August 3, 2010

Okurokami - part 7

The grass bordering the path was still wet with dew. Dawn had come and gone, taking with it the stars and the night sky. Teruro and Takeko had already been walking for several hours and the peaceful bamboo forest of Sagano was well behind them. As they walk, Teruro passed time by sharing a story from his childhood…

He recalled a walk he had had once, long ago, with his grand uncle who had retired from politics to become a hermit tea master. His name was Magunojo Sekishusaï, he was eighty at the time and often claimed he would live to be a hundred. Teruro, on the other hand, was only three years past his first hakama. He was wearing an indigo hakama and a carmine kimono with a matching haori. His long unshaven hair was gathered in a glossy black ponytail that swished softly as he walked. The elder Magunojo patriarch and the eight-year-old Teruro had gone for a walk upon the lower slopes of the Kasagi mountains when Sekishusaï taught the boy a lesson about life that would stay with him throughout his.

They had just reached a slight overhang that afforded them a breathtaking view of the valley, the village far bellow, and forested slopes that mark the horizon on both sides of the valley when Sekishusaï called for a halt. He took a seat on a boulder and motioned for Teruro to take a seat beside him. The old man gazed intently at the beautiful scenery with a warm smile and at first, the young Teruro followed suit. Ten minutes passed, thirty, then forty... Still the old man hadn't moved, and so young Teruro began to squirm with boredom for truly he saw little point in just gazing about and would rather have been exploring the woods and climbing the nearby trees, only respect for his great grand uncle kept young Teruro from interrupting Sekishushai's contemplation by asking for permission to go play. After two hours or so the child was about ready to explode with agitation and then Sekishusai slowly turned towards the child beamed at him with a gentle smile that was permeated with softness, patience and warmth. In Teruro's memory, Sekishusai had an air of Buddha-hood even more so with the sunbeam that seemed to have chosen to halo the gentle old man.

"So Teruro, what have you learned about yourself. Have you learned your lesson child?"
The blank look of guilt and surprise on the boy's face answered more eloquently than his words, "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you say anything."
"Not all lessons need to be heard for to be learned, not all teachers need to speak for to teach. For those who are aware wisdom can be grasped from thin air." was the old man's cryptic reply before he resumed looking in the distance.
"I... I don't understand."
"Take your time and think about it.” Sekishusaï answered without even looking away from the horizon.
The young Teruro furrowed his brows in concentration and buried his chin in his palm as he tried to understand what he had just been told.

Time passed, the sun had completed its journey eastwards and the slim crescent of the new moon was high overhead when Teruro finally lifted his chin from his cupped palms.

"I understand now." Young Teruro said quietly.
"Why don't you explain it to me, child." The old man said with a soft smile.
"Haï... So:
- ‘Not all lessons need to be heard for to be learnt’ means that lessons aren't always words spoken aloud
- ‘Not all teachers need to speak for to teach’ means that not all teachers are people and that the teacher doesn't always have to be the one giving the lesson: the student can acquire his lessons for himself. (but this means that the student must choose both lessons and teachers carefully doesn't it uncle?)
- ‘For those who are aware wisdom can be grasped from thin air’ means that if the student is paying attention to everything around him he can learn from anything.

That's correct, isn't it uncle?" the boy said, smiling proudly.
The elderly man laughed softly, "Your words were true, but they were naught more than my own reflected by you. You've demonstrated having understood the finger but where does it point? Have you discovered that?"
"Uhm..." the proud smile on Teruro's face faded away and was replaced by a serious frown of concentration to which it was yet unaccustomed, "... I think I have. It's about patience and attentiveness isn't it. You asked me what I had learned about myself, I... uh... suppose that from the fact that I had lost patience after only a few hours teaches me that I lack patience and if I lack patience I can't pay enough attention to everything around me..." young Teruro stated uncertainly.
The old man laughed kindly "That is correct, but if the finger were pointing to a star, you'd just have taken the first step onto the stairs reaching the heavens. The first step is to look away from the finger. You've learned something through this first step, apply it and climb the stairs…" the old man trailed off and seemed to have returned to his contemplation. A few minutes later he murmured, as if to himself, "Aren't the trees magnificent, few are the regions than can boast having so many old trees." Young Teruro wrinkled his youthful brow in concentration, pinched the base of his nose between his thumb and his forefinger and steam may have trickled from his ears as he strived to find the hidden meaning of this statement. The old man and the grandson stayed thus for a while. Teruro jokingly said that it had like four days, but that in truth it was probably closer to a couple hours.

"Aha! I got it!" he said he snapped his closed fist into his open palm with a toss of his ponytail. "The trees here are older because they haven't been killed or burned by marauding armies in wars. Which means that this region has been in peace for a long long time, it also means that the commoners live well and that haven't had the need to chop wood to earn a living. This teaches me about myself that I come from a family that has, for many generations, served a noble family which in turn has preserved the peace and brought prosperity to the people by their wise governing. But then if peace is the way of prosperity should I not abandon my studies of the way of the sword and the art of war that stems from it?" he queried, his two youthful brown eyes open wide with the surprise of discovery and revelation.

"It is a thought worthy of you child but no, do not. Do you believe that a potter could sculpt a teacup if he had neither his hands nor the tools his trade? Of course, he may still be able to dream his creation but without his hands and tools his dream could never achieve reality. Like wise, the way of the sword is the hand by which you may sculpt the clay that is your life, that is your birthright, that is the life of a warrior. The way of the sword is much more than mere exchanges of blows or even knowledge of war strategy, the way of the sword is knowledge of life and a means of sculpting it into a work of art that is ever perfectible until it reaches the unattainable perfection. Do not lose your self on the way and become a potter whose sole tool is a hammer, with the power to control and sculpt life comes the power to take life. You will often find yourself in need to do so and thus, when you must, do so with no hesitation nor doubt, killing is normal part of the path but it is never the objective in itself. You must ponder this deeply... Child you have shown tonight that you have intelligence beyond your years, if you strive upon your path you have the means of becoming a worthy descendant of the Magunojo family. Now why don't we go home and get some food; all this seriousness has made me hungry..." the old man gravely concluded, his eyes brimming with laughter.

“But enough about my past… Speaking of eating, we’re coming up on a village… Shall we eat there?” asked Teruro.
“Yes, lets. I’m getting quite hungry... I hope we can get Umeboshi. Hey what is that guy doing?”
The dirt path leading to the town followed the course of a lazy river and a young man was standing thigh deep in the water. The young man's scarred torso was bare and his uncommonly well-developed muscles glistened with sweat under the midday sun's glare. His face was unshaven, and his unkempt hair tied back in long a sloppy ponytail; it swung around as he turned his head about to keep track of something that even Takeko’s archery trained eye could not see. Suddenly the young man's hand flashed out and seemed to grab at the air. He then grinned broadly, his teeth flashing whitely in his darkly tanned face. It was then that they understood that the young man had just caught a fly.

As our travellers wondered why the strange stranger was catching flies, the aforementioned fly was carefully put onto the water. The young man then grasped a ridiculously over-sized black suburitô from the river bottom where he had planted it. The stranger assumed a ready stance with his long and heavy wooden training sword and waited. After a few minutes Takeko and Teruro moved on. They had just passed the young man when they heard a roar and a great splash behind them. Takeko turned around and saw expanding circles of rippling water where the man had stood… After a few moments he surfaced grinning brightly, holding up a large flapping trout. Takeko waved hello and laughed when the man dropped his catch as he waved back. The young man dived after his lunch and Takeko hurried to catch up with Teruro, who was headed towards the village.

Baggy pants, first pair of which boys are given during a ceremony when they are five.(back)

Traditionally, young nobles dressed colorfully.(back)

The shaven head and topknot called sakayaki was first done at the genbuku ceremony where the 16 year old boy officially entered adulthood.(back)

Pickled plums, very sour, not to everyone's liking (I lovem).(back)