrines.
Ah! Fate would rule, and the meek Lady Nyo knew she was a pawn in the larger game of life. Fate was on the side of men.
The men’s voices droned on. Lord Yori was still hawking and spitting. He looked like an unwashed goblin!
She fixed a small smile on her face. She had too much breeding to reveal her sentiments. She wondered though, about the Lady Mari. What kind of breeding did she have? Where did that woman come from? Her husband told her not to ask questions of the Lady Mari, but to serve with total devotion. She understood that. She had been given a great task and responsibility. Her Lord Mori had honored her with his confidence in her humble abilities. She still had her private, most inner thoughts, and no lord could stop her from thinking.

There were many things about Lady Mari that were a mystery. Lady Nyo could admit she was a bit envious of Lady Mari. How did she happen to capture the eye of Lord Mori? There were many other women who would be proper concubines, even a wife for this desirable lord. Why the rather plain Lady Mari? She was not educated as a court woman. No, she would embarrass the plainest court in the land. Only just in the last short amount of time had the Lady Mari even been able to kneel properly!
Where did she come from? Who were her family? She never talked about that, and that was of the most importance under heaven!
And she was rather….strange looking. Tall and thin for a proper woman, of course she had been sick with the breeding and the loss of the child, but there was something strange about her womanliness.
Lady Nyo smiled. She had heard the great Lord Tokugawa had even called her ugly! Of course he was drunk at the time, but this certainly was no stain on him. Most men got drunk, some every night and such a great lord as he would be above any reproach.
But he had called her ugly and she had been present! Oh, what a loss of face for the Lady Mari!
Lady Nyo’s brow furrowed. What could be the attraction of Lord Mori to this woman? Was it possible he saw something beyond her awkward, unpolished ways and had fallen in love with this creature? Was it possible the Lady Mari could cast a spell like a mountain spirit? Surely the great Lord Mori was immune to such things.
Her husband, when drunk on sake, once said Lord Mori had his own magic. Whether this was but drunken words or something else, her husband had smiled and rolled over on his back. He refused to talk further about his lord and fell asleep, snoring loudly.
Ah, there were so many mysteries in the air!
But….what is it that makes a man and a woman know that they, of all other men and women in the world, belong to each other? Is it no more than chance and meeting? No more than being alive in the world at the same time? Does clan and family, position and status mean nothing?
Suddenly she felt sad. She had a good marriage, but her lord was not of the best temper. No, he was a man, and little of the heart could be expected of them.

Year after year, it was as if she was holding her breath, waiting for something to happen, for life to change, for life to start, something she could not even recognize…to happen. The other women had children and she had none. They drew comfort from their babies, their growing children. She had none of this comfort. No, none of this comfort. And knowing how his mother was, her esteemed mother in law, well, she already knew what the baby’s name would be: Kusako, “Shit Child” if a girl, and Akoguso, “Cute Little Shit” if a boy. Her mother, too, would nag her until they were named such names. All to keep the demons away.
Lady Nyo sighed audibly. She threw her hand to her mouth in embarrassment, glancing at Lord Mori. He was listening to another. Only her husband twitching his shoulder showed he had heard.
Men. They were strange and cruel creatures, neh? Her lord was no exception. Who knew what repelled and attracted a man?
Finally the meeting ended. She rocked back on her heels and rose, now a bit stiff, bowing to the Lord Mori. He motioned for her to come to him, and with her eyes cast down she approached.

The Lord Mori looked down on this tiny, plump woman, her hair arranged in braids pinned around her head.
“How does the Lady Mari fare, Lady Nyo?”
Ah, she thought! This is why he wanted me in the room. Well, I can tell him what I know.
“To my eyes, she is well, my Lord.”
“Does she sleep well? Is she in pain?”
“She sleeps well, my lord. The doctor gave me a potion to give to her before she sleeps, but she is now only sleeping during the night with a long nap during the day.”
“And the doctor predicts that she will fully recover?”
“He is hopeful, my Lord, the Lady Mari will regain her full strength.”
Lord Mori grunted approval, and fell silent. Lady Nyo thought he had more than a passing interest in the health of Lady Mari and she was correct.
“Since these are matters of women, I will rely upon your experience, Lady Nyo.”
Lady Nyo bowed in gratitude.
“However, …..I am thinking the Lady Mari would be bored before long and as I have these issues with my Lord Kiyami to attend, I will not be able to give her much direction. You understand?”
“Of course, my lord. I was thinking perhaps Lady Mari could compile her poetry in a book. She could ‘talk to the paper’ and perhaps that will spur her interest in life.
“Do you think she is becoming despondent, Lady Nyo?”
“Oh, my lord! I am no one to have such powers of observation! However….given a task she would enjoy would hasten her health.”
Lord Mori grunted. Whether he was expressing approval or not was hard to tell. It was always hard to tell with men.
“Has the doctor expressed why she lost the child?”
She was surprised at the directness of his question. Men usually were not interested in such things. She had her own ideas why Mari lost the baby.
“If I may venture a thought, my lord, and it is only my own.”
“Granted. Tell me your thoughts.”
Lady Nyo knew thin ice when she saw it, but she would plow on.
“Perhaps the problem lay within the fifth month of her bearing, my lord. As you know, according to the Shinto calendar, the Day of the Dog celebrates the bearing and guards the baby from harm. Since the Dog is a messenger of the Gods and chases the evil spirits away, perhaps it would have been auspicious to present the Lady Mari to the temple and for the donning of the hara-obi. As you know, this sash would have protected her baby and kept it warm.”
Lord Mori’s eyes narrowed. If Lady Nyo had looked up at his face, perhaps she would have thought to have angered him.
True, thought Lady Nyo, this presentation to the temple priests was done within the company of both grandmothers and since the Lady Mari had just appeared out of thin air with no family and no known clan…at least known to her, well, it was all rather confusing….and improper. Of course, she could not express her opinion, except to her husband and maybe not even him.

COPYRIGHTED, 2010, 2012

Ghosts and Monsters! A piece of Chapter 3, “The Kimono”.

April 16, 2010

Oni, an ogre.

This has been a wonderful week of writing and rewriting, mostly of “The Kimono”.  I was stuck for a couple of weeks how the story should continue, but characters came to my rescue and the story went on. Now I have a couple of weeks of research into the mythology of ancient Japan;  my days have begun with tales of Yokai (literally demons/spirits/monsters), oni (ogres) and obake, (yokai who are shapeshifters) and many others.

Japanese mythology is filled with terrifying and funny characters pulled from Buddhist, Shinto and earlier animistic religions.  You can get lost in this mythology, and though it is full of shapeshifters, these ‘beings’ also shift in ‘intent’.  At times, they are bad spirits, and over the centuries, they become rather benign, even helpful.

One of my favorite mythological (??) characters are the Tengu: originally from China, they were dogs with wings,   with magical powers.  Over the centuries they became more bird-like….with noses, long red noses that replaced the beaks of birds.  Still magical, they also became teachers of martial arts (The Great Lord Sojobo for one), healers and samurai.

The Yamabushi, a sect of Shugendo, were believed to be taught early on by these Tengu:  as healers, priests and warriors.  Perhaps because the Yamabushi were mountain dwellers, bands of men who could also be mercentaries, and the Tengu were also mountain dwellers, well, perhaps the mythology grows side by side.

In any case, there is a lot to study.  Although “The Kimono” is certainly a work of fiction, I try to present cultural aspects as closely to the ‘truth’ as possible.  There is just so much color and substance in this Japanese mythology that one would be robbing  readers and writers if the attempt wasn’t made.  The richness doesn’t make for boring research at all.  In fact, the problem is drawing yourself away from the  research to write.

This chapter is long, so I am posting only a piece of it.  In the writing, I wanted to show some of the stories of ghosts, and I only scratched the surface.  This culture is wild with imagination.

This was written over a year ago, and needs rewrite, but for now, I’m letting it slide.

This is a very early chapter in the novel, because this week I just finished Chapter 18.  I’m making slow progress.

Lady Nyo

Part of Chapter 3, “The Kimono”

Mari awoke next to Steven.  She watched him breathe, his chest rising and falling, heard his gentle snoring.  The kimono lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. Mari 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 naked breasts, she buried her face into the heavy silk.  Tears began to soak the dull silk.

Only a strange dream, Mari, nothing more.

She walked around in a haze, wondering what had happened to her.  Details of her dream did not dissolve like dreams generally do but became clearer. Something had happened, and the raw ache between her legs told her something had happened to her.  Not all she remembered could be a dream.

Later that morning Mari dressed and went to the Higashiyama region in Kyoto by the eastern hills, where she 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.  She looked into the windows and saw the kiyomizuyaki sets, traditional and simple ceramics used in the tea ceremony.   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 walking 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 high wooden getas.

The 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.  Perhaps beckoned by her thoughts three white cranes flew overhead and Mari’s eyes followed their flight, her eyes filling again 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 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.

Seeing  she obviously was a foreigner, 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, Mari and Steven were expected to attend an unusual ritual, something the hostess had called ‘Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai’, ghost stories ritual. There would be a storyteller, a member of the Yamabushi sect, or so said Miyo.  Mari met Miyo at a small company function when they first arrived in Kyoto.

Ah, thought Mari, perhaps 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 went 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.

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 in 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 there, mostly elderly people, more of Miyo’s age than Mari’s. Everyone stood and 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 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 had become dimmer. 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 tittered 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.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008, 2010

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