Haikei Toshiro, mi amado esposo:
The cherry trees are in full bloom after a gentle winter, like soft pink clouds next to the green trees on the hillside. The season reminds me of that winter day when the Hashimoto took us away from you, when the snowflakes fell like the petals do now.
It is strange that we are so close, but that we can only visit you when our current “bosses” allow us. I hope they appreciate your work enough so that we can meet again soon. Our daughter appreciates your latest gift, though I pray that the swords you forge for the Hashimoto are not so sharp, that what you make for them is just as miserable as they are.
The Yamagami Sword Forge is still closed, and since we last saw you in the fall, we have moved upstairs. That helps us feel close to you in many ways. Although of others, I perceive your absence with greater intensity. The musical hammering of hot tamahagane, the melody of steel, no longer exists in this place. Just like your own voice, the way you sing to the sword while applying yakibatsuchi, and the sound of fire when the sword meets the forge and the hiss as it cools in the water. Sometimes I think I hear you, although it is always about the wind.
But I will not stay in this place. Now that winter is giving way to spring, I would like to write a letter with a light tone, such as a warm breeze that carries petals aimlessly. Maybe it will bring us some peace, just as I twist my sword to prevent the peace here from being broken.
Of course, many things remain the same in these eight years since your last trip home. I know you will be glad to know that Ichiko refuses to change the family recipe into Gozan Ramen, and that the black garlic oil is as delicious as ever. Today was packed, as many came to celebrate the cherry blossom. Yui’s dog, Mochi, is getting older, but his image still hangs around on the pottery school sign. Most of our favorite places are still alive thanks to tourists who have the pleasure of visiting charming old towns like ours. They enjoy ice cream at the cat cafe and spend their yen in the game room or the new mall you haven’t seen yet. Satisfied with their memories, these daytime visitors return to the train before dark, when the lanterns are turned on and the Hashimoto’s knock on closed store doors to take their “share” of what others earned by working and give it to their superior. at the bar that is aptly called Tora no Sumika.
Shimada Castle remains at the top of its place of glory, guarding our city like an unconditional stone temple awaiting a benevolent deity. You and I, who created and wielded the sword, know for a fact that while their castle was quite strong, the Shimada were not gods, but people (and to top it off, criminals). However, the Shimada understood that honor and loyalty forged the strongest bond between rulers and ruled.
Lately, the Shimada have taken over my idle thoughts. They asked a lot from those of us who followed them, but they inspired us to give it to them. And in return, the Shimada clan led with integrity and treated us with respect. As you know, my mother and hers had the honor of caring for the fox sanctuary away from the clamor of the people. But when it became clear that my soul yearned for the sword and that I excelled at kenjutsu, the Shimada chose me above all others as their weapons master. They knew that Kanezaka was not only the seat of their power, but also their home … and ours.
But when the Shimada gave, the Hashimoto took. After all, when you have many homes, you have none. Furthermore, the Hashimoto clan lays its claws in almost every city in this nation. We are nothing special to them; One day they will drink until we are dry and move on, we will be left empty and in ruins. Even now, twelve years later, I see the mark they left on our city.
I regret that while the old part of Kanezaka looks unchanged on the outside, it suffered under the cruel hand of the Hashimoto. Our view of the motherly mountain now encompasses the prominence and arrogance of skyscrapers and neon, not the cozy warmth of wood, wind, and stone as it once did.
Like Kanezaka, I find myself between the ancient customs of the mountain and the Shimada; and the new, sharp and rigid forms of the city and the Hashimoto. We both know that the Hashimoto have you under their “care” not only for your abilities, but also to keep me in my place. They want to make sure that you don’t waver in your efforts to preserve the peace in this city, among these people I respect very much. I will obey our current lords, because if I do something different, I will put you and our friends at risk.
He hoped the Hashimotos would get bored in time. Let them see that we are honest people and it was not necessary to oppress us.
Not even the most faithful dog could take such a beating without attacking, but the people of Kanezaka have great hearts. They are wearing us out. The demands on the people increase and the people get nervous. Who does not pay, suffers from cruel abuse. And now someone gave the Hashimoto more reason to be angry.
In recent months, shipments of contraband from the Hashimoto have disappeared. His men have been brutally beaten or assaulted when returning from their tours. Perhaps the most daring are the brightly colored, boldly painted messages that began to appear, though they are immediately covered in paint.
These fools attract the attention of the Hashimoto in unsubtle ways, and their actions are received as expected. These vigilantes plan to rise up strongly against a wave of violence. Instead, they attack fast (and hide even faster) while Kanezaka’s good people take their punishment. And so my job (keeping our own people, our friends at bay) became more delicate and indispensable as the days went by. There are times when I can barely understand the world I walk in now: You, doing wonderful work for some unworthy pigs. I, who trained Sojiro Shimada’s offspring, forced to turn my sword against mine. The children of this town, growing up with only the brutal and inconsiderate Hashimoto to decide what is good or bad … and our daughter is among them. This city is now a danger.
I will walk through Kanezaka today not just to imagine you accompanying me or to greet our neighbors. I made an offering to take to the Tetsuzan shrine of my ancestors: a bowl lined with teal yuyaku from the pottery school, into which Ichiko dipped a spoonful of dashi broth. A rice ball from our neighbor. From Kenta, a portion of red bean mochi, our daughter’s favorite. I added a generous amount of sake to all of the above. It may have done a bit for me too.
I will ask the spirit of the fox for strength to continue this fight and wisdom for me and all of us. As soon as the sun goes down, I will take the sword that you gave me long ago in our yuino and I will patrol the streets of this place that feeds and, at the same time, destroys my heart. I will find these self-proclaimed “guardians” who, if not deterred from this path, could light a wayward and deadly fire that will consume us all.
May you and I be like your swords: strong and sharp. Obey the Hashimoto, like me, show apparent respect, even if you can’t harbor a true one in your heart.
I will close with the promised lightness and say that I know that, if you were here, you would remind me that “kitsune can change your luck by moving just one of its tails.” Let him move the nine he has and send a little of that long-awaited good fortune our way.