It's over ten years since the publication of the first book Across the Nightingale Floor (2002). Since then the Tales of the Otori have been world wide best sellers appealing to millions of readers in over 36 countries.
The title is a Japanese phrase (kusamakura) which means sleeping outside. It occurs in the poem used as the epigraph for Across the Nightingale Floor:
Shigeru also uses the phrase in the first chapter of Across the Nightingale Floor when he and Takeo spend the night on the edge of the Yaegahara plain, scene of the battle in which the Otori were defeated by the Tohan.
The title of each of the books in the Tales of the Otori is hidden within the text of the previous book. As a title, Grass for His Pillow holds, for me, suggestions of exile, suffering and separation, journeying, and an intense awareness of the physical world.
In Across the Nightingale Floor I established a world that draws on the powerful symbols of samurai and ninja, though I never mention these by name - I was hoping to avoid some of the cliches that have attached themselves to these figures. In Grass I wanted to look behind the symbols and see what their true effect might be on the society around them, particularly on women. In Across the Nightingale Floor the characters act heroically and there is "magic": in Grass the underside of heroism and magic are discovered - the treachery and self-serving of the warrior class, the cruelty and ruthlessness of the Tribe.
Cold and snow play an important role in the story; so does the landscape of the Three Countries.
One of the key themes of Grass is what is hidden and what is revealed. The books are full of secrets, which is why I don't really like talking about them or explaining too much. I hope my readers will discover the treasures that are hidden within for themselves.
Bound by the bargain he made with the Tribe, Takeo must join them and put his skills at their service. But their cruelty and injustice force him to try to escape. He is immediately sentenced to death by the Tribe and as winter draws in, he flees over the mountains to Terayama, helped by the outcaste, Jo-An.
Kaede, devastated by Takeo s leave-taking, returns to her parents home. She is pregnant with Takeo s child, but she and Shizuka decide to tell everyone that Kaede secretly married Shigeru and it is his child. She finds her house neglected and her estate almost ruined. Her mother is dead, her father is on the verge of insanity. Kaede is determined to educate herself and her sisters and save her domain. Then her father dies in mysterious circumstances: did he take his own life or was he murdered? She and her sisters face starvation in the coming winter, and Kaede enters into a pact with the strange, intriguing but sinister nobleman, Lord Fujiwara, in return for food and money.
When Kaede learns that Takeo is still alive and where he is, she journeys to see him. Reunited, they marry, but their union insults powerful forces around them, and takes them inexorably closer to war, death and terrible tragedy.
I’ve written five books in the Tales of the Otori series. It started as a trilogy (Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for his Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon) but I realised I had more to say about the characters and have written one book (Heaven’s Net is Wide) that ends where Across the Nightingale Floor begins...
A land of incomparable beauty torn by civil war. An ancient tradition undermined by spies and assassins. A society of rigid castes and codes subverted by love. Takeo is raised among the Hidden, whose beliefs forbid them to kill. When his family fall victim to religious persecution at the hands of Lord Iida of the Dairyo clan, he is rescued and adopted by the warrior, Shigeru, of the Otori clan...
A beautiful, haunting evocation of a time and place just beyond the reach of an outside world, the third instalment of the Tales of the Otori transports us once again to a medieval Japan of Hearn's imagination, a land of formal ritual and codes, harsh beauty and deceptive appearance...