Posts Tagged ‘Yokai’

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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