The Phoenix have similar dietary patterns to the Crane (rice and fish), for pretty much the same reasons: abundant coastline and good farmlands, combined with a traditionalist approach. However, their large forests have given rise to a number of dishes in which the food is wrapped in the leaves of a tree (oak and large-leaved magnolia are both popular) before cooking, or roasted over a fire made from one particular kind of wood.
The Phoenix favor ornamented chopsticks, but their taste runs to fi ne wood and woodwork. Chopsticks with inlays of a contrasting color wood are quite common.
--A Phoenix birth is a joyously heralded step in the kharmic cycle. A shugenja always joins the child’s parents when a samurai-caste child is born. As with many other events, the kami’s blessings are a traditional part of childbirth; the Fortunes are asked to bless the infant and the family’s ancestors are called to guide the child’s hands. The soul being reborn is petitioned as well, to rise from the ashes of death and bring honor to the clan.
The shugenja’s presence serves another purpose. While the other clans may wait to test children until they show evidence of affinity to the kami, Phoenix children are tested for magical ability only hours after their birth. Occasionally even the element they will focus on later in life can be divined at this time. Children who lack a strong connection to the kami are guided onto paths better suited to their abilities. Other life decisions and responsibilities may be left to the child’s parents or mentors, but on the question of magical talent the clan’s needs must come first.
Peasant births are also frequently attended by shugenja, or at least by monks. Though the heimin represent a lower level of the Celestial Order, the birth of a child is no less joyous and thus Phoenix shugenja see it as their duty to celebrate the event.
The Phoenix believe gempukku should test the soul as well as the mind. The ceremonies surrounding the graduation of a new samurai are steeped in ritual, and involve difficult trials to ascertain the candidates’ strength of will and test their knowledge. Each Phoenix family has a unique approach to this, and the rivalries and tensions between the families tend to accentuate these differences over time.
Isawa youths perform complex rituals that tax the body and mind to their limits. Prospective graduates from the Isawa school must memorize the contents of one spell while casting another, even as another group of shugenja (usually those who passed their gempukku the previous year) attempt to distract them with their magic—albeit not with any truly harmful spells. The display of magic and friendly competition always adds an air of excitement, and Isawa gempukku ceremonies attract crowds of interested onlookers.
Shiba gempukku are reserved, even by the standards of most samurai families. There is no display of martial prowess—the Shiba are presumed to have learned that in the dojo. Instead, the students are asked to describe how they intend to protect the Phoenix Clan. These speeches are as carefully thought out as a samurai’s death poem. Shiba samurai often quote the gempukku speeches of famous Shiba of the past as reminders of the value of duty and honor. If the Shiba is intended to be yojimbo to a specifi c shugenja, that shugenja attends the ceremony and may comment on the speech.
The Asako’s secretive gempukku ceremonies are typically attended only by other Asako, and they make a point of never inviting the Isawa. While the gempukku of Asako shugenja resemble those of their Isawa brethren, the family’s secretive order of henshin mystics hold ceremonies that are a strange mix of philosophical debate and unarmed combat. At least one senior henshin master attends, monitoring those present to determine which, if any, show particular promise for the Path of Man.
Courtship traditions are steeped in history, so the traditionalist Phoenix are strict about all of their aspects. Phoenix weddings are solemn and ritualized, though they are still usually enjoyable social events. They always take place in a shrine to the Fortunes. A shugenja advises the family on all marriages, and arranges every aspect of the union. When the marriage is celebrated this same shugenja generally performs the prayers as well. It was the Phoenix who originated the custom of wearing red and white clothing during the wedding ceremony, white symbolizing the bride’s “death” to her old family and red showing her rebirth into her new family.
Potential matches are arranged for most Phoenix children by the age of eight, but if the betrothal has not been confirmed by the time of their gempukku they are allowed greater flexibility in choosing their own spouse. If an arranged Phoenix marriage falls through for any reason, the abandoned party receives appropriate compensation from the other partner’s family. The Isawa have an extraordinarily complex system for determining the value of marriages, factoring in both parties’ ages, social station, and position in the clan. This ensures there is no ill will between the families involved and gives the honorable party, whether Phoenix or not, something for the trouble they will have to go through in arranging another marriage.
Heimin marriages are usually simple affairs, but in Phoenix lands a particularly valued heimin servant can expect a ceremony almost as grand as a samurai wedding. For the samurai lord, a fine wedding demonstrates his gratitude to those who serve him and celebrates the future birth of those who will continue to serve.
While samurai are never supposed to fear death, many view it as an ending to that life’s story. The Phoenix have a unique view of death. All change breeds growth, and death is the ultimate change. Like the celestial firebird they take as their symbol, the Phoenix believe death is a necessary part of life, leading to inevitable rebirth. As the clan with the largest number of shugenja, the Phoenix are familiar with death rites and their place in them, and their shugenja often officiate at funerals for samurai of other clans. Whether the ceremony they direct involves a communal grave or just one soul, Phoenix shugenja perform a quiet ritual to honor the accomplishments of those who have gained respite from mortal life.
Unlike many shugenja, the Phoenix recognize even those who have died dishonorably, commending them to the afterlife in the hope that they will find better fortune in the next life. For this reason, the families of dishonored samurai sometimes travel to the Phoenix lands in search of a shugenja to grant peace to their unfortunate kinsman’s soul.
Property and title among the Phoenix are handed down to the next of kin, or allocated by the Elemental Council’s retainers if the deceased had no living family. Any land or possessions the Elemental Council claims are eventually redistributed to other clan members.