Chapter Sixty One
Our first five days and nights are spent visiting tourist attractions, in Kyoto there are endless temples and shrines, all kinds of shops, dine on the river, enjoy the lake and mountains. It rains once in a while, we duck into tea shops or have long lunches. The experience is a chance to get deep into the everyday language, and this is by far our most useful and enjoyable experience. We decide on day three we will speak nothing but Japanese, Nikko will translate for Zi.
We don't try to cover Kyoto in a tourist rush, we fiddle around, walk or take the buses, we learn a lot more Japanese that way. Everyone engages with Chloe, and many assume she is a famous fashion model with her tall slim stature and chiseled elegant face. No one asks me if I model. Amaya is a major draw for Japanese boys, and men for that matter. No teenage boys ask me out, where am I going wrong?
It’s time to get more Japanese. We check out of the luxurious Kizashi and move to a Japanese home the Murakamis recommended. It’s close to the relatives, big, roomy, with all the amenities of home, including a washer dryer. I liked the fancy hotel, this is better. We can buy Japanese groceries, cook, wash our clothes, not have to have a housekeeper wander through every day. I don't mind either changing the sheets or washing them. It's much more like we live in Kyoto. Renting the house for three weeks will cost less than five nights in the Kizashi Suites and, after the first three, one shrine looks like another. It's not like we're into Shinto and I have enough Goddesses at home to shuck and jive for. I don't need guidance from dead ancestors. I mean, they don't even have internet access, what can they know?
Don't get me wrong, I adore much of Asian culture. That said, in every country East and West, many, many people are up to their ears in superstitions, prayers for this or that, burning tons of incense or candles. And to make it all worse, or at least more hypocritical, as a priest I am required to give blessings when asked. Our Buddhist answer is, if they think they are blessed, they are, who am I to deny them? It's all illusion anyway, the illusion I can bestow good luck doesn't make it worse; illusion is illusion, a state one is either in or not, a girl can't be sort of pregnant. I am sincere when I bless, I truly wish people happiness, good health and prosperity. If they think I enable it, perhaps they begin to act like they’re happy, healthy and prosperous regardless of their emotional, biological or economic state. All is a state of mind, you’re as happy as you think you are, healthy as you believe yourself to be, wealth is enormously relative to what neighborhood you hang in. I want nothing more than for people to be happy, healthy and prosperous. When they feel that way, they don't go around creating mischief and misery. Good enough.
Our next days are spent visiting Nikko's grandparents, the maternal grandparents are both alive, Mr. Murakami's father is deceased, his mother is eighty. They are incredibly gracious, it is Japan after all. Chloe and Zi both read concern in the auras of the grandmothers. Nikko has no children. Amaya was a daughter when she came to us as a child, but there are no biological children and no husband. The grandparents are old, explaining lesbian is not a discussion we need to have.
So, we are business partners of Nishiko, which is also true, and Nikko claims that her business interests take all of her time. Again, it's Japan, the grandparents don't press. Somebody might lose face. Instead, they take delight in our language skill, and we talk of Chloe and Amaya, both studying geisha.
Geisha in the Gion district (and Kyoto generally) do not refer to themselves as geisha; instead, Gion geisha use the local term geiko. While the term geisha means ‘artist’ or ‘person of the arts’, the more direct term geiko means essentially ‘a child of the arts’ or ‘a woman of art’. Hey are also impressed that we study kendo.
In case you wonder how kendo works, I’ll stick in a brief summary.
Hanshi Murakami is a 9th dan, which isn't awarded any longer, 8th is a high as one can go, and that takes thirty one years minimum. Each advancement requires testing by the International Kendo Foundation. Nikko and I are 4th dan and we will wait four years to advance to 5th, then five more to advance to 6th, six more to advance to 7th and ten more to advance to 8th. That's if we don't screw up. There are no shortcuts.
Since a student cannot be 1st dan unless they are at least thirteen, the earliest one can get to 8th dan is forty six. There are no titles until 6th, when one is renshi, kyōshi 7th, and hanshi at 8th. You get there when you get there, not before.
The idea in a kendo match is to create suki, an opening between objects. Much training is devoted to learning how to distract an opponent to create suki, or to sense before you see, so when an opponent attempts to create suki, you are a step ahead with your own suki. Kendo is like a chess match with shinai. A shinai is a wooden slatted stick, a bokken is a wooden sword. We practice with both. A bokken is more like a katana, a shinai is what's used in tournaments, they’re longer and have a different feel. Wiki has an excellent page on kendo history, practice, uniforms and sparring rules.
I mention kendo because, well, we are in Japan, and we are afforded a unique opportunity, When it became known that Hanshi is in Kyoto, and the number of 9th dans is tiny, he is invited to attend classes and observe or instruct. A 9th dan does not give demonstrations. He agreed to one visit, and he wanted his students to come along.
Chloe is in Chloe heaven, going to a kendo school in Japan. She is not yet 1st dan, so this is an observation only visit for her. Nikko and I find out, when we are introduced at the dōjō, that we are scheduled to both train and have a match.
Uniforms are provided, we dress, have to borrow shinai and bokken obviously, and we go through warm-up and kata sessions. So far, so good, we know the kata, Nikko and I have done these things a few thousand times. So far, I haven't managed to embarrass Hanshi, although he’s giving me a stony stare.
Chloe, “Don't worry about Hanshi, he is proud of both of your performances, I can see his pride clear as day. If he didn't think you were up to it, he surely wouldn't have arranged training. Just don't screw up your match and you're good to go.”
I'm not sure I'm reassured by that, then again, I don't deal in comfort, not in my martial life. Pressure is focus, and focus means quit thinking and do. Thinking under pressure is usually bad thinking.
I go first, my opponent is a female. There is no way to tell rank designation, kendo has no belts, badges or any other rank identifier. We do the bow, move to the starting lines, draw the shinai and squat. The head referee shouts 'begin,' leap into fighting stance, then go at it. A match is three points. If someone gets two first, the match is over. If only one point is scored, that's the winner when the time runs out, five minutes. Ties are either dealt with in extended time, until another point is scored, or by a vote of the three judges.
For something that takes thirty one years to master, it doesn’t take much time to actually do it.
I score two points in under a minute, we separate, bow and move off.
Nikko fights a more talented kendoka, and he is warier of a Japanese opponent than my opponent was of me. They dance for a while, she’s screwing around, lulling him to overconfidence. He tries for a head tap, she parries and whacks him on the shoulder, point.
I see her give him a point, a thrust to her neck. I know her too well, she could have dodged that blindfolded. In the final exchange she goes straight for the attack and pops him on the head before his shinai moves an inch.
I am up against another woman, she‘s good and catches me on the wrist for a point. In kendo, you can only score by hitting very specific areas, and with the correct side of the shinai. Top of head, side of head, shoulders, wrists, and there is only one thrust allowed, to the neck, and that only for advanced students. The strike areas are well protected with hard armor, there is little danger of injury, except to one’s pride.
There’s also a lot of screaming, in advance of a strike, or as one is made. I hear her noise, I make some of my own, more to demonstrate that I have been properly trained than to pump myself up. This is martial arts, I don't need motivation. We strike and parry, nothing happens, I give her an opening, she falls for it, I tap her head, point. She doesn't, can't, know that she is fighting someone who can see miniscule body movements, the flicker of her eye through her mask, I can hear the change in her breathing, it's depth and pace, I can hear her heart beat. She can't do anything fast enough to escape the owl and eagle. We each have a point, I spend the last minutes letting her give it her best shot. When she strikes, I am already someplace else. I tap the side of her head for my second point, time is called.
Nishiko leads her next opponent around like a puppet on a string, then in the waning time, scores a point on her wrist, set up again and Nikko thrusts to her neck, two points, match over.
We are applauded, appropriate bows and compliments to our opponents. I wish I had gotten to fight a man, but I don't get to decide these things. Nikko and I change, thank the local Hanshi for allowing us to participate. He bows and compliments our skill.
Chloe, “He's frustrated. Four matches and not a single win. Hardly a point, one a blind woman could see you gave her. You and Nikko are the best, I am so going to work hard on my kendo.”
Hanshi Murakami is talking to the Hanshi of the dōjō, there are nods, bows, he joins us and we leave.
Nikko asks her father, “Should we have gone easier?”
Hanshi, “I set up matches, I told him you both were 6th dan and I wanted you to fight experienced 6th or higher. Your first fight was with 6th, your second with kendoka midway to 7th. I hoped to teach you humility, I should have gone for 8th dan.”
Nikko, “You forgot that we have you for our Hanshi. His students were good, well trained, but trained only to the ability of their instructor.”
Hanshi looks at his daughter, “So, my demands have not been wasted.”
“Father, we enter no martial training lightly. On the one hand, we know that any opponent's strike can be deadly, whether a katana, a fist, or a foot. On the other, we know that ours can be the same. We practice constantly to avoid the former and deliver the latter. Always suki, always create the opening.”
Hanshi says nothing, Amaya mentals me, “Both of you exceeded his expectations, he set the bar high, higher than he thought you could handle and instead you sent the opponent's home with nothing. He is pleased by his miscalculation.”
“Do you think he’ll start being nice to me?”
“Don't be silly, Daphne.”
He didn't get me this far by being nice, he isn't likely to screw it up now by becoming pals. Appears I’m in for more growling disdain.
Chapter Sixty Two
When we return to the house, I’m treated to a warm hug from Amaya. She had a front row seat to our matches, watched them through my eyes, Janah though Nikko's.
Janah, “We want to reward our kendo champions with dinner overlooking the Kamo river.”
And we do. As rivers go, it's not much, rather shallow but it’s clean and the breezes on the decks are nice in September. Eating outside is a particularly girl thing, and we are definitely girls, something I confirm with gusto frequently.
Dinner is typical Japanese, always Miso, sensational sushi, ramen with vegetables, two kinds of fish, crab, shrimp, both grilled and tempura. Janah is particularly fond of crispy fried vegetables and after the first round, she orders a second.
Janah, “Watching all the kendo was grueling, I need the calories.”
“You sure it wasn't the part where you jumped Amaya and Zi?”
“Amaya watched you beat up the kendoka and started in on sake, said she needed to relieve her tension over concerns for your fight.”
“Had the same tensions about Nishiko. Zi doesn't drink, she was amazingly tense, or so she said. I relieved her.”
Chloe, “Janah is using Daphinity to justify her lust.”
“Excuse me dear one, Daphinity is the manifestation of a fascinatingly complex personality, we do not stoop to justification. People justify when they are confused about their actions. If we do it, it is just, just because we did it.”
“Then what I have in mind for you to do to me this evening requires no explanation or justification?”
“None whatsoever, merely express your most explicit desires and I shall fulfill them.”
“Stay tuned, I'm still warming to the task.”
Amaya, “If you think that I am to be left out of your sexual adventures, think again.”
Chloe kisses her, “Do you think me a fool?”
Amaya smiles, returns the kiss, “I like you to reassure me, you get that heartbreaking Chloe freckles merge look. I am helpless when the jigsaw pieces come together. You have precisely enough, I counted them when you were asleep, you have twenty three freckles, each one perfectly placed, as if I had done it myself. I know exactly where they are, and even in the dark, I can kiss each one while you sleep.”
“You kiss my freckles when I sleep?”
“I've watched her do it, it is achingly beautiful.”
Chloe's eyes get moist, “You are my heart, Amaya.”
Amaya, for once, has no snappy rejoinder, instead she nuzzles her face into Chloe's neck and lands a few soft kisses. Chloe takes her hand. You can't top that, just hope you experience that level of devotion, even for a little while, even if only once in a lifetime.
Violet Fairy Princess and her magic dust.
We've eaten enough, pass on sweets and return to the house.
Janah is on the couch fondling Nikko, Nikko appears content, “I would like a glass of wine before bed, know where I might get one?”
I open a bottle, pour glasses, serve them, go to Amaya in the bedroom and wave the bottle, Chloe is busy undressing her, “I would love a glass, Chloe?”
Two more wipes out the bottle, I use big glasses. I undress and lay on the bed, watch the girls play. Amaya is standing in nothing, sipping wine, Chloe is still dressed on a chair next to her, one hand holding the wine glass, the other free roaming Amaya. I am warm and flushed. My hands are up and down my thighs, my tummy, my breasts, then backtrack.
Someone must have flipped a switch, played the overture, fired the starting pistol, they part, surround me and begin. Chloe's fingers busy, Amaya kisses me wherever Chloe's fingers aren't. This takes time, I’m tall and she goes slowly. I feel her between my legs, then inside, then her tongue teasing my clit. If I have to explain how good this feels, you might want to seek out a more interesting sex life.
Chloe straddles my head, facing my feet, leans forward. She doesn't need to tell me what she wants, I moisten my finger with her wetness, when it's nice and slick, use it on her tush, then lean in to lick. She shudders, a soft 'oh' and off we go. This is neither a sprint nor a marathon, more a 10K. The athletes switch positions during the race, there is no leader, the pack is too close, running stride for stride. The tape is in sight, the pace quickens, we are flat out sprint, breath quick, powerful, and with a final burst of joy, collapse to a photo finish. Three winners, no second or third place, all gold.
We lay all over each other, reset to normal breathing, I fetch bottles of water and we hydrate internally, then hydrate externally under a warm shower. Then back to bed in a luscious tangle of arms and legs, Amaya commandeers the middle.
Chloe kisses her face a thousand times, okay an exaggeration, but a lot, “Are you going to kiss my freckles tonight?”
“I kiss them every night, unless I fall asleep first. If I wake during the night, I catch up.”
Chloe giggles, “I love knowing that, it's so....user friendly.”
Chloe is quiet, dreamy eyed, a love sponge that rains it back over us as fast as she can soak it up. That's how it works you see. Fill the cup freely, it overflows, drink it up, repeat, all day, every day. No cup ever empty.
Silence settles, we curl in, nuzzle and drift off.
Today, Ari has arranged a trip to the house of an Okaasan , where girls go to become maiko, then geisha. There is a splendid BBC set of six segments on YouTube if you want details. It isn't simple, it’s hard work for a long time, and then longer to pay off your debt to the Okaasan.
Becoming a maiko takes months, and then only if you pass the rigorous tests. In the meantime, a girl serves her maiko sisters, the Okaasan pays all expenses, room and board, training, makeup, teachers for dance, flute, shamisen, and the cost of kimonos, which can run to thirty thousand dollars each. A maiko might have twenty kimonos or more. She pays this back from entertainment five or six nights a week. Only after she is geisha can she earn her own money, maybe five years after becoming maiko.
The Okaasan is not a pimp, rather a housemother, usually a retired geisha. She manages the work, trains students until they are maiko, when the training is handed off to an experienced maiko, seen as an older sister. The bond between new maiko and older sister is for life. It's Japan, there’s a formal ceremony for this and it is taken quite seriously.
Caucasian geishas are not taken seriously in Japan, nor do Amaya and Chloe expect to be. Ari explained to her old friend that the girls want to experience Japan in its deepest traditions. Chloe and Amaya meet the maiko of Okaasan Sato, a striking woman, late fifties and barely a line in her gaunt face.
Ari, “They are students of Japan, and most talented. Their good friend and guardian is Nishiko, my daughter.”
Sato, “Ah, Nishiko, I only knew her as an infant, she is a grown woman now.”
“Yes, Chloe and Amaya live with her in America, along with two others.”
“Like my home here, all girls. How do they serve each other?”
“In every way, they share duties, one cleans, another washes, a third cooks, whatever job needs doing, one of them does it. They have a most harmonious household.”
“Ah. And your maiko do not entertain men either?”
“Sometimes grandparents, a couple of friends are married, they entertain them as family. It isn't a job for them, it is an appreciation of Japanese culture. They know they cannot be what they are not. Despite that, Amaya is geisha and Chloe maiko. My eyes and ears see Japan in their every action. That their eyes are round is immaterial.”
Sato, “An Australian girl became a geisha, but it was a shortcut trip, and she is not respected, only a novelty.”
“The girls have had no shortcuts, Amaya was five years before geisha, Chloe will be as well. They concern themselves with learning, not with time.”
The elder maiko appears with Chloe and Amaya, she bows to Okaasan and Ari, “You are Okaasan Murakami, I am honored to meet you.”
Ari, “Did you have a chance to observe?”
Maiko, “We danced, Amaya played shamisen and flute, Chloe danced. Amaya is geisha, there is no doubt. Chloe has things to learn, but is a qualified maiko in my opinion. Of course, she has not been tested formally in Japan, but then neither was Amaya. I am told Okaasan Murakami is a qualified judge, I would be honored to welcome them as sisters.”
Okaasan turns to Chloe, “Do you know Chanoyu?”
Chloe bows, “I am learning, Okaasan Sato.”
Okaasan, “May we see what you have learned?”
Dressed in a basic kimono, Chloe serves the simpler tea ceremony, chakai, thin tea and sweets. Okaasan expected something mediocre and got something splendid.
After Chloe leaves to return the kimono, Okaasan says to Ari, “Your hand shows in her work. She is indeed maiko. This is not some foreign knockoff like the Australian.”
Ari, “I am honored that you say so.”
“We are perhaps too insular here.”
“The women in their family do not think so. They don't want to invade Japanese ways, they want to learn them. They put no American twist on the things they learn from me. They are more insular than I am. My husband and I went to America, America welcomed us and we have prospered. I choose to think it an honor that young American girls care so deeply about our culture. When my husband agreed to train Nishiko in the sword, I was not surprised. When he agreed to train Chloe, I was almost amazed.”
Okaasan, “A maiko who studies kendo. She should be in a movie, Geisha Samurai Warrior.”
Ari can't say what passes through her mind, that Chloe is becoming the movie.
The girls return, thank Okaasan for her welcome and compliment the talents of her maiko, three of whom wait outside. There are more bows, they exchange e-mail and phone numbers. Between texts and Skype, they could be chattering away about girl things from a third of the way across the planet.
They return to the house, the rest of us are have been lounging around, being on vacation.
Janah, “How was the visit?”
Amaya, “Great, we made new friends, Chloe charmed the socks off Okaasan Sato with her chakai.”
Ari leaves with Nikko, they and Soichi are going north to visit an infirm aunt of Ari's and two cousins. There is no reason for all of us to troop along, Nikko said it’s a family obligation, she didn't much want to go herself. No doubt she would have to listen to questions about husbands and babies. They aren't people Nikko has any contact with, but it would put her parents in a bad light if she came seven thousand miles to Kyoto and didn't go fifty miles up the road to visit.
Mid afternoon, we take a long walk through town, stop for tea and a snack, out of the blue, two teenage girls approach Chloe cautiously.
The bolder of the two asks in English, “Excuse me, please may I ask, are you Chloe Sylk from the fashion magazines?”
Chloe stands, answers in Japanese, “I am Chloe.”
The girls look at each other, hands to mouths, then all smiles, still nervous, switch to Japanese, “Are you in Japan for work?”
Chloe, “No, we are here to see your beautiful city, my friends and I are great fans of all things Japanese. One of us is from here, she is visiting relatives today. Would you join us for tea,” she extends her hand to the table, the girls look at us in a kind of wonder.”
Girl One says, “Oh no, we couldn't, I am so sorry to interrupt.”
Chloe can see the auras, oh no means we would love to, “My friends and I would be honored to meet two young people from Kyoto, after all, we are here to absorb your city and its people, please, sit here,” pointing to the empty table next to us.
She waits until they are seated, joins them. Amaya slides over to the fourth seat at their table and introduces herself, also in Japanese.
The girls eyes widen, “You both speak excellent Japanese, where did you learn?”
Chloe, “From our friend, and the white haired girl at the next table knows several languages, it's a hobby of hers. I also study chadō, my friend’s mother is a tea master.”
Chadō is the Way of Tea, cha for tea, just as in Chinese, 'do' is way, pronounced doh. 'Do' is way in many Asian languages, Taekwondo is Korean, which means the way of hand and foot.
Chloe asks, “You are both from Kyoto?”
Girl Two finds her voice, “Yes, high school students, our last year.”
“And what are your plans, after high school?”
They each explain their intention to attend school in the US, which is why they know passable English.
“Where do you plan to attend, have you made up your minds yet?”
Girl Two nods to her friend, “Katsumi wants to go to Fashion Institute in Manhattan I may go to NYU or Columbia. She wants to be in New York, so much fashion inspiration. She vacationed there with her parents and loves it. We are best friends, I want to go to school near her. We think New York won't be so hard with a friend there.”
Their order comes, something sweet with crushed ice and a straw, milky looking.
Chloe, “And what is your name?”
Girl Two, “Mayumi.”
“Victorious beauty and true bow, how lovely.”
The girls blush a little, Chloe continues, “My friends name is Amaya. She chose a Japanese name for herself.”
Mayumi says, “Night rain. Mysterious, so beautiful.”
Amaya, “I am warming up to these girls, so perceptive.”
Chloe, “We live in New York, not far from NYU.”
Katsumi brightens, “I read that on a fashion blog! You did an interview in Fashion Notes, she blushes again, then in a burst, “when we saw your photos, we Googled you, so we knew about chadō, and you are learning kendo and are maiko, you are practically Japanese.”
Chloe smiles, “Amaya inspired me to study, she likes it so much, I got the bug. And what do you want to study?”
Mayumi looks conspiratorial, “I told my parents science, but I really want to study English literature. I'll take science courses and literature on the side. It's not important, I want to write. But parents want something they consider a career. Except my mother, who thinks I should find a rich husband and have babies,” she giggles.
Amaya, “Mothers can be like that. Once you are a great writer, perhaps she will forget about it.”
Mayumi is indignant, “She is pretty traditional, my grandmother is the bad one. All they think about is babies, like women are chickens to produce eggs.”
We laugh, Amaya says, “Perhaps you will teach them otherwise.”
Katsumi, “This is such an imposition, may I take a picture with you?”
Chloe, “Sure, but you have to let me take pictures with you as well, so I can show off my new friends from Kyoto.”
A phone photo session ensues. They take a few typical shots standing together, Chloe is a head taller than Katsumi and a head and a half taller than Mayumi, so I suggest I take some of them at the table talking like any group of friends.
We decide to continue our walk, I ask the girls to join us if they have time. They are enthralled to be with, in their minds, the famous New York fashion model. It's a great finish to the afternoon, two giggly girls, giggly Chloe and more reserved Amaya. I take more pictures on my phone, then take shots with the girls' phones to include the three or four of them shopping, trying necklaces, bracelets, shoes.
Katsumi, “Amaya, you know a lot about fashion, you have the eye, yes?”
Chloe, “Amaya is a fashion consultant to several women in Manhattan. She teaches fashion and makeup to girls at the school we used to go to. We live in an apartment above the school actually.”
Katsumi, “Ah, that explains it. Everything she selects is the right size and color, you do not design?”
Amaya, “Not my thing. We have limited time and I spend mine in other ways. Looking after Chloe fills up much of my day.”
Mayumi, “But you are so beautiful, you do not model?”
“Thank you, no, sometimes I go with Chloe, but I have a lot of things going on that I enjoy. I would rather watch her get photographed and stick to the things I prefer.”
Mayumi laughs, “I would love to be a model, but unless they go for short chunky girls, I don't have much of a chance.”
Katsumi, “She always says she's chunky. She is jujitsu black belt and is nothing but muscle. Chunky is fat, she has no fat,” she poked Mayumi in the gut, “see, like a brick.”
Mayumi blushes, “Katsumi is good for my ego, she cheers me on in matches.”
Chloe, “Do you have a sport Katsumi?”
Chloe squeals, “You take kendo?”
Mayumi, “She is so good. Halfway to fourth dan already, I am so proud of her.”
“I am just getting to first.”
Katsumi, “Where do you study?”
“Privately. Our friend, Nishiko, is Renshi, her father is Hanshi and a 9th.”
Katsumi cocks her head, “Who is your Hanshi?”
Katsumi is momentarily speechless, then, “Oooohhhh, he is samurai, most honored and a legend, I heard he moved to New York a long time ago, they say he takes no students.”
“His daughter and Daphne, then I was lucky enough to convince him. He is truly amazing, I can't touch him. He beats me on the head with the shinai at will, so does Nishiko,” she laughs at herself, then adds, “Daphne is also a student of his, almost as good as Nishiko.”
“God isn't as good as Nikko, but I can get a point occasionally.”
The girls laugh, Katsumi says, “What a wonderful coincidence, meeting you in Kyoto.”
Katsumi has no way of knowing that Janah doesn't deal in coincidence, and there is no way of explaining how she drew them to us.
Chapter Sixty Three
We part with the girls in an un-Japanese way, lots of hugs. Zi had been relatively silent, observing.
Zi, “Those girls were enchanted, I doubt you could keep them away from New York now.”
Janah, “It will be reassuring for them to know people. Katsumi is intent on her design career, that much was evident. New York isn't the only place in the world to study design, but it is a premier place to find out if you’re the real deal.”
Amaya, “Of course she is the real deal, she could see how talented I am with just a few jewelry selections. Clearly she has superior fashion sense.”
Chloe, “Interesting self glorification, you and Daphne are masters at complimenting yourself while complimenting someone else.”
“You repeat yourself.”
“It bears repeating. Daphne, at least, retreats into humility occasionally.”
“She has cause to be humble, my presence for instance.”
“And you have none.”
“Nothing comes to mind.”
“Sheesh, how do I put up with you?”
“With humility, of course.”
Chloe kisses her, “You are all that, I love all that you are.”
I lose track of time, we must have walked for miles, it’s almost eight. We stop at a street side cafe for a variety of noodles, Janah has vegetables with hers, I have tempura shrimp, the others a variety of tofu or seafood. It’s excellent, inexpensive and we feel more like locals than in an upscale restaurant. I like upscale, I also like eating with real people in a real environment. I like Chef Villaume's, and Le Bernardin, but I prefer the Village Diner, a stack of Mini's whatever and shooting the breeze with the NYPD and FDNY, the bond traders and the Assistant DAs.
Now we're having fun sharing noodle dishes, chopsticks across the table, putting a crunchy battered shrimp in Amaya's mouth, a spicy chunk of tofu from Zi, a piece of fresh grilled mackerel from Chloe, talking about sights and sounds of Kyoto and the new friends we'd met.
Chloe, “I already got a text from Katsumi, she says she's the hit of her family, in pictures with a famous New York model. How sweet.”
Janah, “I'm glad they had the nerve to approach you. Many in Japan would not have, particularly young girls. They had more self confidence, a kendo and a judo student.”
Chloe is still bubbly, “I have international fans. Katsumi wants to know if she can make a Chloe Sylk Facebook fan page. Is it okay?”
“Up to you.”
Chloe's fingers fly across the tiny keyboard, “I'm telling her it would be a great honor. And do they want me to send them updates on my work and activities.”
Then she gets another text, Chloe reads, 'you will have the best fan page ever yes yes yes please send any details and i will post them do you want to post updates yourself?'
Chloe texts, 'you should be the exclusive contact your idea…make me look good okay?'
Katsumi, 'mayumi is freaking she thinks this is the coolest thing ever domo domo domo arigato, i will text when your page is ready.'
Chloe, 'XXXOOO, chloe.'
“Well, you made two young ladies very happy.”
“How could I refuse! That is sooo sweet. I wonder if anyone will subscribe?”
We are finally at our rented house, later than we planned on, they want to sit in the tub, I’m not a tub person, I shower. By the time I finish hair drying, they’re snuggled into bed. Tonight, I take one side of Janah on the couch, Zi the other, we watch a ridiculous game show in Japanese with the sound low, they’re noisy and completely ridiculous. We’re asleep before the closing credits.
Wander again today, stop at the Kassai restaurant, recommended by our next door neighbor, and boy is he on target. It's just outside Goin, and the menus are only in Japanese, if you don't read Japanese, it's okay, the waitresses speak English. Full of excellent sushi, sashimi and tempura, we stay on the move, stop at Aritsugu, a four hundred fifty year old knife maker. I don't buy any, they are quite well made and beautiful, but I have a collection of kitchen knives that would match any upscale Manhattan restaurant, I prefer Viking and Chicago Cutlery, although I do have Kyocera ceramic knives as well.
We stop for tea in a small shop near the river, then walk back to await Nishiko's return.
“I'm about thirty minutes away, see you soon.”
“Nikko will be here in a half hour, what's up for tonight?”
Amaya, “There is a girl band called Kinoko Hotel playing at a club here. I looked up a YouTube, it Japanese girl pop, a concept band. The dress up in Sergeant Pepper short skirts and wigs.”
“Why do we want to see them?”
“To immerse ourselves in the culture, the twenty first century culture. This is so typically Japan. Cute girls play music for old guys and teen girls. Well, they play music for teen girls, they dress up for the old guys who pay to see their shows. This is a four girl group, a kind of noir version of AKB48.”
Zi, “What is AKB48?”
Amaya, “Adorable teens, short schoolgirl skirts, they hip flip around. The choreography is simple cheerleader stuff, they sing well, all pop all the time.”
“And they play concerts?”
“They pack their venue with fifty year old guys and teenage boys who pay top dollar for the view. I am not sure why they even sing, they could just dance around the stage and give the oldies a peek at the short shorts they wear under their skirts. This kind of group is a national industry in Japan. The genre has caught on in Korea as well.”
Zi, “Sounds like perv night out.”
Janah, “Japan is a major child sex trafficking country. We love a lot about Japan, but their record on child prostitution is abysmal. Porn of all kinds is huge here.”
Amaya, “The whole country thrives on cute, have you looked at the phones, the accessories, notebooks, school bags, if they can make it pink and stick a cuddly animal on it, it sells. Besides, I made a lot of money in my younger days posing in bikinis and my underwear on a website. Who do you think paid all that money? I can give you a hint, it was not teenage boys.”
“Geez, Zi. Evolution builds teenage girls to attract. Blaming guys for finding attractive what they are genetically programmed to find attractive is like suggesting they don't breathe too much.”
Zi smiles, “Older guys check us out all the time.”
“Yep, and it's harmless. A very few cross the line, their brains blow a fuse and they start wanting to make it personal. And while that's improper, it doesn't seem reasonable to paint all men as pervs. Nobody makes these girls do what they do, they all know who the audience is, they’re cleaning up.”
Amaya, “I knew who my audience was and I was eight. My parents encouraged the heck out of me, but once I started, I needed no encouragement. I would have continued, except my parents got greedy.”
Zi, “One question if I may?”
Zi, “Did it leave a mark? A trauma?”
“Janah, Daphne and Nikko do not allow trauma drama. I talked with Janah frequently, her dad sometimes. They never treated me as if I had been traumatized, never suggested I should hate my parents, or the people who hired me. They had weaknesses and I was an available outlet. And look now. I am beloved by my friends, I stepped into enormous wealth, I can act, sing, speak French and Japanese and my lovers are gorgeous. I can communicate mentally, I know the bliss of oneness with them. To wallow in my young abuse would be to deny the joy I have now. Chloe had a much harder time of it than I.”
Zi, “We are all truly fortunate.”
Nikko appears, she's only been gone a day, a big Chloe hug brings a smile to her face, a kiss from Zi another.
“Perhaps I should go away more often.”
Chloe, “Forget it. This family operates best with all its components nearby. I know you can mental Janah and Daphne. Doesn't matter. How’s the family?”
“Family. Not so close really, not to me. They were gracious, too self effacing, I've grown accustomed to Daphne and Amaya's self aggrandizement. With my relatives, they go through the motions of apologizing for the poor quality of everything even if it's priceless. Nobody pranced around acting like fake royalty and saying ridiculous things.”
Amaya, “Perhaps I could spend a few days with them.”
Chloe, “So they would all commit seppuku?”
We laugh, Amaya in a pure Japanese family may very well result in a few ritual suicides.
“Only once they realized I was not going to stay forever, people do not kill themselves due to my presence, rather due to my absence. What would you do, Violet Princess, if I disappeared for a few days?”
“Kill you on your return, for disregarding my needs.”
“Then you would kill yourself?”
“Nope. I would consider it my lot in life to suffer and Daphne would have to spend hours tenderly consoling me. It would be high drama, a Lifetime movie special.”
Amaya, “Lifetime movies are to high drama what canned tuna is to sashimi.”
Chloe giggles, “You must stick to me like Velcro, there is simply no other option.”
Amaya looks around at her audience, “There you have it, I am indispensable.”
Nikko says to no one in particular, “Maybe it wasn't so bad at the relatives after all.”
It's late, we’re returning from the Kinoco Hotel show, kinoco is Japanese for mushroom, we have no idea what it means in relation to a hotel. The band as expected, the girls impossibly cute, the music sticky pop with an edge, unlike AKB48 which is just sticky gooey. The voices are tinny, the music standard. One presumes that's why they need an angle, thus the short skirt Sergeant Pepper costumes and funky bob cut black wigs. The crowd loves them.
Nikko, “Why did we do that to ourselves?”
“To tourist is to suffer, ancient Shaolin teaching.”
Amaya bursts out in song, exactly as the lead singer sang it, prancing around the room playing air guitar or doing standard robot dance moves. Nikko threatens to behead her.
Chapter Sixty Four
We spend our time in tourist traditional. While we could have scurried around finding the 'real' Kyoto, and all the spots the insider locals know about, instead, we take it as it comes. Nikko is as tourist as the rest of us. We aren't really night clubbers, nobody wants Kobe beef, or super secret tuna sashimi fresh from the lost continent of Atlantis, or sea urchin testicles that bestow magical sexual powers. It's amazing how little it costs not to buy anything.
We will spend the remaining ten days in Koyasan, home to an active monastic center founded twelve centuries ago by the priest Kukai for the study and practice of Esoteric Buddhism. It is the headquarters of the Koyasan sect of Shingon Buddhism, a faith with a wide following throughout Japan.
Koyasan is situated on a small plain at the top of Mount Koya, the sacred area known as the Danjo Garan, a complex of temples, halls, pagodas and Buddhist statuary.
Surrounded by a forest of cedar trees, Okuno-in, the Inner Sanctuary, is the setting for a cemetery housing crypts of famous Japanese, including that of the samurai ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
It’s a three and a half hour trip, mostly by train, except for the cable car to the top of Mount Koya, then a cab ride to the Fukuchi-in, one of the fifty two temples and/or residences. Some lodging quarters have temples, others don't. Guests are welcome at any temple's ceremonies, or to participate in early morning meditation and chanting. We bought grey monks robes in Kyoto, and the white surplice that goes over them, plus Buddhist prayer beads, simple wooden beads used for counting mantras.
Shingon is not our form of Buddhism, but when in Koyasan, do as the Shingon do.
Our rooms are beautiful, a low table with a heating element underneath, tatami mats, sliding Shoji doors, modern bathrooms, thank Buddha.
Our days begin early, meditation is six a.m. Then we walk the seven hour route through various temples, religious sites and museums.
Our first stop is the Nyonindo, the women's temple. Originally there were seven different mountain trails leading into Koyasan and consequently seven entrances to the sacred mountain. Before 1872, women were not allowed to enter Koya-town, yet there were many women that practiced Shingon Buddhism. As a result, temples at each of these seven entrances were built for the specific purpose of housing women on their pilgrimage to Koyasan. Nyonindo is the only women's temple that still remains. Nice to see the Japanese have moved beyond the 'women in their place' attitude, they caught on in 1872, about the time the US got rid of slavery.
Another stop is the Tokugawa Mausoleum, built in 1643 by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third generation Shogun of the Tokugawa family. Janah says the architecture is representative of the style from the Edo period, beats me, it looks Japanese. The interior of the buildings are decorated in lacquered wood with gold leaf, extensive ornamentation and murals, they do love their art.
The Reihokan Museum was built in 1921 to prevent cultural assets from being damaged and to establish a central place for them to be viewed by the public. A few hundred of the thousands of art works in the collection have been registered as cultural assets or national treasures.
Okunoin is regarded as the most sacred site in Koyasan. It’s also the location of the mausoleum for Kobo Daishi, where he is believed to be in eternal meditation since March 21, 835. Good for him, it’s unclear what he has been meditating about for nearly twelve hundred years, it didn't stop 9/11, or two world wars, or the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Maybe he meditates on ending humanity.
Ichi-no-hashi (the first bridge) is the main entrance into this revered place. After crossing the first bridge, there’s a mile and a half cobblestone walkway leading to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. Along walkway stand hundreds of cedar trees and over two hundred thousand gravestones, in addition to monuments and memorials honoring noteworthy individuals throughout Japan's history.
When Koyasan was established in the 9th century, this building was originally known as Lecture Hall or Kodo. Since the beginning, it has been the central hall for conducting rituals and ceremonies for the community of Koyasan.
We come across Kondo, the seventh reconstruction of the original temple, Janah says it was completed using the Irimoya style in 1932. Don't ask me what the Irimoya style is, it pretty much resembles most of the other temples we’ve seen. The central image enshrined inside of Kondo was carved by Takamura Koun in 1932. This enshrined image is a representation of Yakushi Nyorai, also known as the Buddha of medicine or healing. I have no idea why Janah knows this.
We visit Daishi Kyokai, the administrative center of Shingon Buddhism and responsible for spreading the teachings of Kobo Daishi, the sect's founder. The complex consists of two buildings: Henjoden, a traditional temple hall, and a modern building for administration, lectures and training.
Visitors can participate in a few activities at Daishi Kyokai, such as receiving Buddhist precepts (jukai) or copying Buddhist scriptures (shakyo).
Jukai is a formal ceremony administered to Buddhist laypeople; however, anyone may receive jukai and participation does not make you Buddhist unless you wish to become so. Jukai takes place in a dark room adjacent to the Henjoden's main hall, where participants sit on the tatami floor and recite after a priest. During the ceremony they repent all their past misdeeds, take refuge in the Buddha, and repeat the Ten Wholesome Precepts, a Buddhist moral code. The whole ceremony takes about thirty minutes and visitors receive a certificate at the end acknowledging their participation. It's the Buddhist version of absolution and rebirth. We pass on the opportunity, it would take far longer than a half hour to recite our misdeeds.
***Another take on jukai
The precepts are central to all Buddhist traditions. In our Japanese lineage the precept-taking ceremony is called Jukai. In taking the precepts you formally become a Buddhist and a bond is developed between student and teacher.
Those who wish to take Jukai begin by sewing or purchasing a Rakusu. The Rakusu is a rectangle of cloth composed of strips, which hangs on a loop around the neck which emerged from the tradition set by the Buddha’s followers of sewing their own robes.
Once the Rakusu is complete it is given to the teacher who selects a dharma name for the student. The dharma name is a recognition of your true nature and of beginning a new life lived in oneness with the precepts.
Jukai literally means to receive the precepts, passed down from teacher to student. The student vows publicly to uphold the precepts and receives a lineage chart. A red line runs through the lineage and the student’s name and circles back to form a whole, connecting the student and the Buddha.
To accept and observe the precepts is an expression of gratitude to the dharma and its teachers but it is also sixteen vows to yourself.
The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts:
Be one with the Buddha.
Be one with the Dharma.
Be one with the sangha.
Three Pure Precepts:
Do not commit evil.
Do good for others.
Ten Grave Precepts:
Do not kill.
Do not steal.
Do not be greedy.
Do not tell a lie.
Do not be ignorant.
Do not talk about others’ faults.
Do not elevate yourself and blame others.
Do not be stingy.
Do not get angry.
Do not speak ill of the three treasures. (the three treasures are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, the community of Buddhists.)
Then comes Kongobuji, the main temple, inside the different rooms there are wonderfully decorated paintings on the sliding doors. These painting were created by some of the famous artists from the Kano Painting School. The large rock garden in Kongobuji is called Banryu-tei, created to represent two dragons emerging from a sea of clouds to protect the Okuden area. Banryu-tei has an area that stretches 2,340 square meters and it is the largest rock garden in Japan. It is wonderfully majestic, while remaining simple and spare.
We visit Torodo, the Hall of Lanterns, after passing through the forest of cedar trees so big to call them huge is gross understatement. Incense hangs in the air. Monks tend several flames, Janah says that one of the flames has been burning for a thousand years. Buddhists are nothing if not attentive.
We spend the rest of the day enjoying the forest and gardens, wonderful vegetarian dinner, then retire to our rooms for qi meditation with Janah, Amaya and Chloe. We upload transmissions, Janah to Amaya, me to Chloe. I go very slowly with Chloe, she is a Sensitive and it's far more important that she retain her advanced skills from the eagle. We don't know if our transmissions would interfere with her unique color perception, so the practice is to do a tiny amount, then she takes a break and checks her vision. No difficulties so far. With her, we are not going for advanced telekinesis, she won't be able to move objects. It is only for her internal use, move energy in her body, or help heal herself. After a few years, if things go well enough, we may go for the other, or she may, like Janah, come to it on her own. As a Bodhisattva, there are things she can do that escape the rest of us, such as when Janah imploded the Shadow running a child brothel.
We have also decided on a sex break. Not for any religious reason, rather to remain focused on our purpose here. Ten days without and a plane ride home won't kill us. And it doesn't mean no intimacy, I snuggle with Chloe and Amaya, curl up with Janah.