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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 42




 Yoshiko-san had collected the first growth new baby tea leaves that we had picked and had taken them to town to a tea shop where they were dried and prepared.  It was only a few days since the harvest and we were drinking green tea from our own plants on the kuin steps.  I said that it was the best green tea that I'd ever had.  That elicited immediate looks of condescension and pity from the Japanese monks and even Katagiri gave me a sort of "come now, David" look.  They said it was not so good.  Too bitter.  Well shut my mouth.  Koji, the official ambassador to Yoshiko, went to thank her and brought her some pickled eggplant that he had made.  He also brought me.

We walked down the stone steps past the giant sprawling oak into Yoshiko's cool, dark territory and I sensed her presence -  not unwelcoming, just strict.  Under the canopy of the virgin pine we took a winding path through the rock garden and stepped up on her deck.  Koji called out, "Ojama shimasu," at her door ostensibly saying we were imposing on her - a standard line.   She called back for him to wait a minute.

Yoshiko's been living down here and looking over this place for thirty-five years.  She had taken care of Zuido Roshi, the former abbot, for twenty years.  He'd rebuilt the buildings a half century before.  She made his meals, heated his bath, took care of his robes and when he was ill she tended to him until his death.  Then she stayed on - just her.  Zuido had no disciples to take over the temple.  Yoshiko didn't fit the job description which called for a male monk.  An idiot could pick up the vibes though - she was his dharma heir.  The place was hers.  A few years previously when Nishiki decided to continue what Zuido had started, he first came and asked for the blessing of the matriarch of Hogoji.  Her authority continues.  Katagiri shows her respect at every opportunity and visited her several times when she was ill.  Other than to Katagiri she doesn't seem to relate positively to anyone but Koji.  She's taller than most old Japanese women or even men and stands thin and straight in contrast to the old stocky ladies from the village who come up to work.  Koji said that she's regarded as a sort of witch by the townspeople below.  He says that Yoshiko has spent long periods of time in the mountains around here by herself.  She'd just leave and be up there and one day return.  No one understood how she survived.

Part of the master plan of Hogoji, the plan that will transform it into an international monastery, deems that Yoshiko's old house will soon be torn down.  I wonder what she will do then.  She's pretty old, about eighty Koji says.  She's been sick a lot this year.  Maybe she'll live with relatives.  It seems that everyone has people who will take care of them.

Yoshiko came to the door and she and Koji started talking too fast for me to understand.  We'd been introduced before but she didn't acknowledge me.  I listened to her as she spoke to Koji.  She is lacking the airs that I've heard in so many women's voices in Japan - affects which emphasize femininity, weakness and subservience.  Her voice was sharp and direct.  It almost sounded like she was scolding him when she spoke.  But he didn't seem uncomfortable.  His business didn't take long, they wasted no time, said good day and he and I went back up.

Sometimes I look down there and wonder what she's doing.  I don't think she gets lonely but even if so I doubt I'd try to go cheer her up.  I don't go down there and wander around.  I don't go that way at all unless I'm working or with Koji.  Norman doesn't venture down there either unless he has a reason.  I guess that somewhere deep inside, we have a fear that Yoshiko will catch us and take us into her home to cook and eat.