A Day’s Walk Through Mukoujima

OR: Following the Trail of Katsushika Hokusai!

The day started by saying goodbye to the crowds swarming around Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and walking across Azuma Bridge into the heart of the oldest part of the shitamachi (downtown) part of Edo (as Tokyo used to be known).

Behind the Sumida ward city hall and the famous Golden Turd on top of Asahi Beer head office, lies Mukoujima – the name means ‘the island over there’. This area is historically famous for a number of reasons, one of which is that it used to be the home of Katsushika Hokusai. Readers of this blog will know that he’s the Ukiyo-e artist who plays a major part in Book Two of my urban fantasy trilogy, “Sword, Mirror, Jewel”. So, during the dog days of Japan’s O-Bon vacation period, I thought I’d scout a few Hokusai locations that I hadn’t been to before.
If you turn left before the Asahi golden turd, a road takes you along the Sumida riverbank, and under the Shuto highway flyover. A short walk brings you to the peaceful green haven of Sumida Park, and a shrine that featured in a few of Hokusai’s prints – Ushijima Jinja.

On this day – August 15th – the shrine was conducting a ceremony to commemorate the end of WWII. A big Keep Out sign had been placed across the front entrance, but it was possible to see inside the courtyard … white-shirted veterans sat patiently on folding chairs under electric fans working overtime, while Shinto priests in full regalia blessed them with the sacred sasaki paper wands in the blinding sunlight. No photos, sadly, because it seemed kind of disrespectful.
To the right of the main building is a hut that used to contain a black stone cow called the ‘caressing cow’. It was given to the shrine in 1824. It was believed if you stroked the part of the cow’s body corresponding to your own ailing part, you would be cured. This is why the old name of Ushijima used to be Ushinogozen – ‘before the cow’.
I left the park and headed for the next Hokusai-related shrine. Between the river and the main road running through Mukoujima lies Mimeguri Jinja (the name means Shrine of the Three Circles). It’s home to three deities – Daikokuten, the god of wealth and the household; Ebisu, the god of fishermen, luck, and workingmen, and Inari, the god of rice.
Daikokuten and Ebisu are two of the seven gods of good fortune in Japanese mythology and folklore (the other five being Hotei, Jurōjin, Fukurokuju, Bishamonten, and Benzaiten). Inari is commonly depicted in the figure of a Kitsune, or fox, and is deified in two small shrines behind the main building. The atmosphere in this outer sanctum is redolent with mystery; the larger of the shrines is guarded by a family of moss-covered stone Kitsune, a tunnel of orange torii gates, and two blackened statues depicting a pair of Edo sorcerers said to have the gift of speaking the secret language of the foxes. In Hokusai’s day, this part of Mukoujima was mainly rice fields, so it was vital to have a shrine where folk could pay their respects to the god of rice.
The next shrine featured in Hokusai’s prints is Shirahige Jinja, and it’s quite a long walk down Mukoujima’s main road. The name means “Shrine of Whitebeard,” mainly because it’s devoted to Jurōjin, the god of long life and health. One problem was, I didn’t feel too healthy after being out in the sunshine dodging from one patch of shade to another. I had UV spray, sunglasses and a Panama hat, of course, but even with them Tokyo in August is a pretty uncomfortable place to be. Other problems were mounting up; after Shirahige Jinja, I’d got lost in the meandering streets of Mukoujima (okay, it was an educational experience, not really a problem).

It was also lunchtime and many of the little noodle and sushi shops were closed because of the O-Bon summer vacation. Eventually, I came to a crossing between two main roads that looked promising, and down the street I saw a big sign with SOBA painted on it. Saved!

This was a shop named Kamimura, an old but spotlessly clean establishment which had only three customers inside (including me). I decided to cool off with some chilled mori-soba and a big glass of lemon-hai filed with ice. It was the best thing I could have done.
After a relaxing lunch and a chat with the staff, I found out that Kamimura was very close to Higashi Mukoujima station on the Tobu line – as well as the Tobu Transport Museum. It seemed to be a good idea to take a break for a while from the Hokusai trail and get out of the sun – so a five-minute walk and two hundred yen later, I was inside again doing some steam train spotting.
The Tobu Transport Museum has some vintage steam and diesel trains from the thirties, forties and fifties, but it’s not in the same league as the London Transport Museum. I was looking for some vintage Art Deco posters and displays – the kind that British transport was so good at, back in the day. Sadly, I couldn’t find any. Not even postcards.
By this time it was three o’clock, and I was close to a train station. From looking at the map, it seemed that the next stop on the line was very close to the last stop on the Hokusai trail – Sumidagawa Shrine. I decided to cut to the chase and take the easy way out; the afternoon heat showed no sign of slackening off.
The next stop in question is called Kanegafuchi, and Sumidagawa Shrine is located ten minutes walk from the station in the middle of Shirahage Park. The park in question lies between a huge suspension bridge and equally huge danchi – tower blocks of public housing complexes that look like something straight out of Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451″. I wonder what Hokusai would have made of these, I asked myself.

Sumidagawa Shrine and Shirahige Park is the location of a TV samurai drama called “Kenkyaku Shoubai”: although the series is filmed in the studio and in distant parts of the Japanese countryside, the house where the central character lives is named as this part of Mukoujima.

I reprint the following information from the blog null-entropy.com, with permission:

“Here we reach the farthest point north in the progression along the Sumida River that began in number 55. The view is from the west bank, looking across to the northeast at the point where the Ayase River flows into the Sumida. This isolated site, called Kanegafuchi, was known for the planting of silk trees, a kind of mimosa, along the bank. Hiroshige has framed the view with one of the trees in full bloom. The silk like filaments that give the tree its name are expressed in light pink lines accented with black. Beyond is a boatman whose bold garment echoes the pattern of the blossoms. [..]
This view looks at the point where the Ayase River flows into the Sumida; due to its curve and convergence with the Ayase, the water here was deeper and the flow more rapid than elsewhere on the Sumida. The story is told of a temple bell which fell into the river during a flood, sinking to the bottom and giving the name Kanegafuchi, “bell depths” for the stretch of the river. This location was also known for its silk trees, a kind of mimosa, growing along the bank. This scene shows one of the trees in full bloom with its silk like pink flowers accented in black. The boatman below is dressed in a bold patterned garment and a heron flies above the reeds. In 1887 the Kanegafuchi Spinning Company was constructed on the south bank of the Ayase River (the area to the far right), a joint venture of five Tokyo cotton-thread dealers, known as “kanebo.” In time it became Japan’s largest cotton-spinning firm and has since diversified into cosmetics.”
“Two well-dressed ladies disembark from the boat by which they have traveled up the Sumida River into the inlet known as Uchigawa. Their destination is one of Edo’s famous suburban restaurants, seen in the upper right. Located within the precincts of Mokuboji Temple, which lies out of sight to the right, it specialized in dishes of taro and clams and was much prized among stylish residents of Edo. The area to the left with pines was known as Gozensaihata, or “The Honorable Vegetable Garden.” Beginning in the 1650s, fresh vegetables for the shogun’s table were produced there. It is unclear, however, if that practice still continued in Hiroshige’s day. [..]
Two ladies are seen alighting from the boat in Uchigawa Inlet on their way to one of Edo’s famous suburban restaurants, known as Uehan (named after the owner, Uekiya Han’emon) which specialized in taro and clams. The nearby Mokuboji Temple, not shown here, originated in the year 976 when a young boy (Umewaka) was kidnapped by a slave trader when he lost his way on the road near Kyoto and was brought here, where he finally died of sickness and exhaustion on the banks of the Sumida River. A wandering priest erected a mound in his memory, which grew into the shrine-temple complex of Mokuboji. The mound survives today and services in his memory are held each year on April 15. The area on the left by the pine trees was known as Gozensaihata, or “the honorable vegetable garden,” which produced fresh vegetables for the shogun’s table. This area was obliterated by bombing during World War II; both sides of the Sumida have been leveled and construction has begun to provide high-rise housing and emergency evacuation in case of flood or earthquake. Mokuboji was relocated to a site closer to the Sumida in the middle of what was once the mouth of the Uchigawa Inlet.”

Regarding the curious temple named Mokuboji, just a short walk across the park … I would dearly like to know the reason for the cube-shaped building that dominates the precinct … and I would also like to know the story behind this snake-bodied Yokai here!

The story ends here …
with yakatori and beer!

Experience the world of Hokusai and the Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy!

Specters, Ghosts and Sorcerers in Ukiyo-e

The Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art is a discreet traditionally-designed building tucked away round the corner from the flashy, glossy Omotesando avenue in the heart of Tokyo, and yesterday I was there to view a current exhibition entitled “Specters, Ghosts and Sorcerers in Ukiyo-e”. Readers of this blog will know that my YA urban fantasy trilogy features the weird and uncanny creatures known in Japanese legend as the Yokai – and they were a favorite subject of Edo period ukiyo-e, as artists sought to chill the blood of their audience with painstakingly depicted scenes of the macabre and the supernatural.

Therefore, to find further inspiration and beat the August Tokyo heat, I ventured into the hushed ambience of the museum to experience the awe and mystery of these otherworldy paintings.
Many of the old Edo tales were made into Kabuki plays, and the ukiyo-e show the Kabuki depictions as well as the original sources. The most notorious tales, such as “Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan” and “Sarayashiki”, are well represented here, but there are many lesser known stories. Entering the museum, the viewer first encounters five prints by Hokusai Katsushika; the ghosts of Oiwa-san, Okiku-san, Kohada Koheiji, a laughing Hannya demon, and a snake-spirit of obsession. Entering the lower levels, there are more detailed scenes from these stories painted by different artists, including one remarkable woodcut from Utagawa Toyokuni III. Showing a scene from a Kabuki play based on the life of the Buddhist saint Nichiren, it shows the virtuous hero in combat with two fearsome apparitions – the ghost of Koheiki Koheiji floating through the air, and Oiwa-san emerging from a nearby river.
Upstairs on the second floor, there are several dramatic prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Utagawa Yoshitora, relating to scenes from the Genpei War in the late Heian period. They show the warrior ghosts of the Taira clan rising from the sea and attacking the ship carrying the heroes Yoshitsune and Benkei … Pirates of the Caribbean, eat your sea-soaked zombie heart out!
One thing I was particularly happy to see was a wall display showing the step-by-step creation of ukiyo-e, from the first sketch, the carving, and the adding of pigment. The example chosen was Hokusai’s “The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa”, which made me even happier.

There are many other intriguing and educational ukiyo-e upstairs, depicting events and characters both well known and obscure, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I’ll just mention Utagawa Kuniteru’s work on the “The Seven Mysteries of Honjo” (the Honjo Nanafushigi). These refer to a collection of mysterious events that occurred during the Edo period in the area of Honjo, known today as part of Sumida ward – the old ‘shitamachi’ region of Tokyo, where memories go back a long way and mysteries never die. I hope to cover this in full in a later blog entry, where I go on a walking tour of Honjo … so I’ll leave this subject for the moment!
Finally, taking the exhibition as a whole, the elegant translations of the titles come across as (perhaps) unintentional masterpieces of dry humor – especially those by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The dryly translated “People surprised at figure of revived dead person”, for example, does not prepare the viewer for the scene of absolute carnage and panic that they see through the glass. Perhaps this show should be retitled “Specters, Ghosts, Sorcerers and Understatements”!
The third installment of this exhibition, “Sorcerers”, will take place in September, and I hope to cover it in a future blog post.
In the meantime, readers of this blog will also know that Book Two of the trilogy, Voice of the Mirror, has just been published and the ukiyo-e artist Hokusai Katsushika is a major character (Reiko and her friends travel back in time and meet him), and his artwork is central to the plot. If you want to know more about the Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy, go here …

Sword, Mirror, Jewel

If you want to know more about the world of the Japanese supernatural, try this …

The Unofficial Guide to Japanese Mythology

Also, if you want to know more about Yokai and Yurei specifically, try these excellent books by Japan-based writer Matt Alt!

Yokai Attack

Yurei Attack

2014 Golden Week Downtown Tour

Last year was Shibamata; this year, we started in Asakusa, home of the legendary Golden Poo Building (AKA Asahi Beer Head Office).

I was in the area of Azumabashi (walk over the bridge, past the giant turd and turn right at the main road) to check out Infinity Books, a new second-hand bookshop that opened two months ago. It’s got thousands of English language books, some of them rare, all of them reasonably priced. It also hosts events – and I hope to go to one later this month.

The street of souvenir shops and tea houses leading to Fukugawa Fudo Temple.

Bridge, pond and carp in the precincts of Fukugawa Fudo Temple.

This is the oldest iron bridge in Japan; it used to span a river somewhere in Fukugawa, but it has since been moved to its current location here, where it apparently serves as a cat shelter.

The two signs posted here say “Do not feed or take care of stray cats because they will cause a nuisance.” Between them someone has lovingly built a crib where we saw a big white cat sleeping.

As the sun sets, the drinking begins! We had a sake tasting session in a shop/bar near the entrance to Fukugawa Fudo, and then moved on. This is one of the tiny streets lined with izakayas in the area around Monzen-Nakacho station.

Kogomi tempura and yuzu highballs in the tiny izakaya Yu-chan.

Next; a standing sake bar around the corner from Yu-chan.

“Braja” is not, as you might think, ladies’ underwear, but a cocktail of brandy and ginger ale. Bra (brandy) + Gia (ginger ale) – geddit?

The view outside the bar.

We round off the night with a few glasses of Manosturu sake at Mandawara.

See you soon, Shitamachi!

Publishing News for 2014!

Happy New Year, Brave New World!
Here’s the latest publishing news from Excalibur – the cutting edge of fiction!

All six stories in the first series of “Futurist Manifesto” are now available as budget-price limited-edition collector’s item e-books. They will be removed from sale in June 2014, when the anthology “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow! Volume One” is released in print and Kindle format, including all six stories plus extra short fiction, illustrations and comic strips. So get ‘em now – while they’re hot! Click on the links to go to the Amazon page!

The Futurist Manifesto # 1: “The Invention of God”

Spies, spirits, and mad inventors galore in this action-packed novelette set in a Steampunk Victorian London.

The Futurist Manifesto # 2: “Dulce et Decorum Est”
Eldritch abominations stalk the trenches of World War One in this chilling tale set in Ypres, 1917.

The Futurist Manifesto # 3: “The Elements of War”
A tale of love and magic, in a city on the edge of destruction – London, during the 1940-41 Blitz.

The Futurist Manifesto # 4: “Jimmy Diamond and the Girl from Venus”
Experience a Swinging Sixties London filled with Mods, Rockers, laser pistols, moon rockets, flying scooters and killer robots, in this comedy-thriller novelette!

The Futurist Manifesto # 5: “Nightfall in Utopia”
Murder, mayhem and zombies lie in wait in the darkness of the 1977 New York City blackout.

The Futurist Manifesto # 6: “Skin Condition”
Corporate greed collides with miracles of faith, in this chilling short story set in the dystopian, environmentally devastated Britain of 1992.

Artwork for “Jimmy Diamond and the Girl from Venus”, by Terry Diefenbach.

If you’re wondering what happened to Book Two in the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy – then wonder no more! Last October Excalibur suffered delays due to unforeseen circumstances – but we’re getting back on track! Reiko Bergman will return in March 2014, fighting more bizarre yokai from the Japanese spirit world – and here’s an excerpt!

“Sword, Mirror, Jewel” Book 2: “Voice of the Mirror” – Chapter One

Cover for “Voice of the Sword”, by Stephanie White.

Out Now! The Futurist Manifesto

The first two stories in the “Futurist Manifesto” series are available now, as limited-edition teasers for “Tales from Beyond Tomorrow!”

“The Futurist Manifesto # 1: The Invention of God”

Spies, spirits, and mad inventors galore in this action-packed novelette set in a Steampunk Victorian London.

“The Futurist Manifesto # 2: Dulce et Decorum est”

Eldritch abominations stalk the trenches of World War One in this chilling short story set in Ypres, 1917.

From Excalibur – the cutting edge of literature!

Voice of the Mirror: Exclusive!

Chapter One from the sequel to “Voice of the Sword”, Book 2 in the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy!

It was the Godless Month. The tenth month of the year, when the Gods of Japan leave their shrines and assemble at Izumo, on the western shore of the Japan Sea, to discuss matters of destiny. It was the month when mortals like ourselves faced devils and dangers with only our wits to protect us, as the leaves withered and turned gold, and the air grew chill and carried the scent of wood smoke.
The twentieth day, of the tenth month, in the tenth year of Bunka.
Still in my sleeping robe, I put away the futon in the closet, and swept the tatami, the simple brushing movement also serving to clear my mind of dreams. I slid open the paper door to the central room. It was the hour of the rabbit; the servants and the other temple maidens sat by the open hearth, the wood fire burning steadily beneath the big iron pot. One servant knelt, setting out the bowls and chopsticks. The smoke left its pungent smell behind as it was absorbed by the straw in the roof.
I knelt in formal position on the tatami, and gratefully accepted a bowl of buckwheat porridge. “Itadakimasu,” I said. I humbly receive this. I took a handful of chopped spring onion and miyoga from the serving tray and sprinkled it into the bowl.
After eating, I prayed to the images of my parents, enshrined in the kamidana – the Shinto family altar. Enshrined within the cypress-wood alcove lay the tablet carrying the posthumous names of my dear, departed mother and father, written in formal Kanji calligraphy. Strung above the altar were the required hempen rope and the O-fuda – white paper amulets, cut into the shape of lightning bolts, upon which were written the charms of peace and blessing.
Other acolytes here had the memories of their parents to comfort them. I had none. I simply had the visions sweeping in to guide and warn me, the chilling visitors from the edge of sleep. I accepted the knowledge, and my destiny; as it was written in the Wen-Tzu, nothing can be done to help the changes of myriad beings, but to grasp the essential, and return to the source.
The servant helped me don my ceremonial kimono, the white uniform of the Star-Tellers. Then I bid farewell, and walked out onto the temple academy courtyard.
To my right, Guard Captain Wakita stepped out of the sentry hut and bowed. “It is a beautiful morning, Mistress Furukawa.”
I smiled. Despite his title of Guard Captain, Shunsuke Wakita was little older than me. He had inherited the position at the Academy of Star-Tellers after the untimely death of his father. That was something else we shared, along with our youth; the loss of our parents. Mine, carried away by plague when I was but three months old, and his, taken in the tragic collapse of Nihonbashi Bridge eleven years before.
He stood beside me, the October sunlight glinting upon the chestplate, the helmet, and the hilts of the long and short swords he wore. His face had a fine, chiseled look, and beneath his helmet I knew he did not yet have the shaved chonmage pate of the adult samurai, but rather thick locks of slightly curly hair.
“You do not have to be here,” Shunsuke said. “There are many other maidens belonging to the Temple.”
“But I have duties to perform, just as you have,”
We stood, looking across the paved courtyard at the wall of ancient oak and elm trees around the complex of temple buildings, the bamboo thicket near the entrance, the sacred well where visitors were required to perform their ablutions.
It was up to Shunsuke to fill in the silence.
“You told me that your own star-readings state that today is a day of ill luck, Reiko,” he said softly. “It may be advisable for you to stay here. I can carry a message to the priest, if you wish, saying that you are sick.”
“I thank you for being prepared to do me such a favor,” I said politely, “but my duties are clear.”
His hazel eyes glanced at me from beneath the steel rim of his helmet. “That’s the trouble with fortune-tellers,” he grumbled. “They always have the last word.”
It was now the hour of the dragon. Asakusa was awakening, preparing for the day’s business. The air was heavy with the smells of incense and grilling fish. Beyond the grounds of Sensoji Temple, I could hear the cries of the vendors and beggars, the rattling of the bamboo omikuji charms in their wooden containers. From the long narrow street of stalls called the Nakamise Street I could hear the chirruping of the caged sparrows; many elderly vendors made a living by selling birds and small fish that the customers would later free, in honor of their chosen Buddhist saint.
The sun was pale in the clouded sky, with a sliver of moon still barely visible. The strong sense of order and routine calmed me and made me feel at peace inside. I loved the serene brutality of Asakusa, my home. I loved the electric power of humanity I felt with each breath of dry, smoky air. The mercy of Amaterasu the Shining One had granted us another day in this world.
The Star-Tellers Academy was situated on the Hill of Kinryu, the Golden Dragon, in the grounds of Sensoji Temple. Iyeyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, had set up the Academies in the early years of his rule. One was located at Fushimi, near Kyoto; and one was here, in the heart of Edo, the capital of Japan. The two faiths of the Academy were the same two faiths that had co-existed peacefully in Japan for over a thousand years; Shinto, the indigenous Japanese religion of nature and ancestor-worship, and Buddhism, brought to Japan from China.
Two sentries guarded the huge oaken door that served as the entrance to the Academy halls. They bowed, opened the door, and admitted me into a narrow, lantern-lit corridor. Above the doorway stood the Zodiac Clock, a gift from the Tokugawa administration, beautifully constructed by the Shogun’s elite clockmakers. Each of the day’s twelve periods was depicted by lovingly rendered images of the twelve animals of the Zodiac. I shuffled through the doorway beneath it and into the interior of the Star-Reader Academy.
Whispering voices came from behind the latticed wood and paper walls, and steam hung in the air from the round wooden tubs in the nearby bathrooms. I walked past gilt murals showing ancient warriors slaying demons and dragons. In the gleaming cypress floor, I could see my own blurred and darkened face, reflected by the highly polished wood. I passed the central hall, with its dozens of chrysanthemum branches hung in front of the altar, from the Kikumode Ceremony two days before.
Tomoe was already casting the oracle bones into the hot charcoal of the brazier when I reached her room. She knelt in formal position beneath the scroll bearing the names of her household Kami, and looked up at me with dark eyes as I entered. She pushed back her glossy, waist-length black hair and smiled wistfully.
“Did you see the moon last night?” she asked.
I nodded. “A full moon, entering the final phase, according to the calendar.”
Tomoe smiled. “More than that. It was so huge, and bright. I could not take my eyes from it; I could feel it … eating. Yes, eating through me.”
“They say staring at the moon for too long can drive you insane, Tomoe.”
“I think it may be too late for that.” She got to her feet, looking up at me shyly, as if about to tell a secret.
“We are nearing the winter solstice,” she said quietly, “and I can feel something approaching.”
“Something?” I asked. Tomoe’s abilities were, in some ways, greater than mine; her premonitions were never to be ignored. “Did you dream last night?”
“Yes. Today we shall be summoned; and tomorrow we shall leave the capital to begin our journey.”
“Where shall we go?”
“Over the sea.”
“I dreamed the same thing.”
“Others shall lie in wait and seek to kill us.”
“I dreamed that, also.”
“I feel that, and more. There is something within myself,” she said. “As if my powers are getting … stronger.”
“Then we are in the Kami’s favor. A stronger Star-Teller means a stronger Academy, a stronger Edo.”
“Then why do I feel so afraid?” she asked urgently, her eyes flashing.
The walls of Tomoe’s room were packed – even more than mine – with the tools of our magical art, Onmyodo, the natural science based on the ancient philosophies of Wu-Xing and Yin-Yang. Calendars and charts showing the movements of the stars hung next to scrolls bearing names of the Kami. On her shelves lay half-finished wooden votive tablets propped up against bottles of murky liquid with dead shima-hebi snakes coiled inside. Upon the altar at the end of the room stood arrangements of candles, flowers, fresh sasaki twigs, and at the altar’s heart, a mirror. There were no images allowed of the Kami, the gods and goddesses of the Shinto pantheon; in every shrine or academy, the Kami were represented by a mi-tama-shiro, a spirit substitute. These could be beads, stones, arrows, paper amulets, small bells – or in some cases, such as Tomoe’s personal shrine, a mirror.
Tomoe and I had studied and practiced together at the Academy for as long we could both remember. In fact, in terms of power, we were the Academy – no other shrine maidens had shown the abilities we had, and our lives were dominated by a constant stream of visitors asking for our services. Thankfully, the Academy had ordered a squad of samurai, led by Captain Wakita, to protect our privacy.
We were born in the year of the Snake, under the element of Fire. According to the Wu Xing, such a collaboration was taboo. To be avoided at all costs. It did not stop us becoming firm friends, who had protected each other’s lives more times than we could count.
Or so we were told. We would be proud, if it were not for our curious … affliction.
Tomoe scooped another handful of oracle bones from a lacquered dish and tossed them into the brazier.
‘Have you breakfasted?”
“No, I shall eat now. Recently I enjoy preparing my own food. Chopping the leeks, grating the daikon. This kind of humble task is valuable. Some would say this is pointless, and omit it all together.” The oracle bones in the brazier made a sharp, cracking noise, and she raked them out with a clawed metal rod. She cast them into the metal dish at the side, studying the fissures on their blackened surface.
“What do you see?”
She paused. “Something I cannot name.”
A muffled call from outside and the sliding open of a wooden door interrupted us. We both left Tomoe’s room, to find Shunsuke waiting in the outer corridor. “We have a visitor,” he said. “From the magistrate’s office.”
I glanced at Tomoe. She was smiling.
“At your convenience,” he added, looking at the breakfast bowl in Tomoe’s hands.

It was forbidden for visitors to the Academy to look upon the sanctum interior, so meetings were always conducted from behind a bamboo curtain. We knew without looking, however, the face of the young samurai who came shuffling in with his guards to kneel upon the tatami. In recent weeks, messages from the magistrate had come via Hideaki Sakamoto, whose boyish face always wore a look of nervous determination. He walked self-consciously, shoulders hunched, putting one foot in front of the other with exaggerated care. As if afraid to make noise or occupy space.
Hideaki Sakamoto’s father had been a doshin, one of Edo’s low-ranking police patrol officers in the office in charge of investigating fire, theft and gambling. He had inherited the position at age fifteen, maintaining order in the city streets until becoming Magistrate Kotani’s chief retainer a year ago.
“Greetings, my lord,” said Tomoe. “Please forgive us, once more, for applying the Academy rules, and asking you to remain on the other side of the curtain. Let us know what is required of us.”
There was hesitation before Hideaki replied. “There is sadness in your voice today, Miss Kanzaki,” he said.
“There is sadness,” I said quickly, and rather defensively, “but there is meaning to her sadness. What is required of us?”
“The magistrate has asked that you come at once. There is a delicate matter involving the Shogunate’s security, and he will explain.”
“I shall accompany you,” said Shunsuke, from the side.
“That is not necessary,” Hideaki replied rather waspishly. “We have sufficient guards. And it is, as I say, a delicate matter.”
“Then I shall be as delicate as I can while I fulfill my duties to the members of the Academy,” insisted Shunsuke.
“Come sirs, are you fighting over us?” I could clearly hear the coquettish turn in Tomoe’s voice. I frowned at her as I got to my feet.
“We shall prepare to leave immediately,” I said.
Walking back to our rooms, I was silent, mentally going through the steps of what I would need to take with me to our appointment. There was no mistake what the summons signified; there was trouble in the capital. This was the summoning that Tomoe and I had dreamed of. Whatever it signified, it had begun.
In this pensive mood, I immediately became aware of something unfamiliar as I entered the inner gateway. I stopped, looking at Tomoe, as she returned my look of alarm. There was a hushed, tense atmosphere in the chamber, pregnant with meaning.
We both looked up. The great Zodiac Clock above the doorway had stopped.

Dear Reader,

No! Your eyes are not deceiving you! The above character is indeed Reiko Bergman, from the 21st Century Chiyoda High School! She is not a clone, an android, or an alien shape-shifter! This is not a dream or an alternative reality! How is it possible that the same person – and her friends – are alive in two different historical periods?
For the answers, pre-order your copy of “Voice of the Mirror” now! If you haven’t read “Voice of the Sword” yet – get it here!