Let’s talk about the setting for my novel, Haiku Dance.
Near the end of the eighth century in Japan, the Emperor Kammu decided to move his court to ‘the city of purple hills and crystal streams’ that became Heian-kyo or Heian Kyo, today known as Kyoto. It was designated, ‘the capital of tranquility.’ Influenced by the Chinese, it was an earthen-walled city three miles by three and a half miles. The streets, borrowing Chinese conventions, were laid out in straight lines intersecting to create no fewer than 1200 blocks. It took a century for this city to develop its own unique Japanese priorities and cultural refinements, during which Japan reached its peak as an imperial and aristocratic culture. Peace, art, poetry and culture flourished during these days.
Great women writers of the 10th century dominated, and two that influenced my decision to set HAIKU DANCE in this era where Murasaki Shikubu, who wrote, “The Tale of Genji,” and Sei Shonagon who wrote the “Pillow book.” They wrote mostly about the intrigues of the court of the Emperor, but also gave a flavor of the greater culture of the time.
The samurai class was not yet in power as war lords (as they would be in the later eras soon to follow—such as those written about in Shogun). After his training in bushido, the way of the warrior, my main character, Shino, is soon tired and disillusioned with the battles he's been fighting. The many less than honorable lords who care more for their holdings, lands and goods than for the lives of those who fight for them are using unskilled samurai that put their fellow warriors at great risk. He decides he wants to train his own samurai to a higher standard.
But before we get there, we are introduced to Shino on Mount Takao, where he was born on a tea farm. He knows little of Heian Kyo. Being an increasingly rebellious boy of 13, he is forced from his mountain home and into training to be a samurai. Lashing out in the midst of his own pain, he hurts his young female friend who has been there for him through all his angst and heartache. He is unaware of the hardships soon to befall her when he leaves, and will bitterly regret his rough handling of her feelings and his rebuff of her young attachment to him.
That young girl, Miyoshi, writes him a haiku which he will hold next to his heart for years to come:
on Mount Takao
the blossoms opened for us
now on Takao
the blossoms have fallen down
crushed beneath my feet in pain
river waters flow
out from where my toes will dip
through streams into lakes
down to wherever you go
reminding you of my tears.
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