Folklorist Andre Minamoto has returned to Japan to gather data for his doctoral thesis. Most of what he comes across has already been studied. He needs a breakthrough. He needs something new and wonderful. When he discovers a man who claims to be the legendary yin-yang wizard, Abe no Seimei, he is skeptical. After all, a man born in the year 920 has to have been dead and turned to dust by now. Little does he know that he is about to enter an uncharted world where what we think is fantasy is only too real.
Andre is forced to open his mind to the existence of devils, demons, ghosts, and monsters that defy description. He also finds himself opening his heart to the greatest of wizards who has ever lived—Abe no Seimei.
Seimei, the son of a magical one-thousand-year-old fox and a human, lived during the rich Heian period, when the Imperial family still held its power with the help of mighty magicians. Andre takes notes madly as Seimei regales him with tales of his exploits. Andre hears them with new ears as he finally begins to absorb the insane notion that they aren’t just tales, but true stories. As he melts in Seimei’s hot embrace, he wonders still how to learn of his powers of immortality.
“I don’t want to die with regrets. My mother always warned me about that,” Andre said.
Seimei finally stood and Andre followed him outside. “After such a night of pleasure, I am hungry. Let’s bathe under the waterfall and then pick something from the forest for our meal.”
As they approached the waterfall, droplets of water sprayed their faces. It was so refreshing, but the water could be quite cold, coming from the snow-capped mountain. Andre followed Seimei in, removing his kimono and wrapping the cotton bathing kimono about his naked body. Seimei laughed at his discomfort. He wore only a loincloth, which allowed Andre to see his perfect body. His chest was broad and well-muscled, yet delicate in the way of a man who has not yet reached his middle age. Andre knew that it was rude to stare, but he couldn’t avert his eyes. The water cascaded over Seimei’s head and he yanked Andre’s hand, dragging him under the torrent of water.
Andre’s body almost convulsed with the cold. He was shivering within seconds, but Seimei pulled him close in an embrace that made him tingle. The water pounded over their bodies as they stood still. Andre breathed in the cool air and took in the scent of the water, the mountains, and the underlying spicy scent of Seimei. They stayed under the water like this for so long that Andre lost track. His initial discomfort was replaced by a sense of awe. It was they kind of awe that makes one tremble in the face of nature’s majesty. It made all of Seimei’s stories seem so plausible.
They finally left the water and Seimei donned his dry robes. He clucked at the way Andre tied his inexpertly, and showed him the proper way. Then they took rice fiber baskets with them as they set off for the forest. Around them birds chattered happily. Andre was afraid to look at them, but finally he did. He saw what he’d feared. Some of the so-called birds were mountain tengus, small monsters who were supposed to inhabit the ancient mountains. Some stood in trees with their arms crossed over their chests in belligerence, while some threw their heads back to sing heartily. Andre knew what they were thinking. He wondered how many of them had watched their lovemaking and he shuddered. He thought of himself as a private person—so unlike Seimei, who was used to being in the company of so many souls.
“These are yama-no-imo. The roots are the part to eat,” Seimei said, pointing to a plant.
“Mountain potatoes,” Andre said. “They aren’t really very good.”
“Yes, I wish I were eating with the emperor too, but we take what we can,” Seimei said.
“Konnyaku! There!” Seimei pointed to a plant Andre knew as Devil’s Tongue. He wasn’t too fond of that plant either.
They filled their baskets and Seimei smiled. “Now for a real treat. There is a mikan tree growing in a meadow not far from here.”
Andre followed him until they came into a clearing that seemed magical. In the middle of it was a gnarled old tree with orange fruit on it. They were ripe, and many were on the ground, being devoured by tengus and tanukis. Andre picked one and smelled it. It was a kind of citrus. He could tell by its texture and smell. He picked as many as he could hold in his sleeve and headed for where Seimei was already seated, peeling the fruit. The peel was rather thick, and the fruit small, but it was sweet and delicious. They ate until Andre was almost full. Andre felt like joking, so when Seimei got up to pick more fruit, he took the pile of peels he’d produced and added them to Seimei’s pile. When he returned, he gave Andre more fruit and resumed peeling and eating.
“You must have been starved,” Andre said. “Look at your pile of peels!”
Seimei said, “Not half as starved as you, my friend. I notice that you even ate your peels!” He laughed and Andre saw he’d been defeated at his own game. Seimei was just delightful.
They returned to the hut with their bounty, and Seimei began to set a pot on the tripod for boiling the yama-no-imo. He put Andre to work pounding the konnyaku.
“Seimei, you said that some people can become oni-devils even while they are alive. How does that happen?”
“I can tell you one story that is pretty grisly, and then I’ll tell you one from my own experience. The first one I only heard.”
Once there was a man with many wives. The first wife was quite old, and sick as well. The youngest was a girl of sixteen. As you know, many rich men will treat themselves to a young wife even at an old age. The girls these men choose are often poor and their families are more than happy to sell them to some old rich man.
You can imagine that the older first wife was very displeased with this. Instead of becoming angry with her husband, she became hateful and angry with the youngest wife. As the days passed and she became sicker, her husband rarely came to see her, preferring the company of the young new wife. When she felt her time was near, the old wife called upon the husband.
“My dear wife, I wish that all of the doctors I hired could have cured you. I really tried hard.”
“I only wish that you live long and enjoy life, Husband, but I have one request.”
“Anything, dear wife.”
“I want to speak with your youngest wife. I want to leave instructions for her so that she may serve you well.”