Craig-729 On “Leaps of Love,” The First Day of The Year, And Enjoying New Year’s Food In Japan!
Craig note- It’s the first day of 2022 as we post this! We have time off, and we thought we would work on some new material. Plus, we are enjoying some great food in Japan!
Cover Photo- Unsplash
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Yuki, a young woman of Harima, was returning home from a year-end party in the town square when she saw, just in front of her home, a tiny grasshopper. Surprised to see such a bug on a freezing winter’s night with fresh, crispy snow on the ground, she paused.
While she stood silently, the grasshopper leaped at her, and the beautiful woman struck at it with her light green parasol, but the dark green insect cleverly escaped and entered the smallest patches of dead, brown grass that it could find.
“Begone! You most wretched vermin!” Yuki shouted as she limped on through the snow at her feet. She returned inside her home. Greeted at the door by a familiar face, she pulled off her snow-covered overcoat.
“How surreal it is that you are here, Yuki- san! Yet just a moment before, I dreamt of you. I dreamt that I became a grasshopper. I jumped towards you. To my surprise, you smacked me away with your parasol. Oh, how now, I am still most petrified of you!”
Yuki, having heard these words from the lips of Ichika, was left nearly at a loss for anything to say.
“ To-to be sure be sure, it was nothing more than your all too vivid imagination, my dear Ichika-kun!”
A mature-looking woman named Soyoka came from the orange, yellow, and crimson hues of the kitchen hearth. She was extremely gregarious and loved by all, though some considered her to be a little haughty for their liking.
Her rather stiff nature derived from the fact that she had neither never married nor openly sought out the affections of a man. How such a beauty remained untouched at the age of 37 was a mystery.
“Yet! I saw it too! Cannot the vision and the reality be the same?!” Yuki protested, with a wave of her fist. One she quickly released back down upon the bow of her well-worn brown and white trimmed kimono. “My apologies, alas, the fog of my mind, perhaps, got the better of me.”
“More like your drunkenness I’d say,” A dark and deep voice from the open door said, as the heavy wooden door fully opened with a creaking sound that shook the room. The last remnants of a nighttime snow squall flying like butterflies in front of the man’s countenance. “Barely ready for your coming-of-age day. Your hallucinations are laughable!”
“But I assure you my head is as clear as glasses on my nose,” Ichika said, shoving his gold-rimmed spectacles hard against his nose. “She speaks the truth!”
“Put aside your fairy tales, the two of you,” the man said. “I am back from battle. I bring news and gifts for everyone.”
“Presents!” Ichika shouted. “Hooray!”
“Thank you, Junpei. Naoki would be most proud of my brother-in-law,” Soyoka said, looking towards the sky as she wiped her eyes. “She was always proud of how you fought.”
Naoki died of a plague three years after the birth of Ichika. When Naoki left this world Junpei vowed never to marry and to live ever near her grave. For all those years he remained faithful to his vow and visited her grave every chance he got.
“ Yes, yes, I suppose she was,” Junichi said. “A shame my best days are long since behind me.”
Soyoka soon came to help with the house and children. But she insisted on living in the empty house next door. Yuki moved in later after the death of her parents in a typhoon. The poor girl was too old for the orphanage and still too young for marriage. Soyoka begged Junpei to take the poor girl in, and he did.
This situation went on for a time. But as Soyoka grew older, Junpei’s dedication to his dead wife and celibacy wavered as his passions intensified. He did his best to honor his beloved wife’s memory.
“Anyway, I should get unpacked.”
Junpei took out a delicious-looking box of rice cakes and put them on the kotatsu table. Once more he riffled through his weather-beaten deer-skin bag and presented Soyoka a silver metal compact. Its curved surface shined brightly, while upon its back there was an image of a dragonfly sitting upon a lily.
Soyoka had never seen such a thing of beauty before, and on opening it she was under the delusion that another woman looked out upon her as she gazed with growing angst.
“Dear gods, when did I get so old! Those wrinkles! Those lines! An old hag I have become!”
“What have you hidden in your sleeve?” said Junpei, stretching with his arm and extending his calloused finger towards her arm. “What is? Come now.”
“Fear not! It’s merely the mirror you gave my sister, and which she on her deathbed gave to me,” Soyoka said, desperately pushing back the pretty bobble into her sleeve.
“Yet now, you hide it,” Junpei said, “How vain you have become! A beauty much like my dear departed wife. For shame!”
“Vanity! I know not,” Soyoka said, “A beauty like hers? Ha! I think not. Why just look at me?!”
“‘Tis true! I see in your face my beloved Naoki, nubile and the epitome of perfect beauty. Something, rather someone I can never, ever have in my bed again. Do you believe that’s easy for me as I am forced to see you every day? As if my body does not still ache for such things despite my age!”
“You think I don’t know those feelings?” Soyoka asked. “Do you believe I remained as I am out of force? Why do you think I chose to live next door and not beneath your roof? Youth does not exempt one from such longings in the night, especially in the cold winter.”
“Perhaps, you enjoy yourself a little too much while alone in the bath. To be sure, I know not,” Junpei said gazing upon Soyoka with a look that most certainly was not one of a platonic protector of his deceased wife’s sister. “Look, I found this kimono in Akashi. I mean to, um, save, er, keep it for you. Maybe, one day you’ll need it or something.”
“What are you saying?”
“I don’t know for the life of me. Well, it’s nothing. Forget it!”
“Is that not a wedding kimono?” Soyoka asked, sensing the change in Junpei’s demeanor. “Are you asking me to-”
“ No, no, I cannot possibly give it to you,” Junpei pulled the smooth silk kimono back and struggled to return it to its brown wrapping. “We have the children to think about, and the opinions of the rest of the town.”
“So what if they care?”
“My dear Soyoka, you know this is Japan. Some will neither understand, nor approve. I am not just another villager. Might not end well, times being as they are.”
“But…surely they would not-”
“That I could not say for certain. You know that.”
Ichika and Yuki did their best to overhear the conversation having surreptitiously slinked behind a huge pile of drying firewood.
“What a shame I’m not taller,” mused Ichika. “We could hear more clearly what they are saying.”
“Oh that’s easy, my dear boy,” said Yuki. “You need do nothing more than leap upon my back. Like a-”
“Grasshopper?” Ichika replied with a smirk.
Ichika stepped upon the back of the young woman. But he soon regretted his decision, overhearing Junpei offering himself to Soyoka.
“My dearest, Soyoka will you be my wife?”
“Yes,” said Soyoka.
“Until the end?”
“Of course, of that let there be no doubt. For without you, I shall not be.”
“Then, let it be so.”
“No matter what.”
“ No matter what.”
Junpei and Soyoka were married, and in due time they were blessed with a baby, whom they called Anri. While this newlywed couple went about their lives, the scandalous news spread throughout the village.
“Unacceptable,” shouted the elders in the village. “Something should be done.”
All Junpei’s arguments of “love, duty, and fidelity to his new, albeit young bride,” fell upon the disbelieving geezers. Mostly, it was the sexually-frustrated young men, jealous that one of the few available women in the town was taken up in such a fashion.
Young warriors beaten to the untouched womb of a fertile young woman by an old, tired, albeit decorated, soldier did not go over well. Those would-be suitors soon turned into stalkers, more than a few, most dangerous. One night Junpei was aroused by a piercing cry.
“Junpei,” said Soyoka. “The darkness outside grows louder by the second. Do you not hear it?”
“I do, my love,” Junpei said. “Likely just a wandering animal. Worry not! It will move on soon.”
“No, the air is full of eerie whispers. Children are you there? Come forth!”
“ We are! We are! Whatever shall we do?!” Ichika and Yuki cried, seeing the empty house next door set ablaze from the window.
“Look how those shadows tremble in the faint twinkling of the stars outside of the window,” Soyoka cried. “Those dark figures are killing our stock! Oh, how they stomp our crops! Dear Junpei, whatever shall we do?”
Dark-clad men with weapons of all manner burst into the room. Junpei did his best to fend them off. But he was ancient for a warrior and their numbers were insurmountable even if he weren’t.
“ My Wife! My Wife! “ Junpei slumped as he was run through by a katana sword. “My-”
“Husband,” shouted Soyoka, pressing her tear-filled and blood-covered face close to his, “You are lost to me now.”
“Indeed, I am,” Junpei said, with a death-tinged gasp. “I expect my wife to come with me. You know that.”
Soyoka blinked hard as she held her breath as all in the room stopped.
“I do,” Soyoka said pulling the silver compact from her pocket, giving herself a look. “It’s how it is done.”
The leader knocked the pretty bauble from her hand to the floor. A pity she had not had the chance to use it more.
“Without haste, then let it be.”
The gruff leader motioned for all to exit. As they did, he nodded to Soyoka and tossed her a short knife. She scrambled in the darkness and curled her fingers around the leather-wrapped hilt.
“It will be done.”
Soyoka looked upon her husband’s colorless and lifeless visage, back to the moon and its emotionless light, and finally turned to the children. They stood frozen, mouths agape as if they had seen the devil.
“It must be…I’m sorry. One day, you’ll understand the leaps of love one must often make.”
Soyoka clutched the knife with her second hand and she closed her eyes a final time. With a thrust into her stomach, her eyes snapped open, and she was no more.
“No!” Yuki screamed. “Don’t-”
Ichika wailed as Yuki fell into his arms as the frigid winter winds and heavy, wet snow swept through the death-filled home.
“Whatever are we now to do?” Ichika pleaded. “We cannot fight them all if they should return.”
“Someone help us, please! I beg of the great gods!” Yuki shouted, raising her arms to the ceiling.
A soft voice came forth from the open gleaming, silver compact.
“Excuse me, but how may I be of service to you?”Got a Question for the Grey, Grizzled, And Gaijin Mailbag? Send it to: @craighoffman11 on Twitter
“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”- John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Originally published at http://craiginjapan.wordpress.com on January 1, 2022.