The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

Gail Tsukiyama

St. Martin's Griffin

                                                               Prologue

                                                                  1966

                                                        A Day of No Regrets

A white light seeped through the shoji windows and into the room, along with the morning chill.  Except for the futon he slept on and a teak wood desk, the pale, spacious room was empty.  Hiroshi Matsumoto breathed in the grassy fragrance of the tatami mats, the sweet and stirring February air; his thoughts wandering to the cherry blossoms that would soon be poised like flakes of snow upon their branches.  The trees that lined the streets of Yanaka, would be in full bloom, and the labyrinth of narrow alleyways would swarm with tourists stopping to admire the Japanese quince, daffodils, and blue triplet lilies blossoming in flower boxes that crowded the teeming walkways.  As boys, he and his brother Kenji pushed single-file past the old wood and stone houses to the park.  Now, there were few of the old buildings left, long since replaced by brick and concrete.  Despite the sharp edge of memories that stabbed just below his ribcage, he still loved this season best, just as Aki always had — the doorway to spring — each morning gleaming with new possibilities.

Almost twenty years ago, his youthful agility had rekindled a national passion for sumo wrestling.  In a country devastated by atomic bombs that flattened cities and scarred their spirit, Hiroshi’s speed and strength helped to revive the pride of his nation with every victory.  He could barely contain the joy he felt when at last he climbed the ranks.  Not until he found courage enough to touch with two fingers the nape of his wife Aki’s neck did any thrill ever match it.

Hiroshi pushed off his covers and stretched his body the full length of his extra large futon, his muscular girth still impressive at his age.  He had always valued strength and speed more than some other rikishi, sumo wrestlers who gained inordinate amounts of weight to dominate a match by their size.  At thirty-seven, he was a good deal older, and at six-foot one, over a hundred pounds lighter than the heaviest wrestlers, who weighed in at four hundred pounds.  Hiroshi sat up and fingered the faint rise of a scar that ran along his hairline and ended at his right temple, then rubbed his belly and pushed his rough feet to the edge of the futon, his calluses a souvenir of barefoot practice on dirt and wooden floors.  So many years, he thought to himself, and he touched for luck the soles of his feet, first the left, then the right, as he did every morning.  As Hiroshi heaved himself up from the futon and reached for his kimono, he felt again that first step onto the dohyo.  The smooth, sacred clay surface of the elevated straw ring was a blessing after years of discipline, training, and rituals.  The scratching of his bare feet on the tatami mats made a sad insect sound, not unlike the swish of salt thrown down on the ring to drive out the evil spirits. 

Competition had been a strong and potent drug.  Everyone and everything disappeared as soon as he entered the ring, as if his life had simmered down to that very moment in time and nothing else mattered.  Nothing and everything.  He wondered once more if it had all been worthwhile — the sacrifice of family, friends, and lovers for a sport.  And only now, too late, could he see the cost of it all as Aki’s accusing stare flashed through his mind.

A sharp knock on the shoji door brought him out of his reverie.  He quickly tightened the sash of his yukata kimono, and grunted permission to enter.

The door slid open.  It was Haru, dressed in a dark blue padded kimono with a pattern of white cranes.  It looked new, yet strangely familiar to him, as if Aki had once worn one similar to it.  It was Haru who had first introduced him to her sister, a lifetime ago.  Aki was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen — her clear, milky-white skin, the smooth, sharp curve of her chin, her hidden fragility.  Haru’s movements were quick and definite, her 0.dark eyes as intense and intelligent as they always were.  Every morning, no matter the weather, she was out walking in the garden with his six-year old daughter.  And though Takara shared her mother’s classic beauty, he saw Haru’s strength emerging more and more in her each day. 

Haru bowed.  “We’ll be leaving for the stadium soon,” she said.  “Kenji-san is coming for us after he picks up your obachan.”     

He watched Haru’s poised figure and the same straight nose and thin, crescent moon eyebrows that graced both sisters.  They would all be there at his retirement ceremony, his grandmother, brother, Haru and Takara.  “Hai,” he said, swallowing. 

She moved across the room to slide open the shoji windows, admitting a cool breeze from the west.  It filled the room with a sudden breath of promise.  He cleared his throat but said nothing.

Instead, it was Haru who spoke, as she looked out at his acre of blossoming sakura trees.  “A day of no regrets,” she said, as if reading his thoughts.   

And suddenly, something tender and inconsolable gripped his chest, an entire life boiled down to these last hours.  He rubbed his eyes and nodded, always amazed at her astuteness.  “What do you see?” he asked.

Haru turned to him again.  “Such beauty…” she began, without finishing her sentence...