Five swivel chairs were ranged along the other side of the observation car of the Kyoto express. Oki Toshio noticed that the one on the end was quietly revolving with the movement of the train. He could not take his eyes from it. The low armchairs on his side of the car did not swivel.
Oki was alone in the observation car. Slouched deep in his armchair, he watched the end chair turn. Not that it kept turning in the same direction, at the same speed: sometimes it went a little faster, or a little slower, or even stopped and began turning in the opposite direction. To look at that one revolving chair, wheeling before him in the empty car, made him feel lonely. Thoughts of the past began flickering through his mind.
It was the twenty-ninth of December. Oki was going to Kyoto to hear the New Year’s Eve bells.
For how many years had he heard the tolling of those bells over the radio? How long ago had the broadcasts begun? Probably he had listened to them every year since then, and to the commentary by various announcers, as they picked up the sound of famous old bells from temples all around the country. During the broadcast the old year was giving way to the new, so the commentaries tended to be florid and emotional. The deep booming note of a huge Buddhist temple bell resounded at leisurely intervals, and the lingering reverberations held an awareness of the old Japan and of the flow of time. After the bells of the northern temples came the bells in Kyushu, but every New Year’s Eve ended with the Kyoto bells. Kyoto had so many temples that sometimes the mingled sounds of a host of different bells came over the radio.
At midnight his wife and daughter might still be bustling about, preparing holiday delicacies in the kitchen, straightening up the house, or perhaps getting their kimonos ready or arranging flowers. Oki would sit in the dining room and listen to the radio. As the bells rang he would look back at the departing year. He always found it a moving experience. Some years that emotion was violent or painful. Sometimes he was racked by sorrow and regret. Even when the sentimentality of the announcers repelled him, the tolling of the bells echoed in his heart. For a long time he had been tempted by the thought of being in Kyoto one New Year’s Eve to hear the living sound of those old temple bells.
That had come to mind again this year end, and he had impulsively decided to go to Kyoto. He had also been stirred by a defiant wish to see Ueno Otoko again after all these years, and to listen to the bells with her. Otoko had not written to him since she had moved to Kyoto, but by now she had established herself there as a painter in the classical Japanese tradition. She was still unmarried.
Because it was on impulse, and he disliked making reservations, Oki had simply gone to Yokohama Station and boarded the observation car of the Kyoto express. Near the holidays the train might be crowded, but he knew the porter and counted on getting a seat from him.
Oki found the Kyoto express convenient, since it left Tokyo and Yokohama early in the afternoon, arriving at Kyoto in the evening, and also left in early afternoon on its way back. He always made his trips to Kyoto on this train. Most of the girl attendants in the first-class cars knew him by sight.
Once aboard, he was surprised to find the car empty. Perhaps there were never many passengers on the twenty-ninth of December. It might be crowded again by the thirty-first.
As he kept watching the end chair turn, Oki began to think of fate. Just then the porter brought tea.
"Am I all alone?" Oki asked.
"Only five or six passengers today, sir."
"Will it be full on New Year’s Day?"
"No, sir, it usually isn’t. Is that when you’re coming back?"
"I’m afraid so."
"I won’t be on duty myself, but I’ll see that you’re taken care of."
After the porter left, Oki looked around the car and saw a pair of white leather valises at the foot of the last armchair. They were square and rather slender, in a new style. The white leather was flecked with pale brownish dots; it was a kind unobtainable in Japan. Also, there was a large leopard-skin handbag on the chair. The owners of the luggage must be Americans. Probably they were in the dining car.
Woods flowed by in a thick, warm-looking haze outside the window. Far above the haze, white clouds were bathed in a shimmering light that seemed to radiate up from the earth. But as the train went on, the whole sky cleared. The sunlight slanting in the windows reached all across the car. As they passed a pine-covered mountain he could see that theground was strewn with dry pine needles. A clump of bamboo had yellowed leaves. On the ocean side sparkling waves surged in to shore against a black cape.
Two middle-aged American couples came back from the dining car and, as soon as they could see Mt. Fuji, past Numazu, stood at the windows eagerly taking photographs. By the time Fuji was completely visible, down to the fields at its base, they seemed tired of photographing and had turned their backs to it.
The winter day was already ending. Oki let his eyes follow the dull silver-gray line of a river, and then looked up into the setting sun. For a long while the last bright chilly rays streamed through an arc-shaped cleft in the black clouds, before disappearing. The lights were on in the car, and suddenly all the swivel chairs wheeled halfway around. But only the one on the end kept turning.
When he arrived in Kyoto, Oki went directly to the Miyako Hotel. He asked for a quiet room, with the thought that Otoko might come to see him. The elevator seemed to rise six or seven floors; but since the hotel was built in steps upward along a steep slope of the Eastern Hills, the long corridor he followed led back to a ground-floor wing. The rooms along the corridor were as silent as if there were no other guests. A little after ten o’clock he began hearing clamorous foreign voices all around him. Oki asked the floor boy about it.
There were two families, he was told, with twelve children between them. The children not only shouted at each other within their rooms but romped up and down the corridor. Why, when the hotel seemed almost empty, had they sandwiched him in between such noisy guests? Oki restrained his annoyance, thinking the children would soon go to sleep. But the noise went on and on, perhaps because they were keyed up by the trip. What especially grated on his ears was the sound of their footsteps running along the corridor. Finally he got out of bed.
The loud chattering in a foreign language made Oki feel all the more lonely. That revolving chair in the observation car, turning by itself, came before him. It was as if he saw his own loneliness silently turning round and round within his heart.
Oki had come to Kyoto to hear the New Year’s Eve bells and to see Ueno Otoko, but he wondered once again which had been his real reason. Of course he was not sure he could see her. Yet were not the bells merely a pretext, and the chance of seeing her something he had long desired? He had come to Kyoto hoping to listen to the temple bells with Otoko. It had seemed a not unreasonable hope. But a gulf of many years lay between them. Though she had remained unmarried, it was quite possible that she would refuse to see an old lover, to accept an invitation from him.
"No, she’s not like that," Oki muttered to himself. Still, he did not know how she might have changed.
It seemed that Otoko was living in a guest house on the grounds of a certain temple, along with a girl who was her protégée. Oki had come across a photograph of her in an art magazine. It was not a cottage, but a sizable house, with a large sitting room that she used as a studio. There was even a fine old garden. The photograph showed Otoko with brush in hand, bending over to work on a painting, but the line of her profile was unmistakable. Her figure was as slender as ever. Even before his old memories were awakened, he felt a stab of guilt at having robbed her of the possibility of marriage and motherhood.
Obviously no one else would feel as he did about that photograph. To people who glanced at it in the magazine it would be merely the portrait of a woman artist who had gone to live in Kyoto and had become a typical Kyoto beauty.
Oki had thought he would telephone her the next day, if not that night, or drop in at her house. But in the morning, after being awakened by his neighbors’ children, hebegan to feel hesitant, and decided to send her a special-delivery letter. As he sat at the writing desk staring perplexedly at a blank sheet of hotel stationery he decided that he need not see her, that it would be enough to hear the bells alone and then go back.
Oki had been aroused early by the children, but once the two foreign families went out he fell asleep again. It was almost eleven when he awakened.
Slowly tying his necktie, he suddenly recalled Otoko saying: "I’ll tie it for you. Let me…." She was fifteen, and those had been her first words after he had taken her virginity. Oki himself had not spoken. There was nothing he could say. He had been holding her tenderly close, stroking her hair, but he could not bring himself to speak. Then she had slipped out of his arms and begun to dress. He got up, put on his shirt, and started to tie his tie. She was looking up into his face, her eyes moist and shining, but not tearful. He avoided those eyes. Even when he had kissed her, earlier, Otoko had kept her eyes wide open until he pressed them shut with his lips.
There was a sweet, girlish ring in her voice as she asked to tie his tie. Oki felt a wave of relief. What she said was completely unexpected. Perhaps she was trying to escape from herself, rather than to indicate forgiveness, but she handled his necktie gently, though she seemed to be having trouble with it.
"Do you know how?" Oki asked.
"I think so. I used to watch my father."
Her father had died when Otoko was eleven.
Oki dropped into a chair and held Otoko facing him on his lap, lifting his chin to make it easier for her. She crouched slightly toward him, several times undoing the tie and beginning over again. Then she slipped off his lap, trailing her fingers along his right shoulder, and gazed at the necktie. "There you are, Sonny-boy. Will that do?" Oki got up and went to the mirror. The knot was perfect. He rubbed the palm of his hand roughly across his face, with its faint oily film of sweat. He could hardly look at himself after having violated such a young girl. In the mirror he saw her face approaching. Startled by its fresh, poignant beauty, Oki turned round to her. She touched his shoulder, nestled her face against his chest, and said: "I love you."
It had also seemed strange that a fifteen-year-old girl should call a man twice her age "Sonny-boy."
That was twenty-four years ago. Now he was fifty-four. Otoko must be thirty-nine.
After his bath Oki had switched on the radio and learned that Kyoto had had a light freeze. The forecast said that the mild winter would probably continue over the holidays.
Oki breakfasted on toast and coffee in his room, and arranged to hire a car. Unable to make up his mind to call on Otoko, he decided to have the driver take him out to Mt. Arashi. From the car window he saw that the familiar, softly rounded low hills to the north and west, though some of them were in feeble sunlight, had the chilly drabness of a Kyoto winter. It looked as if the day were already ending. Oki got out of the car just before the Togetsu Bridge, but instead of crossing it walked up the road along the river toward Kameyama Park.
At the end of the year even Mt. Arashi, so alive with tourists from spring till fall, had become a deserted landscape. The ancient mountain lay there before him, utterly still. The deep pool of the river at its base was a limpid green. In the distance echoed the sound of logs being loaded onto trucks from rafts along the bank. The mountainside descending to the river was the famous view, he supposed, but now it was in shadow except for a band of sunlight over the shoulder of Mt. Arashi that sloped toward the upper reaches of the river.
Oki had intended to have a quiet lunch by himselfnear Mt. Arashi. He had visited two restaurants there before. One of them was not far from the bridge, but its gate was closed. It seemed unlikely that people would come all the way out to this lonely mountain at the end of the year. Oki walked on along the river at a leisurely pace, wondering if the little rustic restaurant upstream would also be closed. He could always go back to the city for lunch. When he climbed the worn stone steps up to the restaurant, a girl turned him away, saying everyone had gone to Kyoto. How many years ago had it been, in the season for bamboo shoots, that he ate those young shoots in bonito broth here? He went back down to the road, and noticed an old woman sweeping leaves from a flight of low stone steps that led up to another restaurant next door.
He asked if it was open, and she told him she thought so. Oki paused beside her for a moment, remarking how quiet it was. "Yes, you can hear people talking all the way across the river," she said.
The restaurant, buried in a hillside grove, had a thick, damp-looking old thatched roof and a dark entryway. One would hardly take it for a restaurant. In front, a stand of bamboo pressed in on it. The trunks of four or five splendid red pines towered beyond the thatched roof. Oki was shown into a private room, but there seemed to be no one else around. Just outside the glass sliding doors were red aoki berries. He saw a single azalea flower blooming out of season. Aoki shrubs and bamboos and the red pines blocked his view, but through the leaves he could glimpse a deep, clear jade-green pool in the river. All of Mt. Arashi was as still as that pool of water.
Oki sat at the kotatsu, both elbows propped on the low quilt-covered table over a warm charcoal brazier. He could hear a bird singing. The sound of logs being loaded on trucks echoed through the valley. From somewhere off in the Western Hills came the plaintive, lingering whistle of a train entering or leaving a tunnel. He was reminded of the thin cry of a newborn baby…. At sixteen, in the seventh month of carrying his child, Otoko had given birth. The baby was a girl.
Nothing could be done to save it, and Otoko never saw the baby. When it died, the doctor advised against letting her know too soon.
"Mr. Oki, I want you to tell her," Otoko’s mother had said. "I’m apt to burst out crying, the poor thing having to go through all this, when she’s still such a child."
For the time being Otoko’s mother had suppressed her anger and resentment toward him. Her daughter was all she had, and once her daughter was pregnant, even by a man with a wife and child of his own, she no longer dared revile him. Her spirit failed, though it had seemed even stronger than Otoko’s. She had to rely on Oki to see that the child was born in secret, and to arrange for its care afterward. Then too, Otoko, nervous and highstrung in pregnancy, had threatened to kill herself if her mother criticized him.
When he came back to her bedside, Otoko looked at him with the gentle eyes, drained of feeling, of a newly delivered mother. But soon tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. She must have guessed, Oki thought. The tears flowed uncontrollably. As one of the streams went toward her ear, he hastily dabbed at it. She grasped his hand, and for the first time broke into audible sobs. She wept and sobbed as if a darn had burst.
"It’s dead, isn’t it? The baby’s dead, it’s dead!"
She was writhing in anguish, and Oki held her tight, pinning her body down. He could feel one of her small, youthful breasts-small, but swollen with milk-against his arm.
Her mother came in and called to Otoko. Perhaps she had been just outside.
Oki kept his arms around her.
"I can’t breathe," she said. "Let me go."
"Will you lie still? You won’t move?"
"I’ll lie still."
He released her, and her shoulders sagged. New tears began to seep through her closed eyelids.
"Mother, are you going to cremate it?"
There was no answer.
"Such a tiny baby?"
Again her mother did not answer.
"Didn’t you say I had jet-black hair when I was born?"
"Yes, jet black."
"Was my baby’s hair like that? Mother, could you save some for me?"
"I don’t know, Otoko." Her mother hesitated, and then blurted out: "You can have another one!" She turned away frowning, as if she wanted to swallow her own words.
Had not Otoko’s mother, and even Oki himself, secretly hoped the child would never see the light of day? Otoko had given birth in a dingy little clinic on the outskirts of Tokyo. Oki felt a sharp pang at the thought that the baby’s life might have been saved if it had been cared for in a good hospital. He had taken her to the clinic alone. Her mother could not endure it. The doctor was a middle-aged man with the reddened face of an alcoholic. The young nurse looked accusingly at Oki. Otoko was wearing a kimono — still of a childish cut — with a matching cloak of cheap, dark-blue silk.
The image of a premature baby with jet-black hair appeared before Oki, there at Mt. Arashi over twenty years later. It flickered in the wintry groves of trees, and in the depths of the green pool. He clapped his hands to summon the waitress. Clearly no guests had been expected, and it would take a long time to prepare his meal. A waitress brought tea and stayed chatting on and on, as if to keep him entertained.
One of her stories was about a man bewitched by a badger. They had found him splashing along in the river at dawn, screaming for help. He was floundering in the shallows under the Togetsu Bridge, where you could easily climb up on the bank. It seems that after he was rescued and came to his senses, he told them he had been wandering around the mountain like a sleepwalker from about ten o’clock the night before-and the next thing he knew he was in the river.
Finally the kitchen had the first course ready: slices of fresh silver carp. Oki sipped a little sake with it. As he left he looked up again at the heavy thatched roof. Its mossy, decaying charm appealed to him, but the mistress of the restaurant explained that, being under the trees, it never really got a chance to dry out. It was not very old, less than ten years ago they had put on new thatching. A half moon gleamed in the sky just beyond the roof. It was three-thirty. As Oki went down the river road he watched kingfishers skimming low over the water. He could see the colors of their wings.
Near Togetsu Bridge he got into the car again, intending to go to the Adashino graveyard. In the gathering winter twilight the forest of tombstones and Jizo figures would soothe his feelings. But when he saw how dusky it was in the bamboo grove at the entrance to the Gio Temple he had the driver turn back. He decided to stop in at the Moss Temple and then go to the hotel. The temple garden was empty except for a couple who looked like honeymooners. Dry pine needles lay scattered over the moss, and reflections of trees in the pond shifted as he walked along. On the way back to the hotel, the Eastern Hills ahead glowed in the orange light of the setting sun.
After warming himself with a bath, he looked for Ueno Otoko’s number in the phone book. A young woman answered, no doubt her protégée, and immediately turned the telephone over to Otoko.
"This is Oki." He waited. "It’s Oki. Oki Toshio."
"Yes. It’s been such a long time." She spoke with the soft Kyoto drawl.
He was not sure how to begin, so he went on quickly to avoid embarrassing her, as if he were calling on impulse.
"I came to hear the New Year’s Eve bells in Kyoto."
"Won’t you listen to them with me?"
She made no reply, even when he repeated his question. Probably she was too surprised to know what to say.
"Did you come alone?" she asked, after a long pause.
"Yes. Yes, I’m alone."
Again Otoko was silent.
"I’m going back New Year’s morning — I just wanted to hear the bells toll out the old year with you. I’m not so young anymore, you know. How many years is it since the last time we met? It’s been so long I suppose I wouldn’t dare ask to see you without an occasion like this."
There was no answer.
"May I call for you tomorrow?"
"No, don’t," Otoko said a little hastily. "I’ll come for you. At eight o’clock . . . perhaps that’s early, so let’s say around nine, at your hotel. I’ll make a reservation somewhere."
Oki had hoped for a leisurely dinner with her, but nine o’clock would be after dinner. Still, he was glad she had agreed. The Otoko of his old memories had come to life again.
He spent the next day alone in his hotel room, morning till evening. That it was the last day of the year made the time seem even longer. There was nothing to do. He had friends in Kyoto, but it was not a day when he cared to see them. Nor did he want anyone to know he was in the city. Although he knew a good many restaurants with tempting Kyoto specialties, he decided to have a simple, businesslike dinner at the hotel. So the last day of the old year was filled with memories of Otoko. As the same memories kept recurring to his mind they became increasingly vivid. Events of over twenty years ago were more alive to him than those of yesterday.
Too far from the window to see the street below, Oki sat looking out over the rooftops at the Western Hills. Compared with Tokyo, Kyoto was such a small, intimate city that even the Western Hills were close at hand. As he gazed, a translucent pale gold cloud above the hills turned a chilly ashen color, and it was evening.
What were memories? What was the past that he remembered so clearly? When Otoko moved to Kyoto with her mother, Oki was sure they had parted. Yet had they, really? He could not escape the pain of having spoiled her life, possibly of having robbed her of every chance for happiness. But what had she thought of him as she spent all those lonely years? The Otoko of his memories was the most passionate woman he had ever known. And did not the vividness even now of those memories mean that she was not separated from him? Although he had never lived here, the lights of Kyoto in the evening had a nostalgic appeal for him. Perhaps every Japanese would feel that way. Still, Otoko was here. Restless, he took a bath, changed into fresh clothing, and walked up and down the room, stopping occasionally to look at himself in the mirror as he waited for her.
It was twenty past nine when a call from the lobby announced Miss Ueno.
"Tell her I’ll be down in a moment," Oki answered. Or should I have had her come up here? he said to himself.
Otoko was nowhere to be seen in the spacious lobby. A young girl approached and inquired politely if he was Mr. Oki. She said Miss Ueno had asked her to call for him.
"Oh?" He tried to be casual. "That’s very kind of you."
Having expected only Otoko, he felt that she had eluded him. The vivid memories of her that had filled his day seemed to dissipate.
Oki was silent for a time after getting into the car the girl had waiting for them. Then he asked: "Are you Miss Ueno’s pupil?"
"And you’re living with her?"
"Yes. There’s a maid too."
"I suppose you’re from Kyoto."
"No, Tokyo. But I fell in love with Miss Ueno’s work and came chasing after her, so she took me in." Oki looked at the girl. The moment she spoke to him at the hotel he had been aware of her beauty and now he noticed how lovely she was in profile. She had a longish slender neck, and charmingly shaped ears.
Altogether, she was disturbingly beautiful. But she spoke quietly, in a rather reserved manner. He wondered if she knew what was between him and Otoko, something that had happened before she was born. Suddenly he asked: "Do you always wear a kimono?"
"No, I’m not so proper," she said, a little more easily. "At home I usually wear slacks. Miss Ueno said I should dress for the holiday, because New Year’s Day would come while we were out." Apparently she was also to listen to the bells with them. He realized that Otoko was avoiding being alone with him.
The car went up through Maruyama Park toward the Chionin Temple. Awaiting them in a private room at an elegant old tea house were two young apprentice geisha, besides Otoko herself. Again he was caught by surprise. Otoko was sitting alone at the kotatsu, her knees under its coverlet; the two geisha sat across from each other at an open brazier. The girl who had brought him knelt at the doorway and bowed.
Otoko drew herself away from the kotatsu to greet him. "It’s been such a long time," she said. "I thought you might like to be near the Chionin bell, but I’m afraid they can’t offer anything elaborate here, they’re really closed for the holidays."
All Oki could do was thank her for going to so much trouble. But to have two geisha, besides her pupil! He could not even hint at the past they had shared, or let the way he looked at her betray it. His telephone call yesterday must have left her so upset and worried that she had decided to invite the geisha. Did her reluctance to be alone with him indicate the state of her feelings toward him? He had thought so the moment he was face to face with her. But at that first glance he felt he was still living within her. Probably the others did not notice. Or perhaps they did, since the girl was with her every day, and the geisha, though very young, were women of the pleasure quarter. Of course none of them showed the least sign of it.
Otoko remained at one side, between the geisha, and had Oki sit at the kotatsu. Then she had her pupil take the seat opposite him. She seemed to be avoiding him again.
"Miss Sakami, have you introduced yourself to Mr. Oki?" she asked lightly, and went on, as if formally presenting her: "This is Sakami Keiko, who’s staying with me. She may not look it, but she’s a bit crazy."
"Oh, Miss Uenol"
"She does abstract paintings in a style all her own. They’re so passionate they often seem a little mad. But I’m quite taken with them; I envy her. You can see her tremble as she paints."
A waitress brought sake and tidbits. The two geisha poured for them.
"I had no idea I’d be listening to the bells in this sort of company," said Oki.
"I thought it might be pleasanter with young people. It’s lonely, when the bell tolls and you’re another year older." Otoko kept her eyes down. "I often wonder why I’ve gone on living so long."
Oki remembered that two months after the death of her baby Otoko took an overdose of sleeping medicine. Had she also remembered? He had rushed to her side as soon as he learned of it. Her mother’s efforts to get Otoko to leave him had brought on the suicide attempt, but she sent for him nevertheless. Oki stayed at their house to help take care of her. Hour after hour he massaged her thighs, swollen and hard from massive injections. Her mother went in and out of the kitchen bringing hot steamed towels. Otoko lay nude under a light kimono. Still only sixteen, she had very slender thighs, and the injections made them swell up grotesquely. Sometimes when he pressed hard his hands slipped down to her inner thighs. While her mother was out of the room he wiped away the ugly discharge oozing between them. His own tears of pity and bitter shame fell on them, and he swore to himself that he would save her, that he would never part from her, come what might.
Otoko’s lips had turned purple. He heard her mother sobbing in the kitchen, and found her crouched before the stove.
"You’ve done all you could," he told her.
"And so have you," she said, gripping his hand.
He stayed by Otoko’s side for three days without sleeping, until she finally opened her eyes. She writhed and moaned in pain, pawing frantically at herself. Then her glaring eyes seemed to fix on him. "No, no! Go away!"
Two doctors had done their utmost for her, but Oki felt that his own devoted nursing had helped to save her life.
Probably Otoko’s mother had not told her everything he had done. But to him it was unforgettable. More vivid than the memory of her body lying in his embrace was that of her naked thighs as he massaged her back to life. He could see them even as she sat there with him waiting to hear the temple bell.
No sooner had anyone filled her sake cup than Otoko drained it. Evidently she knew how to hold her liquor. One of the geisha said it took an hour to give the bell all one hundred and eight strokes. Both geisha were in ordinary kimonos, not turned out for a party. They were not wearing dangling butterfly obi, and instead of fancy flowered hairpins they had only pretty combs in their hair. Both of them seemed to be friends of Otoko, but Oki could not understand why they had come dressed so casually. As he drank, listening to the frivolous chatter of their soft Kyoto voices, his heart lightened. Otoko had been quite astute. She had avoided being alone with him, but she might very well have wanted to calm her own emotions for this unexpected reunion. Even to sit here together created a current of feeling that flowed back and forth between them.
The great bell of the Chionin tolled.
A hush fell over the room. The worn old bell sounded almost cracked, but its reverberations hung on and on. After an interval, it tolled again. It seemed to be very near.
"We’re too close," said Otoko. "I was told this would be a good place to hear the Chionin bell, but I think it might have sounded better from a little farther away, somewhere by the river, maybe."
Oki slid back the paper screen from a window and saw that the bell tower was just below the small garden of the tea house. "It’s right over there," he said. "You can see them striking it."
"We really are too close," Otoko repeated.
"No, this is fine," Oki said. "I’m glad to be so near for once, after hearing it over the radio every New Year’s Eve." Yet there was indeed something lacking. Dark shadowy figures had gathered in front of the bell tower. He closed the screen and went back to the kotatsu. As the bell tolled on he stopped straining to listen to it, and then he heard a sound that only a magnificent old bell could produce, a sound that seemed to roar forth with all the latent power of a distant world.
After leaving the tea house they walked up to the Gion Shrine for the traditional New Year ceremony. Many were already on their way back from it, swinging the fire-tipped cords they had lighted at the shrine. According to long custom, that fire would light the stove for cooking holiday dishes.
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