Kindred of the East: the Song of Lanterns
A huge man with wide shoulders and strong limbs. He has a firm and prodigious gut showing his strength. He wears a black demon-faced kimono and traditional yori sandals and tabi. He carries with him a large tetsubo.
Once, not so long ago in the country of Japan, was born a boy. He was born to a Fisherman and his wife, and because of his small size, his parents feared he would not last out the month. They called him Kenta (big/strong) and prayed to the gods that he would survive. And so it was that the gods smiled upon the little babe.
It was not long before the babe began to grow. His father taught him to fish, and to cast nets, and even to spear the great fish that lived in the deep places. Every night they would come home and the wife would exclaim, “Oh how great my child has grown!” And oh how he grew! The fine fish and rice that his poor mother made granted him great strength. As he grew older and stronger, he required more and more food to sustain himself. His Father and he were forced to fish more and he grew even stronger! It was not long before he was able to lift his father’s fishing boat straight out of the water. Tales of his great strength spread far and wide. Soon his family was approached by the owner of a Sumo stable.
Said he to the young man’s family, “Your boy is quite strong! I can make him into a true champion!” Kenta’s parents were reluctant to part with him, as they loved him very much, but Kenta knew that his parents could no longer support his great appetite and so he agreed to go with the Sumo trainer.
His training was hard, but he excelled. In every training bout he nearly threw his opponents out of the ring. Every month, Kenta would send half of his pay to his parents along with a letter about what was going on in the stable. With the added money they grew very comfortable in their old age.
Soon when he was finally in the third rank he reached a point where even his great strength was matched by many of the other wrestlers. He was forced to train much harder. He was still undefeated, but the decadent life of the famous sumo wrestler was beginning to change him. He only would send a paltry sum to his parents, and no longer any words of his progress. They were still proud however, and they would watch out for the results of any of his matches.
Kenta soon became very famous, and with fame always comes corruption. He was visited by a big yakuza boss who offered him large sums of money for his continued victories. Though Kenta’s opponents strength was as great as his own, the matches became easier and easier. In his great arrogance he did not notice that the matches had been fixed, and he grew to loathe those he saw as weaker than he. It wasn’t long at all before he was finally coming to challenge the current yokozuna.
The match occurred on a warm spring day. Kenta’s parents had heard about the match, and had used up all of their saved money to travel to Tokyo to see their son compete. The match was long and hard, and Kenta’s parents cheered the loudest when he finally threw the presiding yokozuna. After the match, Kenta’s father and mother went to him and congratulated him. When he did not react joyfully to see his parents, they said to him “Oh our son! Do you not recognize us? It is the mother who raised you, and the Father who helped you to grow so strong!” for the years had not been kind and they had grown old. To them Kenta replied, “Old Fools! I could never have had a mother and father as wrinkled and bent as you!” He sent them away back to their tiny fishing house, and they soon died of grief. Kenta never thought about them again in his life.
Kenta was yokozuna for another 5 years. He defeated all challengers, and had many many loyal fans. Soon however, as all things do, his popularity began to wane. He was visited again by the yakuza boss who told him that they were going to put another wrestler on top. If he threw the match they would pay him 1,000,000,000 Yen. At this he scoffed in the boss’s face. “It was my own greatness that got me here, not your meddling!” But this only made the yakuza boss angry. “This is the only offer you will get Kenta. This new wrestler will be yokozuna.” The boss said as he left in a rage. Kenta merely laughed.
When the time came for the match, Kenta performed the traditional Doh-yo iri opening ceremony and noticed that fully half of the attending audience were yakuza members. He did not worry however, as he knew in his arrogance that he could take them if it came to a fight. The match began, and Kenta knew that they were evenly matched he and this young-blood. It was a long and difficult match, but Kenta’s endurance turned out to be the greater. He finally forced his opponent to the ground. The cheering he expected was replaced by scattered clapping and even some booing. He saw that all of the yakuza had left, and he was enraged by what had happened. He stormed into his chambers and received a club to the back of the head. He knew no more.
Kenta awakened to the stern face of the yakuza boss staring into his eyes. He was tied to the ground so he could not move. “Uetake Kenta, you were unwise not to listen to me. You could have been a wealthy man had you chosen to retire now, but you did not. I told you that this wrestler would be the new yokozuna and now you will burn for your arrogance.” His men poured gasoline all over the building they were in and all over Kenta’s body. When they lit the fires, Kenta thought only of his pain as his flesh turned to ash.
Kenta came into consciousness surrounded by many and myriad demons. They laughed as they stabbed him with their spears and swords while their leader gave Kenta his sentence. He would go to the Hell of the Upside-Down sinners to drown for eternity in the waters of his own hubris. As Kenta suffered, he relived all of the moments where his arrogance got the best of him. He grew more and more ashamed and mortified by what he had done in life. And then he saw his greatest moment of arrogance, when he sent his parents away, and his heart broke. It replayed over and over in his mind’s eye and he screamed and screamed at his hideous behavior. Suddenly a crane as white as snow showed itself to him. Amidst his drowning cries, the crane spoke, “You have seen the error of your ways. It is time to repent Uetake! Break free of your sin! Follow me!”
And so as he was thrown again from the heights into the waters of sin, he flexed his great muscles and using his vast size and strength broke the chains of his sin. He fought his way through the demons, and past the great gates of Hell, and broke through into the real world. He opened his eyes underneath a huge piece of roof. Kenta pushed it off of himself and found in his exertion that he no longer grew short of breath. In fact he was no longer breathing at all. As he thought about this, he heard the sound of a woman clearing her throat. She was tall and slender, and was wearing a red kimono with blue waves and a single white crane on each shoulder. “Come along now, I have much to teach you Kenta Uetake.” She gave to him a black kimono with leering demon faces in it, and a pair of yori sandals. As they stepped away from the still smoking ruins of a burnt building, avoiding the disemboweled yakuza bodies, she began to tell him of the Resplendent Crane…