Posts Tagged ‘“The Kimono” a novel’

“The Kimono” a small part of Chapter 49….where two old men mumble over events.

September 6, 2019

Kimono Cover.png

I published this novel in October 2018, on  It was a labor of 12 years in the research and writing. Though some have read it, and loved the plot and characters, I would like to increase interest in this novel. So, I will be posting some chapters this fall.  I am fortunate my husband works at  Tyler Perry Studios and numerous men there have read this novel in the past few months.  There is a beginning campaign there to get this book before the eyes of those who want to make this a movie.  All who have read “The Kimono” there have said this would be so easy to make into a script because it is so detailed.  We will see.  I’m happy that it’s a novel. And that it is finally published.

Lady Nyo


Later that morning, Lord Tetsu was met by forty of his personal guard, to escort him to the castle for the convening of the Council of Elders. It was to last three days. He knew his life hung in the balance. The Elders could smell weakness and would fall on him like a pack of wolves.  He long knew of alliances between daimyos. It was fortunate he had kept his head this long. As he told Mari, treachery was the fashion of the day.

So, there are rumors he wants to abdicate. Good. But you can bet he won’t lay down his swords. He will not become a priest. Not him.” Lord Shumi, one of the retainers and a member of the Council of Elders, had little patience with a constantly shifting political chess board. He was old and wanted some peace. He preferred the sun in his garden to anything else.

Lord Mifune spat on the ground. “Bah. It’s treasonous. He leads when there is relative peace, but now?”

“There is sure to be a counter attack by one of Lord Kiyama’s daimyos when the dust and ashes settle,” replied Lord Shumi.

“Yes, always in alliance with others. It will take time for them to decide on a new leader and rebuild the castle. I understand the burning was only on one quarter.”

“They got in and out fast, I hear. They used the ninja for the night attack.”

“How did they do that?” A look of surprise spread across Lord Shumi’s ugly face. “Yes, there are monasteries and temples where the priests consort with these fanatics but it takes a load of silver.”

“Then he must have secured their services and made payment well in advance of this debacle.”

The two were walking in the gardens of the castle, both shaking their heads at the enormity of how their lives were to change.

“He’s growing old,” said Lord Mifune, “and he thinks there is more to this life and he is missing it.”

“He has always been a little strange,” said Lord Shumi. “This skirmish on Lord Kiyama’s lands and the burning of his castle will have Lord Tetsu on his knees explaining himself to the Shōgun. If he keeps his head, I will be surprised.”

“Hai. It’s that witch of a woman he has squired away. She is a strange one. Hardly Japanese.”

“He certainly moved his ass and the asses of the gods to get her back from Kiyama. You would think she possessed the only place for his illustrious sword.”

Lord Mifune laughed. “She certainly is ugly. I would bet my katana she has big feet. Hardly an acceptable consort for a daimyo.”

“Love is blind and makes jackasses out of all of us,” proclaimed Lord Shumi. “You remember, my lord. When you were young the whiff of a woman would make you do shameful things. We all did.”

“Yes, yes. I remember my misspent youth.”

Lord Shumi walked with the usual pigeon-toed gait of samurai. His legs were much bowed. “Did you hear the rumor this Lady Mari might be from Hokkaido? She has a strange caste to her face. Not quite…us.”

“Well,” replied Lord Mifune, “I hear she has his royal cucumber leashed to her obi.”

The two old men laughed. Though sex was something they could rarely rise to, they took great joy in the affairs of other men. It was only human.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2018-2019



“The Kimono”, Chapter One, continued….

August 19, 2019


This must be a dream, thought Mari. I am kneeling on something cold, hard. I smell charcoal… Where am I? It’s so dark my eyes can’t pick anything out. My arms! Why are my arms tied behind my back?

She was kneeling on a cold wooden floor. Her eyes were barely able to pick out details of a room with little light. She was shivering, now naked except for the kimono over her shoulders. She heard a grunt and a low voice.

“So. What have we here? A young maiden lost on her journey through life?”

Mari lifted her head and saw a man, or what appeared to be a man, for the room was still dim except for a low burning brazier. He certainly had a voice like a man. He rose, moved around in front of her and stared down, a bemused look on his face.

He had long, black hair, tied in a topknot, and seemed tall for a Japanese man. His forehead was high and Mari realized his hair was plucked from the front of his head. He was dressed unlike anything she had seen in modern Japanese styles for he wore what looked to be numerous robes and had a dagger in the sash at his waist.

“Catbird got your tongue?” He leaned down and raised her chin up in a hard-skinned hand. Mari shivered from fear and cold.

“Where am I? Why are my arms tied? Who are you?” Mari was stuttering, forcing her questions out, shocked as much with fear as cold.

“Ah, I see I have summoned a young woman who has no manners. Perhaps I will teach you some. Perhaps you can learn to address your betters with respect.” The man took the draped kimono off her shoulders and folded it carefully, placing it on a wooden chest by a wall.

Mari started shivering harder, her naked body exposed to the cold room.

“As to your rude question, I am Lord Tetsu Hakuto, in the service of the Shōgun. I am of the clan Minamoto. That is all you, girl, need to know.”

“You s-s-still haven’t answered my question. Where am I? Is this a dream? Please, I beg of you, I am freezing. For the love of God, give me a blanket or s-s-something to warm myself.”

Lord Tetsu looked down at her, his face a mask. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed loudly. “I see I have a challenge before me. Well, good, I am up for a challenge, even if it is in the insignificant package of a woman.”

Lord Tetsu lifted her by one secured arm and roughly dragged her to a low futon. He pushed her face down and threw a silk quilt over her. At first Mari lay still until, wiggling like a worm, her head cleared the quilt. She could not sit up but at least she could see.

The man was kneeling before a low table. He was writing something on a paper scroll with a brush he dipped in ink. Mari watched silently, knowing he was watching her from the corner of his eye.

“Please untie me, Lord Tetsu Hakuto. I am very uncomfortable and would like to sit up.”

“Why would your comfort be of my concern? You make silly demands of a superior.”

Mari struggled not to show tears. She was uncomfortable and afraid.

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto. I have to pee badly.”

Lord Tetsu grunted and put down his brush. “Well, that is natural. I also have to pass water first thing in the morning. Come, girl.”

Mari wasn’t sure she wanted help but she had little choice. He threw back the cover, pulled her to her feet, and walked her to a small alcove where a squat clay vessel was placed. He pushed her down and walked away. Mari was glad for the privacy. Of course, with her hands tied she had to carefully balance herself but at least her bladder didn’t hurt.

Mari padded to where he was, blushing because of her nakedness. She wasn’t sure this was a dream for she felt wide awake. She edged towards the low brazier for warmth.

“Lord Tetsu, it is unnecessary for you to keep my arms tied for I am not a threat to you. I am a modern woman who is not violent and I have no intentions of grabbing your sword and using it against you.”

Lord Tetsu looked up from his scroll and listened, his raised eyebrows expressing his surprise. “You could not grab my sword, as you put it, without losing your hands. I have no fear of you harming me. It is rather the other way around. However, since you are about to tip into the brazier, I will untie you.”

He drew his dagger and whipping her around, cut her ropes. Mari almost sobbed in relief. Her arms were numb. Then the pain hit her and she moaned as she tried to rub them, a pathetic, naked woman in great discomfort.

The sight of her must have moved Lord Tetsu for he drew her to him and rubbed her arms. Mari was grateful for she was shivering with cold. She felt exhausted and leaned her head against his chest with a sigh. Then she fainted.

When she recovered her senses, she was covered in the quilt on the futon. He was sitting next to her and smelled of sandalwood and male sweat, real enough.

“This isn’t a dream.” Her voice sounded soft and flat where she leaned against him, her face buried in the fabric of his robes.

“So, you have come back to me, little one?” His voice had a touch of humor. “No, this is no dream, but it is time for you to answer me.”

“Please, Lord Tetsu. Please first give me some water?”

“I will give you some broth for these things can take strength out of a woman. Wait.”

Rising, he drew the quilt over her body. He brought a bowl of hot broth simmering on the brazier. Her hands shook as she reached for the bowl.

“Better you are fed than scald yourself.”

Mari sat next to him, wrapped in the quilt, while Lord Tetsu fed her the broth with a china spoon. It was hot and spicy, tasting like seaweed, but it warmed her.

“Now,” said Lord Tetsu when she had eaten enough to stop shivering, “tell me where you found the kimono.”

“In a shop in Kyoto on Dezu Street. It was hanging near a window and the silver decoration caught my eye. I brought it home and when I slept in it last night, well…something happened, and either this is a dream or it isn’t.”

Lord Tetsu grunted and exclaimed, “Kyoto! It is a long journey from where it was last.” He was silent, thinking, then spoke. “What is your name girl, and are you maiden or wife?”

Mari almost laughed, surprised by his quaint wording. “I am very much a wife and my name is Mari. My husband is a systems operator for a worldwide communications company.”

“What? You speak in riddles! Plainly, girl, for you try my patience with your chatter.”

Mari ventured a question. “Lord Tetsu, what date is it today? Where am I in history?”

“What date? Today is today and as far as this history, you are in the castle of a daimyo who is under the protection of a most powerful Shōgun.”

“What is the name of this Shōgun, Lord Tetsu?”

He looked at her in surprise, his eyebrows arching. “None other than the great Lord Tokugawa.”

This still didn’t give her any idea where she was but the broth was good and she had stopped shivering.

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto, do you have a woman’s kimono for me to cover myself with? I am not used to walking around naked.”

“You will get used to it.”

“Lord Tetsu Hakuto, I would remind you that my name is Mari, not ‘girl’. I am an educated, married woman and well respected in my field.” This last was not true for Mari had no field to speak of.

“Ho! You are prideful for a woman and forceful, too. Perhaps your husband does not beat you enough. That is a failing in many young husbands and you look to be young enough. Perhaps I can help him in this.” He raised his arm as if to cuff her.

Mari spoke fast. “Lord Tetsu, violence is the mark of a barbarian. Surely you are not such a man. You write and that shows you are civilized.”

A sly smile crossed the face of Lord Tetsu and he allowed it to broaden. He lowered his arm slowly. “You think quickly for a woman, Woman-called-Mari. Does your education extend to the brush?”

Mari looked at his table and rising from the futon with the quilt wrapped tightly around her, she went to it. She looked at the finely drawn calligraphy there and shook her head.

“Lord Tetsu, I write with a pen, not a brush, and I also write with a keyboard, something I am beginning to think you have no knowledge of. I do write some haiku but perhaps it would be better for me to recite one for you? You would not be able to read my script.”

“Why, are you so bad with the brush? Then your education is very low. Perhaps you dance or play an instrument?”

Mari smiled. “No, Lord Tetsu. I play violin but I suspect you are not familiar with this instrument. I do, however, write a lot of poetry. I write tanka, choka, sonnets and much free verse. I write haiku when I am able.”

“Ah! You are very boastful. Obviously, your husband is a weak man.”

Mari smiled. “Perhaps, Lord Tetsu, perhaps, or maybe he lives by different standards.”

Lord Tetsu stood at his table, his arms crossed over his chest, looking curiously at the woman before him wrapped in his quilt. “Then, if you dare, compose a poem and let’s see if your boasting has merit.”

Mari thought hard, trying to remember some she had recently written. There were a few, though they didn’t follow the classical forms.



Cold rain sweeps the streets.

Even ducks seek shelter.

Feathers drop in haste.



“Hah! Not very good, but a beginning. Give me another.”

Mari thought this next one would be more of the classical form but then she wasn’t really sure.



A glance at a wrist.

There! The pulse of a river–

tiny beat of life.



“Better! Perhaps your husband has taught you something.”

“My husband has taught me nothing, Lord Tetsu. He is not interested in poetry. I have learned this myself.”

“Not interested in poetry? You have married a barbarian then, for a man who does not write poems is indeed a savage. Give me some more, Woman-called-Mari.”

She thought of a few others she had written, though she could only partly remember their lines. She had little option except to admit failure but something in this rude man brought her mettle out. Pausing only a little between poems, she closed her eyes and recited what she could.



A woman in bed,

kimono revealing breast.

Snow on Mt. Fuji.



Snow falls on meadows.

Crows pick at last harvest seeds.

Spring now far away.



A swirl of blossoms

caught in the water’s current

begins the season.



Fall’s crispness compels

apples to tumble from trees.

Worms make the journey.



I chase one red leaf

across dry and brittle grass.

Juice of summer gone.



She kept her eyes closed thinking back to what she had just recited. Opening one eye, she saw him contemplating her with a quizzical look.

“For a mere woman, you have a fertile mind. If you had been born a man, you might have made a name for yourself.” Lord Tetsu gave a short nod of his head, a measure of respect. “Come, woman, learn how a man writes poems. You have shown yourself capable of learning at least something. Perhaps you are the rare woman who can rise above her nature.”

What a pompous ass, thought Mari. Obviously, this dream is about humiliation.

For the next hour, Lord Tetsu composed haiku and longer poems, mostly in honor of his Lord Shōgun. Mari listened to his low monotone and the sentiments that poured out like warm sake. She was lost in the tone of his recitation but was not blind to his beauty. His black hair fell down his back and the vigor of this man before her was evident. Even when he rose and went to make water, it seemed the most natural of things. She was not embarrassed nor discomforted. He was an inventive poet, even when she didn’t understand most of his references.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018

Kimono Cover“The Kimono” was published by Amazon October 2018.


“The Kimono” Chapter 13…introducing Lord Yoki, the Tengu.

July 20, 2018

Kimono Cover.png

My favorite character in “The Kimono” is Lord Yoki, a riot of a monk. He’s a Tengu, a mythological creature from China originally but adopted very early by the Japanese. Tengus were military trainers of the Yamabushi (mountain warriors) and over time their p.r. changed. But they were known to trip up and befuddle arrogant Buddhist priests. I believe they exist. At least I think I have seen one in my neighborhood.

Lady Nyo

Kunu: state …territory. Japan was made up of 68 states, the Western daimyos fighting with the Eastern.

Koku: is a measure of rice…like a bushel. Wages to samurai and others were paid in koku.


At the Hour of the Dragon, Lords Tetsu and Ekei were drinking the first of many cups of cha.

The morning dawned with peach colored clouds over the lake and raucous honking by resident geese. It was cool this morning, though late spring, and the brazier did little to boil the water for cha as Lord Tetsu poked more charcoal beneath the small fire. The brass kettle sweated with cold water filled from a jug.

“Lord Tokugawa will expect a report by the new moon.”

Lord Ekei’s voice was almost a whisper. Except for the distant sound of waterfowl, there was little noise outside the castle except for the nightsoil men making their rounds. The buckets clanged against the old stones as they dropped their poles to shovel in manure left from beasts and oxen the day before.

“I know.” Lord Tetsu sipped his cha, scowling into his cup.

“Our lord is expecting troops and provisions.” Lord Ekei blinked his eyes, trying to wake up. It was still very early and the room cold.

“He asks much to put down a peasant rebellion. It will just rise up again when the rains wash the blood from next spring’s soil.”

Lord Tetsu grunted into his cup, maintaining his scowl.

“The problem” said Lord Ekei, pushing his point, “isn’t what the peasants do, it’s what the daimyos don’t do.”

“And what is that, my friend?”

“The corruption from the tax collectors breeds these rebellions. Too much koku is taken from the fields and not enough left to live upon. Under heaven, there is nothing else to do but riot. Starving bellies are invitations to rebellion.”

Lord Tetsu nodded. “That is a big part of the problem. This is another one. Living in Edo for six months every two years. The cost of this impoverishes every region.”

Lord Tetsu filled both cups with more hot water, adding a small amount of powdered tea to the cups, stirring with a bamboo whisk.

“Yes, yes, that is a large consideration, but until Heaven moves its bowels, nothing can be done about that.”

“A good strategy on the Emperor’s part would help. Or rather the Shogun. The Emperor has no power anymore. He and his court are like painted gourds. The effort to mobilize each daimyo in obedience to the court’s demands does keep us from each other’s throats.”

“I think we better do—“

Suddenly a large bird appeared at the window, startling both lords. It was big like a vulture and had a long red nose and dark iridescent feathers. It was a tengu.

Shaking its feathers violently, a dust storm obscured it for a few seconds. Then both lords saw a skinny priest, dressed in a filthy kimono appear. Both lords bowed respectfully from their cushions.

“Man, those air currents! They would tear a bird’s feathers from his body. Got a cup of sake around? Travel dehydrates me.”

This tengu was a priest from the Yamabushi clan. He hopped down from the window, scratching the side of his face where a scrawny gray beard covered it.

“Lice,” he announced with a grin.

Lord Tetsu spooned powdered tea in a cup, poured some hot water over it, carefully stirred and handed the cup to the scratching man. He took it with a sour, disdainful glance at both lords, and drank it without ceremony, smacking his lips loudly and wiping his hand across his thin lips.

“Lord Yoki, we are honored you have come to advise us”, said Lord Ekei with another bow.

“Beats hanging around Haight-Ashbury. Had to appear as a pigeon to fit in, and all there was to do during the day was beg for breadcrumbs. Did look up skirts at muffs, though.” He laughed, a coarse, wheezing sound.

Lord Ekei suppressed a smile, and Lord Tetsu didn’t a grimace. They had dealt with Lord Yoki before. His antics were well known.

Lord Yoki lowered himself to a cushion and rubbed his hands over the brazier. “You got any sake? Spring’s bad time for travel.”

Lord Tetsu clapped his hands twice and within several minutes a servant appeared with three cups and a brown bottle of warmed sake, placing them on the low table between the lords. Lord Tetsu poured three cups and offered the first to the Lord Yoki. He drank it fast and held out his cup for a refill.

It would be a long morning with Lord Yoki and it best be spent drunk.

“My Lord, our Lord Tokugawa in Kyoto has called upon the daimyos of the western borders to send troops and supplies to put down a rebellion of peasants in Mikawa providence.” Lord Tetsu spoke quietly.

“Yeah? Well, being a vassal is tough. The nature of the beast. Too many kits and not enough teats.” Lord Yoki burped.

“You want my advice? You got bigger problems closer to home. I hear from some other birds Lord Kiyami is looking at your southern border with a covetous eye. That’s a dicey mountain range there, and if he controls those trade passes, he can hem you in. Adding a kunu to his territory would be a feather in his cap.”

He punctuated his statement with a belch.

“If this is true, my lord Tetsu” said Lord Ekei with a slight bow, “then you will have to organize two campaigns at once. That would be very costly, neh?”

Lord Tetsu’s eyes narrowed and he grunted. “I am sure Lord Yoki’s information is impeccable,” he said bowing to the disheveled priest.

“You bet your nuts it is”, said the priest sharply.

“Is this information you have read in history books, Lord Yoki,” asked Lord Ekei?

“Can’t read, never learned” said the priest in a raspy voice. “Some things don’t make the history books. Sometimes pillow talk is more….ah…reliable.”

Both lords considered his words. It was not beyond the pale. Men talked to women, and men talked in their sleep. Either way, information was obtainable.

This news of Lord Kiyami’s interest in his territory disturbed Lord Tetsu. It would be a bad position to be hemmed in at that mountain range.

“Perhaps there is a need to change plans,” suggested Lord Ekei to Lord Tetsu

Lord Tetsu looked at both of the men sipping their sake.

“Do I dare go against the desires of Heaven to thwart the schemes of Lord Kiyami?”

Scratching his scrawny beard absentmindedly, the Yamabushi priest coughed.

“You might be looking at a new portion of Hell if you ignore him.”

“If he hems you in, Higato, you will not be able to serve the needs of Lord Tokugawa in any case,” said Lord Ekei.

“Let me suggest, my lord,” said the priest with a little bow, “that you think about a spy or two in the household of Lord Kiyami. This could glean you some important and timely information.”

“Yes, Higato, this is excellent advice. We need to know his future plans, even if he is to seize your southern territory soon. How many forces he would deploy for this. He also would be called upon by our Lord Tokugawa for his support. He will have some of the same considerations we have.”

“Good. I agree. A couple of well-placed servants should help.”

“I would further suggest, my lord,” said Ekei, “ that you place a spy in his guard. A samurai who can be trusted with such a task. Perhaps an unknown captain of your own guard.”

“Again, I agree.” Higato Tetsu nodded to both men.

“Now we must consider the problem of what daimyos to call upon for support. Surely we have allies, Lord Ekei?”

“Higato, without a doubt our Lord Kiyami will also be looking with the same eyes. Perhaps a visit to one or two would make things better for us.”

“If I may be so bold,” said the priest scratching at his skin inside his kimono, “I agree a visit be made soon. One never knows the plans of another man, especially at a distance.”

Lord Tetsu picked up his cup and glanced at his advisor, Ekei, sitting across from him, and fell into deep thought.

This priest has much sense for an old crow. Perhaps he should be the spy in Kiyami’s household? Could he dare presume upon the favors of such a man? Well, we are all Yamabushi, so there should be something of favor there. Perhaps this has possibilities. Perhaps Yoki will be able to answer to this.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2018




















The Night Poems of Lady Nyo

October 2, 2014

A Courtesan's fleeting life of beauty.

Lady Nyo is a character I created,  a 17th century Japanese court woman, around 30 years old,  in a good marriage.  She is a character in a novel I am almost through writing, called “The Kimono”.  She, like all the elite women in Japan of that time, constantly wrote verse (usually tanka).  That was the mark of a virtuous and educated woman.  In fact, in court circles, a woman was not considered educated until she had written 1000 poems.  She also had to commit them to memory and be able to recite them in the court.

The present Lady Nyo who isn’t so productive in poetry.

Everyone is asleep.

There is nothing to come between

The moon and my shadow.

From the dream where we made love,

My laughter calls me back.

I searched all around,

My eyes then full of tears.

I fell asleep thinking of him

And he came to me.

If I had known it was only a dream

I would never have awakened.

I lean on my elbow

And look at him asleep,

His bosom rising and falling.

It is enough to feed eternity.

Clouds sweep the moon,

Causing its light to dapple you.

My love! You waver before me

Like a ghost under water.

Did you see the moon tonight?

It rose like a blood orange

and scented the heavens

even from where I stood!

The moon as dawn breaks

glides smoothly through dark clouds.

I hug my shoulders,

apprehensive at the new day,

comforted by the old moon.

Last night I tied my kimono,

bound it with a red silk rope

like an impassioned lover’s hands around a wasp waist,

and kneeling upon a cushion,

awaited the rising of the moon.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

‘The Stillness Of Death’, posted for d’

September 27, 2011

Lady Nyo is a character I developed for a novel about 17th century Japan (“The Kimono”, still working on it).  She is a samurai wife, something not at all uncommon from the 13th to the 17th century.  These women were trained in martial arts, and especially skilled in the naginata, a long shafted weapon with a blade on the end.  They had much status in feudal society. Today in Japan the training of young women in the naginata is still popular and a form of extreme exercise.

A lot of our concepts about Asian women are skewed by history and culture.  Samurai women were called upon to defend castles, villages, and were organized into fighting units.  They generally did not march with troops, but were more local in fighting. They were sometimes the only defense of a home front, the men being off fighting for a daimyo (war lord).  Things changed around the 17th century when the status of the samurai changed.  The gun, originally introduced by the Portuguese, made their weapons and fighting styles almost obsolete. 

The influence of neo-Confucian philosophy and the practice of using daughters as pawns for power marriages combined to reduce the status of female samurai.  The ideal of fearless devotion was replaced by one of passive obedience.  This social trend was reflected in the new words for wife: Kani and okusan (meaning a person who resides in the house and rarely goes out of the courtyard). A surprising contrast to this is sometimes the life of a samurai wife who becomes a widow.  Many became Buddhist nuns, and  actually were able to impact upon the local politics of their towns and villages and even farther into the court.

Though this poem might seem to portray Lady Nyo as passive, this view is deceptive.  In this unfinished novel, Lady Nyo is fully in command of herself and her husband, Lord Nyo.  The only one she bows her will to is the local daimyo, but that comes from the structure of ‘giri’.

Kyudo is the martial art of archery, a very formal and stylized form.  Lord Nyo is demonstrating this form, though it is not done to my knowledge, drunk.


The other Lady Nyo 


Kneeling before her tea,

Lady Nyo did not move.

She barely breathed-

Tomorrow depended

Upon her stillness today.

Lord Nyo was drunk again.

When in his cups

The household scattered.

Beneath the kitchen

Was the crawl space

Where three servants

Where hiding.

A fourth wore an iron pot.

Lord Nyo was known

For three things:



And drink.

Tonight he strung

His seven foot bow,

Donned his quiver

High on his back.

He looked at the pale face

Of his aging wife,

His eyes blurry, unfocused

And remembered the first time

He pillowed her.

She was fifteen.

Her body powdered petals,

Bones like butter,

Black hair like bo silk.

The blush of shy passion

Had coursed through veins

Like a tinted stream.

Still beautiful  –

Now too fragile for his taste.

Better a plump whore,

Than this delicate, saddened beauty.

He drew back the bow

In quick succession-

Let five arrows pierce

The shoji.

Each grazed the shell ear

Of his wife.

Life hung on her stillness.

She willed herself dead.

Death after all these years

Would have been welcome.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted , 2011

“Lady Nyo Quarrels, Forgives Her Husband”…

September 15, 2011

No, not this Lady Nyo, everything is fine with The Husband.

Two years ago I started a four-cycle poetry work, based on the  secondary character Lady Nyo  developed for a novel: “The Kimono”.  She was secondary, but  had some interesting characteristics, and aren’t writers always fascinated at what appears under our fingers? She spoke to me and I took her name for a pen name.

Some of these poems are included in “A Seasoning of Lust”, published by, 2009.

The Quarrel she had with her husband is something I believe most of us married have some understanding:  men can be stubborn mules, insensitive clods, triflers. (And so can women…) Lord Nyo certainly exhibits all these attributes and his wife is not letting him get away with it.  Lord Nyo is samurai, but so is Lady Nyo, both by birth and marriage.  She can give as well as she gets.

I want to add something here: I am a relatively new poet, and the support and encouragement of other poets, especially from D’, has meant a lot.  These poets, from all around the world, have influenced me with their beautiful and heartfelt verse.

They are my tribe.

This weekend is “JapanFest”  in Atlanta.  I desperately want to go, but have been ill.  I am going to attempt this weekend festival because…well, proceeds go to Japan Relief.  If I make it, I’ll give a write-up.

Lady Nyo


‘Lady Nyo Quarrels,Forgives Her Husband’



Stop tickling me!

Yes, I forgive you,

but  you take such liberties!

Your hands are not clean from

previous crimes.

Go wash them in the snow of

last year’s falling.

Then I will reconsider your request.



Look! There is a cardinal,

red as blood and as cocky

as a lord.

See his mate?

She is dull, but has her lipstick

on this morning.



Last night I thought of you.

My face still bears the blushes.

You thought it was good health?

No, just reflects the liberty

of dreams.



(My mind still shattered

My heart still sore.)

But I put on a fresh face

full of smiles and polite manner.

It would shock our friends if

they knew the turmoil of

my heart.



You came with a mouthful of ‘sorry’

and leave now with other parts eased.

Never mind.

Your coming and going has served a dual purpose.



The spring is so tender.

My heart blooms like the white plums.

Do you think our happiness  will last

Til apple time?



Off you go,

and don’t look back.

If you turn, you will see serenity.

But behind this mask,

is a well of longing.



Last night
I tied my kimono tightly,
bound it with a red silk rope
like an impassioned lover’s hands
around a wasp waist,
and kneeling upon a cushion,
awaited the rising of the moon.
.. –

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2009, 2011

“The Kimono” Chapter 20, a rewrite….

July 19, 2010

Some here have read a few chapters of “The Kimono“, a novel I have been writing for about three years.  A friend asked me to give an explanation of the book because it was rather confusing to come in on a few chapters and understand what was going on.

Mari is a Japanese/American woman, married to an American, and now in Kyoto, Japan while her husband, some systems analyst, is doing a big job for some corporation.

Mari buys an ancient kimono and when she dons it, is transported from the 21st century to the 16th.  There she literally lands at the feet of a daimyo (feudal warlord) in the North West region of Japan. He has utilized the kimono before to bring him women, where he plays with them like they are mice. But this is the first time it has snagged a ‘modern’ woman.

He has ‘magical’ abilities because he is also one of the Yamabushi.  He runs afoul of things because he can’t summon the kimono to take this annoying modern woman back to her century, but decides she might be useful to him because of her (as he supposes) view of history:  will he vanquish another daimyo who threatens his territory?  Mari doesn’t have a clue, isn’t that versed in Japanese history, but she is about to become acquainted with Japanese mythology. She decides that her supposed knowledge of history is keeping her alive within this warlord’s presence.

Plus, she writes good tanka and he admires this in her.  This period was a generally peaceful time when daimyos developed a taste for the arts and culture.

What is important to me in writing this book is to delve into the fascinating mythology of both Shinto/Buddhist/Yamabushi belief systems and how it impacts upon the culture.  The mythology holds throughout the centuries and the Yamabushi hold center stage in the struggle against the Tokugawa dynasty.

This isn’t exactly history, though.  It’s also a quirky love story.  Maybe.

Lady Nyo

Chapter 20, THE KIMONO

They continued on the coastal road hugging the dark sea, taking detours as Lord Mori desired.  Some ri they walked on well- maintained wide, sandy roadways.   Stands of cherry trees like pink sentinels stood at attention along the road.  Some detours were travelled upon stony descents.  Going through forests of pine and camphor wood the roads were of pounded rock with smaller rock wedged for a smoother surface.

Mari’s feet were chaffed by the straw sandals.  Her legs were starting to hurt because even though she had been relatively athletic back in her century, this journey had lasted all day and into the early evening.  Lady Nyo kept up chatter to entertain her, but Mari wanted to sit and be still:  the kago would have to do.  When Mari told Lady Nyo she could no longer walk, Lady Nyo clapped her hands and the bearers appeared.  Mari sat in the wicker chair and pulled the gauze mosquito net around her.  She would watch and think in silence.

The small detours Lord Mori took did not have many fellow travelers, but on the main roadway they were part of the great, busy stream of humanity.  Most travelers walked, but some rode as they did, and there were many kagos with straw sandaled bearers naked except for loincloths and twisted towels around their heads.  Mari saw an old woman bent double with a huge bundle of twigs gathered for firewood. Peasants with their children as pack animals got off the road as they approached and bowed to the ground, not daring to look up at the horses or men.

There were merchants with hired guides and guards, going from one town to another, their pack mules almost invisible with goods.  Minor officials with their small black hats and their straw travelling robes were accompanied by their servants.  There were lantern makers swinging poles with bamboo ribbed paper lanterns, and scribes who would write letters and poems for a few paper wrapped stringed coin.  There were travelling priests, their prayer boxes around their necks and their begging bowls attached at their waists with twine. Some women, probably merchants wives, rode in swinging kagos like their own.

They met other samurai, but people were always respectful. All bowed from their horses if they were mounted, or bowed from the road if not.

Of course all were polite to Lord Mori’s retinue, for any man mounted on a good horse with two swords was accorded the greatest respect.  That they rode with no standard in front nor a large group of men or servants still accorded them the regard of other travelers.  To show a lapse in manners could have a head roll in the sand from a flash of a sword. Had their fellow travelers known the powerful daimyo that passed them on the road in such humble attire, they would tremble in fear and relate this day to their grandchildren.

They passed many road side shrines, and Mari glimpsed small temple shrines set back from the road, the paved stone approaches sprinkled by a temple monk to keep the dust of the road down.  Lady Nyo walked beside Mari’s kago for awhile and they came upon a group of stone sculptures, surprisingly outfitted with children’s bibs and clothes.  Lord Mori stopped his horse and sat under a tree with Lord Ekei and Nyo and talked, ignoring the women behind him.

“What are these stones, Lady Nyo? Why are they dressed in children’s clothes?”

“Ah.  Do you not recognize the Lord Jizo?  He, the protector of deceased children?  Do you not have the Lord Jizo in your graveyards?”

Mari looked at her for a long moment, and found her eyes filling with tears.  She could not answer.

“My Lady Mari”, said Lady Nyo softly, placing a smooth stone atop a group of others.  “Your baby is within the warm robes of Lord Jizo.  He is protecting him from the torments of Hell.  You have no fear your unborn child will be forgotten by Lord Jizo. He protects all the lambs.”

Mari approached the statue and placed a small, round pebble on the pile.  Her tears blurred her vision, and an unexpected sob rose in her throat. Gulping down her grief, so unexpected, she looked at the fine stitching of some mother’s hand, at the bib that surrounded the neck of Lord Jizo.  There was something so unbearably sad, so poignant in the humble piece of faded cloth.

“You know, the Lord Jizo has refused the Buddha state.  He has declared he would remain amongst us until hurt and suffering had fallen away from mankind.”

Lady Nyo sighed, and touched the sleeve of Mari’s travelling cloak.  “He is the most compassionate of Gods and a great comfort to us poor women.”

When the evening crickets started to sing, they entered a village, lit with paper lanterns strung from low poles along the road.  There was a small inn on one side of the road, topped with a cedar shake roof and a wide porch. A  low bench hugged  the wall outside the inn.

Lord Mori and the others dismounted while servants ran from the inn to help with the horses.  Even though they were not carrying any standard, it was clear to the innkeeper these were travelers with full purses.  The innkeeper and his family  stood on the porch bowing low while other servants came out with hot water and towels.

Mari and Lady Nyo sat on the bench while servants removed their sandals and washed their feet.  The smells of cooking inside wafted out to them and with much bowing by the innkeeper’s wife, they were lead to the baths.  Mari and Lady Nyo sat on a bench in a small room where they were stripped of their travelling kimonos and scrubbed with small bags of buckwheat hulls. Though nudity was not accorded much notice in this century, Mari still was uneasy.  Privacy was of a very different standard amongst these Japanese.

Rinsed with buckets of hot water, Mari watched it flow through the slatted wooden floor.  They climbed into a large wooden tub, heated with a charcoal burner beneath the structure and eased into the scalding water.  Mari was startled at the temperature, the steam making Lady Nyo look like a wavering ghost across from her. Before she closed her eyes she saw the plump, little breasts of Lady Nyo bob in the water as she lowered herself onto the seat. Mari had little room for herself because the tub was not that big.  The water started to work its magic and Mari’s bones started to melt.

She had lost all sense of time, but time for the last few months meant nothing to her.  No watch, no clock, the day was regulated by the almost silent activity of the servants around her. The nights were heralded by the soft music of crickets and the calls of bullfrogs in the pond.  Sleep came easily enough: it was as if her body ran on a different system.  She was almost undisturbed by dreams.

Her mind stilled and she was floating away in some strange and new way. Her sense of her own body disappeared as the heat of the water took over.  She had no idea how long she had been in this state when she felt her arm shaken.  Opening her eyes reluctantly, she saw Lady Nyo smiling at her.

“Lady Mari!  You must be hungry. We should dress and join the rest of our company.”

No, Mari was not hungry. The bath had taken all sensation of hunger or anything else from her.  She just wanted to go to sleep.

They were helped from the bath by two female servants and vigorously rubbed with thin towels. Mari was beet red from the neck down.  She felt like a boiled lobster, her bones like butter.

They were dressed in thin, white cotton kimonos with blue kimonos over these from the inn.  After a day on the road, they welcomed the clean clothes, which were scented with cedar from a chest somewhere in the inn.

Sitting on a cedar bench inside the small room, they were fitted with white tabi and then were bowed out of the bath.  In the corridor more servants bowed and led them to a private dining room where a maid outside the shoji screen knelt and pushed back the wood and paper panel. There was Lord Mori, Lord Ekei and Lord Nyo seated upon cushions around a low table in the middle of the room. Bowing to the men, they knelt and placed themselves on one side of the table.  Mari’s hair was damp but it had been combed and twisted with paper ribbons.  She felt presentable, and the dust from the road was forgotten.

Lord Mori had the same blue kimono on as did the other men.  She could see that they also had bathed, as his skin had a fierce blush beneath his chin.  He bowed from his seat to both of the women.

Immediately servants brought in trays and stacks of small, bamboo containers.  The smell of barbequed eel filled the room when the containers were opened.  Mari regained her hunger in a rush. Bowls of steamed, fragrant rice, dishes of pickled vegetables, raw fish so thin you could see the porcelain through it, steamed fish swimming in soy sauce, steamed vegetables, rice flavored with bean curd in gravies, thinly sliced bamboo and chestnuts, soups with miso and seaweed, dumplings stuffed with chicken and vegetables and more bamboo boxes of steamed rice, and bowls of boiled eggs.

Lady Nyo picked morsels of food from plates and platters and delicately placed them in front of Mari.  Lord Ekei said something too fast for Mari to understand, but the table erupted into laughter.  Lord Mori narrowed his eyes and cocked his head as he stared at her, an enigmatic smile crossing his face.  Mari blushed, supposing the joke was about her.  Lady Nyo whispered something about ‘boiled fish’ but Mari didn’t understand the reference.

When more servants had cleared the dishes from the low table, others brought brown bottles of saki and cups.  The men belched and burped and there was the occasional fart heard.  This was of no consequence apparently and Mari suppressed her surprise.  Of course! Manners would have been different four centuries from her own, and she had no reason to judge.

Bottles of warmed saki were replaced with new ones, and Mari and Lady Nyo’s cups were filled over and over.  Mari did not drink sake, but there was no helping it this night.  It was a deceptive liquor and if she didn’t use caution, she could easily become drunk.  The bath had worked on  her body, melting her bones and easing her muscles after a day in the kago and walking, but the sake would finish the job in no short order.

Lord Mori called for a story and Lord Ekei, his eyes bright with sake volunteered with a bow.

“Perhaps a ghost story to haunt our dreams?”  Lord Mori smiled broadly at Lord Ekei.

“Perhaps that would scare the women too much for them to sleep.  I have a better idea.”

A maid poured sake into the cups of all who sat listening, and then retreated to kneel by the door.  Lord Ekei drank his cup in one gulp and belched.

“In this very inn, many, many years ago, there was a guest named Hanshiro.  He was a hard working man, but not an especially fortunate man.”

Lord Ekei lowered his voice dramatically, drawing in his listeners and Mari could not help but lean forward, anticipating his story.

“Hanshiro was rich enough.  He owned a small family sake factory and was able to afford a pilgrimage to Ito.  He joined those of his village, which is not too far from here, only across the mountain and through the salt marshes.  These other travelers were drawn by lottery, and they all had joined a club and paid their dues.  Hanshiro wasn’t one who won that year’s lottery, but was rich enough to afford to travel.  He wanted, as the rest of them, to visit the many shrines and to attend the Ito festival where the dancers are considered the most beautiful in the whole region.  The musicians were famous, too.”

Lord Ekei paused in his story while the maid refilled his sake.

“Now Hanshiro hadn’t been married all that long, and though he tried to enjoy himself away from his village and mother and father, he started to miss his bride.  He did watch the Ito dancers, and compared their beauty  to his wife at home.  It was not that he knew his bride very well, she being a very shy and silent woman, but he thought perhaps she would grow fonder of him, and he of her after the children started to come.”

Lord Ekei looked around at his listeners.  He had their attention.

“He was on the road for weeks, far from home, and with each day he missed his new bride more and more.  When he got home there was a great party in honor of the village pilgrims, and their return, and so he did not have any time to greet his wife in the proper way.  The celebration lasted all night and into the early hours of the next day.  Hanshiro drank much sake, and staggered home to his house, the cheers and blessings of his friends and neighbors ringing in his ears.  There, through blurry eyes, he saw his modest wife, kneeling besides the downturned bed, waiting patiently for Hanshiro to make his way home.  She helped him undress and put him to bed, slipping under the covers and turning her back to him.  Hanshiro fell into a drunken sleep and snored until the morning.

When it was barely light, he could hear his mother wailing and grabbing his sword, he staggered to the kitchen.  There he learned that his bride, his new wife, had run away with the head clerk of the sake factory in the early hours of the night.  Hanshiro could not think straight, but his father could.  He immediately sent out men to capture and return both lovers and make them face their punishment.”

Lord Ekei sighed, and drew a long breath.

“They found the lovers in a cheap inn, and recovered the money the clerk had stolen from the factory.  They tied them back- to- back on a horse and placarded them with signs telling their crimes of thievery and adultery, and led them off to the execution grounds. Hanshiro never married again.”

The men in the room erupted in laughter.  Even Lord Mori grinned, but the rest of the men sitting there pounded the table and laughed as if this was a funny story.  Mari was shocked, so shocked that her mouth hung open and she stared rudely at the men.  She caught the glance of Lady Nyo seated next to her husband, and saw the look of concern.

What could these morons be laughing at, thought Mari.  This is a tragedy, not a comedy.

She glanced at Lord Mori, and he narrowed his eyes, yet continued to watch her.  Mari broke her stare and looked at her hands in her lap.  Apparently these men, these people, were very different from the Japanese she thought she knew from her own century.  Did Lord Ekei pick this story to rattle her? To make her ashamed of her own deeds?

“Lady Mari, have you heard of Saigyo, the priest poet?” said Lord Ekei.

Mari’s thoughts were stopped by his voice, and she raised her head and stared at him.

Of course she had, but only as one of the poets who were travelling monks. She couldn’t place the era of Saigyo, but thought it rather strange Lord Ekei would ask her in such a public way.  Of course as he was the closest advisor to Lord Mori information about Mari would have been shared.  Perhaps dangerous information, too.

“Yes, my lord, but I haven’t read his poems in many years,” said Mari  with a polite and distracted bow.

Lord Ekei looked at her through sake blurred eyes. He chuckled softly and blinked.

Mari wondered just how drunk this devil was.  And what was his agenda?

Jane Kohut-Bartels,

Copyrighted, 2010

“The Kimono”, Chapter 17

June 25, 2010

For almost three years, I have been writing “The Kimono”, a time sweep from the 21st century back to the 16th.  I have posted some of this rather long novel on this blog, but it is still be be finished and rewritten.  This chapter is one to be rewritten.

It’s summer, and the heat is long and heavy on my head.  Air conditioning doesn’t do much because once out of it, the exhaustion from this incredible and unusual weather becomes overwhelming. So I apologize for the copy and hope with the cooling of weather to apply myself to the necessary rewrite.  Right now, nothing satisfies.  It is a season of disgruntlement.

Lady Nyo


Mari stood at the window, a copy of the Man’yoshu in her hand.  Love poems, and of course in a language she couldn’t read.  Literally “The Collection of a Thousand Leaves”.

Some scribe had taken the time to carefully illustrate this book with erotic drawings.  They were exquisite, though rather pornographic to her eye.  Compiled during the 8th century, the book was considered the pinnacle of Japanese verse, even in this more ‘modern’ 16th century.  But eroticism to these Japanese didn’t seem to have many boundaries.  Sex was very natural to them, and even nudity. They did not have a concept of sin, at least of sin that Mari understood.

Lady Nyo was ordered by Lord Mori 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.

Entertained!  How different their cultures were, stretching across the centuries like two different oceans separated by mountains and sand.  It was now over three months since the miscarriage, but her mood had not greatly improved.  Her heart was a mass of confusion, and she would wake in the night, sweating.  She dreamed constantly but could not remember much, just disjointed scenes and sometimes in clashing and violent colors.  What they were she hadn’t a clue.  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 but with a hidden terror.

Under the patient instruction of Lady Nyo, Mari was beginning to recognize some of the words.  She still couldn’t construct a decent sentence, though.  There were all sorts of issues with the Japanese language, and her attempts at forming a sentence sent Lady Nyo into peals of laughter.

Well, at least she was entertaining to someone, if not entertained.

The house was a flurry of activity.  Lord Mori was to visit sometime in the afternoon, and Mari felt trepidation about this.  He had not since her miscarriage, but Lady Nyo said he had come; she just was asleep each time due to the medicine prescribed by the doctor.  The only evidence was a short poem inked on his fan. Something about laughter and fireflies.  It was a continuation of the poems when they first met all those months before.

Mari turned from the window and there were two small women kneeling outside the entrance to the room. They bowed with their heads to the wood floor as soon as her eyes fell upon them.  Lady Nyo came up behind 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 words rokka and niwa as the porch overlooking the garden and niwa as garden.  She was beginning to recognize the names of her environment.

“Oh, Lady Mari!  If you would like, I will come with you and we can read together those wonderful poems.”

What she really meant, thought Mari, is I can read these poems to you, because you are still stupid about our language.  Of course, Lady Nyo was the picture of good manners and would never say anything to affront her, but Mari was foul in mood and took offense secretly at many things.

The house was more like a cottage, with small, bare rooms constructed from a central passageway, closed off to the hallway by shoji screens.  They walked through the house towards the back where kneeling, Lady Nyo pushed a screen open and they faced a narrow platform that looked out upon a small garden.

It was enclosed by a low stone wall, with a very old and misshapen tree in the middle.  There were raked pebbled paths and small green bushes with buds and a few open flowers.  Upon the wall were vines with just a touch of the spring greening.  The cherry blossoms were beginning to bloom and this event was as important to the Japanese of this century as much as it was of Mari’s own.  She was told how beautiful they were on the castle grounds when in full bloom.

The morning mist, kasumi, had lifted but there was a possibility of rain to come.  Mari liked the rain, it fit 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.  Perhaps it put a barrier between her and the world, or perhaps it was something that was not overlooked in this century, but observed and remarked upon as a gift of Nature.  There had been a drought for a couple of years, and Lord Mori had mentioned the rice production had dropped.  Famine was always around the corner and after all, the basis of the economy was rice production.

Mari sat on a wood bench on the rokka overlooking the garden and above the pebbled paths.  The mists had all gone from the morning, replaced by a gentle wind.  White cranes were lifting off the water down by the shore and their black legs trailed 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 with the garden wall.  The wind made cascades of plum-snow litter the raked pebbles.

“Oh Lady Mari, I have bought your book outside.  If it pleases you, may I read aloud a few poems?”

Mari could not refuse this simple request.  Lady Nyo’s role was to educate her in these finer arts and see she took it seriously.  It was not as if it were her idea to do so, it was clear it came from Lord Mori.  Mari could see 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  poem?”  Lady Nyo clasp 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 a 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 hopefully.   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 so modern in sentiment.

But why were they separated? There were more secrets than answers in this sort of poetry.

“Read more.”

Lady Nyo smiled delightedly and looked for another poem to please Lady Mari.

“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 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 . A man who shows his main concern in bed:  warm feet.

Lady Nyo picked out another poem.

“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 and looked uncomfortable.  Mari was quick to see her reaction.

“Lady Nyo.  I am a stranger here.  I have no history among your people.  Clearly that is obvious.  But please tell me.  Does Lord Mori have a wife, or children?”

Lady Nyo raised her eyes to Mari’s and they expressed sadness.

“Ah, this was a long time ago, but Lord Mori still mourns, I think.  It is hard to tell with men, but Lord Mori, though powerful daimyo, is still a man.”

Lady Nyo moved closer on the bench to Mari and dropped her voice to a whisper.

“Years ago, before my Lord Nyo and I were vassals to Lord Mori, he lost his young wife and children to the sea.  They were travelling to a city on the southern coast and a terrible storm took hold of the sea and all were lost.  Lord Mori was not with them, being on land.”

Lady Nyo sighed deeply, her eyes cast down.  “I understand he travelled to a sacred mountain and for years lived in the forests.  He only talked to their ghosts and shunned all of men.”

Mari felt her breath catch in her chest.  Perhaps this was key to his personality.  He was certainly a strange man.  Even for a 16th 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 Mori has never remarried.  Certainly she would be amongst the women with Lady Idu.  Oh, it would be hard to ignore a daimyo’s wife!”

Mari thought about this.  Yes, she would be first among all the women in the castle.

“But perhaps he has a wife that lives apart from him?”

“No, not that I have ever heard of one, Lady Mari.”  Lady Nyo shook her head.

“But of course men and women many times do not live together.  So that would account why we know nothing about a wife.  However, surely my husband would know of this and 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 said this, she realized she had made a 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 his…ah….business.”

“Oh! People are so different it seems.  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.  The visits were planned, and each was notified by a messenger.  Now that poem of autumn winds and the bamboo blinds blowing had more meaning.  These marriages were conjugal visits.

Lady Nyo went on:

“No, no wife I think, but the finest courtesans do visit him….or he them, from time to time.  It is only right and proper.”

“Who?  Tell me, Hana, do you know of the women?  What do they look like, have you seen them?”

Lady Nyo, touched Mari would use her name, blushed and shyly touched Mari’s hand next to her.

“Well, …..there was the beautiful courtesan Midori last year.  Oh, Lady Mari!  You should have seen her kimonos!!……Such silks and such colors!  She looked like a beautiful butterfly!”

Lady Nyo giggled quite 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 was as glossy as a blackbird’s wing.  Long, too.  She wore it unencumbered and it swept her hems. “

Mari chuckled to herself.  So, Lord Mori wasn’t the hermit he appeared at first to her.  He was man enough.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008, 2010

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

Japanese Mythology and Chapter 10 of “The Kimono”

March 15, 2010

Lord Sojobo, King of the Tengus

I’m having a lot of fun right now. Or perhaps it’s a poverty of ideas for continuing this difficult middle part of “The Kimono”.

I have posted a few chapters of this novel, two and a half years in the making, and it’s something I pick up and put down.  I have dedicated the time to finish it, but nothing is easy right now.

The novel is meandering around and I am letting it.  I generally believe that if the story is entertaining me….it will tell me where to go next.  Since I am writing of a (mostly) alien culture, plus switching back and forth from the 21st to the 16th century, I am having to do a ton of research.  It’s about all I do right now.

But I think some of the plot projections are bound up in this issue of mythology.  At least that gives me a little hope and inspiration.

There is a Tengu, a mystical creature that has its good and bad elements, and I’ve spiraled outward from him.  There are ‘kuhin-mochi’ (rice cakes) littering his scenes for particular reasons.  I am learning of different spooks:

-Ashimazari, a demon who entangles the legs of travelers.

-Akateko, a red hand (just the hand!) dangling out of a tree.

-Akuma, a very evil spirit.

-Amazake-babaa, an old women who begs for sweet sake and brings disease,

and my favorite!  Akaname, the spirit who licks the bathroom clean!

She could be very handy.

I haven’t gotten out of the “A” list yet, and there are loads of spirits…or demons….or kami….or ghosts.

When I started writing this novel, I found a lot of the mythology was not what we in the West think of mythology.  This was more peasant deities, and some from the Buddhist and Shinto religions.  There are ruling ‘gods’ but they aren’t like ‘our gods.

A lot of the stories surrounding these gods and goddesses are hysterical.  One Sun Goddess hid herself because she was angry in a cave.  Izume was the Goddess of Mirth and tried to lure her out by overturning a washtub and dancing on it.  Her garlands of flowers and vines started to fall off her as she pounded the wooden tub with her feet, and all the other gods started to laugh loudly at this display of Izume.  The Sun Goddess heard the laughter and peeked out to see what was so funny.  Someone grabbed her, rolled a heavy boulder over the mouth of the cave and that was the end of the Sun Goddesses’ sulk.  I have this picture of a rather rotund and naked Izume thumping away on this washtub with abandon.  It makes me laugh, even though I don’t know the full story.

I have picked up Chapter 17 with a planned visit to the King of Tengus…Lord Sojobo.  All important males in Japanese mythology are Lords…except when they are the peasants of the story.

Lord Sojobo is quite the character.  Tengus all are military advisors…(and part of the Yamabushi cult) or trainers in the martial arts, and have wicked senses of humor.  They seem to evolve over the centuries…at first, demons that did very bad things to the populace…like kidnapping children and women.  Then they got a better national PR agent and they, around the 17th and 18th century seemed to reform.  They, in some cases, became the ‘good guys’ in the stories and sometimes the protectors of Buddhist temples.  This is rather a seachange because Tengus are known for tripping up priests and doing rather annoying things to them.  And the way to stop a kidnapping of a traveler was to carry a fresh mackeral.  Tengus loathe mackeral.

There are kappa (frog like creatures who are tricksters), and yokai and obake and yurei galore in Japanese mythology, so there is never a poverty of annoying and frightening spooks.  In fact, the extent of the imagination of these Japanese tellers of tales is astounding. Strong channels of animism, too.

By the way, that’s a Tengu in the tree, speaking…at the end of the chapter.

Lady Nyo

Chapter 10 of  “The Kimono”


Mari stood over the commode and vomited.  She tried to breathe but her stomach kept heaving.

She once saw a dog vomit while eating grass, thin sides heaving like bellows. She and the dog had a lot in common right now.

“Mari?”  Steven’s voice floated into the bathroom.  She rarely was sick and it was annoying to answer.  She had closed the door but he could still hear her retching.

“I’m fine, Steven.”  Sarcasm was thick in her voice.

He rapped on the door.  “Anything I can do for you?”

“No. I’ll be fine, just leave me alone, please.”

When she emerged from the bathroom Steven was sitting on the bed.

“Mari, this is not the first time I’ve heard you in there.  Seems like you have been doing this all week.”

“Perhaps I have the flu, Steven,” said Mari despondently.

“Sounds to me like you’re pregnant, Mari.”

“Steven? How could I be pregnant?  I religiously take the pill.”

“Well, you know how I feel about this.  It’s not time for children and if you are, you will have an abortion.”

Mari stared at him in disbelief. Yes, she knew his feelings about children, but an abortion? She was already in her thirties and if, it would be the first time.

“Steven? I know you don’t want kids, but if I’m pregnant, it’s not  as easy as “get an abortion.”

“Why not, Mari?  You know how I’ve felt for four years and right now it’s not convenient for me.”

“Steven, I’m half of this marriage, but you talk like this is only your decision.”

Steven got up and walked out of the house, leaving Mari alone.


“Miyo” said Mari, sniffing into her handkerchief,  “I don’t know how this could have happened. I take the pill every day.”

“Oh Mari, you dear girl.”  Miyo sat close to Mari, holding her hand.  “These things happen, they are the little unpredictable things of life.  We can plan all we want, yet we don’t have complete control over every thing.  Perhaps Steven will soften in time.”

“No he won’t, I know him.  He insists I get an abortion.”  Mari’s eyes were red from crying.

“What do you want to do, Mari?”

Mari stared out the window where Miyo’s garden appeared.  It was very early spring and the rocks and nude trees were dusted with a late season’s snowfall. Beautiful, serene and about as desolate as she felt right now.

She turned to Miyo, eyes swollen and hopeless.

“I don’t know yet. I haven’t thought much, Miyo, but I don’t want an abortion.” She blew her nose in her handkerchief. “I just know I hate Steven.”

Mari looked down at her hands, twisting them in the soggy handkerchief.

Mari’s voice was soft and low. “I don’t know who the father is.”

Miyo stiffened next to her.

“Mari”, she said quietly, “are you having an affair?”

Mari thought, she is going to think me fucking crazy.

“Miyo, I don’t know how to tell you. I can’t understand what has happened. And no, I’m not having an affair.”

“I am here for your comfort, Mari. I will listen.”

Mari breathed deeply, trying to compose her thoughts.  Looking up at the ceiling, she saw the cracks in the plaster.  How ‘cracked’ her life had become, how fractured and fragile her grip on sanity. Could Miyo understand any of this?

“Miyo”, said Mari, grasping her friend’s hand in both of hers. “I don’t expect you to understand, but this happened and I don’t know what to make of it.”

Mari took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“For the past six weeks I have been having dreams. It’s the same one, or a continuation of the same dream.”  Mari blew her nose. “No, I should tell the truth.  It’s not even a dream anymore.”

“What are you trying to say, Mari?”

“Miyo, at the séance or whatever it’s called, with Mr. Takado? Well, there is this man, in the dream, always this man, and Mr. Takado’s features became this man before my eyes.”

Miyo drew back, her expression unreadable.

“Mari, are you sure it wasn’t because of the light, or even the excitement of the evening.  Are you very sure?”

“Yes, but that isn’t the important part.  I bought a kimono, a black tomesode, a couple of months ago.  When I sleep in it, the dream comes and then I am gone.”

“What do you mean ‘gone’ Mari?”

“I wake up on the floor, always on the same floor, my hands tied behind my back, in the kimono. Then this man, this man called “Lord Mori”, unties me and we spend time together in the dream.”

“Can you remember what happens to you, Mari?”

Mari turned her body towards Miyo, her hands clenched tightly in her lap.

“We write haiku and make love.”

“Well, it doesn’t sound that bad for a dream.”  Miyo sat back, her smile illuminating her worried face.

“No, not only that.  I have composed poems for Lord Tokugawa, I have seen men

executed, prisoners, with bow and arrow, I have met women from his castle.”

The expression on Miyo’s face showed her confusion.

“Mari, perhaps you have been pregnant longer than you knew.  Maybe this is from the changes in your body.  Perhaps these dreams come because you are a little unhappy in your marriage.”

“Perhaps, Miyo.”  Mari looked out the window at the snow- covered garden.

“But how did I get pregnant around the pill?  I have been taking it for four years. Steven doesn’t want children, at least now.”

“Oh, Mari, this is not unusual.  Perhaps the dose was too low. Perhaps just one day you forgot.  Who knows?  These things happen, there is no accounting for some things.”

Miyo looked down and sighed.

“Mari, I have to ask.  Is there another man?”

“No, no, Miyo.  Only Steven.  But the lovemaking in my dreams is so real.  I wake up looking for Lord Mori’s bruises, evidence he has made love to me.”

“Do you ever find something, a mark, anything?”

“No, I haven’t, at least I don’t think so.”  Mari shook her head.

“Ah! Then, it is only a dream, Mari. A very strong and powerful dream.  When something like this happens, in the subconscious, there  are reasons.  Stress, hormones, something is driving this dream.  You understand?”

Mari nodded, but Miyo could tell she had her doubts about this explanation.

It was dark when Mari left. She walked the short distance home with a mixture of confusion and hope.  Miyo’s thinking it was stress or hormones was plausible.  If she was pregnant for longer than a few weeks, perhaps the timing was right and it was all a mirage. Still, she would have to go to a doctor soon to confirm her condition.

The dusting of snow had disappeared from the sidewalk and only remained in the crotch of trees.  The street lights were far apart and dim, more like lanterns on poles. Mari walked slowly, thinking, not really wanting to return home to Steven.

As she approached her street, she heard a rustling and looked up into a tree on her right.  A very large bird was sitting there, iridescent feathers catching even the dim street light and making him radiate with shining color. It seemed to have a large, red beak.

“Good evening, girl, it’s cold out here. Get home and get warm.”  It spoke to her in a rasping voice.

Mari screamed and ran the rest of the way.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010

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