Wonderfully written, anon. I'm glad he has a kind saniwa to welcome him back.
I also thought the original silhouette was a braid and was thrown off when it wasn't. The original headwear looked a little sillier to me than the braid.
I wasn't opposed to bushi being decked out in gold and accessories because of his work of art status, but I do agree that this version is much more modest and subtle and fitting for his personality. You get a mix of the Yamabushi you've known for 5 years with a bit of his background sprinkled in.
I think the color of his sash looks better in the new version, even though there's less contrast, and the blue ribbons are cute.