East meets West where the Samurai meets the Cowboy: Ronin.
Sometime in the 17th Century the young Samurai Gonpachi got into an argument with his clansman over who had the better dog. A sword fight ensued and Gonpachi, being handy with his weapon, killed his clansman. Forced to flee, he became a ronin: a wandering Samurai with no master to serve.
One evening he slunk into a country inn for a drink, a meal, and a bed. In the night he was startled from sleep by a gorgeous 15-year-old girl, Komurasaki, come to warn him that the inn-keepers were robbers and villains, intent on murdering him and stealing his beautiful sword. She also revealed herself as the daughter of a rich merchant, kidnapped by these evil men, and begged him to save her. So he sliced up the gangsters, killing them all, and returned Komurasaki to her parents.
Gonpachi and Komurasaki had fallen in love, and father and daughter did everything they could to convince him to marry and take over the family business, but Gonpachi, ever the cowboy, was not through with wandering, so he rode off into the sunset. Back to Tokyo. Or Edo, as it was then called.
Gonpachi began to hear stories of an extraordinary courtesan in the Yoshiwara pleasure district, not far from where Ueno Station now stands. This young prostitute was reputed to surpass all of her competition in beauty and womanly skills. Gonpachi went off to the Miuraya brothel to find out if the stories were true. He discovered that the young woman was his Komurasaki. She had indentured herself into prostitution to support her destitute parents: apparently her father’s business had not done well since Gonpachi rode away.
Reunited, the lovers could not get enough of one another. Gonpachi returned to Miuraya brothel every day. Ronin, though, have no source of steady income and Gonpachi soon ran out of funds to pay for his lover’s favours. Komurasaki would never have kept him from her bed, but Gonpachi was too ashamed to come to the brothel without money, so he killed a man, stole his money, and gave it to Komurasaki. In the days that followed he killed another man and then another and another, showering their money on his beloved. By the time it was finished he was reputed to have murdered 130 men for love of dog and Komurasaki.
In the end, the law caught up with him and he was executed by haritsuke: crucified and impaled by spears. His body was buried just outside the gates of Ryusen-ji, better known as Meguro Fudo, an important Buddhist temple dedicated to the black-eyed fire god Fudomyo. Komurasaki killed herself on his grave and is buried there beside him.
In Japan these two lovers are symbolized by the fabulous bird hiyokudori, which has only one wing and so must find its other half in order to fly: the incarnation of faithful love.
On December 31st morning in Tokyo, Lee and I make our way from the Grand Prince Takanawa to Sunset Plaza hotel in Shinjuku. As we step out of Shinjuku subway station, I misjudge the height of one of the steps, my weight coming down heavily on one foot. Except for a pang of pain that disappears as I walk on, I am okay.
At 3 P.M. Lee returns, subway map in hand, and suggests that we make it to another Kannon temple. We get off at the Nakana-Fujimicho station and find that Toen-ji is closed. We wander down deserted streets searching for a nearby temple. Everyone seems away for the New Year holiday. We meet Amy who has learned English from her month in Canada at the University of Manitoba, and she guides us to the subway stop.
At our $100 dinner, there is once again nothing much for me to eat. Where are the famed soba noodles? Hungry and a little despondent at being pilgrims who cannot find temples or arrive at temples with closed doors, I pick at the margarita pizza that the organizers, belatedly, ordered for their handful of vegetarian participants, while others relish the famous Kobe beef and grilled fish. In this island country the fish looks delicious, but I remember my joyous dream of fish basket Guan Yin (there is one such temple on this pilgrimage); in a second dream at CTTB, Kannon-like, I’d gathered hallways of dying jeweled fish and returned them to the water: I saved some, but not all.
After dinner Lee and I plan to attend New Year celebrations at a Tokyo temple. I suggest Meiji shrine, interested in seeing its unadorned cypress wood buildings, bronze lanterns, expansive gardens and roof of camphor trees. The temple commemorates Emperor Meiji who transitioned Japan from a feudal to modern society.
Lee suggests the 33rd temple on the Kannon pilgrimage, Rysuen-ji.
“Really? Will they have New Year celebrations?”
“They should. It’s a large temple.”
This evening in Tokyo, his belly may not be full of soba gold, but his heart is pure and his body when we embrace is warm. I know that he wants this for me. It would be perfect to spend New Year’s in Kannon’s presence.
At Rysuen-ji, we may miss out on gongs and a large-scale celebration, but I am happy to be with him. In the restroom, I slip out of my dress and slip on comfortable shoes, jeans, and a sweater. Lee wears a suit jacket with his jeans and I worry that he will be cold. Dressed almost always in blue jeans, he has something of the cowboy in him. Fortunately, in our love’s history there are no murders and brothel. Yet, will our love rival the fidelity of Gonapache and Komurasaki? Against seemingly impossible odds, we are still together.