Editing a manuscript can be painful. You have to be willing to cut passages that you have labored over for days, sometimes longer. Some great writer equated this process to “murdering your darlings.” You’ll hear some attribute this quotation to Ernest Hemingway. Others will say it was William Faulkner, and I suppose Faulkner would be more likely to say “darlings” than Hemingway. Then again, some writers claim the original called for “killing babies.” And others will quote the line as to “kill children.” It can get pretty gruesome.
When my publisher told me I needed to cut nearly 20K words if I wanted her to consider my book, I was willing to go on a murderous rampage. When the editor I worked with suggested cuts, I felt little hesitation. Sure, many of the cuts represented days of labor. But I did not feel any particular attachment to the edits she proposed. The cuts were just words. They were not my children, or babies, or even my darlings.
And yet, there was one particular passage that I felt some reluctance to relinquish. It occurs in “Chapter Six: Cuckoos.” In that chapter Ruth stops by Hōnen-in on her way to Yuriko Daté’s house. Hōnen-in is one of my favorite temples, quiet and sedate, it houses Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s tombstone in a small, nondescript graveyard. I like to explore the temple grounds whenever I return to Kyoto.
Here’s what was cut:
It took close to twenty minutes to get from my house to the start of the Philosopher’s Path. The hill up to the path from Shishi-ga-tani was steep. Cobblestones lined the last few feet of the slope at Nyakuoji Shrine and they were tricky to navigate. I was glad to reach the flat, graveled pathway.
The path followed a canal that was built in the late nineteenth century as a way to bolster the faltering economy in Kyoto. The city was entering a period of depression—both financially and emotionally—if cities have emotions—because the imperial court, which had been in Kyoto for eons, was moved to Tokyo. I suppose Kyoto-ites felt they’d been “de-throned” from their positions as arbiters of culture.
And so city officials devised a number of projects to keep the city vitalized. One was the construction of the Heian Shrine—the resplendently vermillion edifice close to the Kyoto zoo—which it predates by only eight years. Another was the Biwa Canal which runs, largely through underground tunnels, from Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture all the way to Nanzen-ji Temple. The Philosopher’s Path was a happy consequence of that project. Cherry trees lined the path, and when they were in bloom, the one-mile stretch became a mecca for blossom seekers.
The blossoms had long fallen now but the path was still full of people in search of a quiet place to stroll. Most were tourists: Europeans with big bellies and bigger cameras; older women with sun parasols spread one alongside the other like a mobile canopy; and inevitably middle-aged men walking alongside mini-skirted young women who were clearly there for monetary gain. The men looked deliriously happy—walking with vigor and pride while the women, towering over their escorts in their high heels, just looked bored as they texted messages on their cell phones with dexterous thumbs.
Daté lived in a modest estate wedged between Honen-in, one of the most peaceful temples in Kyoto, and Ginkaku-ji, one of the most touristed. Since I was a little ahead of schedule, I decided to stop off at the Hōnen-in to enjoy the quiet and to visit the writer Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s grave, tucked along the back row of the cemetery.
I followed the stone path past the rustic temple gate and into the graveyard, climbing the steps to the right until I came to the Tanizaki plot nestled under the dangling branches of a large weeping cherry. Tanizaki had designed his own headstone. Unlike the other graves with their geometrical and mostly oblong shapes, Tanizaki’s grave marker was a natural stone with the character jaku, meaning “tranquility,” carved into the surface. The character was in Tanizaki’s “hand.” His calligraphy had been stenciled on the stone and then carved. The stone next to Tanizaki’s marked the grave of his wife’s younger sister and her husband. The stone was similar, but the character carved upon it was kū or “empty.” When read together kūjaku meant void or emptiness.
I was always bemused by the heavily Buddhist flavor of Tanizaki’s last words. Known for the playfully sadomasochist twists in his stories, I had thought he’d be buried under a carving of his wife’s lovely foot—much as he had depicted in one of his last works, The Diary of a Mad Old Man. But I guess in Tanizaki’s case, fiction was stranger than truth.
The spot did put one in mind of Buddhist enlightenment, though. With trees that towered high above the stones, the plot was dark and a little damp. A stream gurgled nearby and I could hear a knot of frogs calling to one another intermittently. High above a cuckoo trilled, full throated and sweet. I loved the cuckoo! They were believed to beckon the summer months. For this and other reasons they had been a favorite with poets.
You would not have to look far for a waka or haiku verse celebrating the cuckoo. I liked the fact that the way to write the word “cuckoo” in Japanese was not fixed. You could write the name with the graph for “time” and “bird,” for example. But my favorite was the string of three graphs that meant, roughly, “homeless.”
The homeless cuckoo and I had a lot in common. Standing in front of the gravestones reminded me, that some people saw the cuckoo less as a harbinger of the summer season and more as a conduit for the dead. They heard a mournful quality in the song—the longing of the spirits of the dead to return to their loved ones. A deliciously chill wind swept across the back of my neck. I loved ghost stories! But, it was time to leave the graveyard. The thicket mosquitoes were beginning to bite.
End of cut.
Each chapter is titled after a winged creature, mostly birds. The chapter where this cut was made was titled “cuckoo” largely after the above scene. That meant, I had to work “cuckoo” in elsewhere. In the final version of The Kimono Tattoo, Ruth hears the cuckoo call as she is sitting on the veranda with her friend Yuriko Daté.
Here’s the way it reads:
Masahiro came out after us and was lighting the lamps in the stone lanterns. It was too early in the year for fireflies. Still the soft glow of the lanterns filtering between the pine needles and maple leaves seemed magically romantic. I suppose the late afternoon saké helped make the scene more intoxicating. The cry of the cuckoo rose out of the bamboo thickets behind Daté’s gate.
It was time to leave. I had taken up too much of Daté’s time.
Thank you for letting me take up your time with this edited out section.