August 9, 2010

Okurokami - part 8

The village was a modest assembly of wooden houses on either side of earthen road. It sported an inn, a small Buddhist temple, a scattering of shops, an official building, a inn/restaurant, and even its own gambling den. These things make the village larger and more important than any of villages nearby but it certainly fails to qualify it as a city. An ancient priest sat on the temple’s wooden steps peacefully enjoying a sunbeam. He looked as if he had been sitting there forever. Teruro and Takeko said hello and the old monk seem to come to life. Teruro struck up a conversation with the old priest about woodcarving who insisted they should come into the temple to see a famous carving of Hachiman Hachiman. An hour later, Takeko spurred by hunger and disinterest gently coaxed Teruro away from the sculptures to say goodbye to the priest and get going to the restaurant again.
Famous Hachiman sculpture by Kaikei
They removed their sandals in the inn’s entrance. Teruro noticed five other pairs that, judging from their make and state, belonged to chojin, and rather unkempt ones at that- or perhaps to some disreputable ronins. A quick look inside the restaurant's main room revealed four shabbily dressed young men with swords seated around a table eating and drinking rambunctiously. Teruro tsked and wondered if they should enter at all. He thought that perhaps it would be best to avoid the trouble that was bound to occur by going somewhere else for food. He turned to tell Takeko, only to find that she had already entered the room and had seated herself. Teruro shrugged, went inside, and sat down next to her.

The nervous looking inn-keeper came and Teruro ordered two platters of soba with chopped spring-onions… The man was about to leave when Takeko added: “Oh and give me a bowl of white rice with bunch of umeboshi!” Her order was met with raucous laughter and chatter from the ronin’s table.
“Ha it’s a woman! I thought it was a boy!” the first ronin stage whispered.
“It eats like a monk, maybe it was sour plums that made her hair fall out.” The second ronin replied.
“Get a load of the guy she’s with… he looks… hmm.” The third leaned forward and whispered something to the first two ronin while shooting looks at Teruro’s daisho. The ronin resumed their raucous revelry but the tone had subtly changed.

Teruro noted that the fourth ronin contrasted with the other three: though he too drank in great amounts, as demonstrated by the collection of empty sake jars in front him, he was quiet and sat straight-backed with his legs neatly tucked beneath him. His katana’s hilt and his simple clothes seemed weather-worn but of good make. His hair was tied back in a messy plume like pony tail that extended down to his waist. His companions, on the other hand were red faced from shouting and drinking, were sprawled untidily on the floor noisily singing lewd songs or bickering amongst themselves.

The innkeeper reappeared, set the food out, collected the money Teruro had set on the table and hurriedly scurried into a back room. Takeko whispered to Teruro “Hey, isn’t that the guy?”

Shinto god of war and protector of the Japanese people.(back)


Buck wheat noodles often eaten chilled in the summer, served with a soy based dipping sauce.(back)

Pickled plums.(back)

Daisho literally means big small. It used to describe a katana worn or displayed with a wakizashi (long and middle sized swords).(back)