Bushclover and the Moon

Under the same roof…[1]

A true son of Edo, high-spirited, candid, and fond of all things new and novel, the Lesser Tada doted on imported teas, polychrome crockery, lacquered trays inlaid with mother-of-pearl, sweet bean-paste cakes, salacious drawings, fragrant hair oils, and cunningly wrought ivory baubles attached as toggles on sash-pouches, his favorite being a rare hinged specimen depicting two baboons squat-fucking, the realistic action of which was much admired by connoisseurs, who found in the precision of its mechanism and the audacity of its design a demonstration of the superiority of the culture of the Edo townsman. The Lesser Tada’s unlined summer robe of indigo cotton was modest enough, but sewn around the insides of the neckband and sleeve openings were strips of lavender silk that he was in the habit of stroking with his fingertips. His oiled coif was stylishly arranged and held in place with a twisted paper cord the pale milky blue of the summer sky, and he wore his bright scarlet loincloth with the front flap hanging down, an urban affectation thought shocking in rural districts.

Chrysanthemums by a Stream with Rocks, c. 1760
FROM The Great Japan Exhibition:
Art of the Edo Period 1600-1868

ISBN: 0297780352
BY Itō Jakachū

No doubt my smaller girl has read all your linked poems, the Lesser Tada declared to the haikai poet with whom he had offered to share his accommodations at the crowded inn. Or at least the most famous ones. The man himself was no reader.

The soaking tub in the back garden was an elongated trough formed from thick cedar planks and fed through a bamboo trickle-pipe furred rufous with iron. Rinsing buckets were piled nearby, and the two men perched on low stools in the hazy summer sunlight and began scrubbing themselves with their hand towels, the assignations man entertaining his guest with offers and gossip.

The Tada brothers were well-established in Edo’s New Nightless City of the Reed Plains. The elder brother’s teahouse catered to an exclusive clientele of wealthy pleasure-seekers while the Lesser Tada’s own public rooms were open to any person with sufficient funds for the food and drink and saucy banter provided there. You have to know how to read your customers, explained the Lesser Tada, wringing out his hand towel, and be open to fresh ideas. No person not totally impoverished was too poor for the House of the Lesser Tada, and even the possessor of but a single copper coin gripped in a careworn fist would be included in an evening’s merriment for the time required to strip it from him.

Shall we call for some rice wine? A plate of tidbits perhaps?

Perhaps later, said Old Master Bashō.

The Lesser Tada’s brother produced pleasure banquets attended by top-ranking courtesans who sat simpering within immense mounds of silk brocade, their heads immobilized by the need to manage massive chignons freighted with an array of tortoise-shell combs and thrust pins and silver hair ornaments. Grand courtesans epitomized the brilliance of the traditions of the floating world of desire. But their heightened sense of self-magnificence made them difficult to approach so that much cajoling and entreaty was required to accomplish even the most superficial of transmissions. And this, friend, if I may say it, said the Lesser Tada, after all financial expectations have been satisfied. He rinsed off then scuttled across to the big cedar-wood soaking trough and climbed in, damson-sack dangling. There’s a better way, said the Lesser Tada, pleased with himself and his candor, a more modern way; and sighing with contentment, he sank deeply into the pungent heat of the mineral water.

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REFERENCES

  1. Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) is widely regarded as Japan’s greatest poet. The opening quote comes from a famous haiku by Bashō: “Under the same roof, prostitutes also were sleeping: bush clover and the moon.” The Japanese version is Hitotsu ya ni / yūjo mo netari / hagi to tsuki.

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