Author's Note: This story was hard to write, because very little is known about Princess Kazunomiya (Chikako, the Princess Kazu). Everything I found on her had different information. Some say she was fifteen when she made the journey from Kyoto to Edo, others say sixteen .I couldn't find a lot of information on her, if you know of any please send it to me. Aki is a fictional character.
An Exchange for Peace
I turn to look at my maid's and faithful servants. This is it, this is the journey from which I leave my home, my life, my family. This is it. This is a new chapter in my life. Part of me wants to go; the other part is not so sure what it wants.
It will takes days, maybe even longer to reach Edo, my new home. So many are here, too many to count.
It'll be so different in Edo than it is in Kyoto. I grew up in Kyoto. I was raised there. I made friends and enemies there. It's my home, my prison. I wasn't allowed to leave for protection reasons. I think that's what it was. I wasn't lonely there. However, sometimes I still felt trapped.
I should be happy. After all, I am going to be married in a few short days. However, my marriage isn't for pleasure. It's an alliance between my family and the Tokugana family, the shogun. This is a political marriage with the hopes of bringing the clans together and avoiding an all out civil war. Some people in Japan do not support the shogun and wish to see the Emperor's powers restored. On the other hand, there are some who wish to see the shogun grow stronger and what little power the Emperor has destroyed.
Where do I fit into this mess?
Emperor Komei is my half-brother.
So, I make this journey to keep peace, hopefully. I hope this works.
It's so hard to marry someone who I have never met. Will he love me? Will I love him? I don't know what to expect from him. I'm not one hundred percent sure what will be expected of me. He's really the ruler of Japan, so what do I do? My brother is just a figure head.
I know. I'm being sent here to marry and keep peace.
Kyoto Gosho was my home. Now, I begin the difficult journey on Nakasendo. Now, my new life begins.
I look down the mountain for the final time at my homeland. A pang of sadness comes over me. This was it. I am truly leaving. I am giving all of this up for the hope of peace.
I am the exchange for peace.
I make my way back to everyone else and climb into a palanquin borne. Eight men pick me up and we begin our journey. I part the curtains and look back as Kyoto grows smaller and smaller.
Soon it'll be gone.
Just like I will be gone from it.
I take up my pen and begin to write a new waka.
Leaving the city of my birth,
After many days,
I hurriedly approach this journey east.
I know what it is like,
For the flow of pure water,
That will never again,
Return to its source.
The falling leaves,
Make the body,
Yearn for the past.
Aki, one of my favourite maids walks along side of me. She smiles bravely at me. Like me, she is also leaving Kyoto for the first time in her life. Like me, she is leaving behind her family, her friends. She is leaving everything that she has ever known.
I decide to speak to her. "Aki, I am happy that you are making this journey with me."
I order my men to stop. Behind me, I can hear people voicing their compliments. I pay no mind to them. I touch the other girl. She is younger than me, perhaps twelve or thirteen. She looks she frightened and lost. "Aki," I gently say, "this is a time where we all must show our true brave character. Your family wouldn't want you to be sad for leaving them, they would want to be happy as you start the next chapter of your life."
Aki nods. "I am worried about my father," she says after a long pause.
"Oh, why is that?"
Aki looks at the ground.
I pull her chin up. "Why?" Aki, what is the matter?"
She doesn't respond right away. "He's dying. He probably won't live through the winter."
I bit my lip. My own father has been dead for many years. I felt sadness, but not grief. It's hard to grieve for someone who I have never met. I didn't know what to say.
Aki continues, "Mother thought it would be best if I came with you. She's hoping that there's someone in Edo who can help him."
I nod. Here is a girl trying to save her father's life. I didn't tell her that it would be very unlikely that she would get to talk to someone about a cure for her father. The shogun's tend not to listen to anyone lesser than themselves. However, that doesn't mean that I don't stand a chance.
"I'll see what I can do," I tell the girl.
Her face lights up. "Thank you, Princess."
I thought she would have left me after that, but she didn't. She didn't leave even after we stopped for the night.
Aki waits for me as I exit the palanquin borne. I smile at her.
"Princess?" she asks.
"Yes." I stop in front of her.
"Thanks for listening. No one has ever done that for me."
I am touched. "You're welcome."
She gave me one last smile and disappears into the crowd. I watch her go. Maybe instead of only being an exchange for peace, maybe this marriage is supposed to be something more, something much more meaningful. Maybe, I'm meet to help the lives of everyday people.
Maybe I can show people mercy during these difficult times.
Secrets of the Shogun's Harem by Lesley Downer
The Royal Diaries: Kazunomiya: Prisoner of Heaven by Kathryn Lasky
Baby Names Country website (used it for Japanese names)
Prominent People of Minato City, Author Unknown