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Japan Stories - the Psychic


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Written somewhere around 1992-------edited some and put on site 6/24/04


Hogoji, May, 1988 

*****

It's raining out and there's a mist. The very red flowers are drooping, heavy with water and unvisited today by the honey bees and blue-black butterflies. Work has been called off due to the glorious wetness. I sit on the deck outside my room, groggy from a midmorning nap. There's a bird singing a funny song from the bell tower.

I just dreamed that I was walking in zoris in the tall grass above the temple when a mamushi appeared by my foot. I tried to move but it struck fast, injecting one of my chunky toes with venom. Its fangs sunk with dedication like a baby to the breast, and when I reached down to pull it off, it viciously reared its head, fangs and split tongue exposed, to warn me to stay away from its prize. Just then a friend and former boss, a retired army colonel, reached down with a pair of tin snips and cut the snake's head off. "Black Jack!" I exclaimed, "Thank you!" Then he put the tin snips around the toe that the snake had bitten, the one next to the little toe on the right foot. He grinned like Jack Nicholson and squeezed my toe with the tin snips a few times. I braced for amputation but he pocketed the tool, put his hands on my forehead and with his thumbs pressed out of my head a thick white tube of enough creamy puss to fill a bucket.

I was on the deck rubbing my eyes, looking at the wet flowers and wondering what the heck that was all about when Maku showed up like Florence Nightingale with a cup of hot coffee.

I asked him what the curious bird was in the bell tower. He said it was a hototogisu which I discovered was a variety of cuckoo. "It goes 'ke ke ke ke,'" he said, "very high voice. It lays its egg in the uguisu nest."

"Does the uguisu mind?" I asked.

"I don't think so," said Maku with a total look of ignorance on his face. "It's baldheaded," he said rubbing my head, "like us."

"Would you like to meet a friend of my mother?" he asked.

"A friend of your mother's?"

"She's on her way here in a taxi now."

I said sure I would and off he went.

I drank the coffee and rubbed my forehead, appreciating the far reach of the eaves which allowed me to sit outside on the deck and watch the multitude of drops. They seemed like a class of infinity as my gaze penetrated to the distant mountains and I listened to the "ke ke ke ke" of the hidden cuckoo.

This rain was another in an unbroken series. It seemed to come every three days. I called out to Maku who was just a few planks away in his room.

"Is it rainy season yet?"

He stuck his head out from the shoji window.

"Nani?"

"Is it rainy season yet?"

"Iie," he said while shaking his head no.

"I didn't think so," I said, watching the precipitation.

When I had finished the coffee I lay back on the deck waiting for Maku's guest and admiring the perpendicular woodwork up in the overhang.

*****

"The psychic is here," said Norman.

"The who?" I answered sitting up.

"The psychic who came to visit Maku."

"His mother's friend?" I asked.

"Yes, Maku's mother is a psychic too. Didn't you know that? Who do you think got him on his occult kick?"

"I had no idea," I said. I grabbed an umbrella, put on some communal geta, wooden platform sandals, and we were off to meet her.

"Koji doesn't want to be involved," said Norman.

"Why not?"

"He's all pissed off. He says that she has no business coming here. He thinks all psychics are fakes. He says Maku purposely had her come while Katagiri was in town with Shuko so he could get away with doing some mumbo jumbo in the temple."

"Is it okay if I go?" I asked, not wanting Koji mad at me.

"Yeah, he said he won't get in the way. But he doesn't like it."

"Good, let's go see for ourselves," I said.

We had tea with our curious new guest in the dining room. She was solid, heavy and wore a dress with a floral pattern. She was no wilting violet for sure. Just by the looks of her I could feel this lady's oomph.

Maku waited on her respectfully. Jakushin joined us. Her name was Kato Sensei. She and Maku talked for a few minutes while Norman, Jakushin and I drank our tea quietly. She didn't ask any rote questions about Norman and me. She didn't ask anything at all. She eyeballed everything carefully, including us. After tea we all went to the hatto where she performed a service in semidarkness, the only light coming from the candles and through the open front door.

Her brief ritual was not at all like our services. She did it by herself while we all sat on the side and watched. Using her own equipment, she lit a bunch of candles and incense, recited a few brief chants and was done. Koji stood outside in the courtyard in the rain. For a moment I thought I saw steam rising from his head but it must have been the mist in the pines behind him.

Kato Sensei then reported on what she had discerned about us from her meeting with the spirits. I didn't understand all of it nor could I get a feeling for her authenticity. But I didn't care, it was fun. She turned to Maku first and spoke softly, something I didn't catch. She told Jakushin to keep trying, that he was not alone and that his efforts would wipe away his tears. I thought that was good. She said I had a high kami with me helping me along. I thanked her and I thanked the high kami. What a relief. Even though I'm used to psychics and should know better, I'm always a little afraid they're going to expose me in some terribly embarrassing way. What she told Norman was interesting. She said he had a physical weakness in his lungs that was caused by an unclean place at Hogoji. That made him sit up. It took us a while to figure out what she was saying. He looked like he was going to ask her for some follow up on that when she pointed to Koji who had come back and was standing in the rain again looking in on us with judgement. Maku told her that was Koji, the head monk. She said that he had evil spirits in him and needed help. It surprised her when this made us laugh. I figured that she was just picking up on his displeasure with her calling.

She said there wasn't much time, that she had asked the taxi driver to come back and pick her up at noon.

"Time for what?" I asked her.

"To find the unclean place," she said. A distant clap of thunder pealed and the wind outside picked up.

Norman assured her that it wasn't necessary to search around for unclean places in terrible weather like this, but she would hear nothing of it. Maku helped collect her articles of faith which she put in a heavy gray cotton bag and tied up. Jakushin, who had been watching her intently, went off saying he'd bring back our umbrellas which were outside the dining room. In the presence of this sorceress he had forgotten himself and was totally unconcerned about his status.

We stepped outside the front entrance to the hatto and stood on the deck beneath the generous overhang. The rain had picked up and it had gotten darker outside. Unexpectedly she turned to Jakushin and said, "Within a year you will find your teacher."

Quickly shifting her attention she reached into her bag and pulled out a smooth natural black section of a branch about a foot long. Her face carried a scowl as she surveyed the territory holding the stick loosely in her right hand and moving it from the far right to the far left.

"Down," she said and we opened our umbrellas.

The five of us crossed the courtyard and descended the stone steps to the lower area which was darkened, the air filled with rain drops and blown leaves. Koji was standing with Yoshiko on her porch as we passed in front of them, continuing on the stone path.

"I don't think she appreciates the competition," whispered Norman to me, casting a glance. We were on the trail of the unclean place and at the helm of our ship was another determined lady who was oblivious to the disapproving stares that followed us till we were out of sight around to the back of Yoshiko's house. The approaching thunder boomed again in the mountains.

The lady stopped, yielding to the stick's directions and moving it slowly in a circle. Jakushin held an umbrella over her head, careful not to get in her way. When the divining rod was pointing toward the Ryumon (dragon gate), she nodded and held it firm. Then she walked straight in that direction and stopped. She stood before an inconspicuous spot a little downhill near the vegetable garden.

"There," she said and pointed to the ground next to a berry bush. Louder thunder.

"Ohhhh," Norman said knowingly.

"Ah so," said Jakushin nodding.

"What? Norman, please explain," I whispered. "What is unclean about this area except that it needs a little touch-up raking," I said.

"The ofuro." He pointed to an iron ring jutting slightly through the leaf-strewn dirt. It turned out that it was Zuido Roshi's bathtub which had been buried out back of his house for decades and was more or less acting as a flower pot.

"Well, it certainly isn't clean," said Norman softly, "It's full of dirt."

"She can sure call 'em," I responded in the blowing rain another clap of thunder pealed not far away.

*****

A few days later Norman and Maku went down to the unclean spot in their robes and performed a ceremony, sprinkling salt and walking around the interred ofuro. Maku chanted something esoteric. Then they dug the offending iron pot out of the ground, brushed it off and turned it upside down. Koji was even more furious about that ceremony than the first. Jakushin had the bad sense to tell him that the psychic had said he was possessed with demons.

I went down and checked it out after dinner one night. Those pre-Showa Japanese were really small. That inverted bell-shaped bowl could be used for a baby bath. It reminded me of seeing old suits of armor in museums and being struck by how small Europeans used to be. The tub looked right, it seemed proper somehow for it to be upside down, like a junked refrigerator with its door off, as it should be. Come to think of it, that's the way I always see those things. Rusted iron ofuro turned over with their butts up are not an uncommon sight around the countryside or next to old houses. Most of them haven't needed exorcism I assume.

About a week later I asked Norman how his lungs were doing. He looked at me strangely and asked what on earth I was talking about.

"See," I said, "It worked."

*****


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