A long time ago in the land of Ilbon, I was a child, growing up amongst women of the arts. From the time I was a toddler, I was surrounded by art and those who lived for it and through it. I was raised in the Karayukai, a subculture, you could say in Ilbon. The Karayukai was the entertainment industry, they ran the Hanmachi, or pleasure districts of the capitol city of Ilbon, Kyoto. Mostly, the Karayukai included the Kabuki actors, and my sisters, the Geisha/Geiko.
Since I was raised in this culture, I started my education in art at a very young age. I think I was 6 I started my first dance lessons, before that I did chores to earn my keep and helped the other girls get dressed. The day I started my schooling, I was so proud. I remember distinctly bowing for the first time on the shining floor of our quiet dance hall, my dancing fan folded in front of me laying flat, as for the first time I muttered the words I would come to say over and over again' 'Onigaishimasu!' (a very respectful term loosely translating to 'Master please teach me.') I never stopped taking dance lessons for my entire career, even when I became known for my dance and started given lessons myself, I still trained with my old Master when I had free time. Schooling didn't just include that though, oh no, not in the Gion Kobu, the Hanmachi I originated from, I was also tediously trained in every aspect of my existence. Here in the Karayukai, we are no longer people, but rather living breathing walking forms of art. I was trained in speech, because, you see, in the Hanmachi, our dialect is different then anywhere else in the country, much of our dialect is archaic and hard for modern Ilbon ears to understand. I was trained in my movements, from how I open a door, how I bow, to how I walk. I was trained to tend to the needs of my customers, to be charming, witty, funny, and wry. I was trained to keep up with current events, so that I would be able to start interesting and current conversations to entertain customers, and I was trained in the art of boundaries, and the finesse of when to push them, and when to pull them back. All my sisters here in the Gion Kobu where trained just like I was, we where all sculpted to be the closest to perfect we could be.
Every afternoon when we woke up, we would do our make up and our Kimono for hours. It would be a while before we came running out of the Ochiya heading to the teahouses for the night. We often worked the evenings, into the wee hours, so we didn't wake until later, in an attempt to get some 'beauty sleep', a term that if uttered in the Gion Kobu, will usher many laughs. Our lives where not the lives of leisure one might think being in such a glamorous position, it was hard, and very straining.
But I loved it. It didn't matter to me how little I had to sleep, how late I was out all night, when I was out late, I was dancing, and when I was sleeping, I was not. The choice was easy to me. I worked hard, over worked myself you could say, and I quickly became one of the top Geiko in the Gion Kobu. This is quite an accomplishment, I was one of the most famous faces in our area, and I held that position comfortably for years.
My third year, I was asked to give a Solo performance at the Cherry Blossom festival, this is a very big honour, something like this is not customary. I didn't sleep for a week before it, I just stayed up dancing and dancing, before I went on I thought I was going to faint, but I persisted, and I went out' I started dancing, and I didn't stop even after the curtain came down. I started crying, as my arms where flailing above my head with the beat of the music that wafted through my memory, and I felt like I was ontop of the world.
At that minute, in the world of the Karayukai, I really was.
After that night, mama-san yelled at me for neglecting to take care of my body so much, she saw me wobbling in earlier, I was forced to take a couple days off, kicking and screaming I was dragged into bed.
When I was finally allowed to return to work, though it had only been a few days I was resting, my list of customers was mostly unfamiliar. I had eight Ozikishi tonight, (tea house parties in which Geiko entertain and serve sake.) and five out of the eight where new clients. The Cherry Blossom festival brought me a lot more business, I was in much higher demand now it would seem. One of the names on the list sounded vaguely familiar to me. The son of a war lord, named Tanaka Kun, if I remember correctly, a Samurai by blood, but rumor has it he has no honour, I have heard he is a bit of a brat. I wasn't looking forward to this, but such a client I could not cancel on.
Later that night I attended his Ozikishi. When I slid the door open and bowed to greet him, he looked much different then I was expecting. He wore simple cotton clothes, and was sipping not sake, but green tea. That night, I was starting the circle, usually if there is more then one Geiko hosting an Ozikishi, we will rotate so that the guests get to spend time with all of us, and I was at the top of the rotation this time.
I sat down next to him feeling rather uncomfortable. I was nervous of him and didn't know what to say. I heard he was a chronic womanizer, and I already didn't have much taste for him, despite his humble appearances.
'What did you hear?' he said jestingly
'Pardon?' I said, shocked. He leaned back wryly grinning at me.
'What did you hear? I see that look of mixed terror and disgust in your eyes, I've gotten used to it, if its not that then its some morbid fascination.' He laughed and ran his finger along the tea cup 'either way, it's rather disconcerting, because having to get your real self through the fog that perceptions already create is straining and tiring on the soul.'
I bowed my head shamefully and apologized for offending him, but he wouldn't have it. We started talking, and he didn't disgust me half as much as I thought he would. The girls noticed how we where flirting, I think, because the rotation never pushed me on. He asked me a lot of difficult questions, and challenged my intellect, and I challenged his. He critiqued my dance, and corrected my hand placement on the tea kettle as I refilled his cup. I was smitten. Since I had gained such fame, no one bothered to try to correct me anymore, I was started to feel unchallenged and bored.
After the Ozikishi, he hired me over and over again. On my card for the night I kept seeing his nick name the Geiko had given him, O-taa-san, it was his way of courting me, I suppose, but I was growing bored with his beating around the bush. After a few months of being hired for almost daily Ozikishi, but no real advances on his part, I turned down one of his Ozikishi for the first time, and instead I went to study my dance again with my old Master. That night, one of his messengers arrived at the Ochiya asking for me, and somehow he tracked me down at the dancing studio. He handed me a perfumed pink envelope and bowed, then walked away.
I opened it, and saw written out in fine Caligraphy,
Umeichi, (my Geiko name)
It seems I have not made my attentions clear,
Come to the bridge near the cherry blossoms at midnight
My Dance teacher shooed me off, insisting I go, and I started to make my way back to the Ochiya to get dressed into something more appropriate for the occasion. My sisters teased me about the note, as I tried to perfect the red around my eyes, they giggled and fussed around me. They all teased that he would want to be my Danaan. This is a interesting thing about the Geiko, many of them never get married so that they can be flirtatious with their customers, but instead get Danaan, which are men who pay for the Geiko's expenses in exchange for having a very close relationship with the Geiko. They often become part of the family. This is not how it may sound, it is not a monitary affair mainly, the Geiko's chose Danaans that they care for or may even love, but there is money involved. It's important for a Geiko to have a Danaan, and it's a status symbol for a man to be one. But I didn't want this. The idea disgusted me, and the more that they teased and insinuated that that is what he would ask me, I became frightened that they might be right.
I headed out the door eventually, and met him, fashionably late, where he requested. Parasol in hand, I arrived spinning it coyly and smiling. He turned to me and smiled back, and immediately began talking.
'Umeichi, I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that I wasn't interested in you. The truth is, I'm just not sure how to approach this.' He sounded wracked with guilt, but he struggled to maintain a composed fa'ade. I sighed and slipped my fan out of the sleeve of my kimono gracefully, splaying it open with a flick of my wrist, I peeked out from behind it, and spoke very softly.
'You can speak freely to me, O-taa-san.' He smiled.
'Come with me tomorrow, I want to take you out, somewhere where people can serve you. Don't worry about mama-san, I'll pay her your usual amount for the day, the only thing in your way is whether you want to or not.' He seemed confident, even though something like this wasn't very common. Usually, if a Geiko is dating someone, they get to know each other within the bounds of the Karayukai. I agreed, excitedly.
He took me out many nights after that. Every time we talked about ourselves, and got to know each other, it was unheard of, but so wonderful.
One night, after I had just gotten home from a very long night out, he was waiting for me outside the Ochiya. It was that night he took me under the cherry tree and proposed to me. We where married just a few weeks later, a ceremony performed by friends of the Ochiya, in our own tea house, and it seemed like the entire Karayukai was there.
We where a very high profile couple. Geiko didn't OFTEN marry their clients, usually they entered into the Danaan system, not to say that it was unheard of, but it was uncommon, especially with someone who has achieved as much fame and recognition as I had at that point. O-taa-san had bought us a house and started to move our things into there, and I was setting up an agreement to have Mama-san still handle my work, but run the lists over to me. That night, the last night in the Ochiya, I was called down stairs.
The people that where waiting there were paler then me, and they all had very ornate black tattoos all over their bodies. They didn't look like they came from here. As I walked down the stairs to these strangers, they smile warmly to me opening their arms as if we had known each other a hundred years, and then they asked me to have a seat.
They explained to me that they came from a tribe called 'The Ancients' and that they couldn't say much more about that while we where still here. That this tribe was my real family, my real parents where there, and that they had sold me into the Karayukai when I was a baby, because it wasn't safe for me to stay with them at that time. I didn't believe it, but mama-san confirmed it was true, she was sitting next to me the whole time squeezing my hand, and trying to hold back tears and be the strong one for the both of us. They explained they needed me to come with them tonight, that I was going to be taken back home and taught the secrets and the ways of the Ancients, that that was my calling and my destiny and that the tribe needed me. They said I was critical to them, and if I wouldn't come, they would force me to.
Mama-san saw the look of terror in my eyes, and she saw the look on the stranger faces. She excused herself to the kitchen, which was much deeper in the house, and left me with them. A few minutes later, I heard a thunderous crash, and mama-san's voice wailing 'no! help!' she was screaming in agony, so I jumped up from my seat and excused myself.
'My deepest apologies something seems to be wrong, please wait here I will be right back!' I ran into the kitchen, and saw Mama-san clutching a small black bag.
'Go! My child go out the back door, run to the dock, I packed you some money in here, there should be more then enough to buy you a ticket to Korea, and start a life there. I know it sounds strange, but it a peaceful place, and an unlikely place for you to be found, I will find you, someday, or you will find me. Now go!' I was shocked, and about to cry.
'But' my sisters, my family' my husband!'
'There is no time!' she stressed to me, pushing the black bag in my hand. Frustrated, I pulled a piece of parchment paper out of one of our drawers and ripped out a chunk of my hair, dipping it in my lipstick pot. I wrote out a short note to my loved ones, saying that I love them, and I will be thinking of them, and that we will meet again, and I gave it to mama-san. Crying, I gave her a kiss, and told her to deliver it to O-taa-san, and let him know my love for him doesn't fade because I am leaving, and that I will think of him and find him as soon as I can. She nodded, I could see a tear in her eye' and I think that's the only time I ever saw her cry.
She shoved me out the door. I was running down the cobble stones in my wooden geta trying hard not to trip. I made it to the dock, I made it to the ship, I made it to Korea.
I started my life in Buya. Things have been tough. I worked my way up from being a poor little poetess, my first job was weaving and collecting wool for a weaver. Eventually, I started to climb the social ladder here too, I joined the Dharma Clan, and, in an attempt broaden my horizons and forget about the life I was leaving behind, I joined the Druids, to expand upon my love of nature.
However, I started to miss home, and miss O-taa-san' a little delirious from that, and from exhaustion from nightmares of the other tribe, I started to wander in the woods. It was a long time before I came back, I learned much wandering, meditating, gathering myself, but when I made it back, I felt like a different, stronger woman. However, upon returning to the circle, I saw I was no longer welcome. My title had been stripped away from me due to lies and rumors spread about me in my absence. I tried to work with them to accept me again, but they wouldn't, the lies had permeated everything, and no one would accept my word as truth any longer. I went insane with rage. I split off from all things and devoted my life to revenge, revenge to those who had wronged me. After being unwillfully shut out of my home in Kyoto, and now being unwillfully shut out of my home here, I couldn't take it. I tried to hire a spy to assassinate the new Druid leader, Kiana, who was one of the people who wouldn't even listen to me, and who was, in my opinion, destroying the path. Sadly, I couldn't find the money to do it, and feeling directionless, I once again took into the forests.
This time I wandered much farther and longer. I realized, I couldn't deny who I was, where my passion lay, I needed to live, breath, eat, and be art! I ran back to Buya, and decided that I would do whatever it took to be a Muse.
I started practicing my dance again, my writing, and my conversational skills. Finally, one day, I heard the sage of a Muse, calling all hopeful muses to the Muse Garden, a public audtion.
This was my dream, I was terrified. This was hard for me, I was on top in the Gion Kobu, now I was a nobody again. This was terrifying. I wasn't sure if I wanted to perform at that point yet or not' I was tormenting over the descision, but finally, I decided to do it.
It was a success, and I breathed a very heavy sigh of relief. My guide, Lathander, contacted me promptly and after my training, he walked me home to the Muse garden.
My sisters here at the muses feel so much more comfortable, and though I'm a little nervous, and still sort of home sick, I am happy here.
But I worry, every day, that some how the Ancients will find me, I worry that I may never be able to return to Ilbon, and return to O-taa-san, I worry that he wont wait for me'
I worry every day' sometimes I think the only thing that keeps me sane is the calligraphy I try to do every morning after my cup of green tea. It helps me get my feelings out, and get the pain out of my heart. It helps me bear the burden of my path more gracefully.
*attatched to the bottom of the page is the Kanji symbol for 'agony'*