Nohmen and Kokoro finish their chanting, and pinch out the candle and partly close the long carved doors of the butsudan to protect the deities. They leave the shiny casement in the full light of a crisp autumn day, and move into the adjoining room to have some tea. They have a guest for tea who is a researcher whom Izumi-san recommended them to. She has come to ask them about the forthcoming consecration. She is researching the bringing into existence of new Buddhist temples and enhancements in Japan.
The roasted trinkets of tea and new rice are placed into a small rectangular muslim bag, and boiling water poured in to it in the pale blue teapot with a bamboo handle, which is greatly admired by the young woman. Then, the small handleless cups in the same creamy ceramic are brought to the low table and placed carefully into their wooden saucers. Kokoro is wearing a cotton kimono, kneeling neatly to serve them.
Once the tea is brewed, and gently swirled around in the pot, the small cups are topped up with the pale green steaming tea. Nohmen and Kokoro wrap their hands around their cups and drink, Nohmen sipping the boiling liquid cautiously but soundlessly, and Kokoro sucking it loudly, with abandon, through her teeth. The young woman simply caresses the shiny glaze of the pottery, almost unable to let it out of the sight of her large green eyes.
‘What a lovely apartment you have. By the way, may I call you Nohmen and Kokoro, as that;s how you were introduced to me by Izumi-san? Meredith looks at each of them separately to get permission knowing how important titles are in Japan.
‘By all means,’ they say in unison.
‘I hope you don’t mind me saying, Nohmen, but your name seems to be very un-English!’ She looks closely at his pale pink skin for traces of race. She goes on, ‘It seems more Japanese in fact.’ She is curious.
‘Yes, you’re right. It’s a name I’ve inherited since coming to Japan. You see, kokoro means ‘heart’ in Japanese, roughly translated, and this Kokoro is certainly someone who negotiates the world from her sincere heart.’ He touches her shoulder tenderly. ‘I, on the other hand, am still someone who sees the world mostly from my head, hence Nohmen.’
‘I don’t quite understand.’ Meredith looks awkwardly from Kokoro to Nohmen, waiting for an explanation, which Kokoro provides.
‘Noh in Japanese is same of Noh plays. Maybe, Meredith-san know famous white masks with beautiful costume and music. This Japanese culture really. Noh means ‘not expression, not show expression.’
Nohmen giggles. ‘It’s a joke really, Meredith. It’s because I’m often in my head, and Kokoro is not. In other words, when we first met, being a male westerner, I found it quite difficult to express my emotions. But in fact, I was very busy thinking many things behind my face, which showed no sign of emotion. By contrast, Kokoro being someone of the heart did very little thinking and certainly wore no mask at all.’
‘I see I think.’
‘That’s true!’ Nohmen agrees, and they both laugh heartily.
Meredith politely looks around, and then furrows her brow, mumbling that they should call her ‘just Meredith.’
‘But it’s rather unusual to be called by first names for Japan, isn’t it?’ she asks.
‘Don’t stand on ceremony, Meredith. We have many foreign visitors here,’ Nohmen assures her.
Nohmen and Kokoro have looked for a long time to find this style of modernised open accommodation. Traditionally, in Japan, apartments are divided into many small rooms by light sliding doors so famous here, which makes them supremely adaptable. There is always a tatami room, floored out with pale green rush matting, slightly raised, where futons, (Japanese matresses) are stored in large built-in cupboards and can be brought our for people to sleep on. This apartment is especially large and light compared with others.
‘How long have you been in Japan now, Nohmen?’ Meredith enquires.
‘Oh, five years going on 5,000 years, or so!’ He smiles and looks across at Kokoro. ‘Well, I feel as if I, we, have lived many lives here, as if I’ve always been here.’
‘You mean something like your ‘destiny’ Meredith-san? Kokoro asks.
‘Yes, something like that,’ Nohmen replies.
‘And how did you two meet? Back in London? Kokoro-san is so…European…so untypically Japanese to me.’
‘No…no! Kokoro was here waiting for me,’ he says, refuting her first impression.
‘I knew he would come. It all very quick!’ They smile.
More tea is served and manjou cakes-perfectly round with delicate engravings in their thin pastry, stuffed with anko paste made from red beans and huge amounts of sugar-passed around. Meredith feels that she must not pry any further despite her curiosity, so she silently nibbles and sips.
‘Oh, I’m afraid..I don’t think Japan is my destiny, unlike Nohmen. I’m just here for six months or so, researching for my department back in Washington State.’
Meredith starts to arrange her notebooks and pens on the table as she talks, tearing open the neat case of her tiny digital recorder she will use for their interview. Then she hesitates. ‘Oh, sorry! I forgot to ask if it’s okay if I record our discussion. it will so help me later when I come to write everything up. Some things just cannot be caught in notes.’
Nohmen and Kokoro both nod in agreement.
‘What is actually your research Meredith-san?’ Kokoro is also curious, and unlike many Japanese women, keen to express it.
She responds rather delicately. ‘Well, I’m researching the notion of consecration in Buddhism generally. You see, as you probably know, to us it’s usually a Christian thing..cathedrals, bishops, monarchs, etc….so I’m interested in how it works in Buddhism. In the ceremonies and rituals involved in dedicating a temple, the preparation and the celebrations, the objectives-if you like- of such an event, the dignitaries involved, etc.’
‘Ah so! Interesting Nohmen-san, ne?’ Kokoro turns to Nohmen….
‘Yes, very. But how did you come to be interested in Buddhism in the first place, Meredith?’ Nohmen is intrigued………….