—It was in the middle of April.
The Saiō representative1 had just been announced, and the streets of Kyoto were in a sudden fit of energy.
“Hey, hey, did y’all see the news about this year’s Saiō representative? I hear the lady’s studying in a women’s university and is from a family who owns a long-established dry-goods store! It’s great that we got such a beauty this year.”
Mieko-san was gleefully chatting about this year’s Saiō representative while visiting Kura, an antique shop in Kyoto’s Teramachi Sanjou.
She was the middle-aged woman who was present when I got a part-time job here.
Apparently, she was a friend of Owner, but didn’t have much knowledge about antiques.
After expressing her excitement, Mieko-san brought a cup of coffee brewed by Holmes-san to her lips.
“Oh right, Aoi-chan. Did ya find out why Kiyotaka-chan managed to guess your address when you just told him your name?” She suddenly turned around, as if having suddenly remembered something.
“—Ah… Yes, I know.”
I muttered as my cheeks turned red, while Mieko-san and Holmes-san giggled.
It was the day I decided to work here.
After hearing my name, Holmes-san asked, “Do you live in Sakyo ward, quite close to Shimogamo Shrine?” Since that was spot-on, I remember having a shocked look on my face as I replied, “Yes, that is right, how did you know?”
At that time, I was amazed that he could deduce my address just from my name, but I soon figured out the reason afterward.
I had always taken the bus to school, but since I started working at Kura, I started using my bicycle.
Doing so allowed me to see things that I had not been able to see before.
“Aoi Elementary School”, “Aoi Cleaning Shop”, “Aoi Mansion”, “Aoi Bookshop”, “Aoi Café”, “Aoi Building”, and so on.
…The area around Shimogamo Shrine was filled with buildings with the name “Aoi”.
There were so many of them that someone from Osaka would say, “Y’all sure like ‘Aoi’!”
Apparently, that name originated from ‘Aoi Festival’, which was one of Kyoto’s three largest festivals.
Even I had heard of the name “Aoi Festival”.
But I never thought that the people of the neighbourhood would use the name to that extent.
I now knew that Holmes-san’s ability to pinpoint the area I was living in solely based off my name was not at all anything mysterious. Equating “Aoi” with “close to Shimogamo Shrine” was just something that locals understood intuitively.
Incidentally, the “Saiō representative” that Mieko-san was talking excitably about is the leading role of the Aoi Festival.
This year’s representative was just revealed yesterday, causing the city to heat up with anticipation.
“…Being chosen to be the Saiō representative is quite amazing, isn’t it? I was surprised that they even hold a press conference on Kyoto TV.”
Mieko-san enthusiastically replied to my monologue.
“Of course! Being the Saiō representative is the greatest honor a Kyoto girl can get!”
“Yup. The best lady is selected with serious consideration to intelligence, character and parentage. It ain’t just a beauty contest! That’s why they’re looks might not be the best, but they’re all of good character. Even so, this year’s representative sure is a beauty. She’ll look great in a Jūnihitoe2! I’ve gotta take some photos of that!”
In response to Mieko-san’s energetic explanation, I could only reply with “I see.”
While I was struggling to empathize with her, the corners of Holmes-san’s mouth rose as he spoke.
“The Aoi Festival is one that has a long tradition, dating back to the Heian period, and even appears in The Tale of Genji3.”
“Eh, even in The Tale of Genji? I’ve read it, but does it really appear there?”
Even though I proclaimed that I had read that piece of literature, it was only the manga version.
“Do you know of the scene where the principal wife of Hikaru Genji argues with his lover and fights for space to stop their ox carriage?”
“Ah, are you talking about the scene with the collision between Aoi no Ue and Rokujou no Miyasudokoro?”
It was the scene where the Genji’s lover (Rokujou no Miyasudokoro) was slapped by Genji’s rightful wife (Aoi no Ue) and had to dejectedly retreat. In any world and timeline, the main wife is always the strongest, but that has nothing to do with the topic at hand.
“Exactly. That festival was the Aoi Festival. In the Heian period, the word ‘festival’ always referred to the Aoi Festival.”
“I see. By the way, what is the ‘Saiō representative’?”
Thinking that it was quite a stupid thing to ask, I did so anyway.
“Why, she’s the star of the show! She’s the one who’ll be wearing the Jūnihitoe and be carried around on a mikoshi4 during the parade!”
Mieko-san answered proudly.
…I felt relieved knowing that there were people in the flesh who were excited about this festival without knowing much about it, despite having lived in Kyoto for such a long time.
“The Saiō is a shrine maiden of royal blood. During the Heian period, unmarried imperial princesses were chosen to serve as shrine maidens at the Kamo Shrine or the Ise Shrine. Today, normal women are chosen to act as the Saiō, or become the ‘Saiō representative’, just for the festival.”
“Ah, I see. They represent the Saiō, so they’re called ‘Saiō representative’.”
“They’re ladies of honorable origin who represent Kyoto, and can be described with the phrase ‘gifted with beauty and wit’. Being chosen to be the representative is naturally of immense prestige.”
“Exactly. If yer chosen, ya won’t need to worry about getting married!”
“I-Is that so? So, how does one get selected?”
“This isn’t public information, but I’ve heard that the people from the shrine will judge if you’re worthy.”
“I’ve also heard that if you take lessons in tea ceremony or flower arrangement, the teachers might ask for you to be considered as a candidate.”
“I see…” For some reason, I was overwhelmed by their words.
As I thought, there are many things that only locals can know.
For a common civilian like myself, all I can do is watch the festival, with the Saiō representative being completely unrelated to me.
But that thought only lasted for a passing moment.
I had no idea at the time that I, the commoner, would be connected to the Saiō
representative via Kura—
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- A Saiō was an unmarried female member of the Japanese imperial family sent to serve at the Ise Grand Shrine from the late 7th century to the 14th century. People in Kyoto celebrate the Aoi Festival to re-enact the march of the Saiō to the Shimigamo Shrine, and someone is chosen every year to be the Saiō representative and act as the Saiō.
- A twelve-layer ceremonial kimono worn only by court-ladies.
- A work of Japanese literature written in the 11th century by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, and it is said to be the first novel ever written in the world.
- A divine palanquin, used to transport a deity during a festival or when moving to a new shrine.