The Kabuki Dancer

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 18 (v.1) - Part Two: The Dancer - Chapter 17

Submitted: November 01, 2016

Reads: 135

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Submitted: November 01, 2016



The face of Hana stared back at me, a wide grin across her face.  Her face had narrowed a little with age and a few wrinkles graced her face in places they hadn’t before, but she was still the same.  She rose to her feet and opened her arms to me, saying, “Umi-chan, it is so wonderful to see you again.”  I strode down the steps and embraced her tightly, saying softly, “It is good to see you to, Hana-chan.”  I looked over her shoulder at Miyuri, who smiled and stood, saying, “I suppose I should get to the shop.  I am still training the girls to take over for me when I have the baby, and I assume the two of you have a lot to catch up on.”  Hana loosened her grip on me and turned and bowed, saying, “It was a pleasure to meet you, Miyuri-san,” she said politely.Miyuri bowed and exited the room, closing the door gently behind her.

I clasped Hana’s hands and sat down with her on the tatami mat, saying, “Hana-chan, it is so good to see you.  What brings you to Kyoto, so far from the Izumo Shrine?”  Hana smiled at me, saying, “Well as I told you in my letters, I became a fully fledged miko not long ago at the Shrine.  It took me longer than some, like Okuni-chan, but it was well worth the wait.”I smiled and patted her hand gently, saying, “I know you hold the traditions of the Shrine close to your heart, and I cannot imagine a better person to become a miko.” 

Hana smiled as she took up a cup of steaming tea from the table and took a slow sip before setting it back on the table.“That is kind of you to say, Umi-chan,” she replied.  “Not long after, I was summoned into the presence of Priestess Jitsuko, who advised me that I would travel to Kyoto to help raise alms for the Shrine.” I raised an eyebrow to her, and asked, “But if I remember correctly from my time in the temple, you were not all that great a dancer.  No offense.”  Hana laughed and replied, “No offense taken, Umi-chan.  I am actually here to provide musical accompaniment to the dancers in question.  I finally learned how to play the shamisen with nine fingers.”  She chuckled and raised her hands, wiggling her nine digits in front of me.I laughed, saying, “Is that a challenge, my dear Hana-chan?”  Hana’s eyes sparkled, saying, “Bring your shamisen with you and we shall who is the better player.”  I smiled and went to the stairs, saying, “Give me a moment while I gather it, and we will leave momentarily.”

Ten minutes later, Hana and I were walking arm in arm through the city, my shamisen strapped to my back.  Hana seemed to take in all the sights and wonders with the glee of a child, and her infectious laughter soon had me laughing alongside her, sometimes for no reason.  We arrived at the gates of the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, where Hana was staying with her fellow miko.  Even after having see the shrine many times before and having made prayers at it myself, the beauty of it always took me away.  Hana smiled, saying, “The priests of the shrine have been very kind to us to take us in, and we are very grateful for it.” 

We entered through the tower gate at the front and purified ourselves before offering prayers to the kami.  We approached the main hall and Hana gestured for me to sit on one of the benches in the shade of one of the tall trees, and said, “Wait here for me if you don’t mind, Umi-chan.  I shall return shortly.”  And she scurried off in the direction of the main hall before disappearing inside.  I sat in the silence of the cool afternoon, observing the priests and miko of the shrine wander to and fro across the grounds.  I heard a whisper of laughter behind me, and turned to find a fox statue nearby, with an orange scarf tied around its neck.I didn’t shudder, but instead inclined my head politely, saying, “Blessings upon you, sacred guardian of Inari.”  A breeze blew by in response.

I turned back at the sound of laughter, and saw Hana approaching across the way with her shamisen in her hand and three other mikos, all clad similarly.  One carried a flute gently in her hand, another carrying a koto under her arm, and the third wore bells on her outfit that tinkled as she walked.  I rose as Hana approached and took my arm, pulling me forward. “Umi-chan, I want you to meet my companions.  This is Meiko,” she indicated the slender girl holding the flute, “Sanae”, indicating the tall girl holding the koto, “and Chinami,” she finished, indicating the tall willow of a girl who wore the bells.  I bowed to each in turn, and they did as well. 

When greetings were exchanged, I resumed my position on the bench as Meiko, Hana, and Sanae sat down on the stone ground, and Chinami moved to the center of the three.  Hana strummed a little on the shamisen, and the other two instrumentalists followed suit.  Chinami in the center raised her arms and posed in the beginning of a Kagura.  Hana nodded her head and the three of them played slowly as Chinami began to dance.

I recognized the tune as one of those of the Izumo Shrine, and watched in awe as Chinami proceeded to perform her dance as Hana and her companions played.I was entranced, as her moves were almost identical to those of Okuni.  Every step she took in time with the beat of the music was graceful and beautiful.  Not a turn was out of touch, not a movement taken that did not have a purpose.  When the music stopped and Chinami stopped in the final pose, I applauded politely, winking at Hana and saying, “Okay, Hana-chan, I have to admit, you have not let the loss of a finger stop you from playing.”  Hana laughed, replying, “Oh, Okuni-chan, now it’s your turn.”

I politely demurred, but at the urging of Hana and the other three miko, I took my shamisen from my shoulder and knelt, preparing to play.  I looked up at Chinami and winked at her, asking, “How familiar are you with the dances of the courtesans?” Chinami reddened a little, and then smiled.  “I am a little familiar with them,” she replied.I looked over at Hana and said, “Here we go.”

The tune I played was a very popular one in the brothels of the pleasure quarter.  It was fast paced and my fingers flew across the shamisen strings.  As I did so, Chinami twisted and turned to the music as smoothly as a flowing river.  Her body took on all the contours of a courtesan, and her face became supremely beautiful as she danced.  As the tune quickened, she became more and more frantic and fast with the movements.  When my fingers hit the final strings, she held her pose at the end, panting visibly from the exertion.The other miko were quiet for a moment, then applauded, Hana crying out, “Wonderful, Umi-chan and Chinami-chan!” The other two miko gathered around Chinami and hugged her, a bright smile coming to her face as she did so.  I strode forward and placed a hand over Chinami’s, saying, “Chinami-chan, that was beautiful.”  A flush came to her cheeks and she pressed a white sleeve to her cheek, saying, “Thank you, Okuni-san.” 

Hana coughed and interrupted, saying, “Okay, my friends. Go back to the main hall and I will join you all there later.  Okuni-chan and I have some more walking to do.”  The other three mikos bowed and taking her shamisen scurried across the courtyard.  But not before Chinami risked a glance back.  I winked at her in reply and then turned to Hana.  “She is truly gifted,” I said.  Hana grinned.  “Chinami-san certainly is one of the best dancers that Izumo Shrine has, but she is not the only dancer that came with us.  Come with me,” she ordered, taking my arm in hers as I fumbled to put the shamisen back in its place.

After exiting the grounds, we walked through the city before we came to one of the many bridges that spanned the Kamo River. This particular portion of the river was known as the Fourth Dry Riverbed, and many people walked along the bridge and the embankment.  I noticed many of the citizens who were on the bridge and on the shore were stopping to observe something.  Thinking it was a show I walked into the crowd with Hana at my side and made my way to the front.  As we passed the people, I looked on the embankment and I stopped in my tracks.

On the embankment was a plump young miko playing a tsuzumi.  And in front of her was another miko whose beauty was beyond compare.  I had not seen her in years, but I recognized her almost instantly as she moved with grace and beauty on the shoreline.  I whispered, “Okuni” and turned to Hana. She smiled widely back at me, saying, “I told you Chinami-chan wasn’t the only dancer we brought with us.” 

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