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samurai champloo fanfiction: kitsune in koshu chapter 35

 

Disclaimer: I don't own Samurai Champloo or any of its characters.


Chapter 35

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.
Mark Twain


Kitsune's Keek and Kitsune's Ken, Part II


I. Mugen Goes on a Trip


Mugen found himself agreeing with Jin's prediction that he would enjoy the trek to Mount Kobushigatake via the Nishizawa Valley. The crisp mountain air and greenery were refreshing, the weather pleasant, and the incline so gradual that he had been running up the mountain for a substantial part of the trek. The Nanatsugama Godan no Taki – literally meaning 'waterfall of seven pots and five floors' – was just ahead, and he understood why Jin had made a wistful remark about his desire to view it with Fuu; from where he was standing, it was quite majestic. Of course, he didn't really understand why viewing it with Fuu was so important to Jin, but he knew by observation that lovers liked to visit scenic places together, and those two idiots were definitely 'in love' – whatever that meant. The symptoms were there to read – they acted silly and had a goofy look on their faces when they looked at each other.


To his surprise, he found himself resenting their relationship a little. He had hoped that their reunion would be "just like old times" but it wasn't; with the two of them getting closer to each other the dynamics of the relationship between the three of them had changed. This bothered him, particularly because in the past three years he had developed a strong bond with Jin, even though he didn't like to admit it. Somehow it felt as if she had come between them.


This strange feeling of jealousy made him uncomfortable. He didn't want to admit that he liked Jin, aka Fish-Face, so much, or that he looked upon him as some sort of a brother.


And what about his feelings for her? Did he feel the same affection towards her that he felt three years ago? He had to admit that he did. She was still a bit of a brat, and a little annoying at times, but she was all right. She made Fish-Face happy and that was a good thing. Perhaps Fish-Face would return to normal when his relationship with her had been consummated. When that was going to happen, though, was unpredictable. The brat had decided to go with the wishes of her family, although it was quite obvious to him that her decision was temporary.


He toyed with the idea of giving Jin some advice about the situation – something to the effect that he should shag the brat and get on with it. But knowing Fish-Face, he would simply get his ears boxed, 'for saying things that were inappropriate'. Not that it stopped Fish-Face from giving all sorts of stupid advice to him. Why, just the previous evening he had said, "If you want Yatsuha-san to like you, you should treat her with respect." And this bit of advice had been unsolicited – it came completely out of the blue. He had been minding his own business, reading a volume of Konjaku Monogatari – a much better read than Genji Monogatari, by the way – and Fish-Face had started to give him a sermon while cleaning his sword.


He had replied, "Shut up! I don't understand what you mean, by the way. I don't care a fig for that broad, or any broad who plays hard to get."


"Hmm. She didn't sleep with you that day because she wasn't a prostitute; she was only working undercover as one."


"Huh? How did you know she didn't – Well, as I said, shut up!"


"In a way it is a good thing. If she likes you, my feeling is that she would play hard-to get. She would want you to respect her. If she had slept with you she would have been just another prostitute you slept with. From what I can tell, she isn't the type who would settle for something like that. She would want you on her own terms."


Mugen had muttered under his breath, "Like you're the one to talk. It isn't like you've had any luck with the brat."


He regretted his remark when Jin had looked up at him sadly. "It is only natural for her to be worried about the fate of her aunt and uncle. It is hard to explain, but they are obeying the orders of their master, Lord Masakuni. The bushi are -"


"Stuff the bushi and their stupid ways! Just kidnap the brat and go away somewhere. I can help you, if you like."


"She wouldn't want that. Given that she is the daughter of Kasumi Seizo, her aunt and uncle would most certainly be executed if she, uh, eloped with me."


Seeing the melancholic look on Jin's face, he had changed the subject. "Anyway, you had said something about checking out this Gonzaemon dude. I can do that for you, tomorrow, if you like. Where can I find him?"


"Ah yes, the exorcist. He is supposed to be a yamabushi (mountain warrior monk), so he spends most of his time in the mountains. Manzou-san said that he stays in a hut on Mount Kobushigatake. If you go to the Nishizawa valley and trek up towards the mountain, you might find him meditating under one of the waterfalls made by the river Fuefuki that comes down from the top of Kobushigatake-san."


Looking at the largest of the five stairs of the Nanatsugama Godan falls, the stray thought that Yatsuha might have liked to view this with him came to his mind, but he brushed it aside. The mentality of Fish-Face might rub-off on him if he wasn't careful. Besides, there was work to be done. Where was this Gonzaemon fellow? He couldn't see all of the five stairs of the waterfall, but if he trekked up a little...Oh yes, that little speck of something under that big twenty metre one, that could be him.


A closer glance, however, confirmed that there wasn't anyone there. But in the distance behind him, he could hear the faint sound of footsteps and a stick coming up the mountain. He turned around to spot a burly middle aged man in a saffron robe and trousers, carrying a staff, climbing up towards Mugen's present location.


-xxx-


II. At the Furin Kazan Inn


Otane swept the Inari shrine in the backyard of the Furin Kazan Inn with a worried look on her face. Her elder sister Tomoe, who was lighting an incense stick at the altar, looked at her questioningly. "Out with it, Otane-chan! What's troubling you?"


"The ritual tomorrow – must we go through with it?"


"What an absurd question! It is how we make a living, Otane."


"I know...But onesan, I have a bad feeling about it."


"You have been having a bad feeling about a lot of things lately! But nothing bad has happened, has it?"


"Oh, but it has! I went to the vegetable market recently, for some groceries. I got some terrible vibes from the vendors."


Tomoe grimaced and shrugged her shoulders. "There is nothing new about that, is there? We are tsukimono-suji – they hate us. If they didn't fear us they wouldn't sell us any food and we'd die of starvation!"


"Onesan, this time it was a bit different. And isn't just the vegetable vendors. There were people selling broadsheets in the merchant quarter...It seems that people have been dying of kitsunetsuki. These rituals that we do, they aren't meant to kill. So why are people dying?"


Tomoe looked up sharply. "It is just a coincidence. A person with kitsunetsuki is simply taught a lesson by the fox spirit that possesses him or her. Sometimes people die, but those cases are rare. That can happen – but typically in such cases, the person possessed is intrinsically evil. Only death can destroy that sort of evil."


She had spoken too quickly, and rather defensively, Otane thought. Did her sister know something she didn't? "It is not just a question of one or two cases, onesan. There have been far too many. At least, that is what the broadsheet said."


"Otane-chan, you are too naive. Broadsheets typically exaggerate things, and spread all sorts of rumours. You mustn't pay attention to that kind of news. Come, now, we need to make preparations for tomorrow's ritual. Did you prepare those herbs as I had suggested? And we need some charcoal...Where is that copper bowl I used the last time?"


Otane put away the broom she was sweeping with. She still looked worried. "Onesan, I am also worried that something untoward might happen tomorrow. During the ritual."


Tomoe walked up to her sister and put an arm around her shoulder. "Otane-chan, what is the worst that can happen? Hiroko might play one of her pranks, that's all. I don't think she will, though; I have spoken to her about it quite sternly. Even if she does, they are quite harmless, really. Our clients will see some unpleasant visions, perhaps. In fact, they might get unpleasant visions even if she doesn't play a prank. As you know, visions are a part of the ritual. And they need not be unpleasant visions. In the past some of our clients have been quite grateful for them, you know."


"Yes...But the clients tomorrow are special, somehow. Both of them, Jin and Mugen, are very unusual. I have a feeling that their visions are going to be very intense. And Hiroko doesn't like Jin."


"Oh, you worry too much! Hiroko can be a little strange sometimes, but she isn't a bad sort. And her life has been a rather unhappy one, hasn't it? Given her past experiences, I think she turned out quite all right. Our late sister, Setsuko, though, wasn't as lucky."


-xxx-


III. Kitsune's Corner: Interview with the Kyubi-no-kitsune


Manzou/Hiroko-kitsune: So going back to the subject of your omniscience, are you now claiming that you aren't omniscient?


Kyubi-no-kitsune: I am not claiming or disclaiming anything. What you see, hear and experience in this world is a product of your beliefs and expectations...and some other things.


Manzou/Hiroko-kitsune: So what does that mean? The Hiroko-kitsune part of me doesn't exist? Is it just part of the imagination of the Manzou part of me?


Kyubi-no-kitsune: "Not quite...The Hiroko-kitsune part of you does exist – in a form that the Manzou part of you can understand. It is just how communication takes place in the world of the universal subconscious mind.


Manzou/Hiroko-kitsune: That doesn't make any sense. How is it that I know so many things in this world, things that I couldn't possibly have imagined, as there is no counterpart even remotely resembling those things in Manzou's world?


Kyubi-no-kitsune: Things don't have to make sense in this world; it is the world of dreams. And I did say there were "some other things" in this world, not just the things you have imagined. Apart from Manzou's subconscious mind there is the subconscious mind of many other entities. You might say this is like a soup of many subconscious minds.


Manzou/Hiroko-kitsune: I give up! I am not even going to try to make sense of what you are saying. But I am curious, can we find out from this 'soup' when the beliefs and superstitions about the kitsune came to exist in Manzou's world? How did the fox owners and employers come into being?


Kyubi-no-kitsune: As you know, kitsune are regarded as messengers of Inari – the god/godess of agriculture. One of the theories about the origin of Inari can be traced back to the Dakini – a deity of Tantric/Vajrayana Buddhism, teachings of which were brought into Japan by Kukai, aka Kobo Daishi, from China. The Dakini was a sorceress known to devour the hearts of the dead, and engage in ritual sexual practices for the purpose of acquiring supernatural powers or 'siddhis'. Later on, the Dakini, who had a fox messenger, took on a more benevolent form and became syncretised with Inari. There were also various rites associated with the Dakini, for the purpose of acquiring magical powers. The strange Izuna rite for acquiring fox ownership of this (the Tokugawa) period is probably a version of one of these rites.


Manzou/Hiroko-kitsune: Yes, I have heard about the Izuna ritual. You find a pregnant vixen in her lair, feed her and tame her until the cubs are born. She is grateful for this and later brings one of them to you, when it is grown up, and you give it a name. By doing so, you become an owner of this fox, and it comes to you in invisible form, does all sorts of things at your bidding. But that is just superstition. How do tsukimono-suji families really come into being? I mean families such as the one of Tomoe, Otane and Hiroko.


Kyubi-no-kitsune: Hmm, it is complicated. Sometimes it is simply a matter of jealousy or revenge. As you know the family of Tomoe and Otane has been tsukimono-suji for generations. In the early part of the Tokugawa period, with the growth of the money economy a class of nouveau riches landlords came into being. The Hayami family was one such family living in the Kansai area. Because of their sudden rise in prosperity, they attracted the jealousy of their neighbours, who spread the rumours that their wealth was acquired through fox possession! The rumours 'stuck' and they were ostracized, leaving them no choice but to join the community of other tsukimono-suji families in that area.[1] As strange as it sounds, over time these families started to believe in their own powers and started to perform the very rituals and practices they were accused of!


Manzou/Hiroko-kitsune: What about Hiroko?


Kyubi-no-kitsune: Her case is even stranger. Her family was not a tsukimono-suji, to begin with. But her father, a peasant, was having an affair with another woman. The mistress, who wanted Hiroko's mother out of the way, went to the local priest-cum-exorcist, claiming she was experiencing strange visions and a feeling of heat and suffocation during the night. The priest diagnosed a case of fox possession and performed a ritual to 'bring out' the fox. He then spoke to the 'fox spirit' that possessed this woman. The 'fox spirit' claimed that it had been sent by Hiroko's mother, who was, in fact a kitsune-mochi, or solitary fox employer! Hiroko, along with her mother, was then driven out of the villiage. Her mother died soon after, and Hiroko eventually took shelter with the Hayami family.[2]


Manzou/Hiroko-kitsune: Why was Hiroko driven out of the villiage? She hadn't been directly accused of fox-ownership, had she?


Kyubi-no-kitsune: Ah, but fox-ownership is believed to be hereditary, transmitted through the female line. That is also the reason why Setsuko, the sister of Tomoe and Otane, died. Kanbe, the man she wanted to marry was not from a tsukimono-suji family, so their union was not possible. Kanbe and Setsuko entered a double-suicide pact, and killed themselves.


Manzou/Hiroko-kitsune: It is strange, the kind of things people are prepared to believe.


Kyubi-no-kitsune: You will hear stranger things when you listen to the conversation between Mugen and Gonzaemon.


-xxx-


IV. At the Nanatsugama Godan Falls


The saffron-robed bearded and mustachioed man glared fiercely as Mugen approached him. "Why are you staring at me?"


"You're Gonzaemon, aren't you?"


"Yes."


"I came here to meet you."


"Why?"


"Just helping out the police with some investigations. Need to ask you some questions."


"Why me?"


"You have tried to cure some kitsunetsuki cases. We want to know about the symptoms."


Gonzaemon kept walking up the mountain quite briskly, as if trying to shake off Mugen. "Ha! Any idiot would know about the symptoms of kitsunetsuki. They are common knowledge. You act strangely and see strange visions, sometimes of kitsune. There is a fondness for aburage (fried tofu) and azukimeshi (red bean rice)."


"Did the kitsunetsuki victims you examined show any of those symptoms?"


"Some of them." Gonzaemon halted and glared at Mugen. "Anyway, you have come at a bad time. I want to be alone. This is my time for meditation – I can't talk to you now. Come back later."


"Nope. I have to talk to you now."


Gonzaemon stared angrily at Mugen for a while before his face assumed a ferocious expression, his eyes seeming to pop out of their sockets as he let out a bloodcurdling yell. "AAAaaaaaaaaIiiiarghh!"


His face had turned purple with the effort, but Mugen didn't even oblige him with a blink. He looked a little puzzled though, and dug out some wax from his ears. Gonzaemon, a little crestfallen at this lack of response, remarked. "Hmm. I am usually able to scare most people away with my kiai."


"Oh, so that's what it was. I was wondering why you were yelling like that."


Gonzaemon laughed out loudly. "You are an interesting character. But you must go away now, or I'll have to fight you."


Mugen yawned, dug out some more wax from his ears, and waited. Nonplussed by the fact that Mugen wasn't taking him seriously, Gonzaemon stared at him for a while before attacking. Then, with another yell, somewhat muted in comparison with his previous one, he charged at Mugen with his staff. Mugen dodged the blow, and many others that followed. Gonzaemon then attempted to increase the pace of his attacks, but he was huffing and puffing by now, while Mugen kept hopping, jumping or somersaulting out of the way, without seeming to expend much energy in the process. When he was completely out of breath, Gonzaemon gave up, and with very good grace. "You're very fit, I must say," he panted, before giving way to a coughing fit. After recovering, he said, "You didn't even draw your sword."


"Didn't have to. You're no good at fighting."


Gonzaemon laughed. "I suppose not. I am studying the martial arts, though, as a means to improve myself, mentally and spiritually. That is what the yamabushi of the past did, and they had legendary abilities in the martial arts, I might add."


"So you aren't a typical yamabushi?"


Gonzaemon shrugged. "I try my best. I follow the path that is set out for us – the path of Shugendo."


"So you're into practising magic and stuff? At least, that's what I've heard about some yamabushi."


"No." Gonzaemon said this emphatically. "The purpose of all our ascetic practices is enlightenment. But there are legends, I suppose, about the yamabushi having supernatural powers. Some of them probably do have such powers – once you have reached a certain level of enlightenment, supernatural powers are inevitable."


"Do you really believe that?"


Gonzaemon stared curiously at Mugen. "I do. What is your name by the way?"


"Mugen."


"Well, Mugen, even though I consider myself a novice, I have benefitted a lot from my ascetic practices. One spends a lot of time alone, in the mountains, one contemplates oneself, and also nature, and one learns a lot. For example, I have considerable knowledge of plants and herbs, and therefore have the ability to heal. I also have a moderate amount of psychic ability."


Mugen smiled sardonically. "You really have those abilities, or is it just a way to make some money? People pay you for 'healing' them don't they?"


Gonzaemon didn't appear to take offence at Mugen's questions. "They pay me in kind, with food items mostly. One has to eat, you know. Anyway, I don't really care what you think. I am talking to you only because I have to. You're not the type one can get rid of easily. Ha-ha-ha."


"From what I hear, you have a history of conning people. I ran into one of your old pals, a guy called Mayumi, the other day. He said you pretended to be an exorcist once, so you could help another pal of yours, Hachiemon, to win a bet."


There was a nostalgic look on Gonzaemon's face. "Ah, yes, I was quite a prankster in my younger days. By the way, the prank was actually on Mayumi, although I don't think he realizes it, even today!"


"Is that when you decided to become an exorcist?"


"I know what you are thinking Mugen. I pretended then to be an exorcist, so you think I am still pretending to be an exorcist."


"Are you?"


"No."


"How do you cure kitsunetsuki cases?"


"In most cases, Mugen, kitsunetsuki is a state of the mind. A person has kitsunetsuki if they believe they have kitsunetsuki. An exorcist's job is to change that belief. Part of the reason a person believes they are possessed is because they are suffering from some sort of physical illness, and interpret the symptoms of that illness to be kitsunetsuki symptoms. Once you cure the physical illness, the person starts to believe they are recovering. Certain prayers and rituals can then be used to achieve complete recovery."


"So, in a sense, you are conning them."


This time, Gonzaemon appeared a little annoyed. "No. There are certain negative energies at work in such cases. I am calling them negative energies; others may call them something else. But in essence, it is the same thing. I strongly believe that prayers and rituals, combined with some herbal remedies, help release those negative energies. That is the essence of exorcism."


"But I've heard you aren't particularly successful at curing kitsunetsuki cases. A lot of your patients are dead."


"Yes. The negative energies were too strong in some of the cases. They were beyond my abilities."


There was a peculiar, very serious sort of an expression on Gonzaemon's face as he continued, in a lowered tone of voice, "There are some evil influences in Kofu at this time. And Mugen, I must warn you, I get the feeling that some of those evil influences may end up impacting on people around you."


"Huh?" He is a bit of a nutcase, I see.


"I sense that you are about to do something that will be harmful to a friend of yours. Your intentions are good, but it may end up harming someone. A woman, I believe."


"Don't know what you are talking about."


"I am afraid I can't help you. My psychic visions are somewhat vague, and sometimes I end up understanding them only after it is too late."


Mugen was surprised to experience a pang of some feeling he couldn't quite describe. Was it fear? He didn't believe in the crap Gonzaemon was dishing out, so why should he be afraid? Did it have something to do with the guilt he was experiencing regarding the ritual, and the fact that Yatsuha was the intended victim? What Gonzaemon has said was too vague to be taken seriously, and yet it could be interpreted to 'fit' the scenario of the 'trap' they were planning to execute tomorrow.


Gonzaemon narrowed his eyes and exclaimed suddenly, "You are going to the Furin Kazan Inn! Mugen, I must warn you again. Those women are dangerous and do evil things. Apart from the woman, they may harm others, including you. And there is another person going there with you – a man – who may also be in danger, albeit of a different kind."


How does he know
we are going to the Furin Kazan Inn? Who could have told him? "What do you know about those broads?"


"Everyone knows about them. They are the ones responsible for the evil influences I was talking about."


"Was this 'evil influence' involved in the case of Takeda Yoshiyasu?"


"Yes. And many others."


"Perhaps you aren't really as good with medicinal herbs and plants as you claim to be. Whatever you can't cure you label as an 'evil influence'."


"Ah, Mugen, you still see me as some sort of con-artist. And I will admit to you that when I first thought of becoming a yamabushi, my motivations weren't honourable. In fact, there was a time I pretended to be a yamabushi for the sake of making a few quick bucks. But that was a long time ago"


"And did you make a few quick bucks?"


Gonzaemon looked a little embarrassed. "Uhm, yes. But if you go and tell the police, I will simply deny it. In any case, that was a long time ago. Everything I do now is quite legitimate."


"I won't tell the police. But I want to know how you did it. Gimme an example."


Gonzaemon smiled sheepishly at Mugen. "Oh they were just harmless pranks related to kitsune. I, er, spread the rumour that there were kitsune in town stealing things, and then I, uhm, helped people find their lost goods."


"But I don't really regret what I did. You know why? Because it put me on the path of Shugendo. At that time, I started to undertake some of the ascetic practices simply to be more convincing in my role as yamabushi. But once I started those practices a transformation took place within me. And here I am."


"Why do you think those Furin Kazan broads are so bad? Your old friend Hachiemon seems to like them. And they seem to have other friends too – a guy called Toshitsugu and his wife."


"Hachiemon can be a little naive in some respects, and I believe that woman Tomoe has put a spell on him. As for Toshitsugu and his wife, I have a bad feeling about them. I believe they are just as evil as those Furin Kazan women."


"Why? Have you had some sort of psychic visions about them too?"


"Yes. They aren't quite what they seem. I believe they are a ninja family disguised as merchants."


"What?"


"My belief is partly based on fact. Previously, I had asked them to help me prepare some medicinal incense on a few occasions; they have an incense factory and it was convenient to borrow some of their equipment and labour. I got the impression that they were quite knowledgeable about herbs and plants."


"So?"


"Some shinobi clans are in fact descendents of yamabushi. That is why they have a good knowledge of herbal medicine." Gonzaemon appeared to be day-dreaming as he said this, as if in a world of his own. "They are a little jealous of me, particularly Toshitsugu's wife. She is spreading rumours about me, saying that I am a charlatan."


Mugen tried to question Gonzaemon a little further about the kitsunetsuki cases he had examined, but Gonzaemon's responses were vague. He seemed to be hung up on the idea of 'evil influences,' and kept reiterating his warnings about the Furin Kazan ladies. Convinced that Gonzaemon was a little mad, and nothing sensible could be squeezed out of him, Mugen decided to leave.


[1] This is one of the theories postulated in The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Beliefs in Japan, by Carmen Blacker, regarding the origin of fox-owning families. (Published in 1975, George Allen and Unwin)

[2] I have based Hiroko's story on a case recorded in Chapter 3 of 'The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Beliefs and Practices in Japan' by Carmen Blacker. There are also 'double suicides' recorded in the same chapter similar to the one described here.


Author's note: There is a lot of historical detail here, and I have been deliberately vague about some of it, for fear of sounding too textbookish. Apart from The Catalpa Bow, I have used a lot of internet material, and I will make a list of it later. I wrote this in a great hurry, so there is definitely room for improvement.

The chapter referenced from The Catalpa Bow also documents several cases of exorcists behaving in a manner similar to Gonzaemon. That is, they would help finds goods supposedly stolen by kitsune just as Gonzaemon did. As mentioned above, the behaviour of the exorcist in Hiroko's story is also based on a documented case in that chapter. Apparently even as in the late 20th century 'fox-owning families' were ostracized in Japan. This happened typically in rural areas where the superstition was so strong that all the villiagers claimed to have seen fox spirits around the houses of so-called fox owners. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction!

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