Shike – Day 91 of 306

Finally, there was the thought of China, that fabulous country across the sea, from which came all beauty, all wisdom and all law. She could not die without seeing China.

One day a maid came to her. “His Highness says that you are to pack your very best robes and gowns, because you may be presented to some great lords of China.”

Strange, Taniko thought. Why would he present her to great lords, when he loathed her? With the help of Horigawa’s maids she began to make a list of the things she wanted to take with her. Fear rose in her mind, and she tried to quell it with “Homage to Amida Buddha.”

There had not been an official mission from the Sunrise Land to the Land of Sunset in over two hundred years, and Horigawa’s visit was not an embassy from the Son of Heaven to the Emperor of China either. But when he set out the prince visited the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa and Chancellor Sogamori and even paid a ceremonial visit to the young Emperor Takakura, Sogamori’s son-in-law. These conversations took most of a day. In the late afternoon Horigawa, along with Taniko, his samurai and his servants, protected by a hundred Takashi outriders, set out through the Rasho Mon.

They followed the Sanyodo Road through pleasant plains divided into flooded rice paddies. They spent the night at the estate of a Takashi lord and continued south in the morning. The road led south to the coast and then west along the Inland Sea.

Through the screened window of her carriage, which she shared with three maids, Taniko could see islands sparkling on the sea like emeralds scattered on blue silk. Fishing boats and other small craft plied their way among the islands and along the shore.

At last they came to Hyogo. The Takashi banner was everywhere fluttering on the tops of warehouses and the tall masts of ships in the harbour. The harbour itself had been specially dredged by Sogamori to admit fully loaded ocean-going vessels. The party rode along the stone wharves past staring dock workers.

Three Takashi war galleys were docked in the harbour, their sail down, their oars at rest. It was from here, thought Taniko, that Kiyosi had embarked on his last voyage. Perhaps it was in one of these very ships that he had sailed to his death. Now, for part of her journey, she would be following the same route he had, seeing the same sights he had seen.

She remembered her own voyage on the Inland Sea with Kiyosi. That time, too, they had left from this same port. She recalled the islands they had stopped at, the flowers they had picked, the shrines and temples they had visited. Tears filled her eyes, blurring the sights of the harbour.

The maids were both excited and terrified at the thought of leaving their country, but had kept their conversation subdued throughout the journey because of Taniko’s presence in the carriage. Now they burst into excited chatter. They had seen the ship on which they would be sailing.

It was a Chinese sea-going junk, standing alone and majestic, tied to the end of a long stone wharf. Taniko’s first impression, as she pressed her head against the carriage screen beside the maids, was of a floating castle. The ship had five masts. Taniko had to twist her neck to see to the top of the tallest one, where a gleaming, golden fish trailing red pennants swam through the sky, veering this way and that with the wind. Eight-sided charms, looking like round, glaring eyes, were painted on either side of the prow. In the centre of each was the yin-yang symbol. The sides and stern of the ship were decorated, mostly in red, black and gold, with scenes of warfare, with birds, fishes, flowers and dragons. As the carriage approached closer to the huge junk, she read a verse of good omen in Chinese on the stern: “Water that sleeps in the moonlight.” This enormous, gaudy ship was like no vessel built in the Sacred Islands. When she stepped aboard, she would already be in China.

She was carried up the gangplank in a small sedan chair, preceded and followed by maids. Around her rose the murmurings of the Chinese crew as the sedan chair bearers hurried along the deck. She was hastily whisked to a cabin in the stern. The presence of women on the ship must greatly increase the danger of disorder, she realized.

The cabin which she would share with one of her maids was small but reasonably elegant. There was a window and, one above the other, two wooden shelves were covered with mats and quilts for sleeping. Her travelling boxes would take up the remaining space.

From the pillow book of Shima Taniko:

We have been at sea five days now. Since we left Shimonoseki Strait behind, we have been in sight of land most of the time. We stopped at Tsushima Island, then at Pusan on the coast of Korea. I saw both places only through my cabin window.

Once a day we women are permitted to walk the deck for our health. The rest of the time we are confined to cabins which get tinier and smellier each day. When I see Horigawa he smiles at me in his ugly way. I wish I could push him overboard, but he is always surrounded by guards.

Since we entered the China Sea I have been sick. The ship rises and falls constantly and sometimes rolls from side to side. It is not so bad when I am on deck and can look out at the horizon, but when I am in my cabin and the sea is rough I cannot keep food in my stomach and ardently wish I could depart this life.

There must be over two hundred passengers on board. I can’t imagine that there is enough room for them below decks. Some of the more important passengers, including Horigawa and myself, have cabins in the stern. Besides Horigawa’s party there are priests, monks and merchants aboard. There are Chinese and Korean travellers as well as our own people. The crew, one of the maids told me, consists of about a hundred men.

The Chinese are much taller than we are, and lighter of skin, except for the sailors, who have been tanned a dark brown by the sun.

Sick and unhappy and frightened as I am, the adventure of crossing this vast ocean and the prospect of seeing the Central Kingdom fill me with excitement.

-Sixth Month, fifteenth day


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