She has plucked flowers from the surface of the water even when her reflection in it is dark. “Blossoms and Shadows” Lian Hearn
I’d managed to convince Arabella to accompany me on a trip to Japan. As I’m her high school Japanese language teacher it hadn’t been hard to obtain permission from her Aunt Sarah and Uncle Alfred. Sarah and Alf became Arabella’s legal guardians after her parents were killed in a vehicle accident, six short months ago.
“It’ll be good for her, Katherine.” Sarah had said. “She’s like a lost soul since Jim and Alice died, and she can’t make up her mind what to do when high school finishes at the end of the year. Maybe you’ll have a chance to talk to her about it.”
Alf readily agreed, “Yes, it will, but are you sure Kath? Isn’t it going to be expensive?” All was settled once I told them I had a study grant which allowed me to take someone along with me. “It’ll be great,” I told them “We’ll speak Japanese the whole time and Arabella will be quite fluent by the time we return home.”
Once in Osaka we found our accommodation and immediately set out to explore. We bought tickets at the JR station and caught the train to Nara to see Todajji, the oldest wooden building in the world and the home of the huge Buddha statues. After that we visited the Golden Palace, the Zen Gardens, and the Museum. Our shopping addictions were indulged at the shortengai, and we watched little children feeding deer in the park. There was so much to see, all of it beautiful, clean and well ordered.
For two weeks we caught trains, busses and taxis determined to see all we could during our short stay. The weather was freezing, but we rugged up in coats, scarves and gloves. When on our way home at night we kept warm by the braziers of the Okonomiaki shop, filling ourselves with the hot pancake like food, then back to our hotel and warm beds.
Kobe had been worth the visit and we saw the memorial to the earthquake of ‘97 with its perpendicular lamp posts, pushed up blocks of concrete and damaged sites.
We managed to get tickets for a sumo competition in Kyoto and we watched the great ichiban wrestler Takanahawa lose his bout.
We went to Osaka Jo, the shogun palace in Osaka which is surrounded by a great moat. The guide book told us there had originally been seven moats; the outer moat had been where the modern basketball stadium can be seen in the distance when standing on the top floor of the palace.
Arabella and I listened to William as his pretty Japanese wife Tomo refilled our tea cups. William and I had gone through teachers college together and we’d kept in touch over the years. We were invited to spend our last evening in Osaka dining with him and Tomo.
After dinner our host, who was then renting the place, told us that the house was of historical significance. I suppose I wasn’t surprised to hear it. Everything we’d visited over the past two weeks was of obvious and breathtaking antiquity.
“This house was once a tea house and it’s said to have been visited on occasion by the last Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, though he was commonly known as Keiki. He was eventually overthrown and he abdicated his position to lead a quiet life in the town of Shizuoka. There is a more famous tea house where the secret negotiations to overthrow Keiki were held by the young men who took part in what is known as the Meiji Restoration. You can see photographs of some of them there. Lian Hearn mentions it in her latest book, which is based on their history.”
Arabella was enthralled as William went on to tell tales of the wars and exploits of young men, many of whom lost their lives in the battles, some by the ancient tradition which compelled them to suicide. “I wish we had time to travel to that tea house and see their photos.” she said now. William looked at Tomo who quickly left the room to return with a bundle tied with a thin ribbon. “I’ve obtained copies of them.” William smiled as he held them out to Arabella.
The next morning was our farewell to Japan. It was near to the first day of spring and the weather had turned suddenly hot. Cherry blossoms had begun to appear and the air was comfortably warm. Arabella and I boarded the train that would take us to Kansai for the flight home.
“I’ve decided what I want to do next year,” she said turning to me with a happy smile. “I’m going to apply to go to university and major in history.”
I nodded and squeezed her hand. “Would you like something to read on the trip home?” I asked, handing her my copy of Lian Hearn’s book “Blossoms and Shadows”
Shirley Chalmers Copyright 2012 – With thanks to Lian Hearn for her wonderful novels ‘Tales of the Otori”