This week we continue reading Japanese historical novel The Demon Cat Sword by Kouichi Matsuoka (松岡弘一の“妖猫剣”). I’m falling a little behind on the reading for this, so this post may be a little shorter this time, but I have one more important series I want to get in before the 2015 calendar year, and I need to stay on schedule. This book is very challenging because of the historical references that require much more research and don’t usually turn up in a portable dictionary.
One thing I want to point out that I discovered in the reading this time is that the small name chop or seal that Kyoushirou picked up in the Takamatsu house could mean something slightly different if parsed together instead of separately. The term used for what he found is 小判, and at first glance it seems straightforward enough. The word small is pretty easy to recognize, so I just looked up the second word which refers to a seal. But I found out accidentally looking them up together in another pop up dictionary that it also can refer to an old style of gold Japanese coin called a koban which is specific to the Edo period. It is not in any other dictionary I looked at, and this is the type of word that is not likely to be on school language tests. The tipoff that it was wrong was that the item was described as glowing and making a ringing sound. I have a seal, and I can’t imagine it making that sort of sound since they aren’t normally made out of metal. It’s this kind of ambiguity that makes reading in your non-native language such a challenge. Context is really everything. Here is a general description of the koban:
Mostly, however, the story talks about monetary transactions in terms of ryou (両), another Edo period coinage.
Returning to our story in part 2, Okoma’s female visitor is indeed a demon, and the women acknowledge that they are both demons to each other. This woman, Oshina, is a fox demon. Okoma needs some money for this endeavor with the restaurant and monster consultation office, and she considers gambling at Hanzo’s barley shop to come up with the shortfall. As Okoma and Kyoushirou prepare for this meeting of demons, Kyoushirou goes out walking at night and gets involved with some rowdy, questionable men who are gambling over at Hanzo’s shady establishment. Two of the men he is involved with here go by the nicknames of Kamisorimatsu and Butana, and they get busted, so Kyoushirou is briefly arrested with some of those men. After this situation is resolved, Kyoushirou enters a place I’ll call the Scandal Shop with Kamisorimatsu where there is more gambling going on. Butana’s mistress works at this place, which is some sort of Edo period luxury restaurant called a ryotei.
Kyoushirou and Kamisorimatsu have to leave their swords at the door as they enter. Participants at this restaurant are engaging in arm wrestling and playing dice, among other activities. Kyoushirou joins in on the dice game for a while. After one of the men wins over a hundred ryo, a fight breaks out. Kyoushirou resorts to following another palanquin through the city, this time to the river banks where some ships are docked. He runs into Okoma there, and she is tracking a ship of demons. Kyoushirou ends up back at Hanzo’s place for more conversation with Kamisorimatsu.
In the next scene, Kyoushirou goes to watch a sumo wrestling tournament with Hanzo, but that scene is also disrupted by a brutal attack which appears to be part of the show. The type of event that goes on is rather unclear, but it certainly is not an actual sumo tournament. A lot of these attacks involve spears and logs, which I wouldn’t have expected. I would have expected swords to be the weapon of choice for samurai, and sumo wrestlers don’t use any weapons that I’m aware of. During this scene, Kyoushirou notices some Shinto lizard demon at a shrine nearby who joins the fight. Kyoushirou decides it would be more advantageous to transform back into a cat so he has claws to fight since he’s also getting drawn into the melee. It’s rather chaotic, and lots of new characters are popping up without much explanation, but Kamisorimatsu, Butana and Hanzo also all get involved in this fight, and the audience seems to be pleased with the spectacle.
A few of the men go to a shrine in the forest nearby when the sumo wrestlers come back out at the tournament site, and Kyoushirou follows them to the forest. Kyoushirou notices one of the men is a mixed-blood demon, and the group encounters dogs with glowing eyes. Kyoushirou fights one of them in his cat form, too, scaring at least some of the dogs away. Then more of the men arrive with Okoma, and two cats have a moment sipping a silver vine (Actinidia polygama) wine, which is like Western catnip. Okoma and Kyoushirou are rather consistently portrayed as being a little wild when they are together. Furthermore, their “fate” referred to in this section title seems to be to oppose evil people and evil demons, Kyoushirou deduces.
But after this interlude, they all return to the sumo tournament. This scene is probably the most interesting of the section since it has a battle between Kyoushirou as a cat and the gecko guardian demon trying to balance on these slippery logs set up in the tournament arena. The gecko hits Kyoushirou’s eye with his tongue, but no real harm comes of it. Someone spears the gecko, and green blood gushes out. Then Hanzo and Okoma appear, the wooden shrine hall is on fire, and everyone flees.
Oshina suddenly appears in the confusion and is hurt, perhaps killed, and she turns back into a fox and I guess melts into the ground. Hanzo is distraught over this, and the final, rather brief scene of the section shows Kyoushirou and Okoma eating Hanzo’s barley near his shop where many people have gathered. They see a small shrine with a white fox statute and a plate of food left out for it not far from the shop, and they wonder if Oshina is aware of that. It’s kind of interesting since Oshina is not a well-developed character in the novel so far, and this time we don’t see any sign of Orin. Part 2 as a whole seems to be more focused on action rather than plot or character development, and the reader encounters a lot of interesting Edo period activities.
In part 3, Okoma is continuing to prepare for this monster consultation bureau and goes to a kabuki teahouse called the Phantom Flower for assistance. The text goes on a bit about drama teahouses and kabuki teahouses, and it suggests that this story is taking place in the final few years of the Edo period right before the Meiji takeover called the Bunkyu Era between 1861 and 1864. Meiji began around 1868. We learn more about demons and monsters in general. Okoma is about 30 years old, looks a bit younger, and can live between 50 and 1,000 years.
At the teahouse, Okoma seems to generally be acknowledged as a monster rather than human, and she meets a doctor named Seinen who wants to help cure sick monsters at the monster consultation bureau. This scene is rather good, with Seinen coming off as a charlatan and a buffoon and Okoma being suspicious of and annoyed by him. Then it gets really good when he tells her a juicy bit of news: a 17-year-old girl was attacked the night before at Sengakuji by a blood-sucking beast who slit her neck and slurped out all of her blood! The year before there was also another girl who was killed this way. The news gives Okoma the creeps. Seinen suggests she talk with Okiku-chan, someone famous at the Phantom Flower, about these murders.
Sounds like a promising plot twist. Hey, wasn’t Orin supposed to be around 17? Next time, we’ll see what develops as we reach the novel’s exciting conclusion.
Part three of a four part series.