The Southern Park of the Dragon
The Southern Park of the Dragon had a reputation of being the most beautiful park in Sakura City and Iza had to admit that so far, the reputation was fully deserved. It was still early morning and the warm soft sunlight had bathed the park in a soft warm glow.
Iza smiled beneath her hood-veil as a morning breeze flowed past her. As she walked, she could see the first signs of activities of the city. A young family was strolling further up the path with the wife pushing a baby stroller and walking a respectful 3 steps behind her husband; a young teenage boy was walking his dog to her right, a jogger was running down the path in the opposite direction of her. As he got closer, Iza noticed that he was not alone.
A woman was running along behind him and unlike the man who was dressed in a modern tracksuit, the woman was dressed in traditional Vipponese sporting attire but with a touch of the modern about her. Dressed all in black, the woman had a pair of black pants on with a black shirt and gloves. With her hood-veil, she looked like a ninja except for her running shoes and a black leather collar that encircled her neck. A silver chain ran from it to the man’s right wrist where it was connected to a bracelet.
As the man ran past her, Iza respectfully kept her head down but she risked a glance at the man’s hands and noticed that she was mistaken. It wasn’t a bracelet but a sport watch which had a hook for the woman’s chain. The woman’s hoodveil was also modified in some way. The traditional hoodveil was cloth which the woman folded to fully cover their head leaving only a gap for their eyes. This woman’s hoodveil was partly made out of leather. Iza could not tell how much of it was leather but could see that the area of the hoodveil below the chin was made of leather and it goes around the neck like a collar. The silver chain was connected to the front and Iza briefly wondered if the woman created it herself. For the honor of their family, public display of submission to their husbands was considered a norm for most women in Vippon, and some women liked to modify their own clothing for a “personal” touch in their public display.
That was not Iza.
A girl who came from a rich family from the province of the Tiger, Iza was never bought up traditionally like most girls in the country. Her father was liberal and forward thinking, more concerned with Iza’s education in science and mathematics than her homemaking skills. She loved him for it, and that was the only reason she agreed to this matchmaking meeting. She even wore a new furisode for it.
A style of kimono, the furisode is a formal style of kimono worn by unmarried girls since ancient times in Vippon to signify that the girl was single, and of legal age for marriage. Iza had ordered a new one for this meeting and it was exquisite. Made of fine silk, her furisode was bright blue in color with flying white cranes patterned on it. The long distinguishable sleeves ran 100 cm, and her red obi was decorated with flowing lines symbolizing water. It was a pain to walk in but she felt it necessary to show her status and her family’s wealth. Not for Iza was the traditional view that women should be demure invisible and submissive.
Everything on her was expensive, including the black hoodveil covering her head. Made of the finest silkworm, the veil left only a small area for her eyes but outside that, her entire head was totally covered. Completing her outfit were her white gloves and white split-toe socks, as well as her geta footwear. Iza was confident that she was as perfectly dressed as possible for a formal matchmaking meeting. She wanted to be as perfect as possible so that no one could begrudge her when she rejected the match.
Yusuke Moon was a scion of a rich family from the Sheep Province. The unusual family name was because the Moon family was not native Vipponese. The family originated from Jorea, Vippon’s north neighbor, and most of their family’s businesses was based on trade between the two countries. Iza, much like her liberal father, could not care less about the fact that the family was less than one hundred percent Vipponese, but she did care about the fact that married women were expected to quit education and jobs to focus on the family. Sure, family was important to her but the daily servitude of a Vipponese wife was so unlike her, Iza wanted to laugh whenever she thought of it.
No; she was not ready for marriage.
A thought further enforced when she saw her potential husband. The location chosen was near perfect. Under a sakura tree, a traditional low table was placed on a wide tatami mat and a tea set was on display on the table. Behind the table sat Yusuke Moon.
Iza’s potential husband was, for a lack of a better word, fat. Sitting behind the low table, Iza saw that his gut was twice bigger than what it should be, and it says a lot of his health that sweat could be seen on his brow even though he was sitting down under a tree. Iza was glad her hoodveil was covering her face or her look of disgust could be seen by all.
Yusuke took up as she approached and both of them bowed to each other, Iza making sure her head was lower than Yusuke’s. After that came the customary introductions. Both of them recited their family lineage, education, and for Yusuke, his job and business. It was all very boring for Iza and she found her attention wandering to her surroundings. Then Yusuke asked her to drink the tea.
Yusuke had bought a servant of the Moon household with him who was, as befitting her station, kneeling on the grass just beyond the tatami mat. Silent as a ghost, she stood and approached her two superiors with her head bowed and hands folded in front of her. Kneeling beside the table, she then slowly and carefully poured the tea into the tea cup. She then placed a white screen between her and Yusuke before prostrating herself before Iza. As Yusuke was praising the quality of the tea before her, Iza was more pleased by the fact that the servants of the Moon household was if nothing else, well-trained. As she took down her veil, to drink the tea, she was almost sorry she had already decided to reject this marriage. She would have enjoyed being served by servants who knew their place.
Even though the screen protected her from Yusuke’s view, Iza went through the rituals of handling the tea properly before taking a sip of the tea. It was foul. The terrible tea stung her tongue but given the social etiquette of Vippon, she had no choice but to drink the rest of the tea. The servant placed her hands on the screen and Iza quickly put her veil back in place. As the servant stood up and retreated backwards toward her original position beyond the tatami mat, Iza was thinking that perhaps the servants of the Moon household was not that well-trained after all. A good servant would have waited for a signal from her before removing the screen.
Yusuke asked, “How was the tea, gentle Iza?”
Several thoughts went through her head before Iza decided to go for the most direct route of ending this farce of a marriage meeting. “Yusuke, I am sorry but I’m afraid our taste in tea is vastly different. I thought that this is foul.”
Iza thought Yusuke would have been displeased by this but instead Yusuke had a big smile on his face. “It is,” Yusuke admitted. “It is truly terrible.”
Iza was knocked by this admission. “I’m sorry Yusuke but you were just praising the quality of the tea to me a moment ago.”
“I was,” Yusuke admitted again. “It was a test.”
“A test?” Iza asked. “For what?”
“For you of course, silly girl,” This was the first time Yusuke has been less than unfailing polite and seeing the mischievous eyes of Yusuke, the moment Iza realized just how outplayed she had been till now. To his credit, Yusuke waited a moment for Iza to gather herself before continuing.
“Dear Iza, I take it you realize that the Moon household is part Jorean and part Vipponese.” Seeing Iza’s nod, Yusuke explained the test. “You see in some ways, Jorea and Vippon are very similar but in some ways, the differences are subtle yet great. Take this test for example; wives in Vippon are supposed to tell the whole truth to their husbands so as a Vippon girl yourself, what you did was correct. You told the truth even though you thought it would displease me.”
This was about the last thing on Iza’s mind when she answered but for now she just nodded. Yusuke continued, “However in Jorea, it’s different. In Jorea, wives are expected to tell the truth but at the same time, they are not to contradict their husband in public. In fact, due to their mutemask, they cannot even if they want to.”
Iza of course knew of the mutemask. A fiberglass white mask all women in Jorea wore to show their chastity and obedience, the mute mask encased the head of the women rigidly, preventing them from speaking in public.
“But what does that got to do with this…test?”
Yusuke’s smile got bigger and he said, “It’s very simple really. It’s a simple matter of social etiquette. Under Vipponese social etiquette, you telling me this tea is foul is totally acceptable but under Jorean etiquette, you telling me this tea is foul is something worthy of harsh punishment.”
Iza was afraid to ask but intrigued, she found she had to. “So which ‘social etiquette’ should a wife of the Moon household follow?”
“Both of course,” Yusuke said. “Stupid girl, just look at Momoe.”
For the first time, Iza took a good look at the servant Yusuke brought along and only now did Iza realized that Momoe was dressed in a combination of Jorean and Vipponese clothing. She was dressed in a drab brown Jorean hanbok, but on her head was a Vipponese hoodveil instead of a Jorean mutemask. Iza was wondering if all servants of the Moon household dressed like this when she realized that Yusuke had not introduced Momoe at all. The fact that Momoe was a servant was something she thought up herself due to her dressing, Yusuke never introduced her as such. Which means…
“I’m sorry Yusuke but you haven’t introduced me to Momoe yet.”
“Oh yes, I haven’t.” Yusuke said. “Let me correct that right now. Iza, please meet my first wife, Momoe Moon.”
Iza’s stomach turned at the introduction but she had no time to dwell on that as Momoe bowed her head to the ground. Even though she had no wish to agree to the marriage, Iza knew that she shouldn’t have the first wife of her potential husband bowing her head to her. She responded quickly, bowing her head towards Momoe and pleading.
“I’m sorry, Momoe-san. I did not realize I was in the presence of Yusuke’s first wife. Please forgive me.”
Both women held their position towards each other, on their knees with their head to the ground, till Yususke said. “Wife, you may answer.”
“There is nothing to forgive Iza-san for we are both servants and slaves of the Moon household.” Momoe replied.
It was the correct, respectful thing to day but while Momoe’s words were correct, her actions were not. Normally, you would raise your head at this point but Iza did not feel Momoe raising her head and refused to do it before her.
“Wife, you may rise.” Only then did the two women raise their heads from the ground and Iza could see that Yususke was delighted by the situation. He said, “Back to the explanation! As you can see stupid girl, the women in the Moon household dress in a Jorean hanbok with a Vipponese veil. This partial uniform is to show our history as a migrant family from Jorea who made good in the Kingdom of Vippon. It’s not too difficult for you to understand right?”
The insults were beginning to get on her nerves but Iza was also curious. Why would her father agree to this marriage when Yusuke already have a wife? He must have known about that and Iza could not believe he would willing let her be a second wife. Yet her father agreed to this marriage meeting and Iza was smart enough to know he must have a good reason for it. Iza wanted to know the reason. She did nothing but gave a small nod.
“Good,” Yusuke said. “But it’s not good for women to be too intelligent, right Momoe?”
Momoe who was still kneeling on the grass just beyond the tatami mat just replied quietly, “Yes my lord. Women are to serve the house and be slaves to their lords. Nothing else.”
Yusuke nodded. “Servant to the Moon household; slaves to their husbands. These are the qualities we require of our wives. However if you are unable to fulfill these requirements, I wish to ensure you this marriage can be cancelled with no hard feelings on our side.” It took every ounce of Iza’s self-control not to leap at the offer; she knew there must be a catch to this offer. Yusuke promptly gave it to her. “Of course, the business alliance between our families would be cancelled as well.”
Not wanting to aggravated the situation before knowing the whole story, Iza gave a submissive nod and said. “I’m sorry Yusuke but I do not know much about the family business. It’s not something my father speak of to me.”
“That’s something I agree with. Women have no role in business, though with what I heard of your father’s ‘progressive’ leanings, very surprising.” Iza felt like slapping Yusuke’s face at the insult but the feelings evaporated when he continued. “Of course, many would say this was why your father’s business is in some much trouble.”
It was an Eureka moment for Iza. Suddenly, everything made sense. If the family business was in trouble, a marriage sealing a business alliance with the prosperous Moon family would help. That was why he arranged this marriage meeting and since this meeting was between his beloved daughter and a vile man like Yusuke, the family business must be in serious trouble.
“What is your decision girl?” Yusuke asked. “Understand that if you agree to the marriage, it will be the last decision you ever make because the women of the Moon household never decide, they only obey.”
Iza bowed her head to the ground and said. “There is no decision to be made…my lord. I obey the choice of my father.”
Iza could sense Yusuke standing up and could hear him dropping something on the low table.
“My girl, you have been very disrespectful to me since the start of our meeting.” Yusuke said. “Offer this to me and beg for punishment.”
Iza looked up at the table and could see there was a belt on the table. For her father and family, there was no choice. Taking the belt with both hands, Iza held it above her head and begged. “Please use this belt and punish me for my failure my lord.”
Iza felt the belt leaving her hands and heard her lord’s order. “Bow your head to the ground stupid girl and raise you ugly butt high. I will give you 10 swats of the belt. Maintain the position at all times, make sure to keep your brainless head below the level of your butt. Understand stupid girl?”
As Yusuke held the belt over his head, Iza said, “This stupid girl understand my lord.”
The belt came down and the park echoed with the strike. A few passerby took a look at the scene and among them was an old man looking through a pair of binoculars.
“Looks like negotiations were successful.”
“Was there ever any doubt?”
The old man looked at the man beside him, a man destined to be family by marriage in the future. “In truth, considering the rumors of how liberal she was brought up, I thought there was a fair chance your daughter would reject the marriage proposal.”
The other man laughed gently at his friend. “There’s more than one way to get obedience,” the other man said. “Obedience is not something you gain only through pain, humiliation and beatings. Sometimes love is more effective than any of the above.”
“Like the love a daughter has for her father?”
“That and the love she has for the family. See how she would accept a beating from a stranger she just met for the sake of the family who she believes is in trouble?”
The old man looked through his binoculars again and could see that his son was giving his future second wife a full thrashing, holding nothing back in his strikes. Yet despite it all, the girl was still in position accepting the beating that was her due. The old man had to admit he was more than a little impressed. “This would be a good marriage for the Moon household,” the old admitted to his future in-law in more ways than one. “Come; let us discuss the details of our business deal.”
With that comment, the two old men turned away from the scene. Nearer to the couple, the passerbys who had stopped to watch the beating slowly moved on. It was just another day in the Southern Park of the Dragon.
Read an alternative illustrated ending to this story by Bo_Emp