Authors: Susannah McFarlane
The geisha in the dark kimono whispered something, but EJ couldn't understand it. She watched as the dark-kimono geisha turned back towards the painted panels. EJ craned her neck, but she couldn't see what she was doing. Then the dark-kimono geisha turned back and held out her bowl to the tea-making geisha, who seemed unsure of what to do. As she poured some of the tea mixture into the bowl, some of tea splashed out onto the table. The first geisha bowed low in apology, but the dark-kimono geisha simply took her bowl and left through the open panel. As she turned to leave, EJ could see the detail of the decoration on her kimono: foxes running around Mount Fuji. More foxes.
While the first geisha continued to prepare the tea, she did so more slowly as if she was relaxed now. EJ, on the other hand, was not. She sensed that something had just happened, but she couldn't work out what. As the geisha now poured the tea into the cups and passed one to each guest, EJ waited for the other geisha to return. She didn't.
So what was she doing?
And where has she gone?
The ceremony ended and the tourists shuffled out, passing the front table. EJ spied the spilt tea mixture on the table.
âOh, my shoelace,' she cried, a little louder than necessary and to no one in particular, as she knelt down by the table. Quickly, EJ pushed the test CHARM around in the spilt tea on the table, hoping there would be enough to test. She waited for the green light to flash. As she waited, she could see the painted panels more closely. She saw that swirling around Mount Fuji were foxes, foxes with six tailsâ
EJ walked out of the tea-house, hoping the fresh air would clear her mind. There seemed to be clues everywhere, but she couldn't join the all up. Foxes, blossoms, legendsâ¦she had so many ideas swirling around in her head that she was starting to wonder if she actually didn't have any idea at all. What she did have, however, was the video footage of the tea ceremony, and she hoped the answer was somewhere in that. But, first, EJ needed to send off the tea sample. Around the corner from the tea-house, hidden from view, she put her chopstick-cam down on the ground for a moment as she took the tester and connected it to her phone socket.
EJ smiled at her the confidence her friend had in her.
I knew there was something happening in the tea-house,
The geisha in the dark kimono had blossom block. Now I need to look more closely at her.
EJ looked up and was surprised to see the snow monkey looking at her, its head tilted inquisitively to one side.
âYou again,' she said.
Before she could stop it, the monkey picked up her chopstick-cam from the ground and ran off.
âHey, bring that back!' shouted EJ.
Finally, EJ had something that would help her make sense of things, and now this pesky monkey was running off with it! Aaaaarrgghh! EJ had no choice but to follow.
EJ raced after the monkey, chasing it down the narrow path. Without realising it, she ran through the open gate of a temple and onto a narrow pebbled path. She didn't notice the large sun and shining rays engraved on the temple's wooden gates because she was too busy watching the monkey. It leapt off the path and onto a large rock surrounded by many smaller pebbles, which were raked in perfect circles around the rock. It was perfect, and EJ knew she couldn't upset the pattern, so she stood on the edge, glaring at the monkey.
âI need that back! I thought you were on my side,' she cried to the monkey. âWell, I'm going to wait here until you get bored.'
The monkey, who was now studiously examining the chopstick and sticking it between its toes, ignored EJ completely.
EJ sat down to wait. She gazed out over the raked stones. Now the stones reminded her of water pools, circling the larger rock. It was like a mountain rising out of the sea. She looked across to the left side of the garden where there were three smaller rocks covered with a lush, green moss. On top of one, tilting slightly to one side, stood a cracked stone lantern, streaked with moss and, on the right side of the large rock, was a single maple tree, its clipped branches leaning gracefully over the pebbles. To the side of the rock garden was a cherry blossom tree with cherry blossoms on all its branches. It was the first blossom she had seen in Japan. The flowers were beautiful.
EJ found looking at rock garden calming and peaceful. She sat cross-legged at the garden edge and felt relaxed. She felt her shoulders drop and her breath become deeper and longer as she looked out over the raked stones. It was good to sit down, it was good to be still. She realised that she hadn't stopped moving since she'd pushed off down the Mission Tube. Supersonic jets and Bullet Trains, racing around the streets of Tokyo and Gionâ¦EJ, and her mind, had been moving fast.
âIt is beautiful, isn't it?' a voice behind her said. âIt's a Zen garden and I find looking at it helps me think. Hello, I am Akari the priestess of this temple. Welcome, EJ12-san.'
EJ started. âHow did youâ'
âA1 and I have worked together for years,' replied Akari. âShe thought you might come here.'
âI didn't really mean to,' said EJ. âI was following the monkey.'
âAh, yes, Sakura, our temple monkey,' said Akari. âShe can be helpful.'
âI don't think so,' said EJ glumly. âShe's taken something from me.'
âShe may also have given you something,' suggested Akari. âMaybe some time to think.'
âWell,' said EJ, starting to wonder if Akari shared A1's talent for reading minds. âMy thoughts have been racing. But they need to. If I don't work out what's happening soon, there will be no cherry blossoms this spring, maybe never again. And I couldn't stop
from infecting the trees here!' EJ paused, her mind still swirling with questions. âAnd why would anyone want to do that, anyway?'
âPerhaps they are sad,' suggested Akari. âSadness kept inside us can become anger, which can do terrible things.'
For a moment, EJ's thoughts flashed back to Nema at school.
Is Nema mean because she is sad?
âHolding onto anger is not good for us,' continued Akari. âIt's like grabbing a hot coal to throw at someone else; you are the one who gets burnt.'
âAt the moment they are winning,' said EJ glumly.
âHmm,' said Akari, nodding slightly. âOften what you see is right in front of you; you just need to be able to see it. And, to see, we need to be calm.'
âI'm not very good at that,' admitted EJ.
âYou can learn,' said Akari. âBuddha, a wise teacher, said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” You have a Buddha charm on your bracelet.' Akari pointed to the CHARM of a chubby, smiling man before continuing. âLet me show you. Close your eyes for a moment, EJ-san.'
EJ was not sure she had time for this, but she did as Akari told her.
âNow, take some deep breaths slowly, focus on your breath. Tell yourself, “The sun is warm, the sky is blue.” It takes us to a calm place.'
âThe sun is warm, the sky is blue,' repeated EJ. She took a breath, and then she breathed out again.
âNow keep going,' said Akari.
EJ sat, breathing in deeply, concentrating on each breath. As she did so, her mind did begin to feel clearer than before. It was like a breeze coming through, blowing away the confusion. She wasn't sure how long she sat there, but when she opened her eyes her chopstick-cam was in front of her. Calmly, EJ pick up the chopstick, plugged one end into her phone and replayed the video. She watched the geisha in the dark kimono enter through the painted panels. When she spoke, EJ replayed the video and turned up the volume. She made out the words â
'. EJ knew that the Japanese added the word âsensei' to the last name of a person who was a leader or a teacher.
the name of the person behind this?
EJ took another deep breath and continued to play the video. She watched the tea spill and the geisha leaving. But, when she saw the back of the geisha's kimono, she paused the player. EJ took a screen shot and enlarged the picture of the back of the kimono. As she looked at it, she remembered the intercepted message: âFollow the kimono code.'
EJ looked at the kimono. Suddenly, all of the clues she had sensed began falling into place. The kimono
EJ started at the bottom of the kimono and told Akari what she thought its pictures meant.
âDo you see, it starts at Mount Fuji, the home of the Cherry Blossom Princess,
. The writer of the first message said she was the new
, meaning she was now controlling the blossom. Her symbol is the fox, and the kimono shows foxes leaving Mount Fuji.'
âI see it,' said Akari.
âAnd look,' continued EJ, pointing to the bottom of Mount Fuji. âThere are symbols embroidered here.'
âThat is the symbol for
, the ninjas,' continued EJ. âThey are the fox's
, working for
to carry out the evil plan. They leave Mount Fuji with these leaves, which, when put in contact with the trees, blocks the blossom. See, the leaves are swirling around the bare branches of cherry blossom. The last intercepted message was calling them back to Mount Fuji to collect more Blossom Block to take to Tokyo.'
âI'm impressed, EJ,' said Akari. âFoxes in Japanese legend are magical spirits who often use their cunning to trick people. The more tails they have, the cleverer they are. They were believed to change their form and were often disguised as women.'
âAnd they are,' said EJ. âThe geisha in the dark kimonos are not real geisha. They are the
in disguise. It's the perfect disguise at cherry blossom festival time! They mix the poison as part of the tea ceremony and then take it out to the trees. That's why they are always walking around.'
âBut, how are they getting it onto the trees?' asked Akari.
âI still need to find that out,' said EJ. âThe answer will be back at the tea-house, I'm sure of it. I think I can save the last uninfected group of trees here, and then I need to go to Mount Fuji. That's where I will find the mastermind of all thisâ
âHmmm,' wondered, Akari. âI was on a mission once with GM80 andâ'
âYou were?' said EJ, cutting her off excitedly. âWith my grandmother?'
âOh, yes,' said Akari. âWe foiled the plan of a beautiful but evil scientist, Kuramiko Kitsune. She always wore a kimono with a green-eyed fox. She was trying to steal inventions from the
laboratory. We stopped her, but she escaped. We never heard from her again.'
, fox,' said EJ. âI think we have now.'
âIt would seem so,' agreed Akari. âBe careful, EJ. She is not only a brilliant scientist, but also she is a black belt in karate. Here, EJ-san, take this.'
Akari gave EJ a simple bracelet of small brown wooden balls. As EJ looked at it closely, she could see that a Japanese symbol was painted on each ball.
âWhat is written on the balls?' asked EJ.
,' replied Akari. âIt means calm, peaceful. You can't always be near a beautiful garden, but wearing this may help you to remember to be still and to calm your mind.'
âThank you, Akari-sensei,' said EJ as she put it on next to her CHARM bracelet. EJ hoped that Akari would also show her a karate move that might help her against Kuramikoâand Nema back at home.
âOne more thing, EJ-san,' said Akari. âIn karate, we use our opponent's force against them rather than attacking them directly.
Ju yoko go oseisu
, gentleness controls hardness. When you understand that, you see how it is possible for something small to defeat something big. Remember, EJ-san. And remember, once you do save the blossom, which I know you will, take time to enjoy it.'
EJ wasn't as confident as Akari that she would succeed, but she bowed to Akari anyway. âI will. And thank you,' she said. âThank you for everything. Now I need to get to that tea-house.'
âHow will you get in?' asked Akari.
âI can play the disguise game too,' said EJ, smiling as she sent a message to