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samurai champloo fanfiction: kitsune in koshu chapter 39-(i)

 

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


Author's notes:

The concept/idea for Jin's dream is, in part, inspired by the Japanese folktale 'The Dream of Akinosuke', and an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled 'The Inner Light'. The episode in question was the 25th of Season 5 in that series, and was written by Morgan Gendel. (More on this in the author's note at the end of the chapter.)
-----------------------------------------------------------


Chapter 39


Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream


First stanza from 'A Dream Within a Dream' by Edgar Allan Poe


Visions and Verisimilitude, Part II


This was obviously Edo. Or rather, thought Jin, it was a hallucination of Edo – another dream he was expected to have, as a part of that vision quest Tomoe had mentioned. But this time, he was surprised by the visceral reality of what he saw, and the unquestionably real-world feeling of it. Perhaps this was why Otane had warned him not to confuse illusion with truth.


But she needn't have worried. As compelling as the reality of his surroundings was, it was absurd to suggest that, even for a moment, he would imagine himself to be in Edo. He was, of course, at the Inari shrine of Kofu's Furin Kazan Inn, having a hallucination about this place. His mind could easily have conjured up such images; it was, after all, a part of Edo he frequented quite often.


Nevertheless, the vividness and detail of it all surprised him. Right now – whatever 'now' was in the context of a dream – it was mid-afternoon, going by the fact that the sun was a blazing white ball in the middle of the sky, and the shadows cast by people on this particular street of Nihonbashi's merchant quarter were short and dark. He could focus on the individual sounds in the hum of this crowd if he wanted to; he distinguished, for instance, the 'whoosh' sound of dust being swept by a shopkeeper's broomstick, the coughing of a passerby, the clattering, rhythmic sound of geta made by a running errand boy, and the conversation shared by a group of three women talking about their children. Hawkers and vendors made loud and distinct calls, as if drawing attention to themselves not only for the purpose of selling their wares, but to announce to him in no uncertain terms that they were real people, not just a figment of his imagination. His under-kimono stuck to his skin somewhat unpleasantly, telling him it was summer, and the smell of food confirmed what his sense of sight had already observed – that this street was flanked by several tea-houses and restaurants.


Could the herbal concoction they had served him possibly have had such a dramatic effect? Not having had the prior experience of consuming such things – with the exception of that mushroom incident – he couldn't really tell. Compared to the mushroom vision, though, this was strikingly different. That vision had a dreamlike, surrealistic quality, as did the vision immediately preceding this one. In fact, having had that strange conversation with Inari a few moments ago, made him feel as though he had just woken up from a dream, rather than entered another phase of dreaming.


This was also quite different from those Rykyuan visions he'd shared with Mugen, in that the people around him seemed aware of his presence. As he walked through the crowds milling around a vendor of grilled unagi (eel), people made way for him, and a man who had accidentally bumped into him apologized while directly addressing him as 'Samurai-san'.


He wondered why Mugen wasn't here. The previous dream had progressed in a symmetric fashion, up to the point of the meeting with Inari. He had been present to witness what, for ease of reference, he labelled as 'Mugen's part' of the dream; the things that the Nirai Kanai gods had shown them were certainly very personal to Mugen, so it was natural to expect that Mugen would be present in something that was personal to him.


Of the fact that this was his part of the vision, he was instinctively certain. Indeed, there was a strong sense of deja vu about this scene. It felt overwhelmingly identical to a moment he had experienced about three years and eight months ago, sometime before he had met Fuu and Mugen. He was presently wearing that same indigo blue kimono with the Takeda mon on it, and he was also disguised just as he used to be in those days, wearing glasses and a sedge hat. In addition, he was experiencing the same gnawing and intense feeling of hunger, a hunger comparable to the moment he had contemplated eating a partly-eaten stale bun lying on the sidewalk.


He decided to turn around and look at the sidewalk, at the same spot where the bun had been on that previous occasion. Actually, it would be more appropriate to say that he hoped it would be there, in part because of his hunger, but mainly due to the fact that its presence would somehow be reassuring. It would then provide him with comforting evidence that this was indeed a dream. After all, lucid dreams were of that nature; if you imagined something, you were able to manifest it, so to speak.


The reassurance he was seeking was indeed present, exactly in the form he had wanted it. But he was again surprised to note another familiar feeling within himself. Why did he feel the urgent need he'd experienced at that time, the feeling of not having eaten anything for a day and a half, wanting to cast aside the indignity and degradation one felt from the act of picking up the bun and gulping it down, regardless of what he or anyone else thought? Was this a vision for the purpose of reminding him that, in times of peace such as these, the samurai class would find it difficult to live with dignity? No, that didn't make sense; as a ronin it was something he'd experienced on a daily basis, and was fully adjusted to, having developed, in common with the chonin, a more mercenary and less than idealistic approach to life. For example, he had once defended a commoner about to be cut down by Yagyu-school retainers of an oppressive daikan(governor/magistrate), on the grounds of having paid inadequate taxes. But he had made sure to extract a monetary compensation for his act of kindness.[1]


Nevertheless, he found himself gradually inching towards the discarded bun, just like he had on a hot summer's day more than three and a half years ago. And just like that day he planned to pick it up as casually as possible, as though he was looking for a suitable place to dispose it off, and go to the alley at the back of the adjacent tea house – assuming such an alley also existed in this dream – and eat it.


Unlike that day, however, things didn't go according to plan. The back alley was a little crowded, and he had to wait before he found a suitable spot where he could eat the bun undisturbed. And even when he found such a spot, he was interrupted.


"I wouldn't eat that if I were you. It looks rather stale – one can't even make out what the filling is! It will make you sick."


The man who had addressed Jin was a robust, middle aged samurai with a square face, and thick hair gathered into a pigtail at the back of his head. He was about the same height as Jin, and wore a black hakama over a slate-gray kimono.


"If you like, I was about to have lunch at the Five Treasures Teahouse, and you could join me. I wouldn't mind some company, and it will be my treat."


Jin scrutinized the gray kimono clad samurai from head to toe. He was quite sure he had never met him, and yet there was something familiar about him. "It is kind of you to offer, but I do not accept charity."


The man in the gray kimono laughed, and moved a little closer to Jin, patting him lightly on his shoulder. "Don't worry young man, it isn't charity. Perhaps you can do me a favour in return for the meal. Some unexpected business came up, and my wife and daughter need to be escorted home. They are shopping somewhere at the moment and plan to meet me at the teahouse. I don't like the idea of letting them go back home on their own, without a bodyguard. So perhaps you can do that job for me. Is that acceptable to you?"


Under normal circumstances Jin may have been suspicious of the motives underlying the samurai's offer. This, however, was a hallucination, and he was very, very hungry. So he asked, "Where do you want me to escort them?"


"Our home is a few miles from here, on the outskirts of the city. But before that, we will make sure that you have a substantial meal. Otherwise, my wife and daughter may have to take care of you, rather than the other way around. Ha-ha."


Jin wasn't particularly amused by the samurai's joke, but smiled faintly out of politeness. This was a very odd dream, and he wondered how long it would last. In the meantime, he decided, he would go with the flow and see where it led him. So without any further demurral he accepted the samurai's offer and followed him as he made his way out of the alley towards the main street, where the Five Treasures Teahouse was located.


At the teahouse the samurai ordered a round of miso soup before the main meal of rice and fish. Jin, who had recovered somewhat from the enervation induced by his hunger pangs, wondered if he should ask some questions of the samurai. He knew that some of his questions may seem a little odd, but this was a dream, so how did it matter? And yet the reality of his surroundings made him hesitate. The samurai before him seemed like a real person, and somehow he felt uncomfortable asking questions that would most certainly lead this gentleman to conclude that he wasn't of sound mind.


But something had to be done to solve this 'puzzle' of a vision he was experiencing, so he decided to take the plunge. He asked: "What year is this? This place certainly looks like Edo, but is it Edo?"


The man in the gray kimono gave him a very strange look, and despite inwardly repeating to himself that it didn't matter, Jin felt embarrassed. The man, however, answered, after a pause. "Yes, this is Edo, and we are in the Nihonbashi merchant quarter. This is the sixth month of Enpo 6 (July 1678)."


The sixth month of Enpo 6 hadn't even happened yet, thought Jin. At present it was only the third month. So was this some sort of prophecy of the future? No, that was absurd; he didn't think such things were possible. Or rather, when he woke up he would simply think of this experience as an ordinary dream, not as something significant, or something that would actually be happening in the future, as those with more superstitious leanings might be persuaded to believe.


The man in front of him interrupted his thoughts. "Perhaps you have had a loss of memory. I have heard of such cases. Do you remember your name, by the way?"


"I am Takeda Jin."


"Ah, Jin – that's a nice name. What else do you remember, Jin?"


Jin was about to say 'I was in Kofu an hour ago, at the Furin Kazan Inn', but decided against it. Again, it was because he couldn't shake off the feeling that things around him were real, and he didn't want his host to think he was mad. The man, however, was looking a little apologetic, and seemed genuinely concerned about him. "Never mind Jin, it will all come back. For the time being, just enjoy your meal."


Jin smiled at the man and said, "Thank you. And may I ask, what is your name?"


"Seizo," he replied. "Kasumi Seizo."


-xxx-


After the initial shock and surprise of realizing that his vision included Kasumi Seizo, Jin had quickly regained his composure. Of course, he was in love with Fuu, so perhaps it wasn't unnatural to see her late father in a vision. It was a little odd that the setting of this vision/dream was in Edo, and in the future, but then dreams were like that. They were not supposed to make sense literally. There must be a symbolic meaning to all this and it would fall in place in due course. Besides, 'Kasumi' and 'Seizo' were common enough as far as surnames and given names went, so there was a reasonable chance that this was meant to be another person who was just a namesake of Fuu's father. It was also possible that the name didn't have any significance at all other than a purely psychological one – his mind has simply needed a name to be assigned to a stranger, and it picked 'Kasumi Seizo'.


But Jin's speculation proved to be incorrect, when his host's wife made an appearance, and was introduced to him as Umeko. He hadn't known Fuu's mother's name, but it wasn't necessary. The lady, who wore a brown kimono, had a matching shade of brown eyes that were uncannily like Fuu's. And then she had turned to her husband and said, "Fuu will be here soon. She got caught up watching a street performer at Nihonbashi Bridge."


Jin digested this new piece of information with a euphoric sense of anticipation. Surely, he thought, he was being shown an alternate reality, one in which Kasumi Seizo hadn't abandoned Fuu and Umeko. He couldn't be sure of the purpose of this vision, but there were several possibilities. Fuu was to be his life-partner and to see her in an alternate setting would provide certain insights, and such insights could only strengthen the foundations of their future relationship. Or was this some sort of divine message for her, being channelled through him? Either way, to see something like this meant that he had a very strong spiritual connection to Fuu. It was an idea that made him very happy.


Her entrance into the teahouse had been quite sudden, and like a gale in springtime, bringing with it a crisp freshness in the air and the fragrance of spring blossoms. A fusuma screen had prevented her from seeing him immediately, as she ran towards their enclosure, where he was sitting across the table from Seizo and Umeko. She was chattering as she ran to her parents, about the tricks she had seen being performed by a sword swallower, when she noticed his presence. She had halted in her tracks, looking a little embarrassed, and then bowed to him very demurely, saying "Sumimasen – excuse me."


His breath had caught when he saw her. In all respects, the girl standing before him was identical to Fuu, and yet there was something different. He had felt dazzled by her beauty, and this had puzzled him a little, in addition to making him feel a little guilty. This wasn't his Fuu, he told himself; he wasn't supposed to feel the kind of attraction he was feeling towards her right now.


Perhaps it was the fact that she had been running, and the exercise had imparted a deliciously rosy colour to her cheeks. And then she was a little out-of-breath, so there was that very pleasant undulating movement of her breasts under that dark blue kimono with a white-squares-enclosing-blue-squares pattern. Or was it something internal, an additional inner spark of happiness that shone through her eyes?


Whatever it was, he resolved not to pay any attention to it. He would observe things objectively, just as he'd been doing in the previous set of dreams. In any case, Fuu was now sitting next to him, entirely focussed on devouring the bowl of rice and fish her father had ordered for her, so he wouldn't have to look at her. But even as he tried to make polite small-talk with her parents, images of her sitting on his lap as he kissed her neck kept intruding into his mind.


'Fuu' on the other hand seemed annoyingly indifferent to his presence as she wolfed down her meal. But her behaviour changed as she caught her mother's eye; she then started to nibble at her food delicately, in a very ladylike manner, and listened politely to his conversation with Umeko and Seizo.


"Jin-san, do you live in Edo?" Umeko asked.


Seizo bent his head a little, speaking in solicitous, low tones as he answered on Jin's behalf. "I am afraid Umeko-san, Jin is suffering from a slight memory-loss. Fortunately, I don't think it's too serious. He doesn't seem to have an injury, and from my conversation with him, it appears that he has forgotten his experience of the past two and a half months or so, that is all. And he knows the city of Edo quite well."


The mention of his 'memory-loss' had made Jin a more interesting entity to Fuu and she had repeatedly looked at him with some curiosity after that point. He experienced a pang of something at this attention, a feeling that was bittersweet and tart, liked the taste of an unripened fruit. But any attention was better than no attention, and at least she seemed to welcome the idea that he was to escort them home. Or was that simply because the Kasumi family didn't want him to feel uncomfortable about receiving charity in the form of a free meal?


Later, on their way to the village of Renkoji, at the border between the Iwatsuki domain of Musashi province and Edo, she had been quite friendly towards him, and had taken it upon herself to find out the extent of his memory loss. Exactly when and where had he 'woken up' to find that he'd forgotten things? Did he remember how to use the sword? Did he remember the name of the shogun? And the emperor?


Umeko had intervened, looking reproachfully at Fuu. "Fuu-chan, you mustn't pester Jin like that."


Fuu looked a little hurt by her mother's remark. "I was only trying to help. If we find out exactly what the gaps in his memory are, we can help him recover."


Jin smiled at both Umeko and Fuu. "It is all right, Umeko-san. I don't mind. Fuu-san's idea is indeed a good one."


The warm smile from Fuu had been like a reward; he had answered her questions gently, and to the best of his ability, allowing for the fact that he was a little distracted by the passage of time. It had been several hours, and yet there was no sight of an end to this dream. And he didn't know how to 'wake up' from it; how did one wake up if one already felt wide awake?


It had been odd to address her as Fuu-san. But he was a stranger to her and the circumstances of their meeting had been somewhat formal, with her parents making the introduction. He wondered whether he would eventually be able to switch to addressing her as Fuu. But then again, this dream would probably end long before that happened. In the meantime he would try to find out as much as he could about her parents. Perhaps there was a message in all this for the real Fuu, and he wanted to make sure he didn't miss any of the details.


His first impressions of them had been very good. They were obviously a very philanthropic couple; he was a complete stranger to them and yet they had gone out of their way to be kind to him. On the flip side, such kindness could also be regarded as a symptom of naiveté. How could Kasumi Seizo be sure that he could trust him with the safety of his wife and daughter? Of course, he had been right in his judgement of Jin's character, but he had taken a risk of sorts.


He was to find out some other interesting details about Kasumi Seizo on their way to Renkoji. It turned out that Seizo was a retainer of Lord Masakuni, and served as a land assessment officer and tax collector for Renkoji village, which was part of Iwatsuki domain, and specialized in the production of rice. He also managed a small dojo in the neighbourhood of the village, which served as a place of martial arts training and practise for samurai retainers of Lord Masakuni, and their children. The Kasumis lived in a modest dwelling at the border of Renkoji village.


The fact that Seizo was a tax collector had surprised him. Seizo had impressed him as being a kind and honourable sort of man, and yet, in his experience, such epithets could not be used to characterize the prototypical tax collector of the Tokugawa period. A benevolent tax-collector? Surely that was a contradiction in terms. They were usually a corrupt and oppressive breed that spouted maxims like, 'Sesame seeds and peasants are very much alike. The more you squeeze them, the more you can extract from them.'


Nonetheless, he was to receive further evidence of Seizo's compassionate nature. Upon reaching their home, Umeko and Fuu had insisted he join them for their evening meal, and when Seizo returned, he had invited Jin to stay with them temporarily while he recovered from his memory-loss, or had found a suitable job to support himself. Not having any other options, and having made a resolution to 'go with the flow', he had agreed, but only after Seizo accepted the offer of his services for odd jobs and errands in lieu of payment for room and board. He would assist with the repairs and maintenance of the kenjutsu and iaijutsu dojo run by Seizo, and run errands for him that required making trips to the city. He also decided that he wouldn't stay with the Kasumis for more than a week. It wouldn't be necessary; in his experience, part-time tutoring jobs in Edo were quite easy to find. And surely, this dream wouldn't last that long.


-xxx-


Several days passed, then a week, followed by an entire month, leading Jin to question the assumption that he was dreaming. He felt a measure of panic because of this doubt, but forced himself to remain calm. There was no point in getting agitated; it was better to take a rational approach to things. What if he decided to play the devil's advocate, and started with the hypothesis that this wasn't a dream? Would he run into contradictions, or would he come up with plausible evidence to support the hypothesis? If this wasn't a dream, then memory-loss could certainly explain a few things. But to make things fit, the extent of memory loss would have to cover almost four years, not two and a half months, as Seizo had speculated. In that case, one could say, the 'experience' covering a period starting from a point a few months before he met Mugen and Fuu, until the moment he met Seizo, was a dream. Or did the dream start earlier, say immediately after he killed Mariya Enshiro? Traumatic events were known to trigger memory-loss, weren't they?


No, there was no point thinking along those lines. This was a dream and he would just have to let it play out. It couldn't be helped that he was maddeningly attracted to Fuu – or rather her 'dream counterpart'. Perhaps it was only natural. Thankfully he had found the tutoring job he was looking for, so he was able to rent a room at a cheap inn on the outskirts of Edo and avoid seeing her too often. Even so, he still felt obligated to Seizo, and liked to run errands for him occasionally, which meant that he would run into her now and then.


But the attraction he felt was inexorable, so he found himself looking for excuses to run into her. And since she was friendly by nature, he had soon acquired the status of a tomodachi (friend) of Fuu. Of course, he found that she had other friends too, including a young man called Shinsuke, who had a striking resemblance to that pick-pocket he had encountered in his travels with Fuu – his Fuu, and Mugen.


As far as he could tell, she had no romantic interests in Shinsuke, or any other potential candidate for her affections, for that matter. But it annoyed him to see that her parents, and also her aunt and uncle – the Ayako and Hideo of this alternate reality – seemed to consider Shinsuke as a potential 'boyfriend' of Fuu. Apparently Shinsuke's mother was very fond of Fuu, and had hinted to Umeko that she would like Fuu and Shinsuke to be married at some stage. Seizo and Umeko hadn't taken the hint too seriously, but to his chagrin they teased her about it. He found himself hoping, quite fervently, that she wouldn't be influenced by the talk surrounding her and Shinsuke.


He had soon been relieved to find out that she wasn't attracted to Shinsuke, but in the process of finding out, another source of uncertainty had been introduced into his mind. He had eavesdropped – accidentally, of course, he told himself – on a conversation between Umeko, Ayako, and Fuu, while engaged in polishing some iaito (metal practise swords for iaijutsu) at Kasumi Seizo's dojo. The three women were cleaning the main hall, while he was in the next room, where the practise weapons were stored. The conversation had drifted to topics that he conjectured were the subject of 'woman talk', a label which his older dojo colleagues from his childhood days had used for 'things-women-do-not-discuss-in-our-presence'. The gist of what unfolded was as follows:


Ayako: "Time flies so fast, onesan. Young Fuu will be nineteen at the end of this year."


Umeko: "Ah yes, very soon we will have to start thinking about her marriage."


Fuu: (Making a muffled sound suggestive of exasperation) "I don't want to get married, thank you very much."


Ayako: "What? Why not? You will have to, my dear. Your parents can't support you all your life, you know."


Fuu: "I don't have to get married right away. I can get married later."


Ayako: "It is better to get married when you are young and beautiful, Fuu-chan. When you have crossed a certain age, no one will want to marry you!"


Umeko: "Your aunt is right, Fuu. Right now you can pick and choose from your multitude of admirers. There's Shinsuke, there's Matahachi, and that nice looking son of Gorobe-dono – the one who assists your father with land assessments. I forget his name. Was it – ah, yes, Katsuhiro, wasn't it?"


Fuu: "They are just friends – I don't want to marry any of them."


Ayako: "Ah, but from what I can see, they are all pretty interested in you. They all want to get inside your kimono."


Umeko: "Ayako-chan!"


Fuu: (Simultaneously with Umeko) "Ughh!"


Ayako: "It is part of marriage Fuu. When you are married, your husband-"


Fuu: "I know. I have heard all about that icky stuff from my married female friends. It's disgusting! I'm definitely not getting married until I can help it."


(There was some laughter from Umeko and Ayako at this point.)


Ayako: "It is not necessarily unpleasant, my dear. Perhaps we should get you some of those educational shunga books."


Fuu: "What? You think that'll change my mind? I've seen some of those, by the way, and they totally grossed me out."

(There was a brief pause here, in which some laughter from Umeko and Ayako, and the sound of sweeping and dusting could be heard.)


Ayako: "Ah that reminds me...I have been meaning to tell you, onesan. My friend Sumiko inherited a pillow book from her aunt, who died recently. It had some very interesting comments about sexual compatibility."


Umeko: "Really? You are referring to Izumi-san's pillow book? Somehow, I had imagined her to be a very straitlaced woman."


Ayako: "She was. But the pillow-book had been in her family for generations. So those notes had been made by a lady from many generations ago, around the time Japan traded with many other countries. Apparently this lady had made notes based on a book – I believe it was called the Kamasutra -from India."


Umeko: "What does it say? Is it similar to the Shiju Hatte, with those 48 positions?"


Ayako: "48? I thought there were 96 of them."


Umeko: "There are two sides to each of the 48, so there are 96 in that sense."


Ayako: "Ah, I see... Anyway, where was I? Hmm, the Kamasutra...Actually it does have positions too, but Izumi-san's ancestor had dismissed them as being too difficult, and hadn't bothered to copy them saying that the Shiju Hatte positions were more comfortable. But she had made notes from another chapter of that book, and I found those to be quite intriguing."


Umeko: "Go on."


Ayako: "Well, there was this bit about the relative sizes of male and female genitalia and their link to sexual compatibility – at least, that's what I thought it was about."


Umeko: "Hmm? Please elaborate...I'm not sure I understand what you mean."


Fuu: "Bound to be utterly disgusting, I suppose."


Ayako: "It was quite interesting really. According to that book, women are classified into three categories – deer, mare, and elephant – according to the depth of their vagina. The 'deer' being the smallest, and the 'elephant' being the largest – you get the idea, I'm sure. Likewise, men are classified as hare, bull, and horse, according to the size of their penis. The book says that a pairing of 'equals', i.e. deer with hare, mare with bull, and elephant with horse is the best kind of pairing. Other pairings are ranked too, but I have forgotten exactly how. But there are instructions for good sex in all cases – different types of techniques are used for different types of pairings."


Fuu: (Giggling). "That is funny, in a gross sort of way."


Ayako: "Now in your case Fuu, my guess is that Shinsuke-"


Fuu: "Ayako-baaasaaaan! YUCK! Don't even think about completing that sentence. It will take me hours to get that image out of my head."


Ayako: "Talking of the Shiju Hatte, I believe that from the Japanese point of view there is more of an emphasis on yogarinaki."


Fuu: "At the risk of throwing up my last meal, I will venture to ask, what is yogarinaki?"


Ayako: "Yogarinaki refers to the moaning, sobbing, whimpering and squealing sounds a woman makes when the man is pounding into her. It is supposed to enhance the pleasure considerably."


Fuu: "For whom?"


Umeko: "Hmm...You know Ayako-chan, I don't think I agree with that theory about the sizes of men and women's, ahem, private parts. If you think about it-"


Fuu: "Eeeeep-ugh-yuck! Okasan! Please, just let me get out of here, and the two of you can continue your conversation. Bye now."


Fuu had run out of the hall, exiting through the front entrance, while Jin too had tiptoed out of the next room, making his way out through the back entrance. His mind was in a state of turmoil, and he resorted to his usual method of calming himself by analysing the reasons underlying his emotions. Why had such a harmless conversation stirred him up to such a degree? He could only think of two reasons.


Firstly, it was the 'information content' of the conversation, and its implications for whether he was dreaming or not. He had certainly known about the Shiju Hatte, so his mind could have conjured up that part of it. But what about things he had no prior knowledge of, such as those details from the Kamasutra? Could one dream of such things? Of course, whether those details were 'facts' could only be confirmed if he were to 'wake up' from the dream; perhaps there were some records of the Kamasutra in one of the libraries in either Edo, Kyoto or Osaka. But those details, his instincts told him, would have to be facts, simply because his imagination couldn't possibly conjure up such ideas.


It wasn't as if he had a low opinion of his imagination. It was just that, based on his knowledge and methods of reasoning, he wouldn't have thought of things that way his imagination would have conjured up something entirely different. That could only mean that this wasn't a dream. And if this wasn't a dream, then there was a good reason to be agitated.


For instance, why had the author of that book chosen such a strange nomenclature to classify male and female anatomies? Why were the women categorized as deer, mare and elephant while men were respectively hare, bull and horse? Why not choose the same nomenclature, for example deer, horse and elephant for both men and women? That way, the author's theory that 'equal pairings' were the best may have had – by association - a greater psychological force behind it.


And to come up with theories of that kind, the author must have had the benefit of making empirical observations about the pairings, in addition to his own sexual experience. Did he conduct a survey of sorts, somehow identifying various 'pairs' of men and women, and interviewing them? That would have been the Confucian approach, perhaps, of analysing such an issue; you made observations and applied objective reasoning. And what about the various sizes – was the choice of animals used for the nomenclature related in any way to the relative sizes of their genitalia? No, that choice must have been an intuitive one; the author couldn't possibly have gone to the extraordinary length of measuring the depth of an elephant's vagina.


Furthermore, he had doubts about that theory. Why should size matter that much? Perhaps the author was thinking about things from a woman's perspective. But if it was about – reaching? - a certain spot, most men would have a penile length that was, well, functional. Nature would have intended it to be so. Of course, shunga books typically tended to exaggerate the length, indirectly emphasizing its importance. If that view were to be believed, then a horse would perform well in all pairings, while an 'elephant' woman would be very hard to satisfy.


Certainly, there were hundreds of ribald senryu one heard in Edo's theatre district, and some of these did make a reference to size. But typically these were in relation to width as well as length. For instance, there were those verses that made fun of the Nara period monk Dokyu, who rose to the status of Prelate on account of Empress Koken's patronage. The story was that the empress had urinated on a Buddhist sutra in anger, and received a supernatural punishment -in the form of insatiable desire. About Empress Koken it was said: Even virgin/her purse was wide/as a wet-nurse. Or: Empress Koken/pray be told/had six and ninety folds. And about Dokyu: His body was human, his cock was horse. Or: When Dokyu sat down all eyes would freeze/to see he had not two - but three knees. And about the pair of them: Until Dokyo came/her sex was like washing/burdock root in the sea.[2]


He shook himself inwardly. Spending too much time thinking about such things was perhaps a little unseemly. Besides, there was no point - he had simply established another reason not to think of his present experience as a dream, and he could move on from there. Of course, he would need further evidence before he could come to any firm conclusions in that regard. In that case, it would be better to focus on the second reason for his agitation.


Why had Fuu been so averse to the idea of sex? Did she have a repressed sexuality, or was she simply reacting with respect to the potential suitors Umeko and Ayako had mentioned? Maybe, the married female friends she'd mentioned had influenced her views on the subject. Women didn't have much of a choice when it came to marriage, and more often than not, perceived sex as a duty to be performed for the sake of progeny. But then again, shunga books were quite popular with women, so they couldn't all be thinking along those lines.


A scene from the past – or was it just a dream? - flashed in his mind. Fuu had been so annoyed, that day in Shiba, shaking her fist at him and Mugen, when they were browsing those shunga books of that artist admirer of hers, Hishikawa Moronobu. She had called them perverts, and yet later on, was curious enough to take a peek inside one of the books, stifling a giggle when she came across the print involving an octopus. But she had the thrown the book down in disgust when she looked at the one called 'Through the Screens', depicting a man attempting to penetrate a woman crouching on the other side of a shoji screen.[3]


A sudden burst of longing filled his heart. He said a silent prayer to the gods, wishing that he would wake up the next morning to find himself at the Furin Kazan Inn in Kofu, from where he could make his way back to Fuu, who must be waiting anxiously for his return at the Sekisuiji Inn. Or would he find, when he woke up, that Fuu was engaged to Tanaka Etsuo? Was the time passing there at the same rate that it was in this world?


But in the meantime, there was no point worrying about the things that he couldn't control. The only sensible option available to him, then, was to act as if this environment was the real world. And the realization dawned that he couldn't do anything about his attraction to the Fuu. In fact, he was finding it very hard to distinguish between the 'two Fuus' – the one from this world, and the one he knew. Perhaps there was a special significance to this particular feeling. Perhaps the only way to end this dream was to pursue the natural feelings and desires that arose within it. So instead of avoiding her, he would seek her out as often as possible. Today, for instance, there was an opportunity to see her alone; she'd just run out of the dojo, and was unaccompanied by her aunt and mother.


-xxx-


He spotted her under one of the zelkova trees in the compound of the dojo, sitting with her arms folded around her knees, and her chin resting between them.


"Jin! I haven't seen you in a while. Have you been all right?"


He replied in the affirmative, saying 'Aa', and then, as she looked at him expectantly, realized that he hadn't planned on what he was going to say to her. "I hope you have been well too," he added awkwardly.


The Fuu of this world, he had found, was similar to the one he knew in many respects, one characteristic being that she was never at a loss for words. She replied that she had been well, described at length what she had been up to during the day, and then remarked on the fact that she was enjoying this autumn, her favourite part of the year.


Amidst the torrent of words, he had tried to think of something to say, something that could prolong the time he could be around her. But all he could come up with was, "I will be going to the city tomorrow, and I was wondering whether you needed anything."


He had instantly regretted his remark. Great, he thought. Now she would either say 'Yes' or 'No' and there would be little scope of prolonging the conversation. Of course, if she said 'Yes' there was some hope, in that he could ask for more details on the particular item she wanted.


She didn't say 'Yes', but to his surprise, presented him with an opportunity he hadn't hoped for. "No, I don't need anything, but if it isn't too much to ask, could I go with you? I simply love visiting the city. Otosan is usually very busy when he goes there, so he doesn't take me with him very often. But he doesn't like me to go alone, so I can only go when Okasan is in the mood to shop, or when Ayako-basan invites me to stay with her. Hideo-jisan works as a retainer at Lord Masakuni's Edo residence, you know, so they live near the Yamanote area."


"I would be delighted to take you there," said Jin. "But I will have to spend about an hour and a half at the Zozoji Temple's terakoya(primary school), tutoring some children. If you don't mind waiting at the temple during that time, we can spend the afternoon just as you please."


She had seemed delighted, and he thought there had been a slight blush on her cheeks. Her reaction had made his heart leap, and perhaps bounce around and do a little jig, he decided, going by the violently euphoric feeling in his chest. He was quite sure, though, that his facial expression didn't give him away – he was good at looking inscrutable, after all. But he was also sure that he had failed in his attempt not to turn red.

 



[1] This is obviously a reference to episode 1 of Samurai Champloo, and the scene in which Jin appears for the first time. Regarding the 'partly eaten stale bun', one might say that it too is derived from canon. In one of the SC manga volumes Jin does eat a stale bun lying on the sidewalk. I threw in the 'partly eaten' for greater dramatic effect.

[2] The translated senryu are from Robin D. Gill, 2007, "The Woman Without a Hole - & Other Risky Themes from Old Japanese Poems," Paraverse Press. For the original sources of the senryu, which are actually from the late Edo Period, see the citations in that book. (A lot of the citations are in Japanese, which I can't read!). I haven't bothered to 'explain' the senryu, and I don't think I need to. Besides one can't be too explicit, as per ffnet rules. But for those interested there are detailed explanations and notes in the book, which is available on the internet. I will add, though, that according to the author of the book, 'a standard vagina has 48 folds', which is why the '96 folds' in that senryu is supposed to be funny. He doesn't cite any reference for this piece of information, but reference to 48 folds occurs in many other senryu, so perhaps this was part of the 'medical lore' of the Edo Period. But I looked up Gray's Anatomy and it doesn't mention 48 folds anywhere.

[3] This refers to a scene in the SC episode titled Artistic Anarchy, in which Fuu gets a little annoyed when she sees Jin and Mugen going through shunga books with an avid interest. Regarding the ukiyoe print 'Through the Screen', it is actually form Moronobu's Koi no Mutsugoto Shiju-Hatte (Forty-Eight Positions in the Secrets of Love). The 'print with the octpus' is in reference to an ukiyoe similar in spirit/identical to Katsushika Hokusai's 'Dream of a Fisherman's Wife'. I believe we see a glimpse of it in SC when Mugen browses Moronobu's shunga collection. (And it would certainly be an anachronism since Katsushika Hokusai lived from 1760-1849). Regarding the Shiju-Hatte, internet sources suggest that it is a modified version of the original Kamasutra, and came to Japan via China. So, in a sense, it is supposed to be a Chinese re-interpretation of the Kamasutra.

To be continued in part (ii)

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