A Story Waiting to Happen is a series of monthly articles about sims in the virtual world of Second Life that could be inspiring for writers. The goal is to trigger ideas for new stories, new characters and new settings. If you write a story prompted by the following post, do consider leaving it in the comments or, should it be too long, a link to it. Thank you.
Taka no Sakura
This month, we visit the Japanese Role-play (RP) sim Taka no Sakura. It’s an absolutely impressive location, replicating the Edo period (from the 17th till about the mid-19th century), a period of remarkable stability and economic growth.
Society was divided in classes, with samurai at the top, followed by farmers, craftsmen and merchants. It is quite interesting to see how this village is remarkably well organized, a mirror of villages that were even rather autonomous.
I must say that I know of the Japanese history only what general knowledge has to offer. Beyond that, I am not familiar with the traditions, the etiquette or most importantly the nearly imperceptible details those schooled in the Japanese culture are able to recognize.
What I can promise is to take you on a journey in time and history experienced through the eyes of a stranger, a foreigner who just arrived at a land filled with unfamiliar yet fascinating settings.
I disembark at the secluded port located in a peaceful bay. The evocative and dramatic landscape, added to the gray atmosphere and the smooth quiet waters flowing towards the ocean, confer a sense of dreaminess.
The houseboat moored at the dock bank rocks slightly to the movement of the ripples in the water. Inside, an uncluttered decoration makes me think that an old samurai, my first character, lives here. I respectfully visit his quarters. From the front of the boathouse, I have an absolutely astounding view of an impressive waterfall that pulls your eyes up. There’s so much more to explore up here.
In a brief conversation I had with Sayouri Yuhara, the owner of this extraordinary sim, I learned that Taka no Sakura means Falcon of the Cherry Blossom and that is exactly what this sim brews in you, unreserved beauty.
Being an RP sim, I ask of you to be mindful of RP rules. Please don’t fly and do respect the fact that there are private houses. While in an RP sim, I tend not to address anyone unless I am addressed by role-players to avoid disturbing them. That seems to work beautifully.
I must say that at Taka no Sakura, I’ve only encountered very friendly and welcoming people. Wearing a visitor tag is not required. And onwards with our journey.
A large building draws my attention. I’m sure this is where I’ll be able to have something warm. The voyage was long and uncomfortable. It’s time to replenish my strength. There are a number of yatais, street vendors, with soup, warm food and water. While eating, I look at the mountains beyond the torii, a powerful symbol of transition. The past of this traveler seems to be already so distant.
I walk to the back and find the place where my second character works. He’s a calligraphy master. His table displays the tools and brushes of his trade. I wonder what he’s working on. There are two other tables, one with newspapers and the other with a flower vase and some flower scissors. Perhaps the calligraphy master has two apprentices.
Right next door, a poster advertises a show of traditional music and dance. I tiptoe inside. The place is empty. Small, cozy, and inviting, I’m drawn to a zither-like string instrument. Although I don’t play, I touch the strings softly and music seems to flow from them magically.
Outside, the pathway leads me to a watermill. The harvest was rich and the sacks are full of grain ready to be turned into flour. I’ll add the miller to my list of characters. He is right by the river and sees if anyone arrives by sea. I wonder whether he has any interesting stories to share.
Then, I walk up the hill into the most fascinating bamboo forest. Although I spot a bridge to my right, leading towards the higher areas, I decide to explore the path ahead of me first. At the top, a shorter stone bridge takes me to a secluded area where a red maple tree welcomes visitors and cherry trees blossom beautifully.
The garden gate before me is closed. I approach cautiously and the gates suddenly open. The beauty and elegance, its magic inspires both contemplation and aesthetic pleasure. A certain sense of agitation for being wrapped up in a completely different time gives place to an empowering sense of quietude and peace.
Right outside the garden, the view is astonishing. A small wooden bench with a pictorial block-book on it invites me to sit down. I wonder who left this book here. Perhaps it was a beautiful geisha, dreaming of a renowned samurai she fell in love with. Perhaps it was the calligraphy master who writes sweet poems to a noble lady he’s secretly infatuated with. Or perhaps it was a child who dreams of becoming a samurai.
I walk back to the crossway and turn towards the bridge. It feels very symbolic, like leaving behind the increasingly tenuous link to the past and being more and more immersed in the culture and beauty of the Edo period.
The view from the bridge is breathtaking. To one side, the entrance to this secluded magical bay, to the other the impressive waterfall and the village, extending from the bottom of a quiet lake-like mirror of water, where a family of ducks swim happily and water lilies grow in generous numbers, all the way up to the top of the mountain.
I decide to explore the compactly built village and turn to the left. Perhaps you could explore what lies beyond to the right, when you drop by in search of inspiration for your stories!
I enter the water pavilion and realize tea is being prepared. Uninvited, I sit and wait. Inside the main hall, the impressive noise of the waterfall is kept at a soothing level by jalousies, some rolled down, and others rolled up halfway.
As I sit here, I imagine a noble lady sitting in front of me and smiling. She tells me about a mysterious stranger who arrived a few hours ago and whose looks and ways are perking up everyone’s curiosity. She goes on telling me about the sailors and travelers the sea has brought to this small village. She even tells me how one sat right here and had tea with her. I cannot help but think that she, in a pleasant way of course, is teasing me slightly.
After tea, I feel renewed and excuse myself. I have a town to visit and more characters to look for. Stories do need characters. She smiles, bows elegantly and assents.
As I walk up towards the mountain, I come across the workshop of a kimono maker. Astonishingly beautiful fabrics are the feedstock for fine-looking kimonos and traditional fans. I am told by a passerby that kimonos are an important sign of how wealthy its bearer is. Some of the richest merchants’ wives try to outdo one another with extraordinary displays of absolutely splendid garments.
I bid farewell to this friendly gentleman, perhaps a samurai himself, and walk up the side of the mountain to a plateau where a yoshino cherry tree blooms generously and invitingly. The gate to a private house is open and I dare walk into the garden, hoping to meet its owner. I then realize it’s not a private house at all, it’s a doctor’s office.
The medical poster on the wall, the herbs hanging from a stand to dry, a scale, an icepack for a feverish man lying down on a bed, make me wonder where the doctor is. I must talk to him. I find it absolutely fascinating how, also in the field of medicine, this was such a thriving time in Japan.
Next door, appropriately, I come across a bath house. Quite uncommon in the West, bathing practices have been a tradition for many centuries in Japan.
Whether for relaxation or therapeutic reasons, what was already very much a common phenomenon becomes today even more widespread, I’m told by a former yuna, a bathhouse girl, whose role was to bathe and massage clients. After they were banned for offering pleasure services in a relatively overt way, these women were forced to become waitresses in teahouses instead.
The massage room upstairs promises very relaxing moments, but the steaming hot water pool draws my attention immediately. It’s empty at the moment, but I imagine being in the water, at night, the mountain as a backdrop, the relaxing sound of flowing water and the birds chirping in the background. The floating lanterns add the final touch to a perfect setting. I am certain that many stories could take place here.
As I walk to the back, I spot a bathtub. It has a few adult animations. Perhaps we could write a story peppered by torrid eroticism and exotic geishas.
Leaving the bathhouse, I see a pathway leading downwards. Oops, it’s a private house, so I quickly walk back to the trail and up the mountain instead, rough stone steps leading the way.
At the top, there’s a purification pavilion, a bell and a temple. I walk past the impressive red maple tree and stand for a while at the top floor of the watchtower, overlooking the river. From this standpoint, I can, once again, observe the the torii I sailed through, the gate to a visit filled with stories.
It’s quite astounding how quickly a stranger becomes familiar with completely unfamiliar surroundings and, in this month’s journey, a completely unfamiliar country and time in history as well.
This utterly breathtaking sim takes us on an expedition into another world, a world of samurai and calligraphy masters, peasants, nobles, geishas, a doctor and a retired yuna. It offers an extraordinarily rich assortment of locations, faithfully depicting Japan in the Edo period, and it’s so tempting to write down all the stories emerging from each corner of the sim.
There are many more notable details to explore, unmentioned in this recount, but I’ll leave that to you, because… there’s a story waiting to happen at Taka no Sakura!
Disclaimer: Virtual Writers and I are in no way affiliated with any commercial business located in the sims featured in this column nor do we intend to promote them.
About the Author
Lizzie Gudkov was born in Portugal back in the 60’s, into a family of avid readers who are entirely guilty of her strong passion for reading and writing. She joined Second Life® (SL) in 2007, after a career as a teacher of English, and rediscovered writing when she won SL’s Poetry Quest in 2009. In her blog http://lizziegudkov.blogspot.com she posts fiction, poetry and opinion articles. She is an author at iRez since January 2013, in addition to taking part in several daily and weekly events, such as the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge, as well as monthly writing events. In November 2013, she completed NaNoWriMo while being one of the hosts of the weekly Scrimmages on Twitter, promoted by the Virtual Writers. Throughout 2014, she committed to doing the 500 Word Snatch Challenge and is hosting the Saturday challenge at 11am SLT/PDT, at the NaNoWriMo Writers’ Camp & Daily Dash in SL. Lizzie became a guest blogger at Virtual Writers in February 2014 with the monthly column “A Story Waiting To Happen…”. Her fascination for people’s intricacies and love for words drives her to constantly write stories, stubbornly and imprudently!