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Kimiko and Other Japanese Sketches by Hearn

KIMIKO

_Wasuraruru Mi naran to omo Kokoro koso Wasure nu yori mo Omoi nari-kere._[1]

[1] "To wish to be forgotten by the beloved is a soul-task harder far than trying not to forget."--_Poem by_ KIMIKO.

I

The name is on a paper-lantern at the entrance of a house in the Street of the Geisha.

Seen at night the street is one of the queerest in the world. It is narrow as a gangway; and the dark shining wood-work of the house-fronts, all tightly closed,--each having a tiny sliding door with paper-panes that look just like frosted glass,--makes you think of first-class passenger-cabins. Really the buildings are several stories high; but you do not observe this at once--especially if there be no moon--because only the lower stories are illuminated up to their awnings, above which all is darkness. The illumination is made by lamps behind the narrow paper-paned doors, and by the paper-lanterns hanging outside--one at every door. You look down the street between two lines of these lanterns--lines converging far-off into one motionless bar of yellow light. Some of the lanterns are egg-shaped, some cylindrical; others four-sided or six-sided; and Japanese characters are beautifully written upon them. The street is very quiet--silent as a display of cabinet-work in some great exhibition after closing-time. This is because the inmates are mostly away--attending banquets and other festivities. Their life is of the night.

The legend upon the first lantern to the left as you go south is "Kinoya: uchi O-Kata"; and that means The House of Gold wherein O-Kata dwells. The lantern to the right tells of the House of Nishimura, and of a girl Miyotsuru--which name signifies The Stork Magnificently Existing. Next upon the left comes the House of Kajita;--and in that house are Kohana, the Flower-Bud, and Hinako, whose face is pretty as the face of a doll. Opposite is the House Nagaye, wherein live Kimika and Kimiko.... And this luminous double litany of names is half-a-mile long.

The inscription on the lantern of the last-named house reveals the relationship between Kimika and Kimiko--and yet something more; for Kimiko is styled "Ni-dai-me," an honorary untranslatable title which signifies that she is only Kimiko No. 2. Kimika is the teacher and mistress: she has educated two geisha, both named, or rather renamed by her, Kimiko; and this use of the same name twice is proof positive that the first Kimiko--"Ichi-dai-me"--must have been celebrated. The professional appellation borne by an unlucky or unsuccessful geisha is never given to her successor.

If you should ever have good and sufficient reason to enter the house,--pushing open that lantern-slide of a door which sets a gong-bell ringing to announce visits,--you might be able to see Kimika, provided her little troupe be not engaged for the evening. You would find her a very intelligent person, and well worth talking to. She can tell, when she pleases, the most remarkable stories--real flesh-and-blood stories--true stories of human nature. For the Street of the Geisha is full of traditions--tragic, comic, melodramatic;--every house has its memories;--and Kimika knows them all. Some are very, very terrible; and some would make you laugh; and some would make you think. The story of the first Kimiko belongs to the last class. It is not one of the most extraordinary; but it is one of the least difficult for Western people to understand.


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