Forest Bathing, Chapter 2


Forest Bathing Book Cover

(Click here for Chapter 1)

Chapter Two
Phantom Chamber

What seems false is real
what is real, is fantasy
when dreams become both.
–Tengu Riddle

Into the courtyard, Tomiko hurried beneath lace blossoms–pink, ginger and white. In the springtime garden, the trees stood like parasols over her mother and auntie. The two women rested among the other ladies, beneath the fragrant trees: plum, peach, and cherry. Lounging seemed the only reason for their visit to the sacred mountains. While the men climbed the steps of Haguro-San to pay homage at the mountaintop shrine. Into the reflecting pond, the men would toss mirrors for the women of their clan. These image symbols served to show the female’s esteem for the gods of the mountains since the women were not allowed to pay tribute for themselves.

Tomiko clicked her tongue in aggravation. It galled her that the women of her station were expected to lead such futile lives. She could never be so compliant sitting around complacent while the “men” took part in the feast of life. It was this skewed thinking that caused her to keep her outlaw thoughts and deeds, such as her trek up the forbidden mountain, hidden in her heart-of-hearts.

Sadness sat on her chest–the weight of a wounded heart. She could barely breathe for hiding it.
Hiding and keeping secrets seemed the only way to live life on her terms.

Desperate to keep her secret, Tomiko held the jade egg close to her breast, like an infant, fragile and in need of protection as she skirted close to a rock fountain that swished and gurgled near the gate.
The last thing she wanted was more questions about her decisions, right or wrong.

The sound of Mother speaking her name jarred her nerves, like the shrill of a water bird, brown and speckled that preyed near her home on the western shore near Tsuruoka Castle.  “Tomiko-san, where have you been?”

Tomiko skidded to a halt. She had no other choice, but to obey. Still, the fingers of her free hand curled into a fist as she turned to face the waggling finger that accused her.

Mother’s voice beat her name in staccato bursts like a mallet pounding the sides of a taiko drum barrel. “Tomiko Hino.” She sucked her teeth in exasperation. “Just look at you; your clothes are filthy!”

Tomiko cringed at the rolling eyes of disapproval, steeling herself for the worst to come as the tirade continued. Bending her face toward the ground, she gritted her teeth in agitation. Her stance was meant to appear as humiliation and shame. But on the inside, she seethed with frustrated anger.

Mother berated, “It cannot be too soon for you to conduct yourself as a proper wife-to-be!”

At the cutting words, Tomiko’s spine stiffened. Her head shot up, eyes glaring with unchecked defiance in Mother’s direction.

Tomiko had known Shun Sanada, her betrothed, since they were children, and had followed him wherever their adventures might lead. Tomiko had always loved Shun since she could remember. As his wife, she believed her life would not change from the freedom she now enjoyed, to that of the confining restrictions most wives of noblemen must endure.

It soothed her heart to believe that she would never have to bear the suffocating existence forced on Mother and Auntie, who sat like painted dolls on a shelf. The mere thought of such a fate clawed like death at Tomiko’s heart.

Her Auntie’s indulgent smile pulled her from the dark place where her mind had fallen. Auntie Said, “Ah, Fumiko-san let her be young while she can. There is time enough to be saddled with wifely duties.”

Auntie’s bold words forced the blood to Mother’s face. She gave her sister-in-law a stern, sidelong-glance filled with raw disapproval.

“Well, I can only imagine what Lord Sanada and his son would think if they could see her splattered with mud from head-to-toe.”

Auntie chuckled gently. “They would think, what a delightful, energetic mother she will make for strong-spirited sons and daughters.” She added without the slightest bow of her head in apology.

Tomiko bestowed a loving smile upon her Auntie. She could envision the serene lady, kimono tied up and fashioned as pants, trekking happily through a stream, or even climbing a sacred, forbidden mountain.

At the same time, an ashy whiteness spread from the roots of Mother’s dark hair to the base of her elegant neck. Her angry ravings replaced with alarm. Her quavering finger pointed toward the jade egg nestled in the scraped raw palm of Tomiko’s hand.

“Wha-what is that?” Mother’s eyes grew round as saucers. “From where did you get that?”

Auntie likewise looked askew at the strange object. “Hmm? Well…” Her gentle tone held no trace of blame, only bewilderment.

Resentment raw in her throat, Tomiko lifted her chin that much higher. “I found it. It, it is mine.” Her voice faltered. Still, she kept her gaze firm and resolute. She would rather die than yield her precious find.

Glancing down, she watched the jade-green skin of the egg suddenly fade into a robin’s speckled-blue. While its size shrank so that it nestled small as a silkworm’s spun cocoon against the lifeline crease that ran down the center of her palm.

In confused astonishment, Tomiko blinked. Her heart beat wildly. Had her eyes played tricks on her? Where had the jade egg gone? Her frantic gaze swept the ground in ever widening circles. Where, oh dear, oh dear, had it gone?

Gut-wrenching doubt swept through her mind, making her wonder if she had ever held the exquisite egg. Had she actually seen the priest on the steps leading up to the top of Haguro-San, or, for that matter, the King of the Tengu that stood before her in the haunted forest?

Panic grew as her mind swirled, making Tomiko feel suddenly sick to her stomach. On the slopes of the mountain, had she picked up an ordinary bird’s egg, deluding herself into thinking she had found some mysterious treasure?

Madness clawed at her mind. Her head ached. Too much had happened in one short morning and it was all crashing down around her.

Then a chuckle soft and quiet broke through the terror and confusion of her mind. Mother spoke, her angry tone replaced by affection.  “Oh run along, Tomiko-chan.”

Astonished, Tomiko watched a tender smile play across her mother’s face. Mother continued,  “But mind, clean yourself up!”

Tomiko stammered, “Yes, Oka-saan.”

Grateful for whatever had softened Mother’s heart, she bowed low in obedience. Then she spun around and hurried from the garden.

From behind, Mother’s strident voice echoed. “And walk like the lady that you are.”

Tomiko replied, “Yes-s-s, Oka-saan.”

Mother’s laughter echoed softly in the near distance. “What does she think to do with a robin’s egg? Brood and hatch it for the mother bird?”

Auntie giggled like a schoolgirl. “Perhaps she does.”

The irrational thought made Tomiko feel slightly unreal as if she floated rather than ran around the next corner. Safely out of sight from the garden and the prying eyes of her mother, she picked up her heels and raced toward the family’s private quarters. Skittering around another corner, she almost collided with an elderly servant. The woman’s arms piled high with clean laundry. Her old back bowed under the weight.

Tomiko tucked the egg inside a hidden pocket of her kimono, something she should have done earlier. She stopped, holding out her arms as if to assist the old woman.

Horrified, the servant ducked her head and hurried away down the corridor, muttering to herself.
A sigh of resignation whispered through Tomiko’s teeth. Why did things that were considered taboo attract her so? The daughter of a samurai master should never carry clean laundry, even in an attempt to help a bent-over, old woman that looked as if her back might break from the strain.

Exhausted both in mind and spirit, Tomiko slipped inside her room. She stepped inside, closing the rice paper door securely in place. Then she sank. Her knees pressed against the braided rice-rush floor.

From its hiding place, she pulled the changeling egg free. Jade-green once again, it lay nuzzled in the palm of her hand, just as it had when she plucked it from the ground near the stairs that led to Mount Haguro’s summit.

Weak with relief, she slumped down; her forehead bowed against the floor. Sojobo-sama, the name of the Tengu King, whispered through her mind. She rolled onto her back, holding the egg toward a trickle of sunlight that flowed through a crack above the door. Both the King and his egg had proven real enough, or else she had stepped into a dream of no return.

***

Darkness draped Haguro Mountain, as Tomiko lay on her sleeping mat. She gazed up toward the rafters. Transparent as fine webbing, the wooden slats melted away so that the jeweled night glittered through. Stars clung like dew drops. While a sharp tang against her tongue reminded Tomiko of salted air, though the edge of the sea washed against the shoreline of the sea, leagues in the distance. The rolling waves soothed her like a feral lullaby.

A phantom wind rattled the rice paper screens, stretched across perfect squares encased in the door face. The spectral wind swept her thoughts back to the haunted glade on Mount Haguro, and her meeting with the Tengu King.

Head pressed between damp palms; she tried to force the image of the fox spirit away as it tracked her through the underbrush. The Tengu King’s fox mistress, come to haunt and seduce her. Kitsune, a spirit creature that could transform at will into human shape. A gasp of surprise stretched Tomiko out, drowsy and content, as the fox maiden filled her mind, making her feel as if she floated somewhere above the floor.

Wrapped in veils of mists, like the ones that had surrounded King Sojobo, a man leaned over her. A glimmer of moonlight glowed softly against his cheek.

“Shun?” she whispered the name of her betrothed.

Though the man’s face stayed hidden in shadows, she could feel strong arms wrap gently around and beneath. Her breath quick and urgent, she entwined her arms around his neck, as she pulled her beloved close.

When Tomiko woke, morning light trickled past the edge of the open door, where she lay just inside the threshold. The sky above burst blue with yellow and orange light cast from the gates of the sun goddess’ sky palace. Tomiko listened to the warble of a lark, cheered by its exquisite love song.

“Shun…” Tomiko moaned, stroking fingertips across her bruised neck. The light touch ignited the earthy fragrance of pine needles that clung to her hair and robe.

Remembering something, she sat up straight, sending her confused glance around the room. It settled on the empty places where Mother and Auntie’s futon bed rolls should have reclined. Had the two women already gone to breakfast, or had they never come to sleep next to her last night?

Tomiko shifted her gaze toward the rice paper doors, opened onto the garden beyond. A smile spread slowly across her lips. Of course, the two women must have decided to spend the night with their husbands. After the wedding, she would forever spend her nights beside her beloved Shun.

***

Later that day, the family pilgrimage ended, and Tomiko found herself seated in the palanquin. Straddled across the muscled shoulders of its bearers, she felt the sedan chair, suspended by a single beam, move beneath her. Eyes drooping from lack of sleep, she leaned heavily against the inside wall.

Her fingers rested on the bamboo curtain. Chin propped against the window’s edge; she watched mist-shrouded Haguro. The mountain seemed to breathe, its summit filled with lungs that rose up and down in the crisp morning air. Her hungry eyes devoured the mystical village as both it and the mountain disappeared around a curve in the road. Her heart ached as if part of her soul was left clinging to the mountain’s haunted cliffs.

She slumped down in the cushioned seat, letting the bamboo curtain fall back in place. Her heavy eyelids slid shut as she drifted into sleep, so deep that not even the King of the Tengu could enter her dreams.

Copyright © 2012 by Ledia Runnels

IF YOU LIKED THIS POST, PLEASE SHARE!

(For all of Ledia Runnels’ published works press on the book image below.)

Tengu Prince Cover for Kindle 05252015

Forest Bathing Chapter 1


Forest Bathing Book Cover

(For a limited time, my new novelette will be available one chapter published weekly.)

 Forest Bathing

(Shinrin Yoku)

森林浴

Deep into the woods

where everything is silent,

peaceful, relaxing

Chapter One

Mountain Goblin

The spring morning calls

into the haunted forest

forgotten secrets.

–Ancient Scroll

Year of the Dragon–1484

 Men had set a death kinjiru that forbade women to set foot on the sacred ground. Yet for the past eight years, Tomiko Hino crept in secret beneath the grandfather cryptomeria, the giant evergreens that covered the sloping sides of Mount Haguro.

Each spring, when the dance of the dawn goddess lured Amaterasu back from winter exile, Tomiko’s family made their pilgrimage to the smallest of the three Brother Mountains. It was Haguro where the shrine dedicated to the three gods of the mountains perched on its summit. This was the place and the time when Tomiko crept away from the other women and made her clandestine journey into the forest.

Through the dense branches that grew high above her head, shifting sunlight filtered down through the morning fog. She closed her eyes hoping to hear what the gods would tell her. All the times before, they spoke through whispers in the wind or through the chilled dampness that kissed her cheeks. But this morning they spoke through sharp, crisp snaps and pops in the crack of high branches. The sounds echoed against the whirring wing-beats of a crane in flight.

Elegant neck extended, the white bird, with black-tipped feathers, soared from the enclosure of trees toward the green canopy high above Tomiko’s head. The bird’s voice quavered like a haunting trumpet of protest. But at what was it complaining?

Near the tree where the crane took flight, Tomiko spied a Raven perched on a lower branch. Its ebony feathers glistened like emeralds in the early morning light, as if jewels shined beneath the dark pinions.

Tomiko smiled, pretending the sassy black bird could actually understand her words. She said, “Did you frighten the crane?”

Head cocked to one side, the Raven waited. Its shrewd eyes seemed to watch her. The next instant, the brute flew at her face. The tip end of one wing flicked her nose as it soared by, sending a shock wave of astonishment that rolled down her spine to quake in the pit of her stomach.

She threw up her hands, beating wildly at the Raven’s sharp beak that snapped close to her ear. Then in a swooping motion, the black bird doubled back, diving straight for her again, but this time, it grabbed onto the narrow slope of her shoulder.

Startled more than frightened, Tomiko shrank away. Fingers splayed, she shoved at the beast’s clinging claws, while the peppery scent of pine needles filled her mouth and nose, irritating her eyes.

When the Raven refused to budge, Tomiko trembled with expectation. Breath held, she waited for its sharp talons to rip into her flesh.

Her words wrapped around a suppressed scream that scraped its way up her throat. “Wha-what, who, who are you?”

Her voice squeaked. Are you an emissary to the gods?”

The Raven leaned its head close to her face as if to stare directly into her soul. Its almond-shaped eye, the color of green jade, appeared more human than fowl giving the terrifying impression of someone trapped inside the bird’s black-feathered body.

What a horrible image. Tomiko shivered, wanting desperately to scream. Only her fear of discovery by the men who climbed to the summit each day kept her silent.

Then just as suddenly as it had landed on her shoulder, the Raven lifted into the air, its earthy scent blowing into Tomiko’s face. A short distance away, the bird landed on the forest floor.

Amidst a clamor of loud squawking, erupting from the fiend’s throat, a greenish cloud formed around the Raven’s claws. The mist seemed to come from nowhere. In a matter of moments, it shifted and settled like vapors from a shaman’s spell cast in the purple dawn. Tomiko stood trembling from head-to-toe. Puffs of panic escaped with her breath while she waited, too astonished to speak or move.

Slowly the mist cleared, evaporating into thin air. In place of the Raven, a man-like creature stood instead. A circle of gold lay atop the man thing’s black hair, feathered across elfish-point ears. Its hair, like the Raven’s feathers, was flecked with glistening emerald lights. Its jewel-green eyes sparkled with mischief. A beak-shaped nose stretched above a smirk that pulled its lips upward.

Blue-black wings, with crimson tips, folded against broad shoulders. Muscled arms lay crisscrossed against the creature’s chest. Equally robust legs stretched from a human torso ending in bare claw-like feet.

Tomiko trembled. Her teeth chattered together.

In the safety of Tsuruoka Castle, her home by the Sea of Japan, Auntie had told tales of demons and mountain goblins such as this one. At the mention of the roguish imps, she had shivered with delight. Now as she faced this creature, clearly not of the world that she had known thus far, she was both exhilarated and terrified all in one breathless moment.

If she had been irreverent before, she now had a healthy dose of respect for all the unseen spirits that wavered in the air. Understanding there were times when stubborn arrogance became little more than stupidity, she lowered her eyes toward the ground. She had no wish to bring an entire army of the dreadful beings down around her.

While she stared at the dirt and moss beneath her feet, Tomiko’s thoughts spun like a whirlpool. This was truly a haunted forest, or else she had gone insane. Each time before, when she had come to the forbidden mountain, she wished for the gods to speak words of enchanted wisdom to her heart. She now began to wonder if they had sent a demon to torment her instead.

Shivering in the chilled morning air, her feet were the first to move out of their paralysis-of-terror. Not wasting another moment, she spun around in the opposite direction.

Her feet poised to flee back down toward the safety of the village. Before she could escape the shadow of the trees, invisible fingers dug into her arms, forcing her back toward the open glade where the man-thing stood.

It said, “You have nothing to fear from me, Little One.” The creature’s voice held a pleasant warble as if the man’s voice and the bird’s song mingled as one.

“I am Sojobo, King of the Tengu,” he said as his hands swept majestically around, encompassing all within sight. “Haguro Mountain is one of my homes.”

Curiosity tugged at Tomiko’s fear, giving her the courage to look at the bird man. The good-natured smirk still tugged at his sensuous lips making her flush hot with embarrassment. She quickly averted her gaze toward the scaly bark of a nearby tree, as if there was something interesting there that she must examine.

King Sojobo narrowed his eyes while cocking his head to one side. He seemed to probe her innermost thoughts. His pointing finger twitched toward her nose.

“I know you. You have come here many times before.” His grin widened. “One so young and brave could not have missed my notice.”

Tomiko drew in a deep breath to steady her voice. Still, it cracked with nervous tension when she dared to speak.

“You, you have been watching me?”

Her gaze shot warily from one side of the tree-walled clearing to the other. All the times before, she thought her movements had stayed secret.

Foolish girl, what must the King think of my boldness in coming here? She drew in a deep breath that burned in her chest and throat.

For the first time, she considered what painful retribution might feel like. Tomiko stiffened, waiting for the worst possible consequences.

To her amazement, King Sojobo doubled over with laughter.  The invisible fingers that held her fast nudged one shoulder giving it a playful pinch. The next instant, the invasive hands shoved her aside, releasing their grip so suddenly that Tomiko stumbled forward. Grabbing wildly for something to stop her fall, she tore open the palms of her hands against the rough bark of the closest tree.

She cried out, both alarmed and annoyed,  “What do you want from me?”

Her bleeding palms stung, bringing angry tears to her eyes. Warm breath stirred near her ears. The pungent scent of pine needles tickled her nose. Tomiko sneezed once, twice, three times as invisible arms folded around her.

Strong, yet gentle, they pulled her close. She hugged herself as a shield from the impertinent creature’s advances. Her fingers clenched into fists, pressed close to her sides.

Again, the infuriating smirk spread across the tengu’s face. Then he winked playfully and said, “I see you doubt my sincerity, Hino-san.”

She gasped and flinched as if someone was about to strike her across the face. He knows my name?

King Sojobo sighed, his smug face giving the pretense of sadness. He shrugged while raising his hands in what seemed like mock resignation.

“I shall cause you no further discomfort, little one.” He shook his head.” Farewell, Hino-san.

Cr-r-ruck! Cr-r-ruck! Cr-r-ruck!” The voice of the Raven sprang from his throat followed by a vortex of emerald-gold cloud that swirled up from the ground beneath the goblin’s feet.

The mist quickly consumed him, leaving only a trail of shimmering green-gold. It hung in the space where moments before he had stood. Then the sparkling substance slowly turned brittle, like tossed glitter in the wind. It dispersed in the chilled morning breeze.

A loud squawk drew Tomiko’s attention upward as the black bird disappeared through the canopy of trees. Toward the blue sky that peeked through the towering branches.

Leave. Leave now! Her mind screamed for her to react.

She spun around and ran as fast as her frantic feet would carry her. Through tangled underbrush, and around looming trees, each of her steps became a blurred dance of forward thrusts and sideways maneuvers.

Something wove a path in and out of the scrub brush that scratched her ankles with itching wounds. The pointed muzzle of a Fox peeked out from the tangled branches of a bush. Between dark green leaves and scarlet berries, the vixen kept pace with her while flicking its Nine Tailstoward her.

The arrival of the spirit made her tremble with dread so terrible she almost lost her footing. It took all Tomiko’s concentration not to trip as she zigzagged through the towering bodies of trees. In a rush, she jumped over the underbrush near her feet.

Though fox spirits served as messengers for Inari, the benevolent goddess of rice, they could also be seductive tricksters. Never a good sign, in any case.

Breath burning in her chest, Tomiko burst through the towering trees. In a clearing, she skidded to a halt beside a pagoda. Home to the five elements: earth, wind, fire, air, and the void. It towered five stories from the ground upward toward its roof that curved into the clouds.

Her next step hovered beside one of 2,445 stone steps. Men used the path. The only ones allowed to climb to the summit, where Sanshin Gosaiden Worship Hall of the Three Gods perched.

Much to her horror, one of the guardian priests of the shrine stood next to the pagoda. She recognized his attire, from others of his sect, seen from time to time in the village. His hair stood in stiff, white peaks from his head with black tips, also like the other priests. Her knees trembled at the sight of the fighting pole tucked crosswise beneath his obi belt.

As if in slow agonizing motion, he turned in her direction. Her gaze locked on his. At that moment, a terrible sense of danger trapped her in its net.

“Amaterasu!” she gasped, slumping to her knees, forehead pressed in subjugation against the damp earth.

Numb with fear, she waited for the priest’s fighting pole to crack hard against her head. It was what she deserved, of this, she knew all too clearly.

At the gruesome image, Tomiko’s stomach lurched, promising to release the breakfast of rice and sliced vegetables she had munched for breakfast earlier that morning.

The young man’s voice floated, soft on the morning breeze. “Did you see him?” The sound of it tickled her ear with its gentle, innocent tone.

She had seen no other person on the open steps, except for herself and the young priest. So to whom did the holy man speak? Surely not to a lowly female, even if she was the daughter of a warlord?

When no other voice answered him, Tomiko lifted her eyes, astonished to see the bamboo pole remained tucked at the priest’s side. She could see it there as clearly as the beautiful smile on his face.

She replied, her voice barely above a whisper, “Of who do you speak?”

The priest exclaimed, sheer delight apparent in his manner, “Why of Sojobo-sama, King of the Tengu.” A perplexed expression drew a frown between his brows. “You did see him, did you not?”

She answered, “Ye-es, I saw him.”

Still uncertain, she slowly pulled to a kneeling position. Fingers pinching nervously at the ground in front of her knees, her gaze caught in the priest’s mesmerizing eyes. Her mind stayed lost in a fog of confusion, except for the lingering image of her cracked skull.

Much to her astonishment, the young priest knelt toward the ground. Placing a hand on one knee, the holy man leaned toward her.

“It is an excellent sign, you know.” His smile broadened, crinkling the corners of his eyes. “King Sojobo does not appear to just anyone. He is a very solitary and taciturn fellow from what I hear.”

In a movement graceful as the wing beats of the crane, she had seen fly into the dawn sky, the priest took something from his robe pocket and placed it on the ground near his bent knee. He then bowed reverently toward her direction as if to the sacred Buddha.

When he rose to his feet, he smiled and said, “It is for you.” Then he turned and strolled soundlessly into the forest to disappear through a thicket of spruce trees. A moment later, the wing beats of another crane in flight broke the silence. She caught a glimpse of the bird as it rose in the distance over the stone path.

Alone near the pagoda, she looked more closely at the place where the priest had stood only moments before. To her delight and amazement, she saw a glistening jade egg cradled in tufts of grass. Scrolls of gold etched into the egg’s jeweled surface shined in the morning light. The gilded strokes seemed to pulsate and move as if alive.

Curious to a fault, the terrors she had felt earlier melted away. She scooted forward on bent knees. Unafraid, she lifted the egg to nestle it against her cheek. The throb of a heartbeat seemed to pulse through the warm shell.

Prize in hand, she jumped to her feet and ducked quickly beneath the sheltering trees. Better to be safe than sorry. No use pressing her luck. Careful and quiet as possible, she looped her way through the trees that ran along the stone steps, keeping out of sight as she aimed for the splintered gate that led to the pilgrim’s inn.

Forest Bathing is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 by Ledia Runnels

Go to Chapter 2

Cover images

Names: Pagoda Bridge and Path to Haguro

Place: Haguro Mountain, Tsuruoka, Japan

Author: Ledia Runnels

(Find Ledia Runnels published novels. Click the book cover below.)

Tengu Prince Cover for Kindle 05252015

Tessenjutsu: The Art of Fighting “Japanese” War Fans


In Ancient Japan, fans could cool or kill.

Types of War Fans

Japanese war fan (gunsen) made of iron, bamboo...
Japanese war fan (gunsen) made of iron, bamboo and lacquer depicting the sun (1800-50) on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, California. Object ID: F1998.40.25 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Gunsen: folding fans used by the average warriors to cool themselves off. Made of wood, bronze, brass or a similar metal for the inner spokes. Often used thin iron or other metals for the outer spokes or cover, making them lightweight but strong. Warriors hung their fans from the belt or the breastplate.
A typical tessen of the Edo-period (1603-1868)...
A typical tessen of the Edo-period (1603-1868). This weapon is used in tandem with the jutte in some forms of Ikkaku-ryu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Tessen: folding fans with outer spokes made of heavy plates of iron and designed to look like normal, harmless folding fans. Another version came as solid clubs shaped to look like a closed fan. Samurai took them to places where other weapons were not allowed. Also used to fend off arrows and darts.
Japanese (samurai) solid iron signal fan "...
Japanese (samurai) solid iron signal fan “gunbai or gumpai” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Gunbai: large solid open fans made from solid iron, metal with wooden core, or solid wood. Carried by high-ranking samurai officers who used them to ward off arrows, as a sunshade, and to signal to troops.

File:Kumagai Naozane and Taira no Atsumori.jpg

The warriors Kumagai Naozane and Taira no Atsumori fro the Taira clan (Artist Unknown)

Statue of Kato Kiyomasa

 at Nagoya Castle grounds

Nagoya is located in Japan

in Nagoya, Japan on the Island of Honshu

YouTube Video: Pendragon Tessen fan kata

Article Source: < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_war_fan&gt;

Photograph of Kato Kiyomasa source: <http://www.flickr.com/photos/rekishinotabi/3557084910/&gt;

Related articles

Washi and Its Reputation


Nederlands: Kusumoto Taki (1807-1865), alias S...
Image via Wikipedia

Washi paper is interesting, beautiful, fun to make and an art form with many possibilities.

Here is the third installment of “Living with Washi”. Links to the other two posts are here:

“The Development of Washi”: https://lediarunnels27221219.wordpress.com/

The Discovery of Paper”:  https://lediarunnels27221219.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/the-discovery-of-paper/

In the Reference section (below) of this blog post, you can find the link to the parent site from which this article was printed in full.

Robert C. Williams Paper Museum A tool for mak...
Image via Wikipedia
Robert C. Williams Paper Museum A tool for mak...
Image via Wikipedia
■Washi and its reputation
 Towards the middle of the 16th century, Luis FROIS, a Portuguese missionary, lived in Japan and later published a book about Japanese history based on his experience. In 1590, the first Japanese book using movable type, the Christian Edition, was published on gampi paper. This paper was more beautiful and durable than any paper Europeans had known and they called it “plant parchment”. A Japanese-Portuguese dictionary of this period includes the names of many kinds of Japanese paper, demonstrating the extent of its interest to westerners. The Netherlands gained independence in the late 16th century and at the same time began trading with Japan. After the Edo (Tokugawa) shogunate adopted its policy of isolation, only the Netherlands was allowed contact with the country, and the offices of Dutch merchants in Nagasaki were Japan’s only window of trade with the outside world. When the Dutch painter Rembrandt harmensz VAN RIJN noticed that the paper wrapping lacquerware from Japan was both durable and beautiful, he immediately placed an order for washi, using it to create many masterpieces of etching. These works received great acclaim, and through this attention Japanese paper became widely known.  Engelbert KAEMPFER, a German doctor on a Dutch ship, came to Japan in 1690 and observed Japan from the point of view of a natural historian. After returning home, he wrote the Amoennitalum Exoticarum. One chapter of this account, entitled “History of Japan”, served as a guide to Japan and Japanese paper. Carl Peter THUNBERG, a Swedish botanist who came to Japan in 1774, gave a detailed account of Japanese papermaking and its raw materials in his book on the flora of Japan. Philipp Franz VON SIEBOLD, a German doctor who came to Japan in the early 19th century, disseminated information on Japan upon his return to Europe. He also brought back with him a great deal of Japanese paper and numerous paper products. When Japan opened its borders in 1852, European nations sent delegates to establish diplomatic relations. Rutherford ALCOCK, the first British minister to Japan, praised washi when describing Japanese arts and crafts in his famous work, The Capital of the Tycoon. He encouraged the exhibition of Japanese products, including washi, at the World Exposition in London in 1862. Washi also attracted the attention of the world at the Paris Expo in 1867.

Enjoy!

References: 

Washi and its Reputation:   http://www.kippo.or.jp/e/culture/washi/world/04.html

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit


The cover of the first DVD compilation release...
Image via Wikipedia

I watched this anime a few months ago and could not stop until I had seen every single episode. Since viewing it, I have wanted to write something about it in my blog. It was mentioned as one of my favorite anime in a previous blog entry. At present the best thing I can say is to watch the episodes and find out why I was hooked from the first moment.

Plot Summary:

Balsa is a wandering warrior, whose special technique is wielding a massive spear with incredible accuracy. Her entire adult life has been spent saving lives as atonement for a past sin. Her path crosses that of a young prince, Chagum, whose mother hires Balsa as a bodyguard because she believes her son’s life is in grave danger from the boy’s own father, the emperor of Japan.  Chagum’s father believes that the boy is possessed by a dangerous spirit that will destroy everything if Chagum is not killed immediately. In fact, the emperor has ordered his son’s own assassination.

Balsa and Chagum find themselves on a perilous journey, not only to elude the emperor’s many assassins, but also to stop the dangerous creature that is growing inside the boy’s chest. Desperate choices must be made along the way, as well as peeks into Balsa’s dramatic and traumatized past.

The link below contains every episode of the anime. If you enjoy Japanese History and a good fantasy adventure, tune it. You won’t be disappointed.

http://www.animefreak.tv/watch/moribito-guardian-spirit-english-dubbed-online-free

So, you want to be a ninja?


Page from volume 6 of the 15-volume Hokusai Ma...
Page from Volume 6 of 15 Volumes: Hokusai Manga

Have you ever wanted to be a ninja, a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan? If so, you would specialize in many unorthodox practices in the arts of war. Your functions would include espionage, sabotage, infiltration and assassination. Still think you are up for the job?

The abilities to be sneaky and deadly quick are your trademarks. You would travel in disguise as the front-line person who goes to check out and judge the enemy’s situation. If you are good at worming your way into other people’s confidence, then you might dress up like one of the enemy and walk among them gathering information. Just don’t get caught. Being hoodwinked is something most people frown upon.

You might be asked to set fire to the enemy’s castle. If you are a secret pyromaniac, this is a good job for you. Another job description besides spy (kanchō), scout (teisatsu), and surprise attacker (kishu), is that of agitator (konran). If you are good at causing a ruckus or a flat-out riot, this could be the job for you.

You will become part of a long and popular sect that has captured the imagination of Japan and the world. Your predecessors figure prominently into Japanese Folklore and legend, though sometimes it is difficult to separate historical fact from myth. Your legendary abilities include that of invisibility, walking on water, shape-shifting or the ability to split into multiple bodies. You should be able to summon animals or transform into them including birds and be able to control natural elements such as earth, wood, metal, fire and water.

Your origins are obscure and difficult to determine. One idea seems to rise above the rest; your predecessors appear to have come into existence in the Heian period, in the early days of Japan, from 794 to 1185, when the capital city was located in Kamakura. Unfortunately, there are few written records to check out these sketchy details. During the unrest of the Sengoku period, that took place from the 15th to the 17th centuries, mercenaries and spies were hired from the Iga and Koga clans.

A good book to get your hands on is the Bansenshukai manual. It was written in 1676 and details Chinese military philosophy as well as the techniques for espionage, the type that formed the basis for the art of ninjutsu. You should definitely study the The Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa), by Sun Tzu. It has invaluable information that you will be required to know. I’m pretty sure, there will be a test or two…

File:Yamato Takeru at 16-crop.jpg

Yamato Takeru dressed as a maidservant, preparing to kill the Kumaso leaders. Woodblock print on paper. Yoshitoshi, 1886.

Your family or clan is organized into larger guilds, each with their own assigned territories. There are also ranks involved. You can aspire to be a jōnin, the “upper man or woman”. It is the twenty-first century after all. This is the highest rank representing the group. If you like to boss people around, or have a “Mommie (or Daddy) Dearest” type of yearning, and if you want to be the person that others come to for hiring out the other members of your guild as mercenaries, then this job could be perfect for you.

The chūnin is the “middle man or woman” and is the assistant to the jōnin. At the bottom of the food chain is the genin or “lower man or woman”. If you don’t want to lead and instead want to be in the thick of it, this is definitely the job for you. You get to carry out the actual missions, which is way more fun, than bossy people around, don’t you think?

You will live in a secluded, remote mountain village, in the provinces of Iga or modern-day Mie Prefecture or Koga, which is now called Shiga Prefecture. This is where all your training takes place. It is the perfect place due to its remote location and inaccessibility of the surrounding mountains.

Also, the skills of ninjutsu require the aid of magic know as an onmyodo (see prior post) to calculate when it is the best times to carry out your covert operations.

File:Bansenshukai-v8-diagram.jpgThis is a diagram from the Bansenshukai, using divination and onmyodo.

Though I must warn you, it may be difficult to join if you were not born into this profession. Tradition is very important and is usually kept in and passed down through the clans. Most ninja are trained from childhood. It is important to learn martial art disciplines, survival and scouting techniques, information regarding poisons and explosives at a very young age. Scary, no?

Physical training that involves long distance runs, climbing, stealth methods of walking and even swimming are also taught to the very young. You must also learn how to blend into the woodwork by studying common professions so that you will be believable when you go incognito as a spy. You may even be asked to have medical training so that you can stitch up a wound right on the spot. You should know how to administer “Black Medicine” that will stop bleeding.

I won’t kid you, there is a lot to learn, so if you are a late starter, better crack the books and polish up your throwing stars. The jōnin will expect a lot right out of the gate.

To help you in your quest, I have included a list of tactics you will need to know (learn):

Hitsuke – the art of distracting the guards by starting a fire away from your planned point of entry. This is a “fire technique” known as (katon-no-jutsu).

Tanuki-gakure is the ability to climb a tree and blend in with the foliage. It is a ”wood technique” known as (mokuton-no-jutsu).

Ukigusa-gakure involves throwing duckweed over water in order to conceal underwater movements of your fellow ninja. It is a “water technique” knowns as (suiton-no-jutsu).

Uzura-gakure involves curling into a ball and remaining motionless so that you appear like a stone. This is an ”earth technique” known as (doton-no-jutsu).

Starting fires in order to cover a ninja’s trail falls into another katon-no-jutsu “fire technique”.

Now this is the fun part, you get to dress up in costumes or disguises. Any of you who like going to those crazy anime conventions or whose favorite holiday is Halloween will certainly appreciate the entertaining aspect of this.

File:Komuso Buddhist monk beggar Kita-kamakura.jpg

Here is a photograph of a komuso monk. It is just one of the many possible disguises you get to put on.

You can also dress up as a Shinto priest, or an entertainer, such as Kabuk andNoh. You can pretend to be a fortune-teller, a merchant, a ronin, you know, a samurai without a master, and a Buddhist monk. You can even be a regular “Jin” or person who goes to gather firewood. Now, how difficult is that.One of my favorite disguises is that of the mountain ascetic or (yamabushi), translated as mountain warrior, which would allow you to travel freely between political boundaries. While wearing the loose robes of Buddhist priest you could carry concealed weapons, such as a cool tanto blade. If you should decide that you want to take on the disguise of a minstrel or sarugaku, this would allow you to spy in enemy’s buildings without arousing suspicion. Disguises such as a Komuso, or a mendicant monk, who are known to play the shakuhachi, bamboo flute, are really fun. Just make sure you really can play a flute. Discordant music is not a good way to blend. That is for sure. The good news is, you get to wear one of those large “basket” hats that will conceal your entire head!

Listen to
Sound of Shakuhachi
John Kaizan Neptune
plays
Tsuru no Sugomori9
(The Nesting of Cranes)

If you are one of those that likes to go in under the wire, so to speak, you would  probably wear one of these.

File:Ninja Armour.jpg

A suit of armor purportedly worn by ninjas

Sorry, but the black garb is part of the “legend” or “myth” aspect we were talking about earlier. But I think if you bring it up at the monthly meetings, the guild may concur and agree that this could become a new tradition. After all, black does blend in well with the black of night. Wouldn’t you agree? And all those anime and live action movies already have the costume down pat, so you could just copy them. The guild might even make you a jōnin because of your innovative ideas. From what I can gather though, it is much more common to be disguised as a civilian, than to dress in the typical nijutsu armor.

One thing you would definitely need to acquire and bring everywhere with you is a tenugui, which is simply a piece of cloth, in black, I would think. White or red is much too noticeable. It is used to cover your face, form a belt, or even assist in climbing.

Now for the tools you will need to purchase or make yourself if that is your talent. Here is a list, ready? A belt to carry all your stuff in such as ropes, grappling hooks, a collapsible ladder, with spikes at both ends, used to anchor the ladder, spiked or hooked climbing gear, worn on the hands and feet, that can also double as weapons, chisels, hammers, drills and picks.

Better get a really large belt. This is a lot of stuff!

Also, do not forget a kunai, which is a heavy pointed tool, much like a masonry trowel. This is for gouging holes in walls in order to get a foothold or to create a passage of entry. It can also serve as a weapon if necessary. You can use a knife or a small saw such as a hamagari for the same thing, but I say, why carry more things than are necessary? A portable listening device such as a saoto hikigane is also very useful if you should ever need to eavesdrop on important conversations.

A pair of mizugumo which are a set of wooden shoes that supposedly allow a the ninja to walk on water, are important gear as well if you think that you might need to cross a large pond or lake very quickly and don’t have access to a boat. The secret is that they can distribute your weight over the shoes’ wide bottom surface.

The word mizugumo comes from the Japanese water spider or argyroneta aquatica japonica. A set of inflatable skins and breathing tubes are also handy devices that allow you to stay underwater for prolonged periods of time.

You may have to pick and choose which of these handy devices you want to take along with you on any given mission. The goal is to not to be overburdened. Remember, it is of the utmost importance to move quickly and in silence. If you have too much stuff jangling around… well you get my drift.

Now, your weapon of choice, of course, is the katana blade. Isn’t it everyone’s? And all those samurai can’t be wrong! Still, if you can find room, it is good to carry a shorter sword or dagger also, most probably in back of your very heavy belt.

The katana has several uses beyond normal combat. In dark places, the scabbard can be extended out of the sword and used to probe the area. The sword can also be laid against the wall as a means to gain a foothold by standing on the guard or tsuba. You could stun your enemies before attacking them, by putting a combination of red pepper, dirt or dust and iron filings into the scabbard, so that as the sword is drawn the concoction will fly into the enemy’s eyes, stunning them until a lethal blow can be made. How cool is that! Just make sure the wind is not blowing in your direction.

File:Kusarigama-crop.jpg

A pair of kusarigama

Also, try to find room for an array of darts, spikes, knives, and sharp, star-shaped discs known as shuriken. A bow with arrows is always good for sharpshooting as well as a sickle or kusarigama that has, from what I am told, proved very useful. It consists of a weight on one end of a chain, and a sickle or kama on the other. The weight is used to injure or disable an opponent while the sickle part can kill at close range. Simple gardening tools such as a kunai or sickle can also be used. But they are not nearly as cool. It’s just an opinion.

Explosives such as hand-held bombs and grenades are also good to have in your mini arsenal. Soft-cased bombs that release smoke or poison gas, along with fragmentation explosives packed with iron or broken shards of pottery used as shrapnel are also good to have on hand..

Other assorted weapons include: poison, caltrops, (made of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged so that one of them always points upward from a stable base). Also good are land mines, blow guns, with poisoned darts, acid-spurting tubes, and firearms. The happō is a small eggshell filled with blinding powder or metsubushi and is useful if a quick escape is needed.

File:Actor-as-nikki-danjo-kunisada-1857.jpg

Actor portraying Nikki Danjō, a villain from the kabuki play Sendai Hagi. Shown with hands in a kuji-in seal, which allows him to transform into a giant rat. Woodblock print on paper.Kunisada, 1857.

File:Kumawakamaru by kuniyoshi - 24 paragons of filial piety.jpgKumawakamaru escapes his pursuers by swinging across the moat on a bamboo.[105] Woodblock print on paper. Kuniyoshi, 1842-1843.

File:Jiraiya - kuniyoshi - japanese heroes for the twelve signs.jpgJiraiya battles a giant snake with the help of his summonedtoad. Woodblock print on paper.Kuniyoshi, c. 1843.

REFERENCES (or where to learn more about the subject…)

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: Ninja http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninja

Tai Hei Shakuhachi Japanese Bamboo Flutes

 

http://www.shakuhachi.com/home.html

(My favorite ninja movie.) “Ninja Assassin” A young ninja turns his back on the orphanage that raised him, leading to a confrontation with a fellow ninja from the clan. Starring: the handsome and very sexy “Rain” as the hero, Raizo.

TRAILER found at http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2358117401/