The Mechanism of Moving Forward

Nikki Alfar

the mechanism of beginning

What enables the karakuri ningyo to commence operation is the auto-adjustment pin, which—as with all parts save the mainspring—must be crafted of nothing but the most appropriate wood, harvested and fashioned at the proper time of year, to avoid air temperature and humidity taking their toll before the structure has yet been assembled. This pin functions as a stopper for the cogwheel.


UPON ENTERING HIS workroom on the nineteenth day of the twelfth month of the Nederlander year 1863, Tanaka Hisashige promptly lost hold of the lacquered tray he had been carrying, such that the tea implements he had so meticulously prepared, moments prior, fell clattering to the polished wooden floor.

“Such a clamor,” murmured Sakuma Kei, evincing no further reaction than the barest, most blamelessly demure of smiles. “One would almost think Tanaka-san had never seen a naked woman before.”

“In—in—in—the baths, certainly,” was the only response that politeness and his stunned state of mind enabled him to muster, gazing—while at the same time desperately endeavoring not to gaze—at the splendidly-unclad form of his revered teacher’s daughter.

“You did mention, in our correspondence, that you wished you might more closely study human anatomy, as the Redheads do,” she explained, with innocuous aplomb. “Therefore it seemed to me that I could offer you no greater o miage, upon my return from the capital, than the gift of myself.”

“The tea!” Hisashige exclaimed, dropping to his knees with unseemly haste. “The floor!” Tending to the fallen crockery would afford him a moment to clear his mind—not to mention, thankfully, avert his eyes—although of course she would see through the pretense immediately; it was only an ordinary tea set, after all, meant for everyday sencha. He had considered presenting something more refined, in celebration of her homecoming, but had reflected that it might seem overly presumptuous, or overly eager, for which diffidence he was now profoundly grateful, and not merely because his better porcelain had consequently escaped destruction.

“To think that the renowned inventor of the Ten-Thousand-Year Self-Ringing Bell Clock,” Kei was musing aloud, “at only twenty already a karakuri master famed throughout the land, should be so discomfited by a mere slip of a maiden, yet again deemed by our great thirteenth leader to be lamentably unimpressive, unworthy, and altogether unmarriageable.”

He very nearly fell into her trap, only at the last moment managing to refrain from looking back up at her. “He said no?”

“He said a great deal, including expressing his conviction that our Dejima, being an artificial island, must be composed of gears and pulleys—like one of your automata—or, more fitting to his mind, water and clockwork, like a mizudokei. I do not think he believed my explanation that it is merely earth, reclaimed for the purpose of maintaining the ludicrous fiction that the Nederlanders are not quite on our soil, thereby upholding while at the same time unmistakably subverting the ridiculous sakoku ban.”

He did look up then, too alarmed to be constrained by propriety.

Her smile had become far less demure, her charcoal-dark eyes dancing with triumphant mischief. “I did not say it in quite those words, naturally.”

In his relief, he ceased resistance, resigning himself to merely confining his gaze above her chin. “You are presented to the shogun, and you spend the opportunity speaking to him of dirt?”

“I am fortunate he chose to address me at all.” Kei shrugged—firm in his resolution, Hisashige simply inferred the gesture from the tilt of her head. “The other maidens were not so favored. However many unwed women the bakufu persist in throwing at him, I do not think our Lord Iesada is at all interested in marriage; he spent no more than ten minutes on the lot of us.” She tilted her head the other way, raising an eyebrow. “Do you think it would have helped, had I been naked?”

He refused to be baited again, having at last regained some measure of equilibrium. “I believe I should go and fetch some more tea, as well as a servant to tidy the disarray.”

“Do, please.” She remained serenely unmoving, evidently not in the least troubled by his implied threat of exposure. “It is winter, after all, and somewhat chilly; tea would be most welcome.”

“I have heard that there is a most ingenious invention designed to aid with that condition,” he noted, accepting defeat and thus crossing the room toward the disheveled heap of gorgeously-colored silk and wool lying blithely discarded on the floor. “It is called ‘clothing’.”


the mechanism of traveling

The unique walking style of the karakuri ningyo is attributable to the crank movement created by the pivots controlling the motion of each foot, since their shafts are not aligned—as one might reasonably, yet mistakenly assume—with the center of the driving wheels. The left pivot should be arranged forward, and the right backward, so as not to interfere with more critical mechanisms.


“EACH TIME, I find myself wishing to ask if you truly must go, even though I know that you must,” Kei commented, gently patting another layer of tissue in between the many folded elements of her father’s various formal ensembles.

“We ought to be grateful the sankin kotei allows us at least a week or so together every year, before one must remain on Dejima and the other present themself at the capital for the following twelve months,” Sakuma Shozan reminded her, the gentleness of his expression belying any sternness of rebuke. “Moreover, it is my hope that, by this time, he has perhaps had opportunity to peruse my treatise, allowing a fruitful discussion of adopting Western military strategy.”

“Forgive me, Father, but I doubt the shogun has read even one of your ‘Eight Policies’,” she replied. “But I am certain that Lord Abe has, and all know that he is the man who truly runs—”

“We do not speak such words in this house,” Shozan interrupted, the nearly-unpardonable rudeness of it serving to underscore the severity of his command.

“Yes, Father.” Kei hurriedly turned head and hands to ensuring that her father would have all that he needed for his year in Yedo, particularly the stationery and calligraphy tools for both politics and science.

“In any case,” he continued, “while Abe-sama seems yet unopposed to our integration of rangaku in our own studies, he is as displeased as any other of the bakufu by the temerity of your friend Titia in accompanying her husband. Even I am forced to agree that it was not merely unseemly but insolent, when the shogun has been so generous as to allow the Nederlanders to remain, requiring only the conditions that they confine themselves here on Dejima, and have no women among their contingent.”

“She was distressed that Opperhoofd Blomhoff had had a child with a geisha upon his last visit,” Kei explained. “Apparently concubines are much frowned upon by the Redheads, which I admit seems quite peculiar to us, but if she understood our culture no better than we comprehend hers, how are we to punish her for no more than we, ourselves, have done?”

Her father snorted; it would be one of his last opportunities for some while, after all, to indulge in the luxury of a minor inelegance in the privacy of his own home. “I hope you did not attempt to make this case in front of Lord Iesada.”

“Oh, Father.” Having judged that he was not truly cross with her, she risked a pert smile. “I do know my place. At times.”

“I told your late mother we should not name you ‘adored one’.” Shozan shook his head with mock regret. “See how impudent it has made you. I only hope you will have recovered your modesty by the tenth month, so that you do not shame me at the yuino.”

“‘The yui—’” Kei blinked, most unbecomingly. “But, Father, we agreed that, since I am to be presented to the shogun every other year, whenever I must attend at the capital, it would be ill-conceived to make any other engagement preparations, in the hope that he might favor me.”

“That was a judicious policy when you were thirteen,” he pointed out, “but now you are becoming too mature to wear your hair long and straight, and leave your teeth unblackened. Therefore I have made arrangements with the family of Kawakami Gensai, and even obtained permission from Lord Abe to return to Dejima for the yuino before year-end, the granting of which I think we may safely take to constitute implicit approval of your withdrawal from the ranks of marriageable women.”

Kei could only stare down at her hands, folding and unfolding, as mindless as those of any zashiki karakuri.

“Kei-chan,” her father said then, “you are of a samurai family, raised and educated to not only run a household, but defend it yourself if need be, with a warrior’s courage and naginata. The shi no ko sho is clear: you must marry one of your own class, who can match your own capabilities.”

“But, Father,” she could not help but respond, “are you not one of the foremost proponents of rangaku, and is this not one of the principle tenets of Western learning: that we need not be bound by such rigidities as caste structure and other outdated systems?”

“Someday, we may hope.” Shozan spoke with the mien of implacable calm. “But that day is not today, and today you are sixteen. However highly I might esteem—any—artisan, Kei-chan, they are merely of the third rank; I could sooner wed you to a farmer.”

Kei bent her head still more industriously to her tasks, permitting the unbound length of her hair to veil the heat rising to her cheeks.

“Now smile for me, Kei-chan,” her father coaxed. “We will see one another again before the year is even out; is that not reason enough for joy?”


the mechanism of turning

The karakuri ningyo is enabled to turn by means of the small wheel located at the base. The angle of the wheel, which controls the course of the automaton, is itself controlled by depressing the rotary plate, which then realigns the front wheel connector. As with all circular elements, the grain of the wood must be arranged radially, to ensure the most optimum distribution of weight.


“‘HAVE SUCCEEDED IN preventing Mistress Blomhoff from being obliged to commit seppuku, stop. Titia to depart for Nederland instead, upon my return to supervise, stop.’” Kei looked up from translating, eyes wide. “I know it is not what you had hoped for, but I truly believe it must have been the best accommodation my father could attain for you.”

Titia Blomhoff could not quite tell, still, whether the young girl was made sorrowful or relieved by the content of the missive—and Kei was far and away one of the most expressive Japanese she had met. In the same manner that Titia had become able to speak Japanese but not yet read it, however much she had managed to learn, there remained, always, so much more. “I am still amazed,” she temporized, “that Sakuma-san was able to create a working telegraph simply by studying some of our books! Your father is indeed a brilliant man.”

“He has been a most fortunate recipient of your countrymen’s generosity,” Kei replied.

They would always do that, Titia had discovered: minimize a compliment by returning another, similar to the way that they would answer even the smallest token of regard with an immediate thank-you gift of red bean rice or mochi, exquisitely arrayed in a lacquered box atop a lacquered tray, wrapped in finest silk. It was a wonder the whole nation had not gone bankrupt long before.

“I am—sorry more could not have been achieved,” Kei continued; Titia knew that her hesitation was due to the fact that her people did not make a very fine distinction between sympathy and pity.

“It may be somewhat less than I had hoped for, but also a great deal less than we had feared.” It was the closest she could come to expressing gratitude, since a misstep might be perceived as an impertinent sense of entitlement, or might obligate her to perform some service, which in turn would necessitate a reciprocating service. “Kei-san, it is all right. I have accomplished what I meant to, in coming; my husband well understands my devotion to our union now.”

“I shall regret having to forego the conviviality of these visits.”

“I will miss the pleasure of your company dreadfully, as well.” Titia leaned forward to pour the girl another serving of tea, acutely aware that she was no doubt performing the act wrongly. “But come; while we have some months together yet, let us speak of merrier things! On the topics of devotion and union and brilliant men, how is your Tanaka-san?”

“He—is not—my—” Rather shockingly, the normally-poised Kei was not only stammering, but blushing, in a way that her newly-formal pompadour could not hope to conceal. “It is my hope,” she proceeded, recovering magnificently, “that he shares my father’s and my elation at the prospect of my upcoming engagement to Kawakami Gensai.”

“You are marrying another man!?” Titia promptly abandoned all pretense at observing proper local etiquette. “But Kei—darling girl—a blind person could see that you and your father’s great protégé are madly in love. How can an intelligent young woman such as yourself consent to wed a complete stranger?”

“He is not a stranger,” she was quick to protest. “He is the son of the daimyo’s retainer, from the Kumamoto domain, where he studied at the jishukan. He is now greatly esteemed as the inventor of the Shiranui-ryu discipline, in which the sword is wielded with such consummate celerity that only he, thus far, is capable of performing it.”

“Well, if it is a matter of inventing that is under discussion, Tanaka-san is even now developing designs for a steam-powered locomotive and warship! There is hardly even basis for comparison between that and some trifling permutation of martial prowess that no one else can—” Titia was in the midst of regretting the waspish nature of her words even as she spoke them, when a thought came to her. “Did you say ‘Kawakami Gensai’?”

“He is also famed as the very man who quelled the perilous rioting that directly followed the assassination of the late tairo, Ii Naosuke,” Kei stated, with a curious species of pride that Titia was at a loss to comprehend—as if the man were joined to her already.

“But have you met him?” she clarified, feeling her way forward with some caution.

“Titia-san.” For the first time since her arrival at the Blomhoff residence, Kei smiled, though it seemed a smile more of gentle amusement than true happiness. “I know all that I need to know of him before the yuino, which will occur precisely for the purpose of our meeting one another for the first time.”

“I am not certain that you do know all you need to know of him, Kei-san.” Titia determinedly pushed past her own hesitation. “I have heard of this man. I have heard that he is a follower of the emperor, against rangaku.”

“A difference in philosophy, between prospective husband and wife, need not—”

“And,” she pressed on, eschewing manners in favor of urgency, “I have heard—it is only a rumor, you understand, but a rumor you ought to hear—I have heard that the reason he was so composed in the wake of Ii-sama’s death is that he was the very assassin who killed him.”

For a moment, Kei only looked at Titia, utterly stilled. “One of the most outspoken advocates of rangaku.” Her next words came almost in a whisper—perhaps the first involuntary utterance Titia had ever heard escape her lips. “Like my father.”


the mechanism of adjusting velocity

The speed of the karakuri ningyo is controlled by the gyojirin, a particularly critical cogwheel located at the rear. The rotation of the gyojirin is modified by two stoppers, one of which is the auto-adjustment pin—the insertion of which, into the cogwheel, arrests rotation and thus halts the automaton’s movement—and the other of which extends or retracts to enable deceleration or acceleration.


“YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY mean to tell me that Kawakami-san is enacting an entire sham of an engagement for the sole purpose of murdering Sakuma-sama.

“How not?” Kei all but cried. Her color was high, her hair slipping progressively from the confines of her pillowed bun, her kimono unwontedly dust-stained from her evidently precipitous haste to his dwelling; she had never appeared more agitated—nor lovelier.  “What other reason might there be for a samurai of such repute to consent to a union with an impoverished, low-rank house, not to mention one made notorious by its relocation to Dejima and association with the Redheads?”

Hisashige would not be hard-pressed to produce multiple such reasons, himself. “Kei-san,” he said instead, modulating his voice from his initial tone of disbelief to a more soothing one, “do you not think your revered father would have been alert to such a threat, if such existed? He is not merely a skilled politician and a broad-minded scholar, but also a most assiduous parent.”

“His mind is taken up with his seismic sensor design and military treatise, you know that.” Her hand rose upward, as if in a girlish gesture to push her hair away, but then she evidently thought better of it. “Moreover, you know that it is not within my father to esteem himself as a man of import; it would never occur to him that he might have risen to such significance as to invite elimination.”

“Then if there is even the possibility of such being the case,” Hisashige reasoned, “we ought to send word to Sakuma-sama immediately.”

“No, that cannot be the course of action. The tel-e-graph—” She still stumbled over the strange word— “would pass through many hands before it could reach my father. If its content were to become known—even for the barest hint of an accusation, he might be ordered to commit seppuku.

“But he is samurai, just as Kawakami is,” he argued.

“The Kawakami are fudai, Tokugawa vassals,” she explained. “We are only tozama; even if the message were to reach Father unread by any other, he could not report our suspicion, nor simply decline to appear at the yuino. It would be an incivility of unthinkable proportion.”

“Whatever he, himself, may believe, Sakuma-sama is far too valuable to lose.” Hisashige frowned, as he arrived, all too quickly, at the only conclusion that he could see possible. “Therefore Kawakami Gensai must be stopped, in the very act of attempting murder.”

“In what manner can you conceivably imagine this might be accomplished?” Kei asked, lips parting in disbelief, revealing her still-uncolored teeth. “The master of Shiranui-ryu—a man who sought to thwart him would need to be prepared to lose his own life.”

Hisashige was well aware, in fact, of this difficulty. He was only the son of a tortoise-shell craftsman—no fighter—yet not, he dared to believe, lacking in courage or loyalty, least of all ingenuity. “I have conceived a notion,” he told her. “If someone was to be protected, within—let us suppose—a person-shaped mechanism, then it might be possible for them to compensate, with strength and size, for the opponent’s speed, might it not?”

“‘Person—shaped—’?” Kei visibly struggled to comprehend what he was alluding to. “You are speaking of karakuri ningyo? Life-sized karakuri ningyo?!”

“Slightly larger, I would imagine, so as to accommodate a pilot.”

“But would it not be the work of—years?” She nearly flung her arms outward, in bafflement. “To create a karakuri ningyo the size of a human, let alone to ensure its function? From what you and Father have said in the past, the mere assembly of materials would take months to accomplish.”

“If months are all that we have—little more than half a year now, yes?—then it will need to be achieved in months.” He was already planning, fingers twitching as he began to map the design in his head, to plot out the necessities of purchase and preparation.

She laid one hand upon the back of his; whatever else was to happen, Hisashige thought, he would always remember this: the first time that she touched him, skin against skin, in private. “You can do this?” Her voice was soft, most unusually uncertain. “Can you truly do this for me, Hisashige-san?”

“I—” He shut his eyes, abruptly wretched, at the sudden realization of a most critical impediment. “No. I thought that I could, but I cannot; I beg your forgiveness, Kei, for raising your hopes so.” He clasped her hand, forgetting both propriety and the honorific of respect, in his returning despair. “Even if we had decades, I could not construct a frame and escapement sufficient to support the weight of a grown man. A child, perhaps, but then a child would have neither the presence of mind nor the degree of martial skill necessary to pilot the automaton toward the result that we desire.”

Kei lifted her chin then, eyes unfocused as though gazing at some inviolate truth visible only to herself. “There is—” her expression was less one of determination than what appeared a serene acceptance of inevitability—“another option.”


the mechanism of bowing

The polite bow seemingly performed by the karakuri ningyo is not a matter of etiquette, but rather, a consequence of the weight required to activate its various mechanisms, since it is reliant on neither steam nor erekiteru, merely a simple yet precise system of balance and counterbalance. When the pilot rises to a standing position from the seat in the chest cavity, the automaton will, initially, bend forward.


FOR HIS PART, Shozan had sincerely believed his daughter’s claim of wanting to, at once, surprise her betrothed and pay tribute to her father’s engineering prowess, by arriving at the park chosen for the yuino concealed within a quite enormous karakuri ningyo, thereafter to emerge to the amazement and—hopefully—delight of her new family-to-be.

It was a most peculiar whim, to be certain, but Shozan had deemed it perhaps his last opportunity to indulge his only child, and it struck him, as well, as a quite artful manner in which the prospective groom might learn something of his incipient bride’s character, before the engagement was wholly finalized. That the automaton itself must constitute some form of farewell gift from his apprentice to his daughter—and its deployment likewise, from her to him—also did not escape his consideration and eventual approval.

The finished karakuri was well worthy of more than mere approval, perhaps even celebration, as a brilliant adaptation of the traditional form. Clearly not all the standard woods could have been utilized to support this massive version, yet as far as the exterior, at least, only wood had been deployed, in what must have been a most agonizingly-derived combination, to enable both strength and mobility. The entire construct stood at somewhat over six feet tall, but still moved, nonetheless, with the pleasing smoothness of its tinier brethren. Precisely fashioned, gaily painted, and thoroughly caparisoned with all the trappings appropriate to a very model of a samurai maiden, it was an astonishing achievement.

Aware as he was of his protégé’s prowess, however, he had assuredly not expected to be astonished further, initially by the conspicuous absence of Kawakami Gensai’s family or any other sort of entourage—and then by the flash of sunlight on the steel of the other man’s descending katana, drawn with such unearthly speed that he had not even seen the sword leave its sheath.

To his further shock and fathomless horror, the downward slash was then blocked by one arm of the previously-bowing karakuri ningyo.

Before Shozan could so much as shout for his foolhardy daughter to desist, Kawakami had swiftly extricated his sword from the wood of the arm—having intended to hew only flesh, he had misjudged the force of his strike and thus cut only partway—and twisted it in a sideways slice across the automaton’s belly. Shozan heard Kei cry out.

Nearly before he understood the self-destructive act he was undertaking, he had drawn his own daisho­—both swordsand was springing forth to the attack. Kawakami met his assault with that single blade—the arrogance of the man!—such that, in virtually the same moment, Shozan lost his wakizashi, his palm bleeding from a strike so quick he had not even felt it as it occurred.

Then the karakuri ningyo was moving, in swift retrograde, such that Shozan was forced to scurry behind it, away from the confrontation. It proceeded to draw, from the elaborate embellishment adorning its back, what he suddenly realized was a huge naginata—and only then did he truly come to understand: that it was not an ‘it’ at all, but his own child, defending his life from a vicious killer.

And that honor demanded that this fight could not be his.

She was twirling her weapon in the classic naginatajutsu defense—but he could not see how that was to help. Could Hisashige not have anticipated that the very exaggerated length of the pole, while dramatically increasing her reach in correspondence with the greater height of the automaton, would render the wood all the more fragile?

No, he saw, as Kawakami’s artful underhand blow carved a lengthy strip from the naginata shaft—it had a metallic core, an innovation Kei could never have hefted on her own. Silently, Shozan found himself applauding both his apprentice’s work and his daughter’s skill, as she slammed the butt of her sword-spear against her foe’s left temple.

To think that his girl-child should be able to make one of the greatest swordsmen in the land stagger!

But he was not to be underestimated, was Kawakami; not only did he appear wholly unperturbed by the very strangeness of his mechanical opponent but, although his strikes were naturally blunted by the sheer thickness of wood encasing Kei, he was nevertheless doing considerable damage to the karakuri ningyo itself, and Shozan felt quite certain he had drawn at least some blood in that second, surprise cut. He could only hope it had been a shallow one.

Kei pressed forward, overextending herself; Kawakami took immediate advantage of this, slipping beneath her reach to slide his katana nearly halfway through the karakuri ningyo’s throat and diagonally upward and out, sending one charmingly-crafted ear flying.

It was then that Shozan saw how his daughter might prevail.

Kawakami was assuming—having neither reason nor exposure to think otherwise—that the size and shape of the automaton was roughly the size and shape of the person within; he could not have imagined the sheer amount of mechanism that would have had to go into the structure, and thus could not be expected to realize that Kei was contained almost completely within its torso.

Further—as would any swordsman, faced with a spear-wielding opponent—he was watching the feet, failing to comprehend that a karakuri ningyo’s feet have nothing to do with its actual movement, serving only the functions of stability and décor.

She could, indeed, win—if only she could manage to do it quickly enough, before Kawakami could disable the automaton completely.

He could not help but wince, as Kawakami again drove his blade, this time slashing deeply across the karakuri ningyo’s side; Shozan could do nothing but trust to his recollection that his daughter was too slender and centrally situated for that to have harmed her.

And then it happened: as Kawakami drew his katana back, Kei seized the opportunity to flick his weapon into a rotation with her own, forcing an entanglement, and then sliding her much-longer naginata forward from the point of meeting, ending with her curved blade against the samurai’s neck.

“Yield,” her father heard her say, muffled from within layers of wood.

“Do not trust—!” Shozan had only begun, when Kawakami nodded gingerly, and Kei lifted her spear from his throat. And Shozan knew that the karakuri ningyo had become too damaged for her to retreat rapidly enough out of reach, and he was going to have to watch his daughter die.

But she was ready for Kawakami; even as the terrible katana flashed once more in the sun, the now-shambling automaton lurched forward, gracelessly, with the awkwardness of irreparable malfunction—and then, as abruptly, she snapped it to an entirely unexpected, no doubt counter-indicated halt.

The karakuri ningyo consequently tumbled forward, hundreds of pounds of heavy-grade hardwood smashing down onto the helpless assassin.


the mechanism of moving forward

When the mainspring loosens, it generates energy. This energy triggers the eighty-cog first wheel, the rotation of which thereby activates the twelve-cog second wheel. When accurately calibrated, the second wheel turns seven times for every single turn of the first, enabling forward progression. Whale fin is highly recommended for the composition of the mainspring, for superior flexibility.


“I STILL DO not see why you must be sent into exile,” Kei persisted, aware that she was verging on petulance, but secure in the knowledge that the painful constriction of her obi, about the site of her injuries, afforded her considerable leeway. “It has been established that Kawakami indeed intended to assassinate you, and our defense against him was therefore right and proper.”

“Yet that defense unmistakably utilized hitherto-unexpected and conceivably-alarming applications of rangaku,” Shozan pointed out. “You will say, I know, that rangaku has not been declared unlawful, but the very fact of Kawakami’s attempt makes it clear that it is also far from accepted, as yet.”

“I cannot believe that Lord Abe would be behind so unjust a decision,” Titia remarked. “I have always heard him to be a quite sane and sensible man, entirely unlike the sho—”

“It is less an exile, truly, than a safekeeping,” Kei said, finding herself forced to capitulate on her own position, in order to prevent her friend from shaming herself further with still more derogatory comments. She widened her eyes very slightly at her father, reminding him that Mistress Blomhoff sought only to support him, rather than to denigrate their entire homeland.

“Abe-sama sends me—wisely, I believe—to escort you to your homeland, Titia-san,” Shozan was gracious enough to clarify, “deeming it better that my absence thus spare our honored shogun a potential source of irritation.”

“But, begging your pardon, Sensei,” Hisashige spoke at last, from out of the depths of his quiet consternation, “it was not you who was responsible. It was I who created the karakuri that has caused such offense, and therefore I who should be held accountable.”

“And I,” added Kei, keeping her face perfectly placid; had they been in seclusion, she would have narrowed her lips at Hisashige most pointedly.

“Do you think, the two of you, that Lord Abe would have been so considerate toward either a youthful artisan or an unmarried girl?!” Titia exclaimed. “No, unpleasant as it is, this is by far the best solution we might have hoped for: that your father should take the burden of responsibility upon his shoulders—begging your pardon, Sakuma-san—and momentarily remove himself from the shogun’s reach. It is only temporary, after all.”

“Indeed,” Shozan agreed, to Kei’s surprise. “I believe you are failing to comprehend the underlying result in all of this, my daughter, my student, my daughter’s friend. This is not merely an exile, nor only a means of protection; this is—albeit singularly and under extenuating circumstances—an amelioration of the sakoku, wherein a Japanese man, with all governmental blessing, is being permitted to leave the country, and all but assured the certainty of eventual return.”

“That is so,” said Hisashige, quickly grasping the implications. “Oh, Sensei, the things you will be able to learn in the Nederlands itself, the knowledge you will be able to bring back—and yes, the hope this gives us that this may yet constitute a precedent for the integration of modern thinking!”

“Someday.” For the briefest moment, Kei considered going so far as to frown at Hisashige in company, but valiantly restrained herself. “Who knows when that will be?”

“True,” Shozan conceded, “but in the meantime, we are permitted correspondence, especially since what I have yet to tell you is that Lord Abe is most interested to discuss how Tanaka-san’s innovation might be applied toward security, to which end he and I are expected to continue our study, however distantly, the findings from which he is enjoined to report at the capital, for several months of each year.”

“But I am no samurai,” Hisashige protested. “I am not permitted unrestrained travel.”

“No, indeed.” Shozan allowed himself the merest trace of a smile. “Thus you are required to journey in the company of one of samurai blood, of which, regrettably, there is grievously short supply here on Dejima.”

“Oh,” Hisashige said, stunned by his teacher’s implicit blessing.

“Oh!” Kei cried, though it was scarcely louder than a breath.

“With ample chaperonage, of course,” Shozan did not fail to emphasize.

“But wait,” Titia said, wrinkling her brow in typical Redhead disregard for comportment. “Does that not mean that Kei-san will have to present herself more frequently than ever, before the shogun, as a prospective bride?”

“Yes,” Shozan replied, nodding with great solemnity, “which will lamentably serve to constrain us from seeking other po tentials husbands, given the remote yet not inconceivable possibility that Lord Iesada may at last be persuaded to wed. I am certain that my daughter will know how to conduct herself, in light of such consideration.”

Kei could only bow her head, with the appearance of all possible modesty.



author’s note

The automated doll known as karakuri ningyo (person-shaped mechanism) existed in Japan as far back as the 1600s, and is considered to be one of the earliest forms of robot. With one exception, all personages depicted here also existed in history, roughly within the 1800s—Tanaka Hisashige went on to found what is now known as Toshiba—though I have played fast and loose with specific years, to bring them all together for the purposes of this story. And while Kei is my own permutation on Sakuma Shozan’s son, Miura Keinosuke, samurai women were indeed expected to fight in defense of their homes, and trained in naginatajutsu.


green eyesNikki Alfar has fought fire 7,000 feet in midair and killed a snake with a flip-flop. Confoundingly, she’s found it much harder to earn a few Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, a couple of Bewildering Stories Mariner Awards, a Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award, and selection as one of twelve ‘Filipina writers of note’ by the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings. Nevertheless, she perseveres, somehow getting fiction published nationally and internationally (There’s an updated bibliography on her Facebook timeline), including her short story collection, Now, Then, and Elsewhen (UST Publishing).

She’s a proud founding member of the LitCritters writing group, has been a fellow at the UP National Writers’ Workshop as well as a judge for the Palanca and Philippines Free Press literary awards, and more often than not co-edits the critically-acclaimed annual anthology series Philippine Speculative Fiction. She’s also edited The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2005 – 2010 (UP Press) and the absolutely free (Grab a copy now!) Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler (Flipside Publishing). The rest of the time, she folds origami compulsively, smokes like a chimney, and tries to cook ever more imaginative suppers for her husband Dean and their daughters Sage and Rowan.