ST: Chapter 2, 'At Five', part 1 of 2
Updated: May 18, 2018
“What do you think of this one?” asked eight-year old Sanae airily, turning slowly around with arms outstretched in the spacious parlor of their home.
“It’s pretty, but I’m not sure if I like it more than the one with the cherry blossoms,” answered her serious eleven-year old neechan, eldest sister Ayano.
The tiny butterflies woven into the pattern of her brightly colored kimono seemed to flutter their wings as Sanae moved.
“What do YOU think?” Sanae asked Ono-san, the professional kimono dresser who had been brought in to help them put on the clothing properly.
“Ah, they are both quite pretty,” she said neutrally.
As her sisters’ conversation trailed off behind her, five year-old Mizuko Takahashi quietly crept away from the house on a beeline toward the family’s Japanese garden. She hated being cooped up inside on a sunny day, especially with the obsequious kimono dresser and her cloying remarks.
The two eldest Takahashi sisters had been trying on various kimono all morning in preparation for the hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day) doll festival party on the 3rd of March, which was just a few days away. There would be the long-awaited party for all the girls in the family along with their closest friends. Everyone would gather to eat sweets, view the family’s ornate and antique seven-shelf hinamatsuri display, and admire the new garments the girls would wear.
The Takahashi hinamatsuri display was renown throughout the region for the intricate detail of its dolls and their elaborate costumes. Kichinosuke’s grandfather, Naotaro Takahashi, had been the first person in Onori-mura to obtain such a display in the early 1800s.
At the root of the festivities was the wish of favorable marriages for the girls of the family as they came of age. The hinamatsuri display and its attendant festivities were believed to aid in achieving this goal. With four daughters in the family, the festival was considered of prime importance to the Takahashi clan. It was also the one time of the year where the girls would be guaranteed the center of attention from visitors and family alike. Therefore the sisters looked forward to it with great eagerness.
“I think that the cherry blossom design is more suitable for a much younger girl,” announced the precocious Sanae looking at the various kimono patterns. “Someone like Tomoye, for instance.”
Two and a half year-old Tomoye, sitting on the lap of her nanny, Sachi, looked up at the mention of her name. When nothing further ensued, the youngest daughter of the Takahashi family returned her attention to the bowl of sembeirice crackers sitting in front of her.
Kyoko obaasan, sitting in the diffused light by the window, looked up from her sewing when her daughter-in-law swept into the room. Dressed in an elegant dressing gown Tona was the picture of refinement. But after observing her daughters for a moment, a wrinkle of concern appeared on her normally flawless brow.
“Ay-chan, Sanae-chan, your kimonos are lovely, but where is Mizuko?” She asked. “Your sister needs to participate if she is going to have a new kimono for the celebration.”
Ayano turned to her mother. “Okaasan, I called her twice, but she must have gone outside.”
“She doesn’t care what she wears anyway,” Sanae murmured.
Tona-san gave her middle daughter a reproving look.
“Well, she doesn’t,” said Sanae as the dresser, seemingly oblivious to the conversation, adjusted the drape of the kimonoover girl’s shoulders.
“Kindness is a virtue,” Tona-san said firmly. “You and Ayano must think of more than just your own happiness. Could you please find Mizuko and ask her to join you?”
Big sister Ayano gave Sanae a warning glance as they turned to face their mother. “Yes, okaasan,” they said in unison, bowing to their mother’s departing figure.
Outside, on the far side of the sprawling Takahashi garden, Goro the senior family gardener and handyman, was meticulously grooming the velvety moss at the edge of the meandering koi pond. Around the extensive Japanese garden, other workers pruned and tended to the countless trees and shrubs.
The early spring air was still cool, but the sun on Goro’s back was pleasant and the work not difficult. Less than an arm’s length away, Nao, Goro’s Shiba inu dog lay basking in the rare sunlight. Beside them, five year-old Mizuko crouched, her strong, nimble fingers plucking dried twigs and leaves from the blanket of moss at their feet and placing them in the wicker basket next to her.
The old gardener smiled at the intensity of the girl beside him. “Hey, slow down. This isn’t a race. There will always be more work to do.” He paused for a moment, than said. “Work is a constant. It is fundamental to life.“
“I like to work,” Mizuko said looking up, “and being outside in the garden in the sun is so much better than staying in the house.”
Nao stretched luxuriously and crept over as if to watch Mizuko more closely. “He likes you,” Goro said.
“I named him Nao because he can always tell who is honest like he is.”
Mizuko smiled and gave the dog a quick scratch behind his ears. “I like him too,” she declared. Nao yawned hugely and gave Mizuko what looked like a smile.
“See,” said Goro. They both laughed as the dog widened his “smile” then sat gracefully beside her.
Mizuko picked up the basket with the leafy detritus. “I’ll dump this on the leaf pile,” she said.
“MI-ZU-KOOO!!” Ayano’s and Sanae’s voices sang out in unison in the cool morning air.
“Soka, your sisters are both calling for you,” said Goro. “ You’d better go, it must be something important.”
Mizuko set down the basket, and turned to Goro.
“I know what it is. They’re trying on new kimono for the Doll Festival party. They’ve been in there all morning trying on kimono after kimono. All they do is argue about this kimono and that obi, and talk, talk, talk!” Mizuko exclaimed.
“I know many girls who do not receive a special kimono for hinamatsuri,” said Goro gently.
Mizuko recognized immediately how overly important she had sounded and gave Goro a quick nod.
She set down the basket then asked, “Can I help you tomorrow?”
Goro’s eyes twinkled as he nodded. “There is always work to do.”
Kyoko obaasan couldn’t help but smile as Mizuko quietly slid open the shoji screen and stepped onto the tatami matted room.
“MI-ZU”, squealed little Tomoye, as she jumped up and down in the lap of her nanny.
Mizuko extended her arms to her sister and lifted the toddler into an embrace. Tomoye laughed with delight as Mizuko spun her around.
“Not too much excitement, Mizu-chan. It’s almost time for her nap,” Kyoko obasaan said mildly.
Mizuko gave Tomoye a parting hug and handed her back to her nanny. Sachiko adroitly lifted the squirming child to her shoulder, bowed to Kyoko obaasan, and left the room.
Why is this girl so special to me? Kyoko obaasan mused as she gazed at her granddaughter.
Was I ever so graceful, strong, and naturally funny? And so tall!
At five and three-quarters years old, Mizuko was as tall as her sister Sanae, almost three years her senior. While Sanae had a very pretty face, she was also as plump and soft as a freshly made mochi. Mizuko was slender and sinewy. It was sometimes hard to believe that they were even sisters.
“Tadaima,” Mizuko said, bowing to her grandmother.
“Okaeri”, Kyoko obaasansmiled, “What have you been doing?”
“I’ve been helping Goro in the garden,” said Mizuko kneeling beside her. “And Nao licked my hand!” she beamed
“How disgusting, I hope you washed your hands thoroughly,” an eavesdropping Sanae called from across the room.
“Yes, of course I did,” Mizuko said without looking at Sanae.
“Obaachan, what are you making?” she asked, her eyes honing in on the sewing in her grandmother’s lap.
“I’ve been saving these colorful remnants from when your mother had her new spring kimono made and am fashioning them into a new obi for one of you.”
“It’s beautiful, obaachan,” said Mizuko examining the intricate pattern her grandmother had constructed.
Kyoko obaasan knew that Mizuko could already handle a needle and thread with great dexterity. She handed the unfinished obi and a deep purple piece of silk fabric to her granddaughter.
“Could you add this next section to the border?”
“Uh,” Mizuko nodded, taking the sewing as she positioned herself comfortably next to her grandmother.
“I thought that she was supposed to be trying on kimono!” whined Sanae, hands on hips.
After giving Sanae a stern look, Kyoko obaasan replied. “Thank you for your concern, Sanae. Mizuko will be next after your fitting is complete.”
When her turn finally arrived, much to Sanae’s chagrin, Mizuko choose the first kimono she tried on.
end of Chapter 2, segment 1 of 2 'At Five'