After all that had happened, she was whole, yet when she had healed, she had trapped within herself a shadow.
As the blood-red rays of the rising sun flowed over the uptown district of Tokyo, Japan, the sharp ringing of an alarm clock bell broke the stillness of the morning air. As if on cue, the rest of the city slowly came to life. The shopkeepers opened their night shutters, and neon lights flickered into life. In the marketplace, the grocery and fish mongers set out their wares. Cars, buses, and trains moved on endless trails of concrete and steel. The department stores and shopping complexes opened their doors and welcomed giant waves of shoppers. It was six o’clock and a new day had begun. In the room of the Narita condominium, the alarm of the little clock rang endlessly on; Its occupant had already left.
Along the stone path of the Shinto gardens at Ise, jogged a petite girl garbed in black. They were not the soft fleecy sweats that the other runners wore, but rather the coarse, loose fitting cloth of the hakama. Twelve miles from home and breathing heavily, she had run across town to the top of the bamboo covered hill. Upon this plateau lay an abandoned temple, old, decrept yet spacious. While running, her spirit was free. Freedom was an escape from reality. This sweet-faced apple-cheeked girl dressed in the traditional clothing of the shyogusha, brought smiles to the elder generation as welcome reminder of the glory of ancient Japan. Yet the serenity and and comfort of the scene was shattered by the realization that across her back was tied the oak practice sword of the ancient samurai, the bokken.
Mikeio Ichishita, a pleasant-natured girl beset and torn by trouble and memory was running away from herself. Only alone, away from the hectic realities of the present world could she feel at peace. The seventeen year old high school graduate was a recognized Akido champion and a former foriegn exchange student. As an overseas student in America, she had inadvertantly caused the death of a close friend and although it was an accident, deeply and passionately felt that she was to blame. After his death, Mikeio had violently fought in a Kendo tournament to vent her angers and frustrations, but in violence she only continued to burden herself with regrets and remorse. After all that had happened, she was whole yet when she had healed, she had trapped within herself a shadow.
Atop the peak in the serenity of the Shinto garden, Mikeio stopped and gasped for breath as she bent over holding her knees. Strands of hair washed over her face. Then like a plant rising from a seed, she looked up at the sky just as
she was getting her breathing under control. Below the shrine, a music store opened and began to play a variety of music over an open-air sound system. Mikeio’s actions flowed with the beat of the music as she drew her sword and practiced her forms. Though fluid, her motions were controlled and disciplined. Simple strokes matched blocks and parries to form a complex and enrapturing dance. Upon a side-path, a boy in his late teens silently walked. His face bore the worn mask of experience despite his youth. His attitude seemed pure and complacent as he viewed every aspect of the garden with deliberation and and intense apprectiaion. The youth caught a glimpse of Mikeio’s form before her face and a flash of recognition swept over his face while watching her perform a seemingly simple, yet intricately difficult butterfly kick. In the background, the music had switched to traditional Japanese song. The morning breeze wafted the haunting notes of the `Cha no Yu’. Her back to the boy, Mikeio faltered in her step and trembled at the painful memories of love and honor the song once brought. Now the song brought only grief and horror. Pain and self-hatred breached the surface of its submerged depths and seized hold of Mikeio’s emotions. Like an animal trapped in a bog Mikeio was unable to escape the anguish and torture her memories brought. Her actions became furitive like those of a wounded animal and she was possesed by an indescribable panic. Transfixed, Mikeio frantically fought the insecurity that welled within her. Her hands tightened on the hilt of the sword. Her knuckles whitened and her hand trembled. She stood staring and the ornamental carving of the Shinto shrine. Phantasms hovered around her and taunted her with memories of him. She screamed for the nightmare to stop and brought her sword to bear. As the torture reached a breaking point, Mikeio’s sword flashed and crashed through the wood and stone of the shrine. The force of the blow shattered the sword as well as the shrine that it had desecrated. On that note, Mikeio slowly returned to her senses. Tears ran down her cheeks and her whole body quaked in temerity. Seeing the destruction that she had caused through her violence served only to add to the burden on her conscience. Circulation slowly returned to her hand as her fingers loosened and the useless shards of the bokken fell from her grasp. Unnerved and crying, she tore away from the site and ran down the hill. The youth only stood dumbfounded by her actions and could only feel sympathy to the distraught girl. The boy walked over to where Mikeio had been standing and picked up the remaining hilt of the destroyed sword. The `gates of heaven’ crest emblazoned on the handle served only to confirm his thoughts. He looked down the path where Mikeio had fled then turned for home.
* * *
Mikeio burst through the door, her chest heaving from her mad run home and her uncontrollable sobbing. When she
slammed the door shut she whirled around and feel back to slump against the door. At this point, the petite Japanese girl was in shock and could not remember the reasons for her trauma clearly. The overload of emotion and memories had burst open and flowed together in a mass confusion of incoherency. It was in this state that Mikeio’s mother found her in. Mikeio was huddled on the floor in the hall and was shivering uncontrollably. Mrs. Ichishita was disturbed and deeply concerned over her daughter’s actions. She firmly yet gently held Mikeio until she had settled into an exhausted numb state and helped her into bed. When Mikeio was settled, Mrs. Ichishita immediately called her husband and related Mikeio’s unusual behavior. Mr. Ichishita was a psychiatrist at the Tokyo General Hospital and assured his wife that their daughter’s behavior was natural for the traumatic circumstances that she had been through. Careful observation and attention were required. He also suggested to his wife to gently force Mikeio to remain socially intact and not withdraw into a completely austic state. Mrs. Ichishita concurred and gently persuaded Mikeio to go outside after she had rested.
In bed, after talking with her mother, Mikeio stared blankly at the thinking nothing and feeling nothing. After an hour Mikeio, turned over and considered her mother’s proposal. She had to agree, her current attitudes didn’t help her situation very much and she indeed needed to get her mind off of Him. But what should she do? Where should she go? What would take her mind off of her problems? After
—— had died, she felt an indescribable feeling of loneliness and emptiness from her loss. She didn’t want to go to the campus; her friends there were too concerned with the material side of life and were in Mikeio’s eyes at least were too superficial. She had already lost contact with them. She certainly could not go back to the park. Then she had it, she would go to the dojo. Although her sensei had died she might be able to find some solace in the building itself.
Mikeio rose and slowly dressed. Upon reflection she went back upstairs and took down the box in which the Miko slept. The sword was the symbol of her Sensei’s and now her, own honor. She wrote a note for her mother and silently went out the back door. After walking a block she went to the underground and purchased a subway ticket from the machines against the wall. She then went to the turnstile and inserted the little card into the slot facing her and went onto the platform. On the platform, Mikeio looked out upon the masses that gathered to commute from place to place and could not help thinking of the similar mindless groups of travellers she had seen in America at the Los Angeles airport. Like a silvery snake, the train slithered across the tracks and jolted to a stop in front of Mikeio. The doors slid open and people poured out like liquid from the
entrails of the metro. Mikeio then crowded along with hundreds of others and stepped aboard the silver serpent. Being crowded, Mikeio did not have a place to sit so hung onto the overhead straps as the train rushed along insatiably eating mile after mile of track.
After a few minutes, the train arrived at Mikeio’s stop at which she stepped off the train sword box in hand and proceeded back to the surface. Following several blocks, she arrived at the gates of an impressive stone edifice. Here, Mikeio hesitated. This was her school for martial arts. It was here that she had found the harmony that had dictated her life. It was here that she had met Sensei. Early on, Mikeio had professed natural talent and under Sensei’s tutelage, quickly excelled to the top of the class. By the time she was nine, she had obtained her black belt and at the age of fifteen, became the national champion in akido. Her class was comprised of her sensei’s original students. Previously, the style had been passed from father to son, generation to generation. After considerable distress over the degenerating morality of the populous and having no family or heir, the sensei opened up the dojo to train students not only in body but in mind. The school remained relatively small over the years despite its widespread reputation only those willing to learn the mental discipline as well as the physical training were allowed to stay . Mikeio had been the best in her class and among the first generation of non-related students. Only the fact that she was female prevented her from inheriting the dojo after their sensei had passed away. Mikeio had left the dojo because of the increased hostility from the elders of the other martial arts leagues concerning her position in the number one spot. Although she had bitterly relinquished her title to her classmate, she had maintained close ties to her teacher who had become a father figure for her. She had continued her training under his guidance even though she was not officially enrolled in the school. Now returning to the school was awkward and uncomfortable.
Hesitantly, she opened the double doors into the school. The building had been modernized since she had last been there. The receptionist took her name down not recognizing her due to the fact that there had been no receptionist when she had attended the school. The receptionist asked if Mikeio wanted to enroll in their beginning class. This had to make Mikeio laugh. Mikeio declined and asked to speak to the Master. The secretary told her to wait and dissappeared into the back rooms. A young maid returned and escorted Mikeio to a changing room where she donned the clothes of the training student at the dojo, discarded the white sash provided for her and tied on the worn, soft, black sash of a master dan. Into this sash she donned the Miko to further reinforce her status. The feel of the cloth and the pride in which she felt for the crests emblazoned on the gi brought
back waves of pleasant nostalgia. The maid then led her to a shoji enclosed tatami room. When the shoji was pulled aside, Mikeio was met with an empty room save a vertical sword stand in the middle of the room which upon it rested the shattered remains of her practice bokken.
Mikeio sank to her knees in shock at the entrance of the room. A shadow enveloped her and she turned around to find The master of the dojo standing behind her. Mikeio’s eyes widened in surprise and she leapt and hugged the standing figure.
“Matsuo!” she exclaimed increduously. “You’re the sensei now?”
“Okay, so I was second-best under you, that doesn’t mean I can’t take on the responsibility of the Dojo.” he replied in an impish tone. “After you left I stood and fought the system and stuck it out. Then when Sensei passed away, the elders appointed me head of the school because I was the senior member remaining from our class. The others have all left, but now you’re back. So Miki, how are you?”
“Not very well I’m afraid, Matsuo, something has happened. I’m so tired of life. And don’t worry, I’m not here to take away your position.”
“I’ve noticed that something was amiss in the Shinto gardens. I saw something that you never did before, and that was to lose control. It seems as though your harmony has been broken. Tell me Miki, what’s wrong?”
Slowly, Mikeio began relating all that had happened in the States. The events came faster and tears began to flow freely. Upon the end of her tale, Mikeio was weeping upon Matsuo’s shoulder. As he comforted her, he assessed her situation. The trauma caused by ——-‘s death ran deeper than Mikeio’s exterior feelings, her whole support system, her harmony, had been shattered at its very foundations. He realized that in order for Mikeio to attain her previous level of self-discipline, she would have to train all over again. However, simple excercises in akido would not suffice this time. She needed to rebuild a stronger foundation, learning from the past experiences rather than letting them slowly eat away at her soul. First, Matsuo welcomed her back into the school regardless of what the Elders might say. Mikeio then installed the soul of the school, the Miko, back into its alcove in the wall with the Yoshitomo blade, its companion sword, promising never to touch the sword again until she was truly worthy of that honor. The building, the body of the Dojo had been once again united with its soul and become whole. It was almost as if the Sensei had separated them purposely to bring Mikeio and Matsuo together. It was almost as if he had known.
Matsuo then led Mikeio to his own room and walked to a cabinet. From it he withdrew a long laquered flute, almost identical to Mikeio’s previous instrument. Mikeio shrank back in terror at the sight of the instrument. Although she had resolved to resume playing the flute, an inner gnawing had always balked her.
“Play.” he said.
“Mata, I can’t not after ——, it hurts too much.”
“Miki, that’s why you have to try, to overcome this so that you can go on with your life. You’ve got to try.”
Mikeio’s hands trembled as she took the wooden tube in her hands. Slowly, with great reservation, she brought it up to her lips and blew. A distant, barely discernable note rose. Matsuo gave an encouraging look and Mikeio began again. The wavering notes of “Lightly Row” quivered across the room and slowly strengthened into a clear resonant pitch. When she had finished, Mikeio smiled and gave a sigh of relief. She shook out the flute and returned it. Matsuo pressed it back into her hands and looked her straight into the eyes.
“Now, play the `Cha no Yu’.” he said firmly. This time Mikeio could not meet his eyes. Even more unsure of herself, she raised the flute to her lips. The whisper of her breath across the mouthpiece of the flute filled the silence. After several minutes she lowered the flute to her lap.
“I…I can’t” she sobbed tearfully.
“That’s alright, don’t cry” he said as he held her to comfort her. “I thought that was it, I think that’s enough for today. We won’t try to go any further today. I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll do something else. Are you all right? Here, I’ll take you home.”
When they had changed clothes, Matsuo locked up and led Mikeio out through the gate. The sun was just beginning to set over the horizon. The multi-hued sky portrayed a sense of melancholy and peace throughout the area. They boarded the subway and rode back to uptown Tokyo where Mikeio lived. Matsuo then escorted Mikeio down the streets to her apartment. Once he saw that she had made it home safetly, he returned to the subway and went back to the dojo where his living quarters were. Matsuo stretched a little took a bath and went out to view the gardens. The moon shone brightly.
* * *
Early next morning at the Ichishita residence, Matsuo climbed the exterior staircase to arrive at the front door. When he had rang the doorbell, Mrs. Ichishita had welcomed him in and bade him to sit down as she went upstairs to fetch Mikeio. When Mikeio appeared, she, like Matsuo, was dressed in the traditional black training garb of the dojo. No insignia displayed their ranks, but each was acutely aware of the other’s potential. They knew that Mikeio was the better skilled of the two but it was equally apparent that Matsuo had the better discipline. The couple went downstairs to the ground floor and began a brisk jog down the streets. Within a few hours they had covered the entire distance to the dojo. Rather than feeling exhausted by the initial workout, the run had been invigorating as well as clensing. Upon reaching the training hall, they began the forms that were essential to the style and movement of akido. They began with the elementary basic steps and rapidly progressed to the secret styles that only the highest level students knew. In deep concentration, Mikeio’s mind was for the first time in many months, clear and perceptive. Upon completion of the exercises they faced off, bowed and moved into fighting stances. The strikes and kicks that followed were controlled but not pulled. each knew that the other was capable of protecting themselves as well as creating great harm. Each contact was graceful and precise. The attacks were savage and brief. Within minutes, Mikeio had pinned Matsuo to the tatami.
Mikeio grinned at the “Master of the Dojo” and then helped him up.
“Well Mikeio, although your harmony may not be intact, your skills surely are. I thought that by training while you remained static in America that I would have been able to win.” Matsuo bowed, “Arigato Mikeio, for your lesson in humility.”
Mikeio burst into laughter and replied, “You were always a step behind Matsuo, you see, I wasn’t static in America. I even participated in that Kendo Tournament. You know, I feel better already. Why don’t we get cleaned up and have some tea.”
“The hardest path may be before you yet Mikeio. Your triumph here is just the first step. The next few months may be the biggest trial of your life, but don’t give up, the end will be worth the work. There’s a private shower over there and there’s a new gi in the closet. I’ll go to the locker room to change and we’ll meet in the tea room.”
After Mikeio had changed, she walked down the hall and smiled to herself. There was, once again, hope.
* * *
That night, Mikeio opened the cabinet and drew from its bowels Sensei’s flute. The tea ceremony that day was a clensing one, the secondary purpose of the tea ceremony, not the revelations of truth between lovers but one of relaxation. Meeting Matsuo was a change of pace, perhaps a new beginning, her old classmate was of the same philosophies and ideologies, like Mikeio, he embodied the teachings and honor of their Sensei before them. The shade of animosity within her had not been eliminated but, in meeting Matsuo, it had submerged back into her subconcious. However, to change, she would have to bring that hatred and insecurity out and confront it. For this she felt much fear and she dreaded the day that it would arrive. Already, Matsuo had taken the steps to help eradicate the cancer within her. The incident with the flute, the tea ceremony, and the bout was necessary minor confrontations to prepare her final reckoning of herself. Slowly, she looked into the infinite surface of the laquered flute and in it, saw eternity. She had much to learn.
* * *
The next day Matsuo and Mikeio began their morning run much as the previous day, however, mid-way, Matsuo changed course and ran from the relatively quiet alleys of the apartment complexes to the main roads. Running near the speeding cars, Mikeio’s heart skipped a beat and then increased in rate and intensity. Each car passing was like a catalyst for opening doors to memories. Before they had run two blocks, Mikeio was already trembling. Her mind crowded with faces and events,and the pavement seemed to fade and then reappear. Sounds grew louder and harsher, and her perception of reality began to fade. Matsuo Stopped at the next intersection to wait for the green light, but Mikeio, caught up in her reverie didn’t notice until she stumbled off the curb. To Mikeio this was months back, all the way to the night of the winter ball. Although in full daylight, the street that she stood dumbfounded in, was to her, the nightmare darkness of the parking lot so many days ago. A taxicab screeched, the brakes applied to full pressure. Mikeio held her ears and tightly closed her eyes. In her mind, the sickening thud, like that of boxer’s glove in a prizefight, crunched and resounded. In slow motion,
——- fell and crashed to the ground, his head met concrete like the pop of an old light bulb. Mikeio’s eyes flew open and she screamed.
” !” she yelled into the clear summer day on the streets of downtown Tokyo. Matsuo grasped her by the shoulders and steadied her. The halted taxicab, several
yards away from her started, turned and passed them. Still on the street, Mikieo searched Matsuo’s face and found the steadiness and calm that —– had possessed. She buried her face in his shoulder and wept. When her sobs subsided, They turned back onto the sidewalk and hailed a taxi. By the time they returned to Mikeio’s house, Mikieo had fallen asleep exahausted from the ordeal. Matsuo carried her upstairs and set her onto her bed and turned away very disturbed.
When Matsuo arrived at the dojo he went the aclove in the main hall and paid his respects to their Sensei. After the prayer, he sat back on his heels and looked at the kind old man’s wizened countanance.
“Ah Sensei, I fear Miki, your Butterfly has truly been crippled.” he said. “It seems that she is so hurt that it could be that she’ll never recover. She was truly the most skilled both mentally as well as physically. But of course, you knew that. That is why the swords were passed on to her. Did you also know about her troubles? It seems so. Otherwise, why did you give her the Miko? Why not the Yoshitomo or both swords? In your will you said that the male counterpart, the Yoshitomo was to remain with me while the Miko went to the Butterfly in America. In the legend of Yoshimitsu Sachou and Yoshi Sasuke, the two warriors never rose to legendary fame until they each wielded one of the master-crafted swords to become as one, Sachou with the Miko and Sasuke with the Yoshitomo. Could you have known? Did you know that Miki would need to re-train. Mikeio the Miko and I the Yoshitomo. It’s too fantastic to be a coincidence but…(he smiled to himself) of course that’s ridiculous. You also said never to fall in love with a person on the rebound. You said that they really still love the previous one. Maybe this time it will be different.”
* * *
Later that evening, Matsuo rang Mikeio’s door bell again. Matsuo went up to Mikeio’s room and knocked on the door.
“Go away.” Mikeio called from inside.
Matsuo opened the door a crack and set a red rose on the ground in the room and walked back to the sitting room where Mrs. Ichishita was pouring tea. Mikeio looked at the flower, sitting on her bed. The resemblence of the rose to the peony fazed her but it soon passed. Slowly, she rose and walked to the flower. The attatched card bore only the crest of the gates of Heaven, their crest. Mikeio picked up the rose and held it to her nose to smell. Gently, a tear dropped and landed on a petal, whole and unscattered. Mikeio hugged the
flower close to her and whirled around. She ran to her dresser and quickly changed. She pleasantly clothed herself in a red pair of suspender-pants and white shirt. As she turned towards the door, she caught sight of he Sensei’s flute lying in the dresser. She ran her hand across it’s finish and left. In the darkness, ——- and the Sensei looked at each other and smiled.
“Matsuo…Domo arigato gozeimashita, you are so sweet.” Mikeio said as she entered the room.
Matsuo rose and smiled. His smile was pleasantly reminiscent of ‘s yet this time Mikeio felt no pain. Matsuo wore a casual wool suit and oxford shirt. In the room light, his impeccable dress made him seem more imposing and sophisticated than before.
“I was wondering if you’d like to go out and perhaps grab a bite to eat afterwards. We are going to stop training for a while.” he said.
“Thank you Matsuo. I would like that very much.”
Mikeio climbed up behind Matsuo on his scooter. He throttled the gas once, released the brake and took off. Travelling at an exhillirating pace, the shops and by-standers flashed by in a furious blur of color. Matsuo weaved in and out of traffic with great precision and skill and literally flew across the streets. The bite of the wind and the taste of danger brought life back to their limbs as all their cares and worries dissapated before the excitement. Mikeio hugged Matsuo closer as he opened the throttle a little more. Matsuo glanced down at her hands and smiled into the night. At their paced quickened, they rode farther and farther away from the city until they had reached the base of Mt. Fujiyama. There, across the town section known as the Ginza, Matsuo parked and helped Mikeio down.
Upon this vast array of lights and color, was the laughter and culture of modern Japan. Shops and vendors covered the space of the sidewalks. Both ends of the streets were closed by the city from passing traffic so that the visitors and guests could roam from shop to stand freely and in veritable comfort. It was upon this street that Mikeio and Matsuo walked. Hands in pockets, Matsuo led Mikeio to the first of the shops on the block. Coming to the front of a jewelry stand, Mikeio slid her hand into the crook of his arm and bent over to admire some earrings. Looking into the small mirror affixed to the side of the cart, Mikeio lifted a pair of earrings in the shape of small dice and held them to her ears as she glanced from side to side to admire the way they looked. She then turned to Matsuo for him to see. Matsuo smiled his approval and turned to pay the vendor. The vendor placed the earrings upon a piece of wrapping paper and
folded the corner in. As he folded the side again, he folded in the adjoining sides into themselves and tucked the remaining side into the opening thus forming a neat envelope. The vendor smiled, kissed Mikeio’s hand and gave her the package. Mikeio cocked her head and smiled back. Mikeio and Matsuo then proceeded down the lane. Before coming to an open air night club, they paused to sample some cotton candy and admire some goldfish swimming in an old bath tub.
At the club Mikeio and Matsuo danced to a lively jitterbug which was followed by a slow love song. When the dance was over, Matsuo brushed the loose strands of hair from her face and kissed her ever so lightly on the nose. Mikeio blushed, and pulled him from the dance floor to a nearby bench. Breathless and filled with delight, Mikeio stretched and exhaled. She grasped his hand and pointed at the antics of several little children across the street. After chattering a bit they rose and followed the street to a pastry/cafe where they sat and ordered sweet rice cakes and a powdered snowcone for refreshment. Mikeio shook her head in exasperation and then pouted in impish anger as Matsuo insisted on paying for the food. They held hands and ran through the crowds in front of each exhibition of the vendors’ wares. Mikeio giggled incessantly at a small goldfish game, in which the object was to catch as many fish as you could in a tissue net, as Matsuo furiously attempted to net two bright red fish before his net dissolved in the water. The fish were placed in a tiny plastic bag and given to Matsuo, who in turn, gave them to Mikeio. Matsuo then held Mikeio by the waist and they slowly walked back to the scooter.
* * *
Hand in hand, they slowly climed the stairs up to the apartment door. The quiet of the night, in contrast to the previous excitement made them shy. Arriving at the door, Mikeio reached into her purse and drew out her keys. As she slid one into the lock, Matsuo reached over and touched her hand. She stopped and slowly turned. As she looked deeply into his eyes, he relaxed and touched her gently along her cheek. Turning his head slightly, he lifted her chin. Mikeio’s eyes closed in bliss as their lips met, touched, and parted. She opened her eyes, and searched his. Their eyes locked, embraced and then turned away as Matsuo decended the stairs. In happiness, Mikeio whirled once and opened the door. She ran up to her room, turned and flopped onto her bed. She sighed then looked at the two goldfish in her hand. She put her purse and her earrings on the dresser and took the bag into the bathroom. There, she stopped, filled the sink, and loosed the fish into the clear liquid. The fish twisted and shook in their new-found feedom while Mikeio searched the cabinet for the fish bowl. With tender care,
Mikeio sculpted and molded the gravel and planted the plastic seaweed into the bowl. After pouring a measure of water, she deftly scooped the fish in with her hand. The little fish bubbled with happiness in their new surroundings. Mikeio carried the bowl into her darkened room and placed it on the dresser, next to the lamp. Mikeio snapped on the light and crouched down to peer into the bowl. She smiled, then rose. She changed into shorts and a t-shirt and stretched luxuriously onto the bed.
Mikeio smiled into the darkness and she reminisced about her evening. She thought of Matsuo and the tender concern he had displayed towards her in her time of need. As she thought, her mind churned and the days began to roll back. Slowly, she drifted to sleep. Although she was no longer conscious, her mind continued to display the scenes and events farther and farther back into the past. Memories randomly surfaced as faces and times appeared and dissipated into the nothingness from which it had come. As if in conspiracy against her, her mind stopped on the image of
——‘s face. In her sleep, she smiled as her subconscious related the tender events of their night on the pier. Tears of sadness and joy fell from her shut eyes as she remembered his touch and feel. Her heart ached in these memories yet she never wanted them to end. All too soon, the moment of the tragedy came. As, in her dream, she ran into the parking lot, she tried desperately to wake up, but couldn’t. The car sped at her, but she couldn’t move; she seemed destined to live through the horror again. Yet when her savior leapt at her, it was not —–, but Matsuo instead. As Mikeio fell away from the path of the car, she turned and saw Matsuo and the car connect. She screamed in anguish and turned away from the scene. However, curiosity overcame her fear, and like a child picking at a scab, she felt compelled to look at the horror before her. As she opened her eyes, she saw, not the broken body and twisted limbs, but Matsuo standing erect and unharmed. In joy, she ran to him, her arms spread. Yet when she reached him, he only smiled questioningly and melted into the broken body of
. Even though the the accident was prevented, was still dead and Mikeio alive. As she woke, she realized that no matter what could have been, it didn’t change the facts. In the sadness of reality Mikeio quietly cried herself back to sleep. Hours later, morning broke.
* * *
The early rays of the rising sun brought an ephermal light to the clear crisp skies. The wisps of clouds were pure white and floated through the scintillation of light. Mikeio woke as the city did, slowly, but compelled to life by the coming of day. Mikieo rolled over in bed and opened her eyes. The first object that came into focus was her goldfish from the night before. From the edge of the bowl they
fluttered away as Mikeio rose ans stretched. After her shower and toiletries to cover up the evidence of her weeping, Mikeio trudged downstairs into the kitchen. Her mother and father had already left and the smell of sandlewood incense filled the room from the joss sticks burning in the small bronze urn. In shorts and a t-shirt, Mikeio tied on a sweatshirt and slipped on her tennis shoes. After eating some the previous night’s left-overs, she stepped outside onto the road. The street was still quiet and Mikeio ran her hand along the glossy wax of a sports car. On the way up the street, she picked up some groceries from the local market. Slowly, she walked away from the shop humming to herself and reveling with herself in sweet melancholia. Her loneliness and sorrow was strangely pleasant and comforting. Memories embraced her as she thought of love and tenderness. She wandered up the empty street as an eddy wisps of her hair into her face. As her hand brushed a stray strand from her mouth, she turned and looked from the top of the street all the way down until she could see the sea in the distance. Somewhere in an alley a music box was playing and the notes rang clear in the empty air. Seagulls circled overhead and the city moved. The morning commuter subway clacked underground. Shop shutters were raised and little children swept their sidewalks before walking out to their summer school classes. Mikeio walked on and came to the fence of a children’s Day Care center. Her hand pressed against the fence as she watched the children file almost solemly into the building. Mikeio turned again and rested against the chain-link fence with a sigh.
Coming up the hill she saw a little girl running as fast as she could. The little girl knew she was late and clutched her lunch pail while tears streamed down her face. The little girl puffed to the curb and stumbled skinning her knee and dropping her lunch pail. The little metal box skipped once and burst open scattering her meal. This was too much for the little girl and she sat down hard on the curb and cried. The child’s tears were so much the ones Mikeio felt as she dropped her groceries and ran over to the girl. No one else on the street seemed to notice the distress and the coldness of the bystanders grated on Mikeio’s heart. Mikeio gathered the little girl’s lunch and packed it back into its container. Tears of sympathy streamed down her own face. She helped the child to her feet and took her hand. Picking up her own bag, she took the girl inside. The school nurse cleaned the little girl’s scrapped knee and bandaged it. As the lady applied the peroxide, the child held onto Mikeio’s arm in pain but did not utter a sound. When it was over, Mikeio went with the child to her class and explained the little girl’s tardiness to the understanding teacher. Mikeio stayed in the room the rest of the day sitting and watching the beauty of the happiness and innocence the children possesed. A longing to be so clean swept Mikeio and she was again swept with melancholia. The child that she befriended
brought her clay and paint creations with pride and overflowing happiness. The past events of the morning was all but forgotton to the child. She even would proudly display her wound to her friends by lifting the edge of the band-aid for the other children to admire.
This pleasntly painful reminder of childhood brought back the times of her own lost years. Her friends and their memories brought pangs of remorse and a need to seek them out once more. At noon, when the day care session ended, Mikeio bade the child farewell with a promise to return. Her peace felt renewed as she walked along the now busy sidewalks and into the underground subway passages. Many of the streets on Tokyo had underground counterparts in which pedestrians could travel. From there, one could board a subway or shop at the many stores situated in the corridors. Even the large department stores had entrances located under the streets. Mikeio walked in the corridors with passive indifference at the automated ticketing machines and pay telephone card dispensers. The people around her were also too absorbed with their own thoughts to notice the attractive Japanese girl in the halls. Mikeio paused to look at the movie and popstar posters in a local gallery before ascending to the ground level. Just before she rounded her way up to an apartment gateway she stopped at the corner cola machine and purchased a pair of cold soft drinks. At the gate, Mikeio called on the call box to see if her friend was home. A low, almost boyish, voice unlike Mikeio’s soft child’s voice answered and reacted with surprise at the identity of her caller. The friend had supposed that Mikeio, who wasn’t due back from America for another week, was still in California. The gate buzzed as Mikeio’s friend opened the gate from her apartment. Her friend rushed down the stais to meet Mikeio in the middle of the stairwell, took Mikeio’s bag and led her up to the apartment.
Harinata Ijima was round-faced and by ordinary standards was no raving beauty but possesed that sense of inner beauty that is rarely found in most people. It was this quality that lent a mysterious sense of atractiveness to her personality and appearance. She and Mikeio were so different in so many aspects yet were incredibly close friends. Before Mikeio had gone to America, they shared everything like sisters and shared many of the same likes and dislikes. Therefore with their closeness, it was not surprising that Harinata found Mikeio’s unseen yet present pain disquieting. After the formalities were over, Harinata put on some music and they sat against the bed to talk. Once again Mikeio related the events of her visit in America. However, this time when she spoke of the horror and despair, she was distressed to find that she no longer felt the strength of the emotion in those situations. The fear, anger, and grief faded into a great lethargic numb that no emotion could surface from. As their conversation continued, Mikeio found
that she no longer felt the stong emotions such as love and hate romance and anger. Memories no longer evinced the caring she had felt for them. Even though it seemed that she couldn’t care any more, actually she found that her mind only filtered out those things that she cared for the most, and to her horror the memory of ——-‘s face was already fading, and the features were becoming indistinct. Harinata felt the suppressed pain as though it were her own. Such was the relationship they held. With the emotions of love and hatred gone, only a great emptiness remained the loneliness stretched into infinity and the void was eternity, yet Harignata could see that Mikeio felt at peace there.
* * *
The girls arranged to lunch the next day and Mikeio left. She continued to walk further from her apartment into downtown Tokyo. The peace that she found in the noise and crowds was as if she were in a dream. In the tunnels, she spied Matsuo in front of a store looking at a pair of shoes. Mikeio quickly ducked into a side passage and peeked around the corner. Matsuo had purchased some sweetmeats and was coming her direction. Mikeio turned and looked at some garish clothing as she waited for Matsuo to pass by. She waited for a minute, then five and the suspense piqued her curiosity. As she turned to leave, she bumped straight into the tall Japanese boy.
“Aii”, she blurted as she stumbled back.
“Interesting clothes Miki?” Matsuo grinned sarcastically I didn’t think those clothes were of your taste. Here, this skirt looks wonderful. Oh, don’t mind the studs on the green leather they just help in the massaging of that end.”
Mikeio pouted and slapped him on the shoulder. Matsuo, in childish humor, winced and turned away in pain. Mikeio burned with embarrasement and raised her hand to stike him again. With training-honed reflexes, Matsuo caught her wrist and pulled her near to kiss her. Mikeio slammed a pulled punch into his stomach, and with the care of a
threw him over her shoulder onto the pavement. By that time a considerable number of people had stopped to look at their antics. Red-faced, Mikeio pulled Matsuo to his feet and ran dragging Matsuo behind her. After running a distance she abruptly slowed to a walk and threw his hand from hers. Matsuo’s laugh boomed in the passage-way as she walked away. Matsuo caught up and took her by the shoulders to apologize but she pulled away picking at her fingernails. Again Matsuo apologized and begged forgiveness. Mikeio walked on as she reconsidered. She stopped, whirled around and found
trudging behind her on his knees. With puppy-dog eyes he clutched at her clothes wailing and begging. Mikeio began to laugh uncontrollably and knelt down. She kissed him on the forehead and started running again. Matsuo caught up and whirlded her around. Mikeio put her arms around his neck and kissed him long and deep leaving him dumbfounded. When she had finished, she turned away frightened and embarrased. Matsuo came around to kiss her again but she pulled away.
“Matsuo… don’t, please. I can’t be any more than friends right now. Please understand.”
“I do.” he replied as he took her hand and they began to walk away, but even as he did, he though to himself, “How do I compete with a dead man?”
* * *
The next day Mikeio showed up early at the dojo and found the front gate locked. Matsuo had not arrived yet. Mikeio was about to walk away when she heard a loud thump from inside the building. Mikeio looked up at the twelve foot brick wall and calculated. She tied the wooden sword and towel to her back, stook a few steps and leapt. She planted her foot about five feet up and pushed forward. The extra push gave her just enough height to grasp the top of the wall with her finger tips. Straining with effort she pulled her way to the top. The rough exterior tore at her gi as she climbed, and when she reached the top, she breathed a sigh of relief. There she sat for a minute to catch her breath, then she looked over her shoulder to survey the surroundings before dropping to the ground. After choosing a spot to land in the pebble fields, Mikeio swung her legs over the wall and let herself fall. As her feet hit the ground, the pebbles slid under her soles and she landed sitting hard. Ruefully she rubbed her posterior end and crept around the building. Again she heard a noise. Mikeio fixed a stance and kicked the door open. Simultanteously, the rear door burst open and a fleeting female figure scrambled over the lower rear wall. The dojo was empty and desolate save a lone tea cup and its spilt contents on the tatami.
Mikeio fetched a rag and cleaned up the mess, but left the cup standing upright in the middle of the room. A little later, the bolt of the gate clanged open and Matsuo strode into the room. Matsuo, finding Mikeio already there, looked at his keys, the height of the wall and then back at Mikeio’s dusty form. Matsuo shrugged and dismissed it, as he put his things in a cubby, but as he turned, he saw the exquisite tea cup sitting on the floor.
Slowly he turned back towards Mikeio, “Where is this from?” he asked.
“There was a cat burglar or something,”she replied. “She ran out the back when I came in. But… I’ve never heard of a burglar leaving anything behind before. Should we call the police?”
“You said it was a She? Mm, look around and see if anything is missing, this cup here intrigues me. The pattern is familiar, sort of like our crest, yet different.” he mused. ” A tea cup…”
Mikieo snapped her fingers,”Of course, don’t you remember? Sensei prized a cup just like it!”
“You don’t suppose that the burglar was trying to take this do you?”
“Only one way to find out. Where is it being kept now?” “It is now the urn that holds Sensei’s ashes.” Matsuo
clenched his teeth. “If this burglar has desecrated his remains, she shall pay dearly.”
* * *
The pair made their way through the city to the Zen temple wherein the Sensei’s remains were kept. When they reached the shrine, they met with an even greater mystery: The container in which His ashes were kept was undisturbed and sitting where it was last place. In every respect the tea cup they found was identical to the one in the shrine. They were identical even down to the tang they bore on the bottom identifying the potter. Obviously, they were a pair from a larger set, yet the style of craft was unique and the crest emblazoned on the sides were one of a kind. The crest so resembled that of the Dojo, that Matsuo and Mikeio decided to go to the archives and identify them. After hours of searching they found it.
“I don’t believe it!” exclaimed Mikeio. “Sensei really was a decendant of the Kage no Gundan, the Shadow Warrior. The insignia is from the Iga sect that was based in Mishima and is represented in this book.”
“If Sensei belongs to the Iga and is from Mishima, then why did he say he was without relatives to carry on his school, and why, if Sensei belongs to this sect, is our school crest so similar, yet different?”
“You forgot to ask that if Sensei was alone, then where did this other cup come from?”
While Mikeio and Matsuo sat in the library engrossed in
the text they had found, Haringnata walked in back of them and peered over the tome. “Interesting.” she said as Mikeio and Matsuo gave a startled jump of shock at her presence.
“So Miki, where are we having lunch? It’s uh… Two o’clock.” she said not just a bit sarcastically while looking at her watch.
“Oh, Harignata, I’m so sorry I forgot about lunch. We were so engrossed…” Mikeio started.
“So I see.” Harignata cut in with an impish smile.
“No, I don’t mean that way,” said Mikeio, embarrassed, “Someone broke into our dojo and we want to know who it is. Oh, by the way, this is Matsuo, the guy I was talking about. We haven’t eaten yet either, where would you like to go?”
“Hm, I know this soba shop down the street.” “Actually I have this uncontrollable urge for a Big
“Hmph! Your stomach is still in America.”
* * *
Throughout the next few days, Mikeio and Matsuo practiced intensly in the dojo until Mikeio could keep up her concentration while performing minor things as well as during a fighting situation. Slowly, Mikeio redeveloped the sense of harmony and solace that she had lost in America. However, even under this new guise of harmony, the ever present guilt of ——-‘s death haunted her. Everytime she felt that she overccame this block, little details, eyes, movements, even the way people carried themselves, would place her back into depression. Even with the support of Matsuo and Harignata, Mikeio felt that she was missing something, something that she had left behind in the United States.
* * *
It was mid-morning as the white truck bearing the seal of the postal service pulled up to the mailbox of Mikeio’s home in uptown Tokyo. The postal worker leaned out and deposited a stack of letters into her mail box moved on to the next box. Minutes later, Mikeio, clad in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt walked across the path of small courtyard to retrieve the letters. As she walked back to the house, she shuffled through the mail and stopped at a lavender envelope. Upon reading the name, her step faltered and then quickened as she ran into the house.
“Mom! Help! It’s a letter from Cindi! Come quick!”, she yelled as she carefully slit open the envelope and read the contents.
“What is it Mikeio?” her mother asked coming down the steps to the sitting room where Mikeio had collapsed on a bean bag and was intently reading the letter.
“It’s a letter from Cindi.” repeated Mikeio with a excited, yet frantic look on her face. “The postmark is from four weeks ago and she says that she is writing because she is going to visit us here this summer. She’ll be here in a week! She says that her father’s corporation is having a convention here in Narita and wonders if I’ll be free to travel a bit.
“Michelle, that girl I told you about, is coming with them as a graduation present. Please Mommy, could they stay here?”
“We don’t have a lot of room Mikeio.”
“I know, but we could sleep in the living room or something. I know papa would let us.”
“Your father would let you get away with murder Miki-chan.” her mother replied not too unkindly. “But here, let me propose to you a solution. For YOUR graduation gift, your father and I will pay for yours and your friends’ hotel and boarding costs while you sight-see.”
“Oh thank-you-mother!” Mikeio replied as she ran out of the room to the telephone.
“But Mikeio, what about Matsuo and your training?” she asked to an empty room.
* * *
In the past year, Mikeio had come to visit the United States as an exchange student for a year. The Nokamuras had been her host family during her stay. Mikeio met and clashed with Tom’s girlfriend, Michelle Palmiato and through a series of events, became very good friends with her and the Nokumuras. Later, Mikeio became emotionally unbalanced through the death of a very close friend and had returned to Japan shaken but seemingly whole.
* * *
“United Airlines flight 047 bound for Tokyo is now boarding at Gate 9. All passengers are requested to have
their boarding passes ready. Thank you.”
“G’bye mother, G’bye father, we’ll write okay? Don’t cry mama, its only three weeks and you promised you wouldn’t cry when we left.” Cindi said reproachfully as Tom, Michelle, and herself prepared to board their 747.
“I know dear, I can’t help it, do enjoy yourselves. Before I know it I’ll be back here waiting for you. Do you have everything? All right, then off you go. Good-bye dears. Take care of them Tom!” called Mrs. Nokumura as the trio walked into the hall, and onto the airplane.
After an uneventful flight, the jumbo jet touched down in Japan’s Narita International Airport seventeen hours after they had left LAX. After passing through customs, they rented a cart and pushed their luggage into the terminal building. From a crowd, Mikeio waved and called. The girl disappeared, then came running across the carpet to hug her three friends.
“Hi guys! Long time no see. C’mon, Lets sit a bit and talk. There’s some people I want you to meet over at the bus stop. You must be exhausted from your flight.” said Mikeio in perfect English. “We’re going to Shinjuku, that’s where the hotel we’re staying at is, by bus. We’ve got about twenty minutes to wait.”
Tom and the girls were surprised to see their normally complacent friend, so excited and seemingly untouched by her tragedy. The petite Japanese girl was dressed in a plaid jumper over a t-shirt. Her hair was tied in a pony-tail piled upon her head. Her attractive face wore the slightest bit of make-up to accent her pretty features. The Americans were amazed at the humidity and heat of the atmosphere around them, and even more surprised to find that outside was not much cooler. As they crossed the street to the bus stop, Michelle, the only non-Japanese, found it peculiar that the Japanese drove on the left hand side and that all the drivers were polite and obeyed the traffic rules.
“They drive like in Europe, and I expected to see kamikaze drivers all over the place.” she said. Mikeio smiled and waved away an expectant taxi driver before motioning them to the bench at the bus stop.
“The drivers in Japan respect the pedestrians as they would expect to be treated if the roles were reversed.” replied Mikeio. “As for driving on the left side, I thought America was the weird one, but its just different. Okay guys, this is Matsuo Ichijoe a good friend from my dojo, and this is my best friend since,…what, Kindergarten? Haringata Ijima. And these are my friends from America, Tom and Cindi Nokumura who were my hosts, and Michelle Palmiato, my buddy.”
The group chatted for a while until the orange hotel bus pulled over to the curb. Tom and Matsuo helped the driver stow away the luggage and then boarded the bus with the others. Because the others had no Japanese currency, Matsuo paid for the tickets in Japanese yen. The bus ride lasted for over an hour, so the friends passed the time by observing the scenery such as the Imperial palace and the myriads of people. Michelle was so entranced by the appearance of the palace that she decided that she must visit there. Late in the afternoon, the bus pulled up in front of a tall white structure, the Shinjuku Washington Hotel. The visitors gazed at the twenty-five story building in awe, marvelling at its unique construction and beautiful landscaping.
“It’s like the Waldorf.” mumbled Cindi, straining her neck to see the top of the structure.
“Most hotels are like this in the Shinjuku area.” said Harignata. “You may think that this is really expensive, but with what the yen is, its only really expensive to you.”
Matsuo led them to the third story lobby where the registration desk was located. Riding the glass elevator, they saw that the first two floors were all shops and restaurants. The crystal walls of the third floor allowed the group to see that the registration office looked like a bank. The marble counters gleamed as the sunlight streamed through the crystal clear window into the spacious and lavishly furnished lobby. Adjoining the lobby was a polished cocktail lounge. As the group approached the counter, they passed a sparkling fountain to the first available clerk.
The clerks were dressed in immaculate burgandy and black tuxedos and worked with the efficiency of a finely tuned machine. Instead of keys, the hotel issued a key-card with a magnetic code that would operate everything from the door to the lights to the TV set. Tom and Matsuo took care of the luggage while the girls registered. Following the group from the bus to the lobby was a casually dressed Japanese boy of about Tom’s age, during the whole check-in process, he had tried to catch Mikeio’s eye. Every time he did however, he turned away acting high and mighty. He obviously thought he was God’s gift to womankind. While Mikeio was processing their transaction, the boy stood only inches away from her back, breathing down her neck. Cindi thought he was very strange but dismissed him as “one of the natives.”
Mikeio had gotten three adjoining rooms as agreed upon. Tom would have a single, while Mikeio and Cindi would share a double. Michelle would share with Harignata in a similar fashion. Matsuo intended on returning home at the end of the day. The bellboy brought their luggage to the elevator and they ascended to the nineteenth floor. They walked down the
thick carpeted hall to their suites and tipped the bellboy. This was Mikeio’s first time in this hotel too, so they all experimented sliding their cards down the slots to open the doors with great novelty. As they opened and closed the doors with the card, loud harsh music filled their ears. The elevator doors slid open assailing them with a fresh burst of noise. The boy from the lobby, now sporting sun glasses and a rather large stereo, walked towards them flipping a key-card in his hand. As he passed, Tom gave a look of disdain and entered his room. The girls followed suit but not before the boy put a foot in the door to the double bedroom. He poked his head in and gave a dazzling smile. Mikeio had to admit he was handsome but nevertheless, a jerk.
“Hey, beautiful. Ohayo! I’m your new neighbor, we might as well get to know each other better now. I’m Shunzei, Shunzei Hajime, and yours?” he asked Mikeio in Japanese.
“Buzz off, creep.” Mikeio said as she deftly kicked his foot out and slammed the door.
“Beautiful name chick!” he yelled as he went to his own room next door.
Mikeio gave a look of disgust and dismissed him from her mind. Meanwhile, Cindi was experimenting with the key card to turn on all the electrical equipment. The room was no larger than sixteen feet by fourteen feet, but by the way the room was arranged and the flow of air from the air conditioner, the room seemed twice as big. Their suite was fully equipped with closet, slippers, hotel kimonos, TV, radio, bed, bathroom, window, and four pillows. However, what Cindi found the most amazing was the little refrigerator set under the desk. When she opened it she saw drinks and food all in little cubby holes. There was a price over each of the items. Mikeio explained that these were for snacks or refreshment and every time you removed something, the computer would automatically charge it to your hotel bill.
Before they unpacked, Mikeio called the others on the hotel phone line and decided to first go out to dinner before settling down. The group locked their doors and headed downstairs to meet Matsuo who was making reservations on the phone in the lobby. Unnoticed by them, a slim petite girl not unlike Mikeio boarded the adjacent elevator and ascended to the ninteenth floor. On the last floor, they got off the elevator and went into a little noodle shop for some soba, or traditional buckwheat noodles. It was an unusual experience for Michelle, but she enjoyed the unfamiliar food. When they left, they browsed around the shops and found restaurants of all nations, including a McDonalds across the street. While window-shopping, they picked up Shunzei behind them who hovered over Mikeio’s every move. At about, ten o’clock at
night Japan time, which was about one o’clock AM in America Mikeio proposed that they get to sleep so that the travellers could overcome their jet lag easier. The parasitic boy hung like glue and followed. Another tail, unnoticed, followed suit. Harignata was given a ride by Matsuo as they went home. The others went to their repective hotel rooms.
The next morning, Tom and Michelle were awakened by the jarring ring of the telephone. Half an hour later, the group, clad casually for the day’s adventures, assembled in the hall and waited for the elevator. They descended to the shops and went to McDonalds for an “American” breakfast. The mysterious girl was already in the restaurant eating a breakfast behind a pair of “Rayban Wayfarer” sunglasses. After they had ordered, they took their trays and looked for a vacant table. The travellers found the eggs under-cooked and the hash browns too greasy. However, the reminder of home was refreshing. As they readied to leave, they saw Shunzei already emptying his tray into the trash. He turned to speak with the girls, but Mikeio crouched down, grabbed Cindi’s hand and ran off. When they were out of the restaurant, Mikeio straightened and slowed down for Tom and Michelle to catch up. In doing so, they lost their female companion as well.
The travellers walked down the boulevards noticing every detail, asking questions, and translating signs for Michelle. Matsuo had teaching commitments at the dojo so naturally could not accompany them. There were single Coke machines on every sidewalk and the streets were incredibly clean. Impressive buildings and sky scrapers filled the horizon. As they turned the corner of the bus station, Cindi gasped. Covering an area of three blocks, twelve stories and four basements was the department store, and a block away was another one. Mikeio explained that most of the big shopping stores were like this in the big cities and that, although the prices were higher than the surrounding shops, the convenience was many times worth the price. She also pointed out that it was quite easy to get lost in there so they must stay together.
To get to the edifice, they had to cross a very busy street but instead of going through the traffic, they descended down a level to an underground walk-way. This walk-way formed a network under practically the whole city and joined with all the subways and major buildings. Walking through the tunnels, they passed newsstands food shops, and rows upon rows of machines.
“What are those for?” Tom asked, as people went to them deposited money, and received a small card.” They look like slot machines in a casino or something.”
“What, those? Those are machines to buy tickets to the
subway, or cards for the telephone.” Mikeio explained. “Everything seems automated.” marvelled Michelle.
“Not everything, but a lot of things are for convenience sake.” Mikeio said.
After walking a distance, they saw a milling group of people and joined them. With the morning hustle of shoppers, they were pushed up the escalators to the upper floors. Upon reaching the first floor Mikeio got off and led the others to the directory. On the other side was an advertisement for a new movie released a week ago. It was a Japanese animation film called,”Atemi Mitsui” set in a medvil Japanese/technology era.
“Those are like those cartoons back home.”Cindi remarked.
“Actually, these are the originals and are many times better than the translated versions. The Japanese youth here have a great affection for the `Japanese Anime’. We’ll go see one later to prove my point.” Mikeio replied.
When they had looked through the directory, they decided to look around on their own and meet back within the hour. As they were wandering, Mikeio kept feeling as though some one was watching her but couldn’t pinpoint anyone in the sea of heads. They met back at the set time and went to each respective place to purchase several items, mechanical pencils, a walkman for Cindi, a blouse for Michelle, and books for Tom. At the book section, Mikeio bought several animation books and a poster from a recent box office hit. She explained without embarrassment that Animation is accepted all over the world as a medium for communication except in America where it is regarded as a kiddie novelty, and that as an anime fan collecting such items as scripts and posters were necessary to fully understand and enjoy the art involved with each movie. Mikeio paid for everything, because held all the Japanese currency except for a few coins the others had in case of emergency phone calls, then she took the others down a few levels to the music department. There they looked at the variety of music and selected several albums.
For lunch, they left the department store to eat at an automated hamburger stand. They put in coins in a menu machine on the outside of the store, selected a meal, and took a ticket. Once inside, they presented the ticket to the cashier and received their food. They all agreed that it was very efficient though it was rather impersonal. As
they walked by shops after lunch, Michelle happened to look around an see the pest, Shunzei following them at a distance. He was making no effort at concelement and thus blended into
the crowd. After this had been reported, they made a game of trying to lose their unwanted guest. They ran through halls and tunnels till they saw no sign of Shunzei then continued their shopping spree. Then, when they could no longer carry all their purchases with ease, they returned to the hotel to freshen up and take a nap. While the others slept, Mikeio patiently listened to her new tapes and read her books while waiting for her jet-lagged friends to awaken. In the lobby the mysterious girl watched the elevators and waited. When Cindi woke up, she found Mikeio watching Japanese music videos on TV. Each video on the countdown was live and preformed by the original artists.
It was six o’clock before they called the others on the hotel phone to plan dinner. After going to a Hindu restaurant that unsettled all their stomachs, they retired to their rooms and chatted until bedtime. Harignata was to stay with Michelle that night. They had no sooner dimmed the lights when they were disturbed by Shunzei’s stereo next door. Annoyed, Mikeio kicked the wall as Cindi yelled for silence. The music abruptly stopped and Cindi giggled off to sleep.
Next day, under Michelle’s constant begging, they decided to visit the Imperial palace in central Tokyo. Inevitably, Shunzei was there to follow them to the subway station. It was a Friday and again Matsuo stayed at the dojo with his class while Mikeio entertained their guest. Tom, Cindi, and Michelle persuaded Mikeio to let Shunzei join them but soon regretted this because of his superior attitude and scorn for Michelle on the basis that she was white. Mikeio grew furious but held her peace. In the tunnel Mikeio went to the ticketing machine and bought four tickets, trying to discourage Shunzei’s by making him buy his own. However, when they boarded the Tokyo bound subway, Mikeio gave the conductor four tickets and embarked without a second thought. The conductor let them in but as Michelle was stepping on the train, Shunzei rushed forward, and pushed her aside. Michelle sprawled to the platform to see the subway start without her. She stared after the subway, cursed roundly and walked back to the bank of machines.
Meanwhile, on the subway, Mikeio saw Shunzei in the subway train instead of Michelle and gave a cry of rage. The others whirled around to where Mikeio was standing, seething in pent-up fury and frustration.
“What’s wrong?” Tom asked, alarmed by the sudden emotion Mikeio was displaying. Mikeio who had not completely healed from her previous traumatic experience, not only could hate, but became quite volitaile as well.
“Michelle! This… this… rat took Michelle’s ticket and left her in Shinjuku!” Mikeio snapped.
“What! Where is she?” demanded Tom as he grabbed the boy by his shirt front.
“Hey sorry man, she’s back on the platform.”
“Why you dirty pig, I ought to rip your head off!” snarled Tom as he raised a closed fist.
Shunzei, eyes filled with fear, wrenched free and delivered two blows to Tom’s chest. Shunzei, for all his faults, was a black belt in Karate. Tom’s breath was knocked out of him and he staggered back. Mikeio, completely enraged, grabbed Shunzei by the neck and with her heel, swept him to the ground. She was about to hit him when Cindi cried out.
“Don’t!…I mean…” Cindi, enamored by the boy’s looks, and consumed with pity for the recent events, caught Mikeio’s wrist. Mikeio looked at the hand in surprise, and embarrassed, Cindi let it go. “…uh, …It’s not fair, you’re a seventh level black belt in Akido, he doesn’t have a chance. Anyway, I’m sure Michelle will get the next train. Don’t blame him.”
Mikeio stared at Cindi, not able to believe that her friend was protecting the boy. She looked at Cindi, then Tom and Shunzei, then Harignata, and back to Cindi and for a horrible length of silence, no one moved. Then, as the train stopped at the next station, all the anger and frustration she had been combatting snapped again under this new pressure. Mikeio turned and fled the train with tears flowing. Harignata, concerned for her friend chased after her. Shunzei fell to the floor with a nasty crash. The three in the train sat in embarrassed silence as they saw Mikeio and Harignata disappear through the corridor. Then Tom asked “Do you think she’ll make it?”, not clear whether he was referring to Mikeio or Michelle.
“I think so.”
* * *
Michelle looked at the two banks of machines wondering which ones were the ticketing machines so that she could follow the others. She walked over to the more brightly colored machines and deposited some coins as she had seen Mikeio do. After that, she was lost as to what to do. Guessing, she pushed a button marked 100 to match the amount she had deposited. The machine whirled and a small card dropped from the slot and she picked it up. It read:
[100 PHONE CALLS]
In embarrassed fury she looked to see if anyone had been watching and kicked the machine. She ran to the other bank of machines and with the last of her change, she bought a ticket. She then boarded the train to the Imperial Palace.
Arriving at the Tokyo station, she found no one there and didn’t know where to go as she didn’t know that the others had already gotten off at an earlier stop to chase Mikeio. Michelle decided not to get lost, so she hailed a taxi for the relatively short trip back to the hotel. Because she had no money, she intended to wait until she reached the hotel to pay for the ride. The driver saw that Michelle was not Japanese and quite inexperienced, so began an unscheduled tour around the city.
Mikeio had stopped running long since as she walked aimlessly through the narrow streets. She soon came to an ancient building and stopped. It was the dojo. After hesitating, she went inside. Walking past the old changing room, she entered the actual training hall and smelled the welcoming smell of the cedar posts. The walls stained with bleeding sap, told forgotten stories of past bouts in the room. In the middle of the floor Matsuo was teaching the little students how to fall safely. The young man was jumping to the mat like an insane man and was making the little children laugh by moaning in pretended pain, just as their sensei, that mischievous little old man, used to do. This was Mikeio’s sensei, her teacher. Mikeio remembered how she too laughed at the same antics. Mikeio walked to the back of the room, leaned against the wall and waited. Matsuo didn’t seem to notice her until class was over and the others had left. Only then, did he approach Mikeio.
Softly he asked, “Hi Mikeio what’s wrong? No, don’t shake your head, We’ve been training too long now for you to hide something. What happened?”
Beginning slowly, Mikeio spilled her story to her friend relating all her hopes and her disappointments of the trip. Her story of anger and frustration was directed mainly at Shunzei.
“I feel so mad, that I could kill that guy and not care. And don’t tell me that anger cannot solve my problems again.” she finished.
“I wasn’t going to.” said Matsuo calmly. He took into his hand a block of wood and held it into the air. If you must break something, don’t break your spirit by hurting another person but instead, break this wood.”
Mikeio jumped into the air, turned, and with a spinning kick whipped her leg through the block, splintering it into a myriad of fragments. The force of the kick sent her tumbling
to the tatami mat, bruising her tail-bone.
“By breaking the wood, does it cease to exist? Even in doing so, you have also ended up hurting yourself. Is it harder to break the wood or shape it into a statue and use it? There is more effort in carving the statue but a better result in the end. Have patience and help Shunzei to help himself. Do you understand?”
Mikeio averted her eyes to the ground and replied in a subdued voice, ” Yes Mata, thank you.”
“Anytime, Mikeio.” he replied. “By the way did you get a chance to pop him one? No? Oh well, so much for wishing eh? C’mon cheer up he’s probably a good guy if you’ll let him be. He just has a major crush on you and wants your attention or something. Make him a friend instead of a pest and everyone will be happier. Here, if you want, I’ll finish here and we’ll go back to Shinjuku together, okay?”
* * *
Mikeio hesitantly walked with Matsuo down the corridor to her room at the hotel. Deep from within her room, she heard rolicking laughter. She slid her card down the slot and opened the door. The four of them, Tom, Michelle, Cindi and Shunzei were drinking juice from the refrigerator and talking.
“Mikeio! Come in. Where were you?” asked Michelle. “Hi, Matsuo!”
“I’m sorry Shunzei about what happened,” said Mikeio softly under Matsuo’s prodding.
“Let the bygones be bygones, anyway as long as we understand each other,” he looked at Cindi, who blushed,”It’s all okay.” Matsuo gave Mikeio a knowing smile.
“How did everything go?” asked Mikeio.
“Oh, we never made it to the palace, we were too busy looking for you and Michelle.” grinned Tom impishly.
Michelle related her incidents and they all became quite jovial. She ended with “… and I had to pay 50 American dollars for the ride itself!”
“Not to mention a fortune for all these drinks.” added Mikeio “You guys drank over twenty of them! Let’s buy them from a store next time; it’ll be cheaper that way.”
“Hey, I’m starved lets eat. I’m treating!” she said as she ran out of the room. The others slammed the door and followed.
Mikeio stopped at a small building a couple of blocks away, and waited for the others to catch up. As they walked along the sidewalk, Matsuo said, teasing Mikeio, “Well, since you’re paying, lets go to the Ritz or the Shogun-gen. We’ll have lobster and abalone and…” but stopped as Mikeio smiled and hit him.
Instead of going to a really expensive place, they entered a traditional style restaurant, and were seated in a private, tatami-mat room. They sat cross-legged around the low table and waited for the waitress to serve them.
“We’re not going to eat anything weird, are we?” asked Michelle.
“Of course! This is Japan and you’ve been here long enough to eat a little raw fish! Anyway, you’ve already eaten it with Tom and Cindi haven’t you?” Mikeio asked.
“Uh, I’m afraid this is the first time we’re eating it too.” replied Tom, turning different shades of green. “I get a bit queasy thinking about it.”
“Aw, come on! Take a risk, it will be a good change.” prodded Matsuo.
* * *
“…and tuna, octopus, shrimp eggs, crab, and um, sea bass.” finished Mikeio.
“Wait! You didn’t order anything unique like fugu, squid innards, or fish brain, not to mention une.” said Shunzei.
“Come on Shunzei, it’s only their first time, lets not get gross.”
Mikeio turned from the table in a sickly shade of green. “Une, mm, sounds good.” said Michelle. “What is it?” “Sea urchin gonads.” grinned Shunzei.
Cindi retched and everybody turned from the table. No mention was made of the subject afterwards until a golden-rod gooey substance was placed in front of Michelle. Without a thought, she popped some in her mouth, and continued eating.
Mikeio suddenly left the room and Shunzei burst into laughter and Matsuo held his head. The others stopped eating the yellow paste and stared at the hysterical boy.
Uncertainly, Tom asked, “What’s so funny?”
“That’s une!” gasped Shunzei between bursts of laughter. Everyone stopped chewing and a mouthful of food dropped from Tom’s mouth into his bowl of soup. Then the others scrambled after Mikeio to the restrooms leaving Shunzei and Matsuo in the dining room. When they returned, Shunzei, licking the remains of the une from the lacquer dish, turned and smiled.
“Oh, you’re back. I guess I can safely assume that we are done here. Aren’t we?” he said brightly.
“Definitely, Shunzei, let’s go.” Mikeio said.
At the register, Mikeio asked for the check. The waitress, surprised, told her that it had already been paid for.
“By whom?” Mikeio asked.
In back of her Shunzei and Matsuo began to laugh uncontrollably and Mikeio understood that they had already paid for the meal. She rolled her eyes to the ceiling in exasperation, slammed her purse shut and made the screw-ball gesture as they walked out with Matsuo talking to the younger boy as if they had been friends for years. In the distance they could hear the waitress laughing at them.
Next morning, they got up early to go to the Imperial Palace. After meeting Matsuo in the lobby, they proceeded two blocks to the subway tunnel. The underground street complex led to wherever the streets on the upper level did. Walking toward the ticketing machines, a modern day punk ran into Tom and rudely kept running. Cindi was remarking about his rudeness and Shunzei was shouting Japanese curses at the running boy, something about the boy’s family and all his ancestors being related to turtles. Matsuo, with a worried look on his face told Tom to check his pockets. When he did he discovered that his wallet was gone.
Tom, a champion track star, ran after the pick-pocket and grabbed him by the collar. The petty-thief whirled around and smashed his fist into Tom’s jaw. Tom staggered back and slumped against the wall. Just then the others came running up. The man glanced around furtively and turned to get away. Mikeio leapt into the air and smashed the back of the fugitive’s leg and brought him down. The momentum carried Mikeio several feet forward. As she turned around, she saw Michelle throw the thief into the wall. Cindi then sent the man sprawling to the floor and Shunzei kicked him in
the face. Only Matsuo abstained from the fight. The thief scrambled across the floor on his knees and begged them to stop. With both hands he offered the wallet back to them. Feeling sorry, they tried to calm him down, but as they were about to accept the wallet, Tom, who had recovered from his fall, charged up late and smashed the pathetic boy to the ground. He then grabbed his wallet from the quivering hands and picked the former thief by the hair grinning.
In an adjacent hall, the petite girl with sunglasses mentally catalogued the event in her mind.
* * *
“…he first stunned me, and after recovering, I chased him down and, single-handedly, taught him a lesson.” boasted Tom to the police stenographer. The others kept silent except for an occasional giggle from Cindi. The smug looks and giggles soon stopped when they were ushered into a room and were made to press charges by filling out innumerable forms in triplicate. Four hours later, they were taken to the mug-room where they identified the crook on photo as a petty-thief. After the long search, they were brought to the viewing room to identify the criminal. As they neared their suspect he cringed in terror at the sight of the friends. By the time they were allowed to leave the police station, nightfall was already settling upon the land of the rising sun.
The fading rays bounced endlessly across the mirrored surface of the tall buildings and settled into long shadows in the temples and rustic houses beyond. A flock of pigeons fluttered by the rising edifices and settled on the window sill of the large hotel. Far below, the beauracracy worn travellers trudged back to their rooms, defeated by the failure of reaching the Imperial Palace.
“What a day!” Cindi sighed as she flopped onto their wide bed. “We didn’t get anywhere! Those police kept asking questions and more questions. I felt so sorry for that guy, he was beaten nearly to death by us and then given the third degree by the cops for hours.”
“Don’t fell sorry for that guy, I feel sorry for Michelle.” Mikeio remarked, as she closed the door to their room. “Those forms were in Japanese! Haven’t those guys ever heard of carbon paper? Triplicate, really! Gosh, I’m tired. Shunzei must be also, he even didn’t turn on his stereo today.” But as she turned around, Cindi was already snoring away. Silently, Mikeio picked up her Sensei’s flute and left the room and quietly closed the door. Matsuo was waiting for her at the end of the hallway.
“You noticed her too didn’t you?” Mikeio asked.
|“Yeah, for||a moment I||thought she was you.”||Matsuo|
|replied. ” From||the back you||guys are identical.||Are you|
sure she’s the burglar you saw the other day?”
“Definitely. What I want to know though, is why is she following us? I didn’t want to alarm the others, but she stuck to us everywhere we went.”
“I don’t know, it has something to do with that tea cup though. Remember how we looked through the archives for the origin of that crest that we found on that tea cup? Well, if this girl left it behind and it is identical to the one Sensei left , then we should solve this mysterious figure once and for all by going to the source, back to where the cup came from. That means going to Mishima. I’ll arrange for a trip tomorrow while you and your friends go to the Imperial Palace tomorrow. You can tell them that we’ll be going to Mishima to sightsee rural Japan or something. Don’t tell them about the crest or the girl. We don’t want to alarm them.”
“Will do, Matsuo, only hurry. This cloak and dagger stuff is giving me the creeps.”
“Okay then, I’ll see you tomorrow.” he said and bent to kiss her good night.”
Before he went though, Mikeio stopped him and pulled from her belt, the flute. As she turned away, she began to play the first few bars of the `Cha no yu’. However, after the first few measures, she faltered, turned, and smiled through fresh tears.
“I’m still trying Mata.” “I know.”
* * *
In the distance, the crow of a rooster wafted over the business complexes and high-rise buildings. The sound was unfamiliar to the surroundings but heralded the coming of dawn just the same. In Michelle’s room the alarm clock on her control console played the same role. The blonde groaned as she stretched awake. Then yawning, she reached for the phone. Within Mikeio’s and Cindi’s room, the phone rang loudly, jarring the occupants from their sleep. Blindly groping, Mikeio grasped the phone. As she pulled at the device, it came crashing to the floor. When she retrieved it, the line was dead. Michelle took a shower, brushed her teeth and dressed before trying the room again. This time when Mikeio answered, they were already dressing for another attempt at the Imperial Palace.
The group, still bed-weary met in the lobby cafe for breakfast. After a quick meal, they headed once more to the subway station. Tom scratched his sides luxuriously and Shunzei kept noddedoff and ran into people. Mikeio and Cindi leaned on each other for support while Harignata walked in a daze after them. . Only Michelle, impeccably dressed, was wide awake and ready to visit the national landmark. Her slim skirt, silk blouse, a and high heels sharply contrasted her friends’ attire of sweats and t-shirts. She was just about to comment on the others’ poor clothing when, as she stepped off the curb, she stumbled and broke her heel on the edge.
“Drat! I broke my heel. Now what am I going to do?” she swore.
“Oh my! The world’s going to end!” Shunzei mock fainted into Tom’s arms in a shrilly faltsetto.
“Well, we’re not going to let that stop us from getting to the palace this time.” Mikeio remarked, ” There’s a department store about a block away where we can get you another pair.”
“You mean Odakyu Shopping Center? We can get there easily.” said Shunzei and duck walked ahead of them. They walked the stretch of concrete to the huge complex and knew that there would not be a lack of selection.
“You guys wait here.” Mikeio said, “We’ll be in and out in a flash.”
“We’d better come with you. Leaving a bunch of girls in alone in a shopping mall could mean that we’ll never go to the Palace.” said Shunzei.
“You chauvinist-pig, Shunzei, you men are all alike.” retorted Michelle glaring at the Japanese boy.
“C’mon, stop it you guys, he didn’t mean it.” Cindi
“I’m beginning to worry about you Cindi, whose side are you on?”
“Well, I…uh… forget it.”
As they walked through the doors, a security guard stopped Shunzei, who was taking the rear. As the other’s turned, Mikeio thought, “Great, now he’s getting arrested”, but restrained herself from lynching the boy. However, the store people began flocking the Japanese boy blowing horns and throwing confetti and streamers.”
“Congratulations young man! You are the billionth customer to come through our doors. We of the store management would like to give you this gift.” the manager said as he led them to a showroom of toys. “And here it is, Congratulations again!”
When Tom saw the prize, he cracked up. The four feet by four foot box was clearly marked with the label:
Shunzei sheepishly shrugged his shoulders and started pulling at the box.
“Let’s dump it in our room and go to the Palace as fast as we can, its still early.” Mikeio said.
After considerable effort the small band made their way back to the hotel lobby. As the started to push the box into an elevator, a steward came running up.
“I’m sorry folks, I’m afraid you can’t take something that big into the rooms. You’ll have to leave it in the lobby at the baggage check-in.” He said snobbishly.
As he whirled around to leave, he tripped on the corner of the box. Cindi started giggling again and the others broke into laughter. Red-faced, the steward kicked the crate and stubbed his toe. Then, a soft hissing sound began from the inside of the box and grew louder and louder by the moment. With a loud crack the box burst open and the light blue swimming pool began inflating with compressed air. The people in the lobby ran for the exits as the huge pool filled the space of the lobby, knocking over plants and sculpture. When the inflatable pool reached it’s full size, it encompassed the entire area of the room and covered it’s occupants. Struggling to get from out of the layers of vinyl the steward started to suffocate. From the edge of the lobby, Cindi and the others were still laughing uncontrollably, though the laughter was nervous. The steward, enraged flipped open his pocket-knife and without a thought, cut into the blue plastic. A horrible explosion filled the room as vinyl showered over everyone. After the blast, the room was filled with a nervous quiet and then someone in the crowd started to whistle and clap. The rest of the crowd joined into the applause. Among the crowd was the girl in the dark glasses. In the commotion however, the mysterious female slipped out of the hotel and headed north towards the dojo.
The manager, another one of the bystanders, stalked into the middle of the room and grabbed the steward by the ear.
Pausing by Cindi and the others, he asked them to step into the hotel office. The others fearfully agreed, feeling the gravity of the situation. However, once inside, the bald- headed man began apologizing like a mad-man, promising that the steward would be fired and that they would be paid for their pool. The others begged that the steward be allowed to keep his job and declined the offer for a compensation lest the manager ask for the cost of the damages. Reluctantly, the manager agreed but on the condition that the hotel treat them to dinner. The others looked at Mikeio, and with a sigh, she looked at her watch and nodded her head.
After the sumptuous repast and hours of relating the incident to reporters and curious guests, the group wearily trudged back to their rooms in defeat.
“We might as well forget about going to the Imperial Palace to visit.” Tom said. “We seemed to be destined never to go there.”
“Well, for now maybe.” said Mikeio, “Besides, there is far more to see around here. Matsuo is arranging for us to visit a rural style town on the outskirts of Tokyo. We’ll tour the area for a few days okay?”
|“Where is this town||Mikeio? I’l||l have||to tell my|
|parents or something.” asked||Harignata.|
* * *
“Mikeio, I don’t know how it happened, but the tea cup is gone. I copied the crest last night, put it on the shelf next to the swords, packed my stuff and went to sleep.” explained Matsuo. “When I woke up, the cup was gone and the swords were in one of the carrying cases and next to my overnight bag. Nothing else was disturbed. It’s really strange, but I’m going to bring the swords anyway I got the papers for them this morning. Whoever it is that is following you wants you to be armed, that’s for sure, and we aren’t going to dissappoint them.”
“I thought we agreed that I wasn’t going to touch the Miko again until I was ready?” Mikeio asked.
“You aren’t Miki, I am.” Matsuo answered. “Get your friends together, our train leaves in an hour we’ll have to hurry to catch it.”
Other than being aware that the mysterious girl was in trail, the train ride was rather uneventful. Arriving at Mishima, the gang disembarked, asked directions, and walked the four miles to the old Iga residence. The whole city
seemed frozen in time. There were only a few very old cars on the streets and bikes dating back to the forties seemed to be the only mode of transportation. An occasional cow crossed the dirt roads and tall weeds grew by the roadside. The Iga manor was an old feudal military outpost, a veritable fortress, very old but neat was surrounded by acres of rice paddies and bamboo groves. Emblazoned on the fortress gates was the mysterious crest they had identified with the tea cup. Knocking on the gate, they waited for the caretaker to open the doors. Slowly the gate opened and its shadow lengthened across the dirt path. The slight figure was not the crooked wizened gate keeper they all expected. The mysterious girl had exchanged her modern oversized clothes and sunglasses, for a simple traditional kimono. Her short hair, unadorned fell on her neck and moved gently in the breeze. As she surveyed the companions, she smiled as her eyes alit on the sword case in Matsuo’s hand. Her eyes followed Matsuo’s arm to its crook where Mikeio’s hand rested and then followed her arm up to Mikeio’s face. Indeed, they were very similar, both very beautiful and very deep. Strands of Mikeio’s long hair swept across her face and fell. Their eyes met, intensely and calmly. Immediately Mikeio felt hatred between them, as if the girl’s eyes in that pleasant face were made of glass. After a brief moment, they broke contact, and the mysterious girl bowed to the travellers.
“Ohayo gozeimashita.” she said. “Welcome Mikeio, my name is Minamo Yoshimitsu, I have been expecting you.”
She turned and walked into the courtyard, numbly the others followed. Mikeio’s and Matsuo’s thoughts churned in similar thoughts. Their Sensei’s family name was Yoshimitsu. Was this girl his daughter? Mikeio, in taking the mantle of the Miko took that surname as a second name. The girl knew them too, almost as if they had made an appointment, they were “expected”.
As they followed Minamo, they walked through meticulous gardens and walkways. On the way to the main house, they passed a large building, almost as large as the house itself. The huge hall was clean and polished through years of usage. It was the Yoshitomo dojo, where their sensei, and his sensei had learned their art. That knowledge brought a sense of awe to Mikeio and Matsuo. To the others, it was like going into the past, like a well kept museum, the weapons on the walls of the dojo were like displays and the gardens, like exhibits. Once in the main house, the group slipped off their shoes and entered the shoji doors into the tatami room beyond. The room was empty save the screens at the back and a tea carrier in the middle. Seated around the little table, Minamo poured the delicate green liquid and welcomed them again. Each of the cups and tea utensils were from the set that their sensei’s prized cup was from. Their sensei had
always stressed the tea ceremony as an important step on achieving harmony. Minamo performed the ritual flawlessly and in their sensei’s style of movement. Again Minamo reminded everyone of Mikeio. There was little conversation as she led them upstairs to their respective rooms. The house was large and seemed empty and thus had lots of room.
They didn’t see Minamo again until that evening when they had bathed in the steaming tubs of water in the bath house and donned the traditional kimonos of ancient Japan that had bee provided for them. However among the different prints and styles, only Mikeio’s bore the Iga crest on the breast.
They met Minamo in the dining hall as they knelt down to the table for a traditional Japanese meal. None of the Americans touched the une that was passed around for one of the many varieties offered to them. Before the meal though, Minamo motioned Mikeio to sit at the other end of the spread in the most honored place. With great formality, she bowed as an equal and began the ceremony that was to be their meal. Ettiquite gave no opportunity for any of them to ask any of the questions that were coursing in their heads, and any time the subjects arose, the conversation was shifted to another topic. Under a considerable state of confusion the group ascended to their rooms to spend the night. A few minutes after everyone had entered their rooms, Matsuo slipped out from his own room and knocked on Mikeio’s door. The door slid open a crack then, verifying the visitor, slid open to admit the boy.
“This is weird!” Matsuo exclaimed as he entered the
“You’re telling me! That girl gives me the creeps!” Mikeio replied. “What are we going to do?”
“I think that we should wait and see what happens.” “What would you think if we were to take a look around
the place? Maybe we can find something to clear up all this.”
“Okay, but first I think I’d better dress in something more appropriate.” he grinned as he gestured at his striped pajamas and bathrobe. “I’ll get my clothes and meet you in fifteen minutes.”
After he left, Mikeio quickly donned the traditional gi and hakama of their Dojo. She wiped off her made-up and tied her hair back into a short pony tail with a red cloth, then she sat to wait for Matsuo. Matsuo was late in coming leaving Mikeio’s imagination to wander. Like child who has
been left home alone for the first time Mikeio started at every sound. She tensed at each noise as if it were foreboding, then relaxed as each noise reverberated into the darkness. The house seemed to be alive and against her. Her body reacted violently to the almost tangible aura that the house seemed to be emiting. Then from the depths of the night came a steady scraping of a bamboo rake upon the flagstones. Scratching and scratching, the noise, a mere irritation at first, seemed to grow louder and louder, just as the dripping of a faucet does at night, with each passing of time. Mikeio cringed at each scrape and covered her ears, her eyes wide in terror. Still the noise grated on and on. When the sound seemed just too unbearable to go on, it stopped. At that same instant, the shoji doors crashed open. Mikeio, scared out of her wits leapt like a frightened cat, crashed against the back wall, and came to rest huddled in a fetal position, shaking and incoherent. She was still trembling when she finally heard Matsuo’s voice.
“Mi-chan! Miki! What’s wrong? I kept knocking but you didn’t answer.”
Shaken and somewhat embarrased Mikieo slowly uncurled and sat up, disheveled and exhausted. Clearly she was upset.
“I…I heared a scraping sound that wouldn’t stop…grinding and grinding like fingernails on a chalkboard… It wouldn’t stop.” she repeated. Sobbing she collapsed into Matsuo’s arms. “Don’t leave me, Mata, don’t leave me.”
“I won’t, I won’t.” he soothed as he stroked her hair.
* * *
It was next morning with Matsuo fast asleep in the chair next to Mikeio’s bed that Mikeio stirred and woke. Careful not to waken her friend, she slipped into the ajacent room and slipped into a light-blue kimono. Carrying the black hakama, she walked back into the room to find Matsuo already awake. Matsuo yawned and smiled.
“Mikeio, how are you?”
“Much better, thank you, Mata. Do you think we can go for a walk this morning?”
“Sure, just let me change.”
Matsuo retired to his own room and put on some fresh clothes.
As Mikeio and Matsuo walked down the pebble path beneath the spreading pies, the grating, scrapping noise of the
bamboo rake upon stones rose clear over the sounds of the gurgling brook below. Mikeio stiffened in horror but kept it under control under the touch of Matsuo’s hand on her arm. As they rounded the corner of the main house, they found Minamo raking the pebbles smooth and humming to herself. The tune, now-too-familiar, was that of the Cha-no-yu. So enrapt in her work was the girl that she seemed not to notice the couple. Mikeio called out to her host, but she made no answer. Thinking that she did not hear, Mikeio called out again. This time, Minamo turned her shoulder almost imperceptibly and continued in her work. Clearly she had heard but chose to ignore her. Enraged by this slight, Mikeio broke from Matsuo and grabbed the girl by the sleeve. Reacting instantly in a smooth and deft motion, Minamo caught Mikeio by the shoulder and flung her aside. He move was one familiar only to those of the style, the clan. Mikeio, off balance, rolled and repositioned herself in a fighing stance. Her kimono in disarray, Mikeio lunged again at the complacent girl. The hate that burned in both girls’ eyes only made them seem more alike than ever. Matsuo, until this point had stood by, silent and grim. Through the slight and the attack, he had not done a thing, but now, legs moving into action, he stopped Mikeio in mid-stride. He turned and demanded an explaination from Minamo. He knew that Mikeio was in the wrong, but he also knew that her break-down had been precipitated by her emotional weakening the night before and by the disturbing resemblence that both girls shared. Even more disturbing to Matsuo was that Minamo apparently also shared an equal or higher level of training in the Yoshimitsu style.
Mikeio, shaking with anger, could not speak, but Matsuo could. “Yoshimitsu Minamo! What is the meaning of this?”
“She attacked me and I…” She began.
“I mean about everything, the tea cup, the rake, the house.”
“Isn’t it clear `sensei’? This is a challenge,a match between Mikeio-noh-Yoshimitsu and myself.”
“A bout? Are you crazy?” Matsuo exclaimed. “Why?” added Mikeio.
“”Yoshimitsu, Ha! You don’t even deserve the name, you imposter, but to keep it, you’re going to have to earn it. Why a bout? I’ll tell you why.
“It all begins with the late Lord Yoshimitsu who was the Lord of Mishima. The Yoshimitsu clan has held Mishima as a fief since the time it was given to our ancestors Yoshimitsu Sachou and Yoshi Sasuke by the previous lord. When the
samurai feudal system broke down, he was one of the lords that could not adjust to the soft ways of the businessman and merchant. With most of his wealth diminished by confiscations or futile-endeavors to reinstate the samurai caste, his lord had only a minimal estate to give to his two sons upon his death. It was willed that the younger inherit only the name and have as his wife, the old lord’s charge, the seventeen year old Midori whereas the elder would receive the name, the house, the crest, the honor. This was the last twist of fate by the old lord before he died. Perhaps in his senility, he had mixed the names, for it was the elder who loved the young Midori. He wanted no part of the wealth without her. He even wrote a love song for his love…”
“Cha-no-yu!” Mikeio interrupted.
“Yes, Cha-no-yu.” Minamo replied and continued. “The younger was far mor competant than the elder in the family style, though it could not be denied that the lord’s foster daughter, Midori was the best of the three. She, of the three was the old man’s favorite child and recieved many hours of private training in the style. Both sons were deeply in love with the girl. A few years after the old Lord’s death, Midori became pregnant with one of the brother’s child. Until that time, in accordance with their father’s wishes, had lived under a relative peace. However, for reasons unknown, Midori refused to divulge the father’s name. Perhaps she intended to try to keep the brothers together for fear that if she married one, the other would leave them forever. The result was not that which was intended. The result was a quarrel. The subject, in the beginning concerned only Midori. However the topics turned to include the rights to the land, the heretige, the honor. A bout was called in which the winner was to be determined by skill, not death. Neither brother wanted to kill the other but did want a winner. As you may guess, the worst happened. In the course of the bout an accident occurred in which the elder’s bokken, suffering under less control and skill than needed, slammed full force, unchecked into the younger’s chest. As you know, Mikeio, the techniques in our style employs some extremely deadly and complex manuvers that cause great damage when not properly controled. The elder’s skill though lacking in control, lacked none of the power and force necessary to kill a man. The bokken shattered the younger’s ribs and ruptured some internal organs. The younger lingered for a while, Midori and his brother at his side, then died. His last words forgave his brother from the incident. However, even as the younger forgave him, Midori was not so kind. In loving both of them equally, she condemned the elder for the younger’s death. Her grief was enormous as perhaps was her guilt. Nonetheless, her love for the elder turned sour in a single stroke, declared that the younger was the father of the child she bore. The elder, already severly ridden by grief and already tormented, was greatly hurt. He
forsake his crest, removing the imperial chrysanthemum from his gates of heaven, packed the family swords, and a flute as a memorance and banished himself from the region. The two kept contact for a few years, then broke completely. The elder was, of course, your Sensei, and Midori, my mother.”
“I still don’t see a reason for a bout.” Matsuo said. “I’m getting to that.” Minamo replied. “You see I was
raised thinking that the younger brother, whom my mother married post-humously, was my father. I was also raised with great hatred for your sensei, my father’s murderer. My mother trained me extensively to eventually avenge my father. It was rumored that your Sensei, forsaking the material world had devoted himself to his training and perfected the style, becoming a true master in his own right. I suppose in this way, he thought he could insure that his great mistake would never happen again.
In their first years of contact, my mother found out that he had taken a three year old girl as a student. Three years old, my age exactly at the time. That student was,of course, you, Mikeio. A replacement in your Sensei’s eyes for myself. My first vivid memory was that of me mother going into an rage upon recieving that letter and your picture. Even then you bore an uncanny resemblence to me. It was then that my mother severed contact with him and began my training. I was trained to an utmost level of ability. By conventional standings I rank a ninth dan. I was always studing with the knowledge that you existed and my father’s killer existed. Through grade school I had to keep changing schools because I hurt other children through my anger. My mother did, however, still love your sensei very much, because late at nights, she would play the “Cha-no-yu” with her cup of tea. I never unerstood her anger and love, which seemed so much of a paradox until the day that she died. It was upon her death-bed that she told me the truth. Your Sensei was my real father.
“On her death, my mother forgave my father, but I hadn’t. He must have known that I was his daughter, otherwise why would he have been so taken by you? If he knew why didn’t he come, why didn’t he want to see me? I needed a father, a living father. I felt cheated, replaced. And I can never forgive the pain he caused my mother. I went to Tokyo to find him and confront him, to beat him and make him recognize me as his daughter. But I was even cheated of that! I found upon my arrival that he had died a year ago. I found the old dojo he had established and prepared tea to commemorate his death and pay my repects. I saw your picture there, I saw that even with the years we still bear a striking resemblence to one another. That’s when you jumped in and almost caught me there. I couldn’t have that happen, the match had to be of my choice of place and my time… He
didn’t need me! He had you! For all my years without a father, you’ll pay. You’ll pay for all the loneliness, the pain. How can you understand pain? You live sheltered and have it easy. WHat do you care about the honor of Yoshimitsu? You never cared! You didn’t come back to this abandoned house and clean it, honor it, repair it. I did. I made it alive, again waiting, waiting, to give it the vengence it was seeking. Don’t you think I would rather do the things normal girls do? Go out, have fun. You destroyed that! You don’t understand pain…
“Now wait!” Matsuo exclaimed to the seething girl, “Mikeio has gone through more than you’ll ever imagine. Your reasons for this bout are irrelevant, worthless! You…”
“Minamo.” Mikeio interrupted. “Yoshimitsu Minamo, I Ichishita Mikeio-noh-Yoshimitsu formally accept you challenge.”
Both girls, their course of action decided, felt, though consumed with anger and hatred towards one another’s insults, unusually calm, cool – cold. The reasons for them had startling clarity. It was almost as if the two of them were fighting for a single identity. Minamo, finished with her work, turned and walked off towards the house. Without a word, Matsuo and Mikeio, too, returned to their rooms.
Upon entering the house, Mikeio made for Matsuo’s suite and opened his closet. Matsuo stood silently at the doorway, his face grim. Mikeio pulled open the sword case and grasped the Miko at the scabbard right below the hilt. She lifted the sword, leaving the Yoshitomo, and turned to leave. She balked once at the doorway where Matsuo was standing, then strode on through without a word. Disappointed in his friend, Matsuo slumped against the doorway and watched her walk down the hall.
* * *
“God! Isn’t she a babe.” Shunzei said absently. “Who?” Tom asked.
“That gorgeous Minamo.”
“Didn’t you notice that she looks so much like Mikeio?” Michelle asked.
“That’s what I mean.” Shunzei replied. “She’s wonderful. I wonder what she is doing right now. Didn’t you notice how she smiled at me?”
“No.” Tom said.
“Well, she did.”
“Oh.” Tom replied. Both he and Michelle were mildly amused, if not somewhat disgusted. Cindi, throughout the extent of the conversation, did not say a word. She was very hurt by Shunzei’s attitude. Ever since they had met in the hotel, she had been smitten by him, and as she got to know him better, she was amused and became impressed by his antics. Now finding out that his interest had been on Mikeio, crushed her. Quietly, she turned away from the others, rose, and left the room.
“So what’s wrong with her?” Shunzei asked, completely ignorant of the matter.
“I don’t know. I’d better see if she is okay.” replied Michelle.
|* * “Cindi, . . . wait a|
minute, Cindi, what’s wrong?”
“I…I don’t know.” she sobbed. “Do you want to talk about it?” “No,… I mean… yes.”
“Here, dry your tears.” she said profering a handkerchief. “Is it something we said, something that happened?”
Cindi bowed her head. “I…I feel so cheated. Like I’d been used.
“What do you mean? Cheated? When?” “Its just that he…I don’t know.” “I’m not sure I understand.”
“I’m not sure either.”
“Why don’t we start from the beginning. What’s wrong?” “It’s…it’s Shunzei, I know he’s a creep and
everything, but he’s… different, unique, you know, special.
He makes me feel so good sometimes and then lets me down like just now. He’s not interested in me. He likes Mikeio, I mean she does have it all, she’s pretty, smart, intelligent, and great to be around. What do…”
“You forgot to say that she is headstrong, torn by
grief, beset by hardship and really still hurts from the accident. I don’t think she’ll ever get over it.” interjected Michelle.
“What do I have that can compete?” Cindi continued sniffling and brushing aside Minamo’s comments.
“Well, you’re nice, every bit as intelligent as Mikeio, attractive, and have a lot of life.”
“Nice guys finish last. Anyway, Mikeio is that too.” “You’re jealous. You aren’t listening. You are as
every bit as good, even better than she is. Mikeio doesn’t even look at Shunzei! You are a person just as much as she is. You like him? He’ll come around.”
” I know, I know. It’s not Mikeio I’m mad at, I could handle all that, but Minamo had to show up. I mean, talk about a Mikeio substitute! Now I don’t have a chance.”
“All you can really do is try. If he comes around then all right, but if he doesn’t, then he wasn’t worth it. And he would have missed out on the best in the market.” Grinning, Michelle added facetiously, ” Except for me of course.”
“You think so?” “I know so.”
* * *
“What should I do?” thought Shunzei later on that evening in his room. “Something romantic, to charm the hell out of her.” He mused. “I should sweep her off her feet with a suave-as-hell line. But what? Or maybe better, I’ll find a florist and send her a dozen roses from her secret admirer, better yet, tell her who I am, and really get her going. Yeah, that’s it!”
Looking down the halls, Shunzei snuck out of his room in search of a late night florist. It was starting to sprinkle by the time he got out of the house, and as he rounded the corner of the building, the rain really started to pour. Stopping to reconsider, he noticed that he was right underneath Minamo’s window. A trellice with a creeping vine stood next to the wall. Shunzei looked up at the second story window, felt how wet he was, and pondered his options.
Thinking that it would be the romantic thing to do , he decided to climb the trellice and enter secretly, unannounced into Minamo’s room to charm her. The thought that Minamo might not like him never crossed his mind. His course of
action decided, Shunzei grasped the wood structure and mounted the trellice. As he climbed, vines and leaves tore at his face and hands. He wondered if other heros had it this hard when climbing to the damsel’s parlour. Mid-way to the sill, the trellice, unacustomed to the weight of a person, started to crack and soon gave way under the extreme pressure. Off balanced, Shunzei’s grip lossened and he came tumbling down into a mud puddle. He landed feet first, but his ankle painfully twisted and he sat down hard into the puddle.
Minamo, disturbed by the noise looked outside and found the embarrased boy trying to clean off the mud with is hands. Seeing the object of his quest looking at him in that state, Shunzei stood up, but imediately collapsed in pain from his injured ankle. Disgusted, Minamo walked through the halls to Tom’s room and told him that his friend was outside in the rain and needed his help. Then she turned around and walked back to her room. Tom called the others together, and armed with umbrellas, went outside to get their friend. When they arrived, they looked at him questioningly and he smiled back sheepishly. When asked how it happened, he gave a weak excuse. The others pursued it no farther but each had in their own minds, an inkling of what had happened. Being in great pain Shunzei had to be carried in by Tom and Matsuo while the girls sheltered them from the rain with their umbrellas.
* * *
The next morning, Shunzei came down with an awful cold from his exposure to the rain and his ankle swelled to gargantuan proportions. The others offered to stay, but he bade them to go sightseeing without him. Cindi shyly stayed behind.
Mikeio started training with the same vigor that preceeded the Kendo match back in the states. This met only with disapproval from Matsuo, not because he didn’t approve of her training, but because of her intentions for the training. Minamo and Mikeio both trained in the dojo. They stayed in their respective halves of the room but were constantly on the lookout for weaknesses in each other’s form. Neither of them was worried about revealing a secret move to the other as both practiced identical styles and forms. In the four days alloted for training for the bout, Mikeio and Matsuo hardly said a word to the other. Tom and Michelle wandered the countryside finding a wealth of culture and beauty to see, while Shunzei and Cindi discovered feelings between them, before unexpressed and unknown. Shunzei was touched deeply by Cindi’s devotion, and found in her, the book, not the cover. He found her caring, much more pleasant than his overtures to either Mikeio and Minamo, and wondered why he had never noticed Cindi before.
The night before the match, Matsuo sought out Mikeio in her room and confronted her with his concerns. Expressing the fact that Mikeio was not emotionally prepared for this bout disturbed her very little. In retalliation, she cited the Kendo tournament she participated in and pointed out the fact that besides her emotional trauma, had excelled and beaten all her opponents. In the course of the arguement, she conveniently forgot the lesson she had learned as a result of that tourney. She had forgotten the futility of violence to assauge emotional problems and focused only on the conflict between Minamo and herself. Matsuo, after this attempt, then told her that she could not beat her, that Minamo was too good, better than she. Indignant though self-concious of the truth, Mikeio tried to stave off this attack by blurting that even if Minamo were better, maybe she could win by getting in a lucky blow. Disappointed in her and seeing the futility in the arguement, Matsuo left, leaving Mikeio very uncomfortable and consumed with self doubt.
* * *
Mikeio looked at the stars and wondered if He were still there, there with the love that only she could see now who, she asked, was really crazy. As she drifted to sleep sitting upright, in her mind, a form coalesed and began to take shape. As the features defined, she saw ——- standing there smiling at her. She shrank back as he offered his hand, but irresistably followed. When her hand made contact, he did not dissolve as before nor was he totally tangible either. Not realizing that she was asleep, she stammered whether or not he were a ghost. The apparition smiled and reassured her that he wasn’t. In this dream, he seemed warmer, more perfect than ever, he was —— and Matsuo wrapped into one, lacking all their faults and retaining only the best, agreeing with her thoughts, her principles. He, in her mind, strongly supported her decision to fight, too strongly, for Mikeio felt a wave of doubt in this judgement. Slowly, in the course of the conversation, he began to fade. Not violently, like the previous dreams, but pleasantly and calmly, until Mikeio was left satisfied, alone in a void of dreams.
In the background she heard the `Cha-no-yu’, not as she played it but as her Sensei had, slow, mournful, full of emotion. In her dream the void wavered and in startling clarity, she saw the bout her sensei and his brother fought, the mistake he made and the grief that followed. She felt as he felt, the pain of death, the seeming reponsibility for it. upon this dream she could see superimposed the impending match and possible similar results. She then realized that although the grief was the same, the circumstances were different with ——. In that accident, she had no
control of the results, it was unavoidable, whereas, in her Sensei’s bout as well as in hers, it was. If she did fight the next day, and lost, then, again, _—–‘s death would have been in vain. And if she won, then she would have done what her Sensei tried his whole life to avoid repeating. Her sensei had known what could happen and had made provisions for it; Matsuo, the Miko, and the name: Yoshimitsu, for which she had to uphold the honor for. Then the false clarity cleared and the true path laid before her. The Miko was indeed the infitessemal line between good and evil in a person. The Miko was the answer. Under this revalation she woke and heard that the `Cha-no-yu’ was really being played by Minamo in the depths of the castle. It had invaded her dreams and showed her the light. She thought of her friends, her sensei, —–, Matsuo and finally Minamo and silently, she shed a tear to the dissention between them.
* * *
Minamo saddened by the rememberance of her mother, lowered the flute from her lips at the end of the song. However, bent on destruction, she had no lack of self- confidence or doubts about the impending battle as Mikeio had. Perhaps in the back of her mind she knew what she was doing was wrong, but her obsession and her frustration-spawned hatred consumed her. On her wall was an eight-by-ten of Mikeio. She sat in the middle of the room almost ritualisticly studying the lines and contours of her face. Then in a hand mirror, she looked at her own. In her mind, they were the same person, a single identity, the good and evil side of a single girl. It was Mikeio, she felt, that she had to extirpate from her life in order to achieve peace. Mikeio was the evil in her life, the dark side of her, a mockery of her image. Looking once again at the picture, she took into one delicate hand, a keen knife, and the other, a few strands of fine lustrous fibers. Measuring out the length with her hand, she raised the knife and with deft strokes cut her long hair off. With the speed and abruptness of the strokes, one would almost have expected blood to spurt from the ends. Lock after lock rained around her before she was finished. Then, feeling like a newly-shorn lamb, she looked back into the mirror to observe her handiwork. The job was rough and not neat but the hair which reached down to her mid-neck, curled just slightly inwards. With a bamboo comb, she straightened her hair to the best of her abilities. Then she looked at the mirror, then the picture and her mirror again. There was no difference. In tears, and with a cry of anger, she hurled the mirror at the the picture. The glass shattered into a myriad of fragments, each reflecting a different color. The gods had cheated, they had made two from the same mold.
* * *
Early the next morning the rays light eerily diffused through the dark clouds to give the semblence of light to the day. The friends gathered inside the dojo which had been prepared for the occasion Michelle draped on Tom’s arm and Cindi on Shunzei’s, though sick, he had turned out for the event. on each end, a bucket of water stood with a bamboo dipper ready to purify the combattants before the bout. Next to the water rested an oak bokken in a cedar swordstand. And draped over the sword was a folded head band. The combattants came through the door simultaneously. The morning mist whisped into the warm room as the eerie light sihlouetted the two girls. Their features indistinct by the effect, it was hard for the others to distinguish who was Mikeio and who was Minamo. Among the spectators, only Matsuo knew that this was no ordinary bout. The others thought this was just a demonstration in the style of the clan. However, they began to feel a little bit uneasy as they felt the heaviness of the situation pervade the room. The girls, now defined each with their own individual characteristics went to opposite ends of the dojo. Saddened by the upcoming event, Matsuo left the dojo. Unperturbed, both girls washed their feet, faces and hands with the water provided. Backs to each other, they then took the clean white cloth and tied it around their foreheads. Minamo finished first, grasped the bokken beneath the hilt and lifted it from its stand. Mikeio, after tying her band, knelt, as if in prayer. Minamo turned and with one hand, flipped the sword so that the pommel was in her hand and she stood in a `ready’ position. What she found at the other side of the room was unexpected. Mikeio had unwrapped a real sword and was kneeling with it in the middle of the room. The bokken remained behind her in its stand.
“You…you coward!” Minamo hissed. “You knew you couldn’t beat me fairly and honorably, so you brought a real sword to beat me. Not any sword either, but your Sensei’s sword! My family’s sword! You dishonor your sensei once again, but you are a fool. I saw you train and even now, you will lose.”
The words had their effect and Mikeio reddened in anger at the insult, but after closing her eyes she controlled her breathing and her anger, and looked up once more. Slowly, making no false
moves about her intentions, she offered the sword, the Miko, to her double.
“What? What is this? Why are you giving me the sword? Are you so prepared to die?” she asked increduously as she walked to the middle of the room. “You know you are going to lose aren’t you? You are afraid that I will humiliate you or kill you in front of your friends. You are afraid for your life. There is more honor in dying in battle than to grovel like this. Stand up and fight! “
“No, Minamo-san I am not humbling myself for fear of my own life out but for the honor of my sensei and your father. And because I respected my teacher and his Way beyond imagination, and because he was as much to me if not more than my own father, there is no way, in honor, that I can fight my Sensei’s daughter. Giri, duty, commands me to kneel before you and beg the forgiveness of my teacher and what he had done. I beg the forgiveness of you for the death of his brother, and the pain he has caused you and your mother. He loved you both very much.”
Tears unwillingly formed in Minamo’s eyes at Mikeio’s submission. Yet feeling cheated of satisfation, she knocked the Miko from Mikeio’s hands. Mikeio scrambled after the sword and once again bowed very low, as a retainer would his lord, and offered the sword. Tormented by the conflict between the hatred and gratitude in her heart, Minamo was in a state of emotional confusion. Her hatred continued to push her towards beating Mikeio, but unwillingly, reason told her that Mikeio had already given her what she wanted, the acknowledgement by her father and herself. Hatred surged again as she cast away her bokken and tore the sword from Mikeio’s grasp. With an abrupt motion, the sword hissed as she drew the sword and poised for the kill. Mikeio bent her head in sorrow that Minamo could not realize the honor that her family stood for. Minamo swung hard and Cindi screamed.
* * *
In mid-swing, with all her discipline and skill, Minamo checked her swing turned the force to one of the beams. The perfect edged sword cut half-way through the solid-oak beam and became permanantly lodged there. Minamo turned back to Mikeio sweating profusely. Mikeio who had prepared herself for death had not moved once. Her head remained down and she still kneeled before Minamo as before. Minamo, crying, knelt across from Mikeio and begged her forgiveness. Mikeio, almost in a trance was oblivious to her surroundings. She could see, however, —— stand, wave, and turn away into the mists. When Cindi and the others, who were in shock as well, came to the two girls, they found Mikeio’s kimono drenched and cold. Even Mikeio’s skin was cold, Tom shook her and got no response. Minamo shed her outer kimono and covered Mikeio. Together, they took her into the house. Matsuo, who had been in the house waiting for the worst, ran to them, took the tired girl into his arms and carried her upstairs. Putting her in bed, he cried for her.
Mikeio didn’t wake until the next day wherein she found herself drained but ephermally calm. Her guilt had vanished and she felt almost holy. Bathing, then dressing in the kimono put out for her, she decended the stairs and returned to the world of the living. The first person she saw was
Minamo praying in front of the family altar. Minamo, seeing that Mikeio was up, ran with almost a childish relief and hugged her. Grateful for the expression, Mikeio returned the hug. The others save Matsuo found them and expressed their relief at her recovery. Asking where Matsuo was, they told Mikeio that he had gone to the little fishing pier on the beach. Minamo pressed a box into Mikeio’s hand and pushed her towards that direction. Mikeio opened the box and found a lacquered flute. As she walked towards the beach, she passed by the dojo and saw imbedded in the center support, the Miko. From its handle hung its scabbard, and a sign, written in Minamo’s flawless caligraphy had been nailed above it. It read:
All future generations of Yoshimitsu know that this sword is the symbol of the honor of Yoshimitsu and the brothers and sisters bearing our name must keep in mind to never fight among one another. Strength lies in the unity of the mind, the soul, and the family, not the fist. This was revealed to me on the summer of 1987 by my sister, Ichishita Mikeio-noh-Yoshimitsu.
Yoshimitsu Minamo August 12, 1987
Mikeio smiled and a tear of gratitude at her own acknowledgement rolled down her cheek. She looked back at the house then went on her way. As she neared the water, her steps slowed. She saw Matsuo sitting on the edge of the low pier and staring out across the ocean. Mikeio slipped off her straw sandals and removed her zori, split-toe socks. She rose the flute to her lips and played the `Cha-no-yu’ in its entirety. Matsuo turned and rose. They walked to each other as the song reached it’s crecendo and faded away into the morning light. The others saw them embrace sihlouetted by the rising sun and were very satisfied.
* * *
Mikeio sat in her room in her apartment in Tokyo the day before her classes at the New Tokyo University was scheduled to start and pondered her summer. As she closed her eyes in the bright sun, she saw Matsuo, Minamo, Shunzei, Cindi, Michelle and Tom. She saw too her Sensei and of course
——- pleasant memories coursed through her mind.
——-, he who started it all. She remembered then the image of —— when he talked to her before the bout. and remembered him as he was when he was alive. Then taking pen in hand, she started a story. ——- would be her main character. In that way he would always be alive, for all eternity:
“United Airlines flight 069 from Orange County arriving at Gate 17, please step to the baggage claim area.”
Albert Chen walked through the gates into the spacious terminal beyond…