Flash Fiction Fridays is an online series from Stone Bridge Press devoted to bringing readers short stories from and about Japan and East Asia. This month's piece comes from landscape architect and Stone Bridge Press author Marc Peter Keane and tells the story of a cultural and spiritual clash in feudal Japan during the Azuchi–Momoyama period.
A faux confessional written by a 16th century Jesuit missionary in Japan, the narrator relates a peculiar encounter that he and his fellow missionaries had while visiting the hermitage of a tea master and his wife, the latter of which puts on a carnal display that both disturbs and enlightens the pious narrator.
Hechikan’s Wife • A Confessional
20th Day of the 5th Month
The Year of Our Lord, 1591
In the Most Remote and Ancient Kingdom of Jipangu
We traveled recently from the City of Sakai, moving by riverboat to Lake Biwa and hence by foot, reaching the outskirts of the great imperial city of Kioto without event by the infinite Grace of Our Lord. We took shelter near a small village called Awataguchi. Our guide, the noble and exceedingly gifted Jesuit of whom I have often written, informed us that we were by chance near the home of Hechikan, a tea master well known for his eccentricities, and that we should make every effort to visit him the very next day.
What I consign hereforth to paper I do as a form of confessional. I have no intention of sending this with my other missives to your Holiness, the reason for which will soon become amply clear. I intend to secrete this letter in some dark and hidden place in the hope that it remains unknown until, by the Grace of God, it comes to light as He considers just.
When we arrived at the home of this Hechikan we found a place of eremitic solitude, a hovel of such low prospect and appointment that one could only surmise it was the home of a pauper. Ushered within, however, we found the rooms to be spotlessly clean if otherwise crude. A home carefully kept yet without any aspect that would speak of worldliness.
Guided gently into a tiny tearoom we were astounded at the display in the tokonoma. In that alcove where normally one would find a single flower in an earthenware vase, or perhaps a scroll of Buddhist scripture, what we were greeted by was the most outrageous, the most inconceivable presentation I have ever been witness to.
Within the tokonoma, in place of the usual artwork, was a beautiful woman, Hechikan’s wife we would later learn. Long, shiny black hair, exquisitely pale skin, slender limbs. What’s more—and this is the reason I will never send this letter to your Holiness—she had not a single thread of clothing on her. She knelt in that small alcove dressed as God gave her to the world and was as calm as if she were taking her own private bath. She seemed neither embarrassed nor aroused. She simply knelt there, utterly still.
Sweets were brought out and then, when the service of tea was complete, the young woman began to move, infinitely slowly as if the very air around her was thick amber honey. She eased backwards onto her elbows, then lifted her knees, opening her legs to either side until they were spread outward as far as possible. Presented to our small gathering of hapless men was none other than the dark sex of Hechikan’s beloved. She reached down with one hand and spread her lips like opening a flower and then, replacing her hand behind her, remained in that most exposed position, perfectly still, without any complaint or outward expression of emotion at all.
We sat there, trembling, each one of us caught as if by some ancient Siren song. Soon we became aware that her heartbeat could be seen in a subtle throbbing of her sex and I swear before all I know that is good and just, at the end of that half hour of silence, the heartbeat of each man in that room had become aligned to hers as closely as the Moon is to the Earth.
Your Holiness, yes it was the height of vulgarity. The action of a primitive and unholy people. And yet, so too was it magical.
Yes it was profane and the result of there being no sense of sin among these heathens, and yet, as I realized afterward, it was also a crystalline contemplation of the First Cause. The essence of that from which we all emanate.
Yes it awoke the most base urges within us, the animal, and yet so too have I found myself ever since in a profound state of enlightenment, the flow of life from one form to the next suddenly apparent in all things.
This Hechikan. He flayed us live and laid us bare and I am forever in his debt.
Found in the kura of the Maeda family, 1897
Acquired by antiquarian, Taninaka Gurō, 1963
Translated into English by Marc Peter Keane, 2016
Landscape architect and author Marc Peter Keane lived in Kyoto, Japan, for nearly 20 years and specializes in Japanese garden design. Presently, he maintains a design office in Ithaca, New York. He has authored several books about garden design and is a fellow at the Research Center for Japanese Garden Art in Kyoto, the East Asia Program at Cornell University, and the Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies at Columbia University. His new book, "Japanese Garden Notes: A Visual Guide to Elements and Design", comes out this spring – pre-order a copy now!
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