A Japanese New Yearbyddimilano©
One can feel the energy in the air. The crowd—filled so with anticipation and excitement of what is to come. Every year they all gather; several thousand from our village and beyond. Holding coins in their hands, they await the 108th striking of the gong, the signal that the impurities of the old year have washed away and the New Year has begun. Each person wants to say a New Year's prayer. They fill cars and drive in from miles around—couples, families, even employees on corporately sponsored trips. Some ride the bullet train all the way from Tokyo to our coastal village—now a city.
The New Year is the most celebrated holiday in our culture. Beginning on December 31 and lasting through January 3, it is a time to wash away the troubles of the past and begin anew. People plan for weeks prior to the holiday itself, cleaning their homes, preparing food, and writing postcards (called nengajo) for delivery on New Year's Day. I used to climb the giant images at the temple to clean them on this day; now one can watch television and see the monks continue this tradition.
I visit many households on the New Year, as they also visit mine. By tradition, I visit the home of the devout after it is thoroughly cleansed from the attic to the floors under the tatami mats. Shimenawa rope of straw with white paper strips hangs over the front door and windows to mark my temporary abode in a family's home. But I didn't always get this much attention. I had to earn their respect; I served their ancestors a very long time ago.
* * *
It was 1258 CE, and Kublai Khan had advanced through China and conquered the Korean peninsula. The Sea of Japan was a comfortable buffer from most mainland aggressors, but not enough for the Khan; he wanted our islands as well. Sending representatives from the Mongolian court he demanded surrender to Mongolian rule. The Hojo refused. We then prepared for the inevitable invasion. It was our way to build not only physical fortifications but also spiritual ones as well. A warrior must be free of impurities in order to think clearly and execute strategy.
First, we purified ourselves from the impure tsumi, the force that binds us to misfortune and suffering. Our whole village was prepared. We had traveled inland from Matsue to the mountains. There the waterfalls are large and inspire great awe in the Shinto priests. It is said that Kami exist in the natural force of the waterfall, as well as certain ancestors, great animals, mountains, and other natural phenomena.
All lined up for the Misogi ritual, with the women in white kimonos and the men in white loincloths and headbands. I was instructed to shake my soul by bouncing my hands up and down in front of my stomach. This was to make me aware of my soul's presence. Next, I shouted invocations to activate my soul and affirm the infinite through unification with the Earth and the ki energy. Before entering the waterfall, I absorbed as much ki as possible and raised my metabolism by deep breathing. I was then sprinkled with purifying salt and given sake to spray into the stream in three mouthfuls. The priest counted to nine to symbolize the impurity of the mundane world, and then cut the air with a shout of 'yei!' to dispel impurity. I then entered the waterfall.
I chanted, 'Harae-tamae-Kiyyome-tamae-ro-kon-sho-jo,' requesting the Kami wash away all tsumi from the six elements that form my being. The force of the waterfall hit my shoulders and carried impurities and tensions away. A natural massage, it relaxed me so. The thundering water crashing down on my shoulders and neck, pushing the tension and stress away, washing it down into the stream, and then out to the ocean. After Misogi we all shared a ceremonial drink to unify ourselves with the Kami and with each other.
The journey back to the village seemed shorter than the trip to the waterfall; perhaps this was due to the heightened state of awareness and unencumbered thoughts that we all had. I felt as though I could hear the thoughts of some of the others, especially my family members. I also felt much closer to the natural elements that surrounded me—the wind, trees, clouds, and birds. I asked the priest about this. He informed me that it was natural for a boy my age to acquire increased awareness after the first cleansing ritual, as I was growing to maturity and was adopting a new awareness of my surroundings.
We built fortifications around the village and down the west coast of the island. Unsure exactly where the Khan and the Chinese troops would land, it was expected to be the shortest distance from Korea, at our village of Matsue, which is only 120 miles from Kyoto.
Sixteen years had passed since the Khan had sent his warning. Our fortifications were built and a standing army was at the ready. I had spent much time with the priests learning more rituals, chanting, meditating, and focusing on a path to enlightenment. Our indigenous Shinto religion had mixed with Buddhist thought imported from mainland Asia many years before. The two existed side by side, as Shinto had no death rites and the way of the Buddha did. I was in preparation to be a priest.
A spy on the Korean coast had sent a message via carrier pigeon. The Khan and his amphibious fighting force had set sail for Japan. As our army took position, I climbed to the highest cliff overlooking the harbor. Assuming the lotus position, I closed my eyes and focused on the wind.
The wind at the top of the cliff was the strongest. Although it was pounding on my body, I directed my thoughts to the air over the water. The stronger it became, the hotter I felt. I began to perspire. I pictured myself floating through the breeze as a bird, or a leaf ripped from a tree.
I felt as though I was over the ocean, flying through the air on the wind. I could see the sounds of the gales turning a bright white, then orange, then red. I could hear the colors of the winds; the reds were the loudest, popping in my ears.
Although I knew the wind was all around me, I no longer felt it pressing in on me as before. All around it was, blowing now in a circle, getting stronger, biting at the water. Heavy clouds moved in and swirled over the water. The ocean began to chop. High waves were crashing on the coast. The birds flew inland. The squirrels, rabbits, and other small animals ran into the forests, away from the beaches. The sky darkened and the rain began to hammer the land. Wind swirled over the water at great velocity; I was spinning with it, over the water, although my body was sitting on the cliff.
A hurricane had formed. The Chinese ships began to toss and turn. Some turned back. Most tipped and sank into the Sea of Japan. Men weighted down with heavy armor drowned quickly. Others tried to swim, but the waves pushed them down. Most of Khan's ships were destroyed and his troops lost in the sea. Kublai had turned back to the mainland.
My people thanked the Kamikaze, or 'divine wind.' I told only the priests and monks what I had done. They praised my modesty regarding this secret. One pointed out a change in my appearance: My face was now deeply lined and the single lock of hair allowed to grow from the back of my head was now a solid grey. I had suddenly aged dramatically. I now appeared older than our elder, but was half his age.
Having much to contemplate, I journeyed inland to the forest. There I entered homelessness, and so dwelt as a hermit, living on nuts and berries, meditating on what I had done. Over time, it happened again. As I thought of wind, the trees would blow. As I thought of water, it would rain. If I was cold, I thought of fire. The twigs and kindling that lay before me began to burn. As I thought of the Earth, the ground would soften beneath the fire and swallow it up. I now knew that I could control the elements at will.
Upon returning to the temple, I told the others of my experience. Hearing the news, the elder bowed down to me, prostrated himself, and kissed my feet. The others lined up behind him to do the same. I was astonished and appalled! Attempting to stop them, I moved away. The elder explained to me that I had reached a stage of enlightenment that had not been achieved in our temple for many generations. He continued, telling me that, since I performed the miracle over the ocean the day of the Khan's attack and could now control this power at will, I had moved to another plane within one lifetime. This, he said, was the work of Kami.
I continued to dwell with the monks as I aged at a most rapid pace. On the first day of each New Year, I would meditate, calling for rain to help the crops, asking the Earth to bless our village and bring forth food for all to eat. The farmers would bring food to the temple in the form of alms. Families grew. Our numbers swelled.
One warrior chieftain came to the temple. He was the daimyo of a nearby village. Seeking to challenge the rule of the shogun and form a shogunate of his own, he explained his intent to unite the samurai behind him by defeating the Mongols at their next attack. He had heard of a young priest who appeared as an elder. One who could control the elements, make food grow, and defeat enemies.
I informed him that to assist in war against our own people was something I could not do, but to help defend the village from outside invaders was acceptable to me. He explained further what his spies had reported, that Kublai Khan had amassed another army. This one armed with 'fire-sticks.' He went on to say that the Khan's alchemists had mixed Earth elements into a powder that ignites and explodes, causing great destruction. This fighting force was on its way to Japan, having set sail seven years to the date of the original attack. If I would help him defeat this enemy, the other daimyos would follow his leadership as shogun.
Although I refrained from involvement in the internal politics of the region, I did feel a calling to help my people once again. The wall that was built for the last attack was still standing. Scouts reported the fleet fifty miles northeast of Mount Shima. Soon it would be in sight of the coast. This was too close to create a hurricane, as that would also damage the Japanese coastline. I thought only of rain— rain that could soak this black powder of destruction to an ineffectual state.
Sitting where I was before, I stared at the ocean and all its water, water that became lighter and lighter, until it was lighter than air. Floating up into the sky the moisture formed clouds. The clouds weighed down close to the horizon and darkened with anger as the Mongol invasion force was now in sight. It was the largest amphibious assault force that anyone had ever seen.
The rain had begun—hard rain, rain that caused pain to the skin as it struck the body. Although armor protected one from the pelting of the rain, the armies could not shoot arrows at one another. Nor could the Khan's forces use the fire-sticks. Large round spheres made up of this new powder mixed with chunks of metal were flung from siege equipment on the Mongolian ships, but the forceful rain extinguished the flames in the air and the landings were without blazing spectacle. Now the armies fought without one having the advantage over the other. Except that the rain made it difficult for the invading force to climb the protective walls, and within a day the Khan retreated to the sea, never to return.
As the villages unified under one leadership, the new shogun wanted to reward me for my assistance. After refusing positions of power and monetary gain, I informed him that I would have no use for such things, as I now had aged rapidly once again. I wanted nothing more than to quietly conclude my remaining years at the temple.
Several months had passed. The village prepared for another New Year's celebration; monks cleaned the Nara Daibutsu and chanted mantras. I took my daily meditation as usual, under a willow tree on a hill behind the temple. The Sun was bright and I began to feel drowsy after receiving alms in the form of a midday meal. Sleeping under the tree, I saw sleepy visions of my life. As short as it had been, I felt it was a full one. I did not choose the life of a householder, marrying and bringing children into the world, but I helped others do just that. I felt content and without desire, for desire is the cause of suffering.
Waking from this slumber I opened my eyes and beheld a white, tent-like figure an arm's length before me. It spoke: 'May I observe the Blessed One?'
It was a female voice, confident, serene, and respectful. 'Yes, of course,' I replied.
She did nothing. Then I realized that I must remove the white sheet that covered her. Removing the sheet, I saw the most beautiful creature this world could produce sitting before me in the late afternoon sun. A woman, about thirty, sitting on her knees with her head looking down, and then tilting up to look at me; she was tied in kinbaku fashion.
Quite bewildered, I asked, 'What is your name? How did you get here? Why are you tied?'
Returning my volley with a question of her own, she asked, 'You are a holy man…the Blessed One, are you not?' Slithering her body inside the ropes, she smiled.
'Many call me by that name. I am Hayaro, servant of all Kami. Please explain why I am so blessed by this vision of loveliness.'
'I am called Natsuko, third daughter to our triumphant shogun by his fourth wife. He is most grateful to you and offers his respect and thanks. I am to offer my assistance to you in any way you desire.'
'My dear, although you are truly lovely, I am not desirous of the passions offered by this world. My goal is to subdue my lower human desires, to reach enlightenment, Nirvana, to be one with Kami.'
'This was told to me by the shogun. This is why I was chosen over all others. I am a Tantric nun, schooled in the discipline of Kundalini, the serpent power that lies dormant in all of us, to raise it from its coiled state at the bottom on the spine through the lower three chakras and on up to the seventh crown chakra.
'As you can see from these ropes, I am tied in a ritualistic sense. Raised in shibari, I have learned to move discreetly inside the ropes, allowing the hemp knots to stimulate the chakras from my lowest energy center, on up my spine to the fourth—to move the power to the psychic center or beyond. I am in need of a partner.'
She continued to move 'discreetly' in the ropes, twisting her body as though she was trying to escape them, her hips moving back and forth in rhythmic fashion. Except for the hemp ropes, she was without clothing. The rope looped around the back of the neck and crisscrossed her back along the spine, knotted at pressure points corresponding to the chakra.
The rope then wove into one solid and stretched between the hemispheres of her backside and up through the cleft of her sex. There the thin rope was strategically knotted two times in close proximity to stimulate this base energy center. Her movements, appearing to the uninitiated as an attempt to loosen or untie—an effort that would be in vain without the assistance of another—was in reality a form of self-stimulation and erotic massage. Wetness had commenced; glistening in the sun, her excitement had caused the hemp to shrink and tighten.
As in the back, so in the front. Hemp weaved up in a crisscross fashion, knotted at strategic chakra pressure points across her stomach and chest; her breasts exposed. The pressure points, or shiatsu are usually located by an acupuncturist. The knotted weave is performed by an artisan or priest, the objective being to channel the ki energy up from the lower spine through the pressure points, stimulating each chakra along the way.
Noticing that her arms were also tied behind her back at the elbows and at the wrists, forcing her breasts forward, I asked, 'And why are your arms tied?'
'Since the purpose of the Tantric meditation is to stimulate the most primal of urges and to draw it up through the other chakra, it is important that neither partner be allowed to climax. The priests also tied my arms to prevent me from using my hands…to overstimulate my lower energy center,' she said with slight embarrassment.
Breathing deeply, I said to Natsuko, 'I have aged quickly. I feel I have used all the energy allowed to me for this lifetime.'
'You are the Blessed One,' she said, gazing intently into my eyes. 'You are very old indeed. I do not believe that you will have anymore lifetimes; at least, not as a man of this Earth.' Looking down at the ground, she began to weep. 'Please lend me your quiescence. I shall give my creative Shakti freely to you. Through our union, we shall transcend this cosmic duality and merge with the Absolute.'
Deeply moved, I now felt this woman to be sincere. Leaning forward and lifting her chin, I watched her weep.
'Come here, Natsuko. I await our union.'
Puzzled, she was uncertain what I wanted her to do, as she was still tied and walking would be difficult.
Realizing this, I crawled over to her and licked the tears from her face—a sweet, salty emission, traversing a virtuous face. Reaching around to her back I untied her arms. She slowly stretched them out and put them around me. Kissing deeply, we moaned to begin the mantra.
I untied the lower portion of the hemp traveling between her legs as we sat astride one another. We chanted shomyo that dated back to a time before writing. Then her hands reached out to touch me. She stroked slowly, then, leaning forward, her lips touched me and awoke my most base desire. Animalistic it was. Primal. I felt passion rise within me. Disciplined, there would be no release.
The root chakra felt warm, kinetic, as energy began to move up the spine. Natsuko worked harder. Her pace quickened and her long black hair cascaded down; gleaming and warm in the midday sun; masking a most intimate act.
The Swadhishtana was then awakened. I saw orange. All around, the hills and trees were glowing with an orange tint. My tension grew and I wanted release. She slowed, and then stopped.
I focused on the regression of my passion, pushing the sexual tension down from the tip of my organ back to the base. As I pictured a bright orange energy now moving up to open the third chakra, she moved onto my lap and impaled herself upon me. Instantly her eyes rolled back into her head, and she spoke: 'Orange...it's so warm,' she panted. 'Everything is orange.'
Riding slowly up and down, she sang another mantra. I felt warmth progressing up my spine, and the color faded to light green. Wrapping my arms around her waist as she rode me, chanting all the while, I felt tears well up in my eyes. The pit of my stomach began to ache and the base of my spine began to chill.
Looking into her eyes I could see her crying as well. The third chakra had been opened. The solar plexus, the seat of lower emotions—grief, sorrow, anguish—aspects of suffering that stem from core primal desires.
But now the light green had darkened to a forest green. Tingling sensations went up my spine. I then felt goose bumps on Natsuko's back and saw her breasts harden as laughter came out of her mouth. The Anahata heart chakra is the seat of higher spiritual emotions—love, joy, and compassion. As my chest warmed, my lower torso felt very cold. Then I noticed the ground. We were no longer touching it. Our bodies rose and levitated off the ground. Slowly, we rose, now as high as the willow tree. The sky all around was a dark green.
Clinging tightly to one another, we looked into each other's eyes. Blissful was she. Jet black hair flying around in the zephyr that followed us up, pumping faster, we rose, our view changing to blue. We shouted with glee and sang as loud as we could; enjoying the ride, knowing the fifth chakra of the throat had opened for us. Higher now we flew above the village as we spun. We saw only bright blue and we spoke in tongues known only to our ancestors and the gods.