Tag Archives: Japan

A Risky Conversation

This week for #SaitoSaturday I decided to give a little bit more of a clue than usual, because while Kagami gets a lot of love (he’s the namesake of the book, poor dear, and thus doomed), Akira gets…much less. Therefore, it’s back to chapter three, draft two, for a bit of a snippet that expands on an excerpt from a few weeks ago. Akira enters the fray via Taira Arashi, he-who-is-a-dragon-bastard, and one Watanabe Sakiko, she-who-is-a-pain-in-the-ass. Of course, he doesn’t know this yet, but he will…


The low, black throbbing of Taira Arashi’s laughter followed Akira out of his office and into the elevator, with the woman, Watanabe-san, right behind him. As they stepped out onto gold-veined marble of the first floor foyer, she smiled at him, almost a grin. “You did well, Saito-san. I’ve seen very few men hold their ground against Taira-sama.”
“And this amuses you.” It did not amuse him.
“Oh, yes.” If she was aware of Akira’s irritation, Watanabe-san didn’t show it. “What is that old saying, laughter or tears? Perhaps you should keep it in mind, Saito-san.”
Shaking his head, Akira tugged at the hem of his jacket and scanned the foyer. The two of them seemed to be the only humans, at least judging by the breadth of the smiles aimed in his direction, their fanged promises. No one approached them, and yet he felt the weight of many eyes, much attention, and shuddered. “How do you work with him, Watanabe-san?”
She did not meet his eyes, scanned the room for a moment then slanted her gaze into the shadow of her own hair. “How? I wonder. Perhaps, as he said, it is just because this is a different time. Another era.”
Akira snorted, then cleared his throat . “Apologies, Watanabe-san. I… Having heard the stories of my parents and grandparents, I can’t see how anything is changed. ”
Widening her eyes at him, she leaned closer. “No? Your job exists, doesn’t it? A hundred years ago there were no human police.”
“And what good does it do?” He kept his voice quiet, but Akira couldn’t let her statement go without challenge. “Eight out of ten cases reported are dropped, because in eight out of ten cases, the perpetrators are yokai. And that line? That’s where we lose all jurisdiction.”
There was something blase in her shrug, and she sashayed away from him, catching up with her gaze over her shoulder, pulling him along behind her with it. He followed because he had to, but she seemed to think it was her due. “Don’t such things make you eager to follow Taira-sama’s instructions? To make a place for yourself here in Asakusa, to expand your sphere of influence?” Watanabe-san settled herself on a soft couch and gestured at the chair across from her. “The lines one cannot cross, one must patrol…or at least observe carefully, even from a distance. Is that not so?”
This woman. There was something strange in her smile, in her sudden sadness. Akira settled himself gingerly, trusting not even in the furniture in this place, and nodded slowly as he contemplated the woman and her words. Even her name was suggestive. “Perhaps we will be so lucky. Watanabe-san, I hope you don’t mind the question, but are you of any relation to Watanabe Jiro, head of the Relations commission?”
“The judge of YAMA?” Her laughter was very soft. “You could say that. He’s my husband.”
“Your – husband.” Akira blinked at her in confusion, then leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “You’re married to the head of YAMA, and you work with Taira-sama?”
She hummed her affirmation, tapping her fingers on the arm of the couch, tilting her head as she smiled at him. “This surprises you? But my husband also works with yokai.”
Shrugging, Akira narrowed his gaze at her. As if the two were the same thing. “Of course, but -”
“And it is you and your work we should be discussing, Saito-san.”
The sharpness of her words stopped Akira short. Again, something…off stuck out to him, as if the edges of his woman’s presence were prickly, too hot, thorn-studded…something. “Ah…” Was there a flame in the flicker of her eyes, a glow burning brighter? No, couldn’t be. Just the florescence of the overhead lights. “Right. I apologize.”


*Interested in where this all begins? Check out the first KAGAMI post, which starts at the beginning of the book!

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Secrets of the Soak

To go along with the excerpts from KAGAMI, and to expand a bit on pieces of Japanese culture and life that pop up now and then, Sugoi! posts are here, starting with number one (this one): secrets of the soak!

With Japanese culture making waves in the West, a number of things have started to stick out as “different”. Some of them are pretty obvious, but at the same time, ‘obvious’ observations come with some…well, not-so-obvious limitations. Manners and customs, like anything else, grow up in a culture over many years, and generally for a reason (even if the reason has been forgotten). You can’t see them just by looking at a thing, and it takes time to adapt to new manners and traditions – but it helps to know what you’re getting into before you literally get into it!

A Little Bit Of History

Everything about bathing in Japan, including the bathroom itself – the ofuraba – is just a little different. The story of the Japanese bath starts with the onsen and sento. An onsen is the kind of bath that we’d all love to vacation at: a natural hot spring.

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An onsen at Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan

Since the Japanese islands are volcanic, hot springs are all over the place, and have traditionally served as public baths. Fun fact – the oldest hotel in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is Japan’s Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan – it’s been operating since 705 AD! As the name gives away, the Keiunkan’s onsen are one of its main attractions. But despite the fact that Japan is volcanic, there aren’t an infinite number of hot springs, so as the population grew, sento sprang up to fill the gaps. Just like the onsen, sento serve as public bathhouses, but instead of hot springs, they’re more like a bath at home. There are generally showers and/or faucets to bathe with, along with pools for relaxation, but they’re just filled with heated tap water.

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An Edo or early Meiji period sento: note the lack of male bathers, as well as the buckets being used to wash outside the baths proper.

Sento can be traced back to the Nara period, during the 700’s, when Buddhism started making inroads in Japan. Steam baths in temples became commercial bathhouses over the course of several hundred years (there’s mention of one in 1266), but these were still steam baths – tiny, dark, humid rooms where a patron was sent with their hot water ration, since there were no faucets yet. Skip ahead a few centuries more to the Edo period, and by the 1800’s, baths were beginning to look more like one might find in a modern sento.

Keep in mind, both onsen and sento are public baths, and traditionally, kon’yoku, or mixed-gender bathing, was allowed. However, during the 1800’s, kon’yoku was gradually banned more and more as Japan was opened to the West, making it rare nowadays to find a bath that offers such an option. And of course, as it became easier and more affordable to have a bath at home, fewer people frequented the public baths in general. Modern Japan’s houses and apartments have their own baths, just as in the West, even if a Japanese ofuraba isn’t much like a Western bathroom. Sento linger, regardless, as places for people to bond and as cultural centers that serve as a reminder of old times. Onsen are now an enormous part of the Japanese tourist industry, but they’re also a fixture of the modern Japanese lifestyle. Not much beats a weekend at a hot spring!

Inside The Ofuraba

Now, to the important stuff! If you’ve read the scene I posted, or are an anime person (I see you, otaku!), you’ll be familiar with the fact that the ofuraba is nothing like a Western bathroom.

Classic-Japanese-bath-with-simple-teak-stool-and-daft-use-of-stone
An ofuraba.

Firstly, ofuraba is better translated as ‘bathing room’ than ‘bathroom’, because toilets in Japan have their own space – they aren’t in the same room as the bath. Secondly, the ofuraba is usually a smaller room than Western bathrooms, often like a walk-in shower with the tub along one wall. Finally, ofuro, Japanese bathtubs, are deeper than Western tubs, but also smaller. They’re meant for soaking, not for “bathing” in the sense of washing.

asian-bathroom
A modern ofuro. Note the showerhead and bathing accessories outside!

Ofuro themselves used to be nothing more than wooden boxes, or even cauldrons with a fire underneath, but like everything else these days, technology has gone to work on them. Now you can find ofuro made of exotic materials, with all kinds of upgrades like the ones that come with Western bathtubs. The shape, however, remains classically Japanese, and a square tub with flat sides that don’t slope makes a definite change from a Western tub.

But the strangest part about bathing in Japan for a Westerner is probably the process of bathing itself. Instead of soaping up in the tub, or just climbing into a tub of hot water and rinsing in the shower afterward, ofuro are meant for soaking after you’ve already washed. When you walk into the ofuraba, you scrub off first, outside the ofuro. Usually that means showering – Japan is probably the number one place in the world for movable showerhead-hoses. In more old-fashioned homes, the bucket-and-rinse method is still used, but in either case, it’s a huge faux pas to enter the bath without having at least rinsed off first.

covered ofuro
An ofuro with its cover on.

It’s just as important you make sure not to get soap in the yubune – the bathwater – as it is to make sure you scrub beforehand! Often the bathwater isn’t changed between soakers, but daily. Instead, the ofuro and yubune are covered while not being used, much like a jacuzzi, and the water is reheated later – though these days, recirculation systems make it easy to keep the water hot.

It’s also not uncommon for people to bathe together, even at home in ‘private’ baths. There’s the obvious necessity of making sure kids get clean, which means families tend to bathe together, but more than that, bathing is a ritual in Japan that promotes closeness. There’s even a special term for it: hadaka no tsukiai, which translates roughly to “naked communion”, or “skinship”. The idea is that in the relaxed, necessary openness enforced by nudity, people bond more easily and honestly. This has been important enough that older Japanese people are expressing concern for modern children, who are growing up without the custom of public bathing. As to whether or not the custom dies out completely, only time will tell.

bath screen
A bath scene by Toyohara, showing an old-fashioned mixed bath.

Regardless of whether one bathes alone or with others, the idea of bathing as leisure time, as well as something beneficial to health and hygiene, is deeply engrained in Japanese culture. It’s a lifestyle I’m having fun adapting as I write. I don’t have a furo, but a nice long soak is a wonderful way to relax…and contemplate the next thing Sugoi!

P.S: For those wondering how I picture Akira’s ofuraba, the one described in the excerpt, take a look at this little gem! It’s even got a shoji in the background (a Japanese sliding door) and what I can only imagine is a grumpy Kagami, soaking alone!Noodle In Bath

That Shower Scene

This week for #TeaserTuesday I decided…to expand on last week’s excerpt! Remember this hint of a scene? Have some more – but not too much! (And it’s still a wee bit NSFW, so read carefully.) As Kagami can attest, Akira is a distracting bathing companion…


The walls and floor of the ofuraba were both tiled with raw, grey stone – everywhere but a little window set in the wall above the ofuro. Mesmerized, Kagami stared while Akira turned on the tap, and the deep, square tub started to fill with steaming water. There was a drain set into the floor, with a short wooden stool above it and a wide, flat bucket with a washcloth in it set to one side, but Kagami had no idea what all this stuff was for.* Before he could ask, he was distracted from his perusal.
kagami sees an akira     Akira stripped off his shirt, was suddenly half-naked, and the shifting muscles under the skin of his bare back incited a need Kagami had never experienced before. Was this desire? This feeling, tight in his belly, hot in his chest, a startled ember rolling down his spine. His heartbeat – that he had a heartbeat – Kagami grew aware of its pulsing in his fingertips, the trapped, rigid length of his sudden erection, his lips, his tongue… Warmth fled his fingertips for his cheeks and the tops of his ears.
     With one hand, Akira tossed his bloody shirt in the trash, then seemed to hesitate for an instant before he stuck his thumbs into the waistband of his pants and boxers and shoved them down. Kagami licked up the man’s body with his glance, then lowered his eyes, unable to keep the smile from his face as he stripped off his own borrowed clothes. His policeman was good to look at all over. The thick muscles of his thighs, his taut, dimpled buttocks – the angles of his shoulders, his hips…
wet abs (akira)     A rough rush of something like summer lightning spurred Kagami forward a step, had him reaching out, but he jerked his hand back as Akira doused himself with spray. It came from a shower head outside the ofuro, and Kagami regarded it with interest…but not as much as Akira. Wasn’t the bath already full of water? Why would he need to get wide outside of it? But when he was wet all over, the man sat on the stool, took a washcloth and soap and started to scrub himself around blossoming purple bruises. “If you’re gonna stand there and stare, you wanna wash my back?”
     The words jerked Kagami’s attention up to Akira’s face. “Saito…san?”
     He was looking at Kagami with eyes gone dark and heated, and his gaze flickered down over Kagami’s naked body, then up again more slowly. “Well?”
SONY DSC     Kagami gloried in being looked at, being seen, as much as in the fact that Akira seemed to return his desire. “I can…I can do that.” It was only as he took the cloth from Akira’s hands and started to rub it against his shoulder that Kagami realized this gave him permission to touch without misgivings or embarrassment. He stopped moving the washcloth to follow the lines of the policeman’s back with the tips of his fingers instead,  tracing lines beneath the suds. Thin, pale ridges of scar tissue came under his hands, and he frowned, staring. An old wound?
     Akira twisted around then, eyeing him with heated amusement. “You can actually scrub, y’know. I’m not gonna break.”
     Yes, there was that about humans, wasn’t there? They had their frailties, but to shatter at a touch wasn’t one of them. Even if those scars were proof of mortal vulnerability… Shuddering at just the thought, Kagami pressed closer to Akira’s back as he scrubbed up the man’s spine.


*Interested in what makes this scene different from how you might take a bath? Check out the first Sugoi! post, Secrets of the Soak, about the customs and history of bathing in Japan!

Eleventh Entry: Rakushinpu

 

joro

The sound of the water rushes overhead. Beside us, the great fall is a roar and in its shadow the gleam of spray and the shadow of leaves overtake the world, together with drowsy promises. 

The spirits of the mountain speak in murmuring voices, a whisper to calm the senses, a low, red sound. Of love, it speaks, with the sound of a lute  and the eager harmony of all night’s darkest passions.

Come to me.

The voice does not belong to the water.

Stay with me.

The words are a plea from which an answer will summon only regret.

Is it not quiet here? Are you not tired now? Stay a while and sleep with me…

The lady of the falls trades on her whispers, and when the sun dips past the high of noon toward the horizon, when the laziness of the afternoon is full upon us – then, at the edge of the water, climbing in silken coils, the threads come one at a time.

Each one attaches to a man. An ankle. A toe. A calf. But we are prepared, as not many before us have been. The threads are not broken, but hooked to trees, to stumps – one rooted life in exchange for each marked man. 

As the sun begins to go down, the threads are pulled, one by one, and one by one pieces of the forest crash over the cliff-side, down the mountain, into the rage of the river and the waterfall’s roar.

A woman cries with it, and the longing has not left her voice. 

Stay with me, won’t you?

There is no laughter, no speech, as we make our way down the night blackened sides of the autumn mountain. We return to our camp – to the nearest village. It is there that we count our number and find that twenty-four has been reduced to twenty-three. 

Stay with me…

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Read more in the erotic horror novella Rakushinpu, free on Amazon KDP!

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Rakushinpu/Jorogumo References
Jorōgumo Wiki
Jorōgumo Legends

Have a suggestion for a creature that belongs in the Bestiary? Leave it in the comments!

Red Woman

It’s #1lineWed again, and that means time to riffle through my word-stash! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Rakushinpu, another WIP I’ve not shared from previously. It takes place slightly before  and during Japan’s Heian era, and explores some of the mythology of the Jorogumo, or Rakushinpu.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The woman – is she, can she possibly be a woman? –  draws Miho’s eyes. The red-painted smile drifts on her face like coiling smoke. She walks under a red umbrella, and her hips sway back and forth with her steps.

Her robes are the robes of a lady, but she is alone – no guards, no outriders, no chaperon, no escort. Her face is hidden behind a red fan, but her eyes are black and gleaming above it. Miho stares at her; why is she familiar?

No woman like that has ever been inside her father’s house.

A little at a time she follows the woman through the market. Past the stalls of food vendors and their sweet-spicy smells, past shops selling paper and silk and ink and furnishings and combs and jewelry, past men and women going about the business of their lives.

Her eyes are focused on the flash of red that moves ever in front of her, the swinging black hair like a cut out section of starless night, drinking light.

Miho traces lines of gold embroidery with her eyes, then stumbles a little. She has seen a flash of pale skin. A bare foot, visible for a sneak of a moment, one shining instance that Miho was lucky enough to catch.

So improbable. Her attention lingers on it long after it has passed. Her gaze is fixed to the hem of the woman’s robe now, waiting, hoping – so pale, that skin! Milk and moonlight. Like Miho’s own skin, but more gleaming.

She is so distracted by it that she doesn’t notice the trap in front of her until it is too late. Until she is in it.

The woman turns down a darker way, and Miho waits a moment and then slips around the same corner.

A dead end, and two chips of onyx that confront her, eyes so dark she can’t discern their pupil. Miho draws in a sharp breath and turns to run, but a sharp, hard grip has her by the shoulder in the next moment.

“Don’t run, little girl. I meant for you to follow me, though I wasn’t sure it would be so easy. Do you know me, pretty one?”

Miho stares at her, stunned. No one has ever, ever called her ‘pretty one’. The fan lowers before the face, and it is a beautiful face – the most beautiful face Miho has ever seen, as she’d known it would be.

“I – you wanted me to follow you?”

The woman smiles, though her mouth does not move. The crinkles at the corners of her eyes give her away. The eyes themselves drink Miho in, drink her whole awareness with the penetrating nature of their stare.

“Yes. I needed to thank you. But you haven’t answered my other question. Do you know me?”

Miho stares at her, the slender fingers wrapped around the black lacquered pole of her Chinese umbrella, the red shade across the pale skin of her cheeks and the darkness of those eyes. Always, always the eyes.

“I know – your eyes.”

And then she averts her gaze and twists her fingers together, suddenly ashamed that she should be dressed below her station, with leaves in her hair and the dust of the market on her face – and I’m ugly I’m so ugly it’s not fair, she’s so beautiful

“But I called you pretty one, didn’t I?”

Miho starts backward away from the fingers that are reaching out for her cheek and finds her back pressed against the wall of the alley.

“I – you – I didn’t meant to say that out loud, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry -”

“Hush, flower, glowfly, beautiful darling – is that enough to reassure you? Pretty one, I said, and I did mean it…and you…you spoke only to yourself, only in your mind – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hear you.”

Miho stares.

“You know who I am now, don’t you?”

The utsukushii woman has a voice like honey and plum syrup, thick and rich and too, too sweet. Miho feels that voice sticky on her skin and poured into her ears and drowns in it. Red woman – red woman, utsukushii woman, too sweet woman luring her closer, always closer, speaking like the spider to the fly.

“The spider.”

Yes.

 

Inspirational Omens

For reasons unknown to me, the last three days have seen me use this particular bit of the Genji Monogatari Sennenki OST  as inspiration for EVERY SINGLE WIP.

That means book five of Eight Kingdoms got some words out of this (Macsen is being tortured. He likes it. Don’t ask, don’t ask. Yet.). Holy got some words out of this too, although I’m having issues keeping a poor, innocent waiter alive now because of that. Even Gorgoneion, a short story from the perspective of Medusa’s severed head, got words! I thought perhaps it was an omen, and decided that the best use of omens is to share them wildly, widely, and without restraint.

So! Here, have my inspiration – and if you’re feeling up to it, share some of yours!