Noto, an unexplored corner of Japan
by Percival Lowell
From you, my dear Basil, the confidant of my hopes toward Noto, I know I may look for sympathy now that my advances have met with such happy issue, however incomplete be my account. And so I ask you to be my best man in the matter before the world.
Ever yours, Percival Lowell.
Basil Hall Chamberlain, Esq.
I. An Unknown. II. Off and On. III. The Usui Pass. IV. Zenkoji. V. No. VI. On a New Cornice Road. VII. Oya Shiradzu, Ko Shiradzu. VIII. Across the Etchiu Delta. IX. Over the Arayama Pass. X. An Inland Sea. XI. Anamidzu. XII. At Sea Again. XIII. On the Noto Highway. XIV. The Harinoki Toge. XV. Toward the Pass. XVI. Riuzanjita. XVII. Over the Snow. XVIII. A Genial Inkyo. XIX. Our Passport and the Basha. XX. Down the Tenriugawa. XXI. To the Sea.
NOTO: an unexplored corner of Japan.
I. An Unknown.
The fancy took me to go to Noto.
It seemed a strange fancy to my friends.
Yet I make no apology for it; for it was a case of love at first sight.
Scanning, one evening, in Tokyo, the map of Japan, in a vague, itinerary way, with the look one first gives to the crowd of faces in a ballroom, my eye was caught by the pose of a province that stood out in graphic mystery from the western coast. It made a striking figure there, with its deep-bosomed bays and its bold headlands. Its name, it appeared, was Noto; and the name too pleased me. I liked its vowel color; I liked its consonant form, the liquid n and the decisive t. Whimsically, if you please, it suggested both womanliness and will. The more I looked the more I longed, until the desire carried me not simply off my feet, but on to them.
Nobody seemed to know much about my inamorata. Indeed, those I asked asked me, in their own want of information, why I went, and what there was to see: of which questions, the second itself did for answer to the first. Why not in fact have set my heart on going to Noto just because it was not known! Not that it is well to believe all the unseen to be much worth the seeing, but that I had an itching sole to tread what others had not already effacingly betrodden.
Privately, I was delighted with the general lack of knowledge on the subject. It served admirably to put me in conceit with my choice; although I will own I was rather at a loss to account for it, and I can only explain it now by the fact that the place was so out of the way, and not very unlike others, after all. Being thus candid, I ought perhaps to go a step farther and renounce the name. But, on the two great principles that the pursuit is itself the prize and that the means justifies the end, I prefer to keep it. For there was much of interest to me by the way; and I cling to the name out of a kind of loyalty to my own fancy. I like to think that Xenophon felt as much in his Anabasis, though but one book out of seven deals with the going up, the other six being occupied with the getting safely away again. It is not told that Xenophon regretted his adventure. Certainly I am not sorry I was wedded to my idea.
To most of my acquaintance Noto was scarcely so much as a name, and its local habitation was purely cartographic. I found but one man who had been there, and he had dropped down upon it, by way of harbor, from a boat. Some sympathetic souls, however, went so far toward it as to ask where it was.
To the westward of Tokyo, so far west that the setting sun no longer seems to lose itself among the mountains, but plunges for good and all straight into the shining Nirvana of the sea, a strangely shaped promontory makes out from the land. It is the province of Noto, standing alone in peninsular isolation.
It was partly in this position that the fascination lay. Withdrawn from its fellows, with its back to the land, it faced the glory of the western sky, as if in virginal vision gazing out upon the deep. Doubly withdrawn is it, for that the coast from which it stands apart is itself almost unvisited by Europeans,—an out-of-the-world state, in marked contrast to the shore bordering the Pacific, which is now a curbstone on the great waterway round the earth, and incidentally makes a happy parenthesis of promenade for the hasty globe-trotter. The form, too, of the peninsula came in for a share in its attraction. Its coast line was so coquettishly irregular. If it turned its back on the land, it stretched its hands out to the sea, only to withdraw them again the next moment,—a double invitation. Indeed, there is no happier linking of land to water. The navigator in such parts becomes himself a delightfully amphibious creature, at home in both elements. Should he tire of the one, he can always take to the other. Besides, such features in a coast suggest a certain clean-cut character of profile,—a promise, in Japan at least, rarely unkept.
To reach this topographically charming province, the main island had to be crossed at its widest, and, owing to lofty mountain chains, much tacking to be done to boot. Atmospherically the distance is even greater than afoot. Indeed, the change in climate is like a change in zone; for the trend of the main island at this point, being nearly east and west, gives to the one coast a southerly exposure, and to the other a northerly one, while the highest wall of peaks in Japan, the Hida-Shinshiu range, shuts off most meteorological communication. Long after Tokyo is basking in spring, the west coast still lies buried in deep drifts of snow.
It was my misfortune to go to this out-of-the-way spot alone. I was duly sensible of my commiserable state at times. Indeed, in those strange flashes of dual consciousness when a man sees his own condition as if it were another's, I pitied myself right heartily; for I hold that travel is like life in this, at least, that a congenial companion divides the troubles and doubles the joys. To please one's self is so much harder than to be pleased by another; and when it comes to doubt and difficulty, there are drawbacks to being one's own guide, philosopher, and friend. The treatment is too homoeopathic by half.
An excuse for a companion existed in the person of my Japanese boy, or cook. He had been boy to me years before; and on this return of his former master to the land of the enlightened, he had come back to his allegiance, promoting himself to the post of cook. During the journey he acted in both capacities indifferently,—in one sense, not in the other. In addition to being capable he was willing and of great endurance. Besides, he was passionately fond of travel.
He knew no more about Noto than I, and at times, on the road, he could not make out what the country folk said, for the difference in dialect; which lack of special qualification much increased his charm as a fellow-traveler. He neither spoke nor understood English, of course, and surprised me, after surprising himself, on the last day but one of our trip, by coming out with the words "all right." His surname, appropriately enough, meant mountain-rice-field, and his last name —which we should call his first name—was Yejiro, or lucky-younger-son. Besides cooking excellently well, he made paper plum blossoms beautifully, and once constructed a string telephone out of his own head. I mention these samples of accomplishment to show that he was no mere dabbler in pots and pans.
In addition to his various culinary contrivances we took a large and motley stock of canned food, some of his own home-made bread, and a bottle of whiskey. We laid in but a small supply of beer; not that I purposed to forego that agreeable beverage, but because, in this Europeanized age, it can be got in all the larger towns. Indeed, the beer brewed in Yokohama to-day ranks with the best in the world. It is in great demand in Tokyo, while its imported, or professedly imported, rivals have freely percolated into the interior, so popular with the upper and upper middle classes have malt liquors become. Nowadays, when a Japanese thinks to go in for Capuan dissipation regardless of expense, he treats himself to a bottle of beer.
These larder-like details are not meant to imply that I made a god of my palate, but that otherwise my digestion would have played the devil with me. In Japan, to attempt to live off the country in the country is a piece of amateur acting the average European bitterly regrets after the play, if not during its performance. We are not inwardly contrived to thrive solely on rice and pickles.
It is best, too, for a journey into the interior, to take with you your own bedding; sheets, that is, and blankets. The bed itself Yejiro easily improvised out of innumerable futons, as the quilts used at night by the Japanese are called. A single one is enough for a native, but Yejiro, with praiseworthy zeal, made a practice of asking for half-a-dozen, which he piled one upon the other in the middle of the room. Each had a perceptible thickness and a rounded loglike edge; and when the time came for turning in on top of the lot, I was always reminded of the latter end of a Grecian hero, the structure looked so like a funeral pyre. When to the above indispensables were added clothes, camera, dry plates, books, and sundries, it made a collection of household gods quite appalling to consider on the march. I had no idea I owned half so much in the world from which it would pain me to be parted. As my property lay spread out for packing, I stared at it aghast.
To transport all these belongings, native ingenuity suggested a thing called a yanagigori; several of them, in fact. Now the construction of a kori is elementally ingenious. It consists simply of two wicker baskets, of the same shape, but of slightly different size, fitting into each other upside down. The two are then tied together with cord. The beauty of the idea lies in its extension; for in proportion as the two covers are pulled out or pushed home will the pair hold from a maximum capacity of both to a minimum capacity of one. It is possible even to start with more than a maximum, if the contents be such as are not given to falling out by the way. The contrivance is simply invaluable when it comes to transporting food; for then, as you eat your way down, the obliging covers shrink to meet the vacuum. If more than one kori be necessary, an easy step in devices leads to a series of graded sizes. Then all your baskets eventually collapse into one.
The last but most important article of all was my passport, which carefully described my proposed route, and which Yejiro at once took charge of and carried about with him for immediate service; for a wise paternal government insisted upon knowing my intentions before permitting me to visit the object of my choice.
Off and On.
It was on the day but one before the festival of the fifth moon that we set out, or, in English, the third of May; and those emblems of good luck, the festival fishes, were already swimming in the air above the house eaves, as we scurried through the streets in jinrikisha toward the Uyeno railway station. We had been a little behindhand in starting, but by extra exertions on the part of the runners we succeeded in reaching the station just in time to be shut out by the gatekeeper. Time having been the one thing worthless in old Japan, it was truly sarcastic of fate that we should reach our first goal too late. As if to point chagrin, the train still stood in waiting. Remonstrances with the wicket man about the imported five-minute regulation, or whatever it was, proved of no avail. Not one jot or tittle of the rule would he yield, which perhaps was natural, inasmuch as, however we might have managed alone, our companions the baskets never could have boarded the train without offical help. The intrinsic merits of the baggage failed, alas, to affect its mobility. Then the train slowly drew out.
To be stopped on the road is the common lot of travelers; but to be stopped before one has fairly started is nothing less than to be mocked at. It is best, however, to take such gibes in good part. Viewing the situation in this light, the ludicrousness of the disconnection struck me so forcibly as very nearly to console me for my loss, which was not trifling, since the next train did not leave for above three hours; too late to push on beyond Takasaki that night, a thing I had most firmly purposed to do. Here I was, the miserable victim of a punctuality my own people had foisted on a land only too happy without it! There was poetic justice in the situation, after all. Besides, the course of one's true love should not run too smooth. Judicious difficulty whets desire.
There was nothing to turn to on the spot, and I was ashamed to go home. Then I opportunely remembered something.
I have always thought we limited our pharmacopoeia. We prescribe pills enough for the body, while we leave the mind to look after itself. Why should not the spirit also have its draughts and mixtures, properly labeled and dispensed! For example, angling appears to be a strong mental opiate. I have seen otherwise normal people stupefied beyond expression when at the butt of a rod and line. Happening to recall this effect, I instantly prescribed for my perturbed state of mind a good dose of fishing, to be taken as suited the day. So I betook me down a by-street, where the aerial carp promised the thickest, and, selecting a house well placed for a view, asked permission to mount upon the roof. It chanced to be a cast-off clothing shop, along whose front some fine, if aged, garments were hung to catch the public eye. The camera and I were inducted up the ascent by the owner, while my boots, of course, waited dog-like in the porch below.
The city made a spectacle from above. On all sides superb paper carp floated to the breeze, tugging at the strings that held them to the poles quite after the manner of the real fish. One felt as though, by accident, he had stepped into some mammoth globe of goldfish. The whole sky was alive with them. Eighty square miles of finny folk inside the city, and an untold company without. The counterfeit presentments were from five to ten feet long, and painted to mimic life. The breeze entered at the mouth and passed out somewhat less freely at the tail, thus keeping them well bellied and constantly in motion. The way they rose and dove and turned and wriggled was worthy of free will. Indeed, they had every look of spontaneity, and lacked only the thing itself to turn the sky into an ocean, and Tokyo into a sea bottom with a rockery of roof. Each fish commemorates the birth of a boy during the year. It would thus be possible to take a census of the increase of the male population yearly, at the trifling cost of scaling a housetop,—a set of statistics not without an eventual value.
While we were strolling back, Yejiro and I, we came, in the way, upon another species of fish. The bait, which was well designed to captivate, bade for the moment to exceed even the angler's anticipations. It was a sort of un-Christmas tree with fishing-pole branches, from which dangled articulated figures, bodied like men, but with heads of foxes, tortoises, and other less likelybeasts, —bewitching objects in impossible evolution to a bald-pated urchin who stood gazing at it with all his soul. The peddler sat with his eyes riveted on the boy, visions of a possible catch chasing themselves through his brain. I watched him, while the crowd behind stared at me. We made quite a tail of curiosity. The opiate was having its effect; I began to feel soporifically calm. Then I went up to the restaurant in the park and had lunch as quietly as possible, in fear of friendly discovery.
Sufficiently punctual passengers being now permitted to board the next train, I ensconced myself in a kind of parlor compartment, which, fortunately, I continued to have all to myself, and was soon being rolled westward across the great Musashi plain, ruminating. My chief quarrel with railway rules is, I am inclined to think, that they preach to the public what they fail to practice themselves. After having denied me a paltry five minutes' grace at the station, the officials proceeded to lose half an hour on the road in a most exasperating manner. Of course the delay was quite exceptional. Such a thing had never happened before, and would not happen again—till the next time. But the phenomenal character of the occurrence failed to console me, as it should no doubt have done. My delay, too, was exceptional—on this line. Nor was I properly mollified by repeated offers of hard-boiled eggs, cakes, and oranges, which certain enterprising peddlers hawked up and down the platforms, when we stopped, to a rhythmic chant of their own invention.
The only consolation lay in the memory of what travel over the Musashi plain used to be before trains hurried one, or otherwise, into the heart of the land. In those days the journey was done in jinrikisha, and a question of days, not hours, it was in the doing, —two days' worth of baby carriage, of which the tediousness lay neither in the vehicles nor in the way, but in the amount of both. Or, if one put comparative speed above comparative comfort, he rose before the lark, to be tortured through a summer's day in a basha, or horse vehicle, suitable only for disembodied spirits. My joints ached again at the thought. Clearly, to grumble now was to sin against proportion.
Besides, the weather was perfect: argosies of fleecy cloud sailing slowly across a deep blue sky; a broad plain in all its spring freshness of color, picked out here and there with fruit trees smothered in blossom, and bearing on its bosom the passing shadows of the clouds above; in the distance the gradually growing forms of the mountains, each at first starting into life only as a faint wash of color, barely to be parted from the sky itself, pricking up from out the horizon of field. Then, slowly, timed to our advance, the tint gathered substance, grew into contrasts that, deepening minute by minute, resolved into detail, until at last the whole stood revealed in all its majesty, foothill, shoulder, peak, one grand chromatic rise from green to blue.
One after the other the points came out thus along the southern sky: first the summits behind Ome; then Bukosan, like some sentinel, half-way up the plain's long side; and then range beyond range stretching toward the west. Behind Bukosan peeped Cloud's Rest, the very same outline in fainter tint, so like the double reflection from a pane of glass that I had to shift to an open window to make sure it was no illusion. Then the Nikko group began to show on the right, and the Haruna mass took form in front; and as they rose higher and the sunbeams slanted more, gilding the motes in the heavy afternoon air, they rimmed the plain in front into one great bowl of fairy eau de vie de Dantzic. Slowly above them the sun dipped to his setting, straight ahead, burnishing our path as we pursued in two long lines of flashing rail into the west-northwest. Lower he sank, luring us on, and lower yet, and then suddenly disappeared beyond the barrier of peaks.
The train drew up, panting. It was Takasaki, now steeped in saffron afterglow. The guards passed along, calling out the name and unfastening the doors. Everybody got out and shuffled off on their clogs. The baskets, Yejiro, and I followed, after a little, through the gloaming.
It was not far to the inn. It was just far enough, at that hour, to put us in heart for a housing. Indeed, twilight is the time of times to arrive anywhere. Any spot, be it ever so homely, seems homelike then. The dusk has snatched from you the silent companionship of nature, to leave you poignantly alone. It is the hour when a man draws closer to the one he loves, and the hour when most he shrinks from himself, though he want another near. It is then the rays of the house lights wander abroad and appear to beckon the houseless in; and that must be, in truth, a sorry hostelry to seem such to him.
Even Takasaki bore a look of welcome alike to the foreign and the native stranger, which was certainly wonderful for Takasaki. The place used not to fancy foreigners, and its inns bandied the European traveler about like a bale of undesirable merchandise with the duties still due. But now, what a change! The innkeeper not only received us, but led the way at once to the best room,—a room in the second story of the fireproof storehouse at the back, which he hoped would be comfortable. Comfortable! The room actually proffered us a table and chairs. No one who has not, after a long day's tramp, sought in vain to rest his weary body propped up against a side beam in a Japanese inn can enter into the feeling a chair inspires, even long afterward, by recollection.
I cannot say I loved Takasaki in former days. Was it my reception or was it sentiment that made me see it all now through a mist of glamour? Unsuspected by us, that atmosphere of time tints everything. Few things but look lovelier seen down the vista of the years. Indeed, sentiment is a kind of religion; or is it religion that is a kind of sentiment? Both are so subtly busy canonizing the past, and crowning with aureoles very every-day things as well as very ordinary people. Not men alone take on a sanctity when they are no more.
The Usui Pass.
The first object to catch my eye, when the shoji were pushed apart, the next morning, was a string of the ubiquitous paper fish, dangling limp in the motionless May air from a pole in a neighboring yard; highly suggestive of having just been caught for breakfast. The sight would have been painfully prophetic but for the food we had brought with us; for, of all meals, a Japanese breakfast is the most cold, the most watery, and the most generally fishy in the world. As it was, breakfast consisted of pathetic copies of consecrated originals. It might have been excellent but for the canned milk.
No doubt there are persons who are fond of canned milk; but, for my part, I loathe it. The effect of the sweetish glue upon my inner man is singularly nauseating. I have even been driven to drink my matutinal coffee in all its after-dinner strength rather than adulterate it with the mixture. You have, it is true, the choice of using the stuff as a dubious paste, or of mixing it with water into a non-committal wash; and, whichever plan you adopt, you wish you had adopted the other. Why it need be so unpalatably cloying is not clear to my mind. They tell me the sugar is needed to preserve the milk. I never could make out that it preserved anything but the sugar. Simply to see the stuff ooze out of the hole in the can is deterrent. It is enough to make one think seriously at times of adding a good milch cow to his already ample trip encumberment, at the certain cost of delaying the march, and the not improbable chance of being taken for an escaped lunatic. Indeed, to the Japanese mind, to be seen solemnly preceding a caravan of cattle for purposes of diet would certainly suggest insanity. For cows in Japan are never milked. Dairy products, consequently, are not to be had on the road, and the man who fancies milk, butter, or cheese must take them with him.
It used to be the same in Tokyo, but in these latter days a dairy has been started at Hakone, which supplies fresh butter to such Tokyoites as like it. One of my friends, who had been many years from home, was much taken with the new privilege, and called my attention to it with some pride. The result was a colorless lardy substance that looked like poor oleomargarine (not like good oleomargarine, for that looks like butter), but which was held in high esteem, nevertheless. My friend, indeed, seriously maintained to me once that such was the usual color of fresh butter, and insisted that the yellow hue common elsewhere must be the result of dyes. He was so positive on the point that he almost persuaded me, until I had left him and reason returned. It took me some time to recover from the pathos of the thing: a man so long deprived of that simple luxury that he had quite forgotten how it looked, and a set of cows utterly incapable, from desuetude, of producing it properly.
After I had duly swallowed as much as I could of the doubtful dose supposed to be cafe au lait, the cans were packed up again, and we issued from the inn to walk a stone's throw to the train.
Takasaki stands well toward the upper end of the plain, just below where the main body of it thrusts its arms out into the hills. Up one of these we were soon wending. Every minute the peaks came nearer, frowning at us from their crumbling volcanic crags. At last they closed in completely, standing round about in threatening pinnacles, and barring the way in front. At this, the train, contrary to the usual practice of trains in such seemingly impassable places, timidly drew up.
In truth, the railway comes to an end at the foot of the Usui toge (toge, meaning "pass"), after having wandered up, with more zeal than discretion, into a holeless pocket. Such untimely end was far from the original intention; for the line was meant for a through line along the Nakasendo from Tokyo to Kioto, and great things were expected of it. But the engineering difficulties at this point, and still more at the Wada toge, a little farther on, proving too great, the project was abandoned, and the through line built along the Tokaido instead. The idea, however, had got too much headway to be stayed. So it simply jumped the Usui toge, rolled down the Shinano valley, climbed another divide, and came out, at last, on the sea of Japan.
The hiatus caused by the Usui pass is got over by a horse railroad! Somehow, the mere idea seemed comic. A horse railroad in the heart of Japan over a pass a mile high! To have suddenly come upon the entire Comedie Francaise giving performances in a teahouse at the top could hardly have been more surprising. The humor of the thing was not a whit lessened by its looks.
To begin with, the cars were fairly natural. This was a masterly stroke in caricature, since it furnished the necessary foil to all that followed. They were not, to my eye, of any known species, but, with the exception of being evidently used to hard lines, they looked enough like trams to pass as such. Inside sat, in all seriousness, a wonderful cageful of Japanese. To say that they were not to the horse-car born conveys but a feeble notion of their unnaturalness. They were propped, rather than seated, bolt upright, with a decorum which would have done more than credit to a funeral. They did not smile; they did not even stir, except to screw their heads round to stare at me. They were dummies pure and simple, and may pass for the second item in the properties.
The real personnel began with the horses. These were very sorry-looking animals, but tough enough admirably to pull through the performance. Managing them with some difficulty stood the driver on the front platform, arrayed in a bottle-green livery, with a stiff military cap which gave him the combined look of a German officer and of a musician from a street band. His energy was spent in making about three times as much work for himself as was needed. On the tail of the car rode the guard, also notably appareled, whose importance outdid even his uniform. He had the advantage of the driver in the matter of a second-class fish-horn, upon which he tooted vigorously whenever he thought of it; and he was not a forgetful man.
Comedie Francaise, indeed! Why, here it all was in Japanese farce! From the passivity of the passengers to the pantomime of the driver and guard, it could hardly have been done better; and the actors all kept their countenances, too, in such a surprising manner. A captious critic might have suggested that they looked a thought too much at the audience; but, on the whole, I think that rather added to the effect. At all events, they were excellently good, especially the guard, whose consequential airs could not have been happier if they had been studied for years.
There was no end of red tape about the company. Though the cars were some time in starting, so that I got well ahead of them, they could not admit me on the road, when my baggage kuruma turned out to be too slow, because I had not bought a ticket at the office. So I was obliged to continue to tramp afoot, solacing myself with short cuts, by which I gained on them, to my satisfaction, and by which I gained still more on my own baggage, to my disgust, in that I ceased to be near enough to hasten it.
I had to wait for the latter at the parting of the ways; for the tram had a brand-new serpentine track laid out for it, while the old trail at this point struck up to the right, coming out eventually at a shrine that crowned the summit of the pass. Horse-railroads not being as new to me as to the Japanese, I piously chose the narrow way leading to the temple, to the lingering regret of the baggage trundlers, who turned sorry eyes down upon the easier secular road at every bend in our own.
A Japanese pass has one feature which is invariable: it is always longer than you think it is going to be. I can, of my own experience, recall but two exceptions to this distressing family likeness, both of which were occasions of company which no doubt forbade proper appreciation of their length, and vitiates them as scientific observations. When toiling up a toge I have been tempted to impute acute ascentomania to the Japanese mind, but sober second thought has attributed this inference to an overheated imagination. It seems necessary, therefore, to lay the blame on the land, which, like some people, is deceptive from very excess of uprightness. There is so much more soil than can possibly be got in by simple directness of purpose, or even by one, more or less respectable, slope.
It was cold enough at the summit to cool anything, imaginary or otherwise. Even devotion shivered, as, in duty bound, it admired the venerable temple and its yet more venerable tree. The roofs of the chalets stood weighted with rocks to keep them there, and the tree, raised aloft on its stone-girded parapet, stretched bare branches imploringly toward the sky. So much for being a mile or so nearer heaven, while still of the earth and earthy.
Half-way down the descent, Asamayama came out from behind the brow of a hill, sending his whiffs of smoke dreamily into the air; and a little lower still, beyond a projecting spur on the opposite side, the train appeared, waiting in the plain, with its engine puffing a sort of antiphonal response. The station stood at the foot of the tramway, which tumbled to it after the manner of a cascade over what looked to be a much lower pass, thus apparently supporting the theory of "supererogatory climb." The baggage passed on, and Yejiro and I followed leisurely, admiring the view.
Either the old trail failed to connect with the railway terminus, which I suspect, or else we missed the path, for we had to supply a link ourselves. This resulted in a woefully bad cut across a something between a moor and a bog, supposed to be drained by ditches, most of which lay at right angles to our course. We were not much helped, half-way over, by a kindly intentioned porter, who dawned upon us suddenly in the distance, rushing excitedly out from behind the platform, gesticulating in a startling way and shouting that time was up. We made what sorry speed was possible under the circumstances, getting very hot from exertion, and hotter still from anxiety, and then waited impatiently ten good minutes in our seats in the railway carriage for the train to start. I forget whether I tipped that well-meaning but misguided man.
The tram contingent had already arrived,—had in fact finished feeding at the many mushroom teahouses gathered about the station,— and were now busy finding themselves seats. Their bustle was most pleasing to witness, till suddenly I discovered that there were no first-class carriages; that it was my seat, so to speak, for which they were scrambling. The choice, it appeared, began with second-class coaches, doomed therefore to be doubly popular. Second-class accommodation, by no means merely nominal, was evidently the height of luxury to the patrons of the country half of this disjointed line, which starts so seductively from Tokyo. Greater comfort is strictly confined to the more metropolitan portion.
The second-class coaches had of course the merit of being cheaper, but this was more than offset by the fact that in place of panes of glass their windows had slats of wood with white cotton stretched over them,—an ingenious contrivance for shutting out the view and a good bit of the light, both of which are pleasing, and for letting in the cold, which is not.
"If you go with the crowd, you will be taken care of," as a shrewd financier of my acquaintance used to say about stocks. This occurred to me by way of consolation, as the guard locked us into the carriage, in the approved paternal government style. Fortunately the locking-in was more apparent than real, for it consisted solely in the turning of a bar, which it was quite possible to unturn, as all travelers in railway coaches are aware, by dropping the window into its oubliette and stretching the arm well down outside,—a trick of which I did not scruple to avail myself. My fellow-passengers the Japanese were far too decorous to attempt anything of the kind, which compelled me to do so surreptitiously, like one who committeth a crime.
These fellow-passengers fully made up for the room they took by their value as scientific specimens. I would willingly have chloroformed them all, and presented them on pins to some sartorial museum; for each typified a stage in a certain unique process of evolution, at present the Japanese craze. They were just so many samples of unnatural development in dress, from the native Japanese to the imitated European. The costume usually began with a pot-hat and ended in extreme cases with congress boots. But each man exhibited a various phase of it according to his self-emancipation from former etiquette. Sometimes a most disreputable Derby, painfully reminiscent of better bygone days, found itself in company with a refined kimono and a spotless cloven sock. Sometimes the metamorphosis embraced the body, and even extended down the legs, but had not yet attacked the feet, in its creeping paralysis of imitation. In another corner, a collarless, cravatless semiflannel shirt had taken the place of the under tunic, to the worse than loss of looks of its wearer. Opposite this type sat the supreme variety which evidently prided itself upon its height of fashion. In him the change had gone so far as to recall the East End rough all over, an illusion dispelled only by the innocence of his face.
While still busy pigeonholing my specimens, I chanced to look through the open window, and suddenly saw pass by, as in the shifting background of some scenic play, the lichenveiled stone walls and lotus-mantled moats of the old feudal castle of Uyeda. Poor, neglected, despised bit of days gone by!—days that are but yesterdays, aeons since as measured here. Already it was disappearing down the long perspective of the past; and yet only twenty years before it had stood in all the pride and glory of the Middle Ages. Then it had been
A daimyo's castle, wont of old to wield Across the checkerboard of paddyfield A rook-like power from its vantage square On pawns of hamlets; now a ruin, there, Its triple battlements gaze grimly down Upon a new-begotten bustling town, Only to see self-mirrored in their moat An ivied image where the lotus float.
Some subtle sense of fitness within me was touched as it might have been a nerve; and instantly the motley crew inside the car became not merely comic, but shocking. It seemed unseemly, this shuffling off the stage of the tragic old by the farce-like new. However little one may mourn the dead, something forbids a harlequinade over their graves. The very principle of cosmic continuity has a decency about it. Nature holds with one hand to the past even as she grasps at the future with the other. Some religions consecrate by the laying on of hands; Nature never withdraws her touch.
We were now come more than half-way from sea to sea, and we were still in the thick of Europeanization. So far we had traveled in the track of the comic. For if Japan seems odd for what it is, it seems odder for what it is no longer.
One of the things which imitation of Western ways is annihilating is distance. Japan, like the rest of the world, is shrinking. This was strikingly brought home that afternoon. A few short hours of shifting panorama, a varying foreground of valley that narrowed or widened like the flow of the stream that had made it, peaks that opened and shut on one another like the changing flies in some spectacular play, and we had compassed two days' worth of old-time travel when a man made every foot of ground his own, and were drawing near Zenkoji.
I was glad to be there; hardly as glad to be there so soon. There are lands made to be skimmed, tame samenesses of plain or weary wastes of desert, where even the iron horse gallops too slow. Japan is not one of them. A land which Nature herself has already crumpled into its smallest compass, and then covered with vegetation rich as velvet, is no land to hurry over. One may well linger where each mile builds the scenery afresh. And in this world, whose civilization grows at the expense of the picturesque, it is something to see a culture that knows how least to mar.
Upon this mood of unsatisfied satisfaction my night fell, and shortly after the train rolled into the Zenkoji station, amid a darkness deepened by falling rain. The passengers bundled out. The station looked cheerless enough. But from across the open space in front shone a galaxy of light. A crowd of tea-houses posted on the farther side had garlanded themselves all over with lanterns, each trying to outvie its neighbor in apparent hospitality. The display was perceptibly of pecuniary intent; but still it was grateful. To be thought worth catching partakes, after all, of the nature of a compliment. What was not so gratifying was the embarrassment of choice that followed; for each of these gayly beckoning caravansaries proved to be a catch-pilgrim for its inn up-town. Being on a hill, Zenkoji is not by way of easy approach by train; and the pilgrims to it are legion. In order, therefore, to anticipate the patronage of unworthy rivals, each inn has felt obliged to be personally represented on the spot.
The one for which mine host of Takasaki had, with his blessing, made me a note turned out so poorly prefaced that I hesitated. The extreme zeal on the part of its proprietor to book me made me still more doubtful. So, sending Yejiro off to scout, I walked to and fro, waiting. I did not dare sit down on the sill of any of the booths, for fear of committing myself.
While he was still away searching vainly for the proper inn, the lights were suddenly all put out. At the same fatal moment the jinrikisha, of which a minute before there had seemed to be plenty, all mysteriously vanished. By one fell stroke there was no longer either end in sight nor visible means of reaching it.
"In the street of by and by Stands the hostelry of never,"
as a rondel of Henley's hath it; but not every one has the chance to see the Spanish proverb so literally fulfilled. There we were—nowhere. I think I never suffered a bitterer change of mood in my life.
At last, after some painful groping in the dark, and repeated resolves to proceed on foot to the town and summon help, I chanced to stumble upon a stray kuruma, which had incautiously returned, under cover of the darkness, to the scene of its earlier exploits. I secured it on the spot, and by it was trundled across a bit of the plain and up the long hill crowned by the town, to the pleasing jingle of a chime of rings hung somewhere out of sight beneath the body of the vehicle. When the trundler asked where to drop me, I gave at a venture the name that sounded the best, only to be sure of having guessed awry when he drew up before the inn it designated. The existence of a better was legible on the face of it. We pushed on.
Happily the hostelries were mostly in one quarter, the better to keep an eye on one another; for in the course of the next ten minutes I suppose we visited nearly every inn in the place. The choice was not a whit furthered by the change from the outposts to the originals. At last, however, I got so far in decision as to pull off my boots, —an act elsewhere as well, I believe, considered an acquiescence in fate,—and suffered myself to be led through the house, along the indoor piazza of polished board exceeding slippery, up several breakneck, ladder-like stairways even more polished and frictionless, round some corners dark as a dim andon (a feeble tallow candle blinded by a paper box), placed so as not to light the turn, could make them, until finally we emerged on the third story, a height that itself spoke for the superiority of the inn, and I was ushered into what my bewildered fancy instantly pictured a mediaeval banqueting hall. It conjured up the idea on what I must own to have been insufficient grounds, namely, a plain deal table and a set of questionably made, though rather gaudily upholstered chairs. But chairs, in a land whose people have from time immemorial found their own feet quite good enough to sit on, were so unexpected a luxury, even after our Takasaki experience, that they may be pardoned for suggesting any flight of fancy.
The same might formerly have been said of the illumination next introduced. Now, however, common kerosene lamps are no longer so much of a sight even in Japan. Indeed, I had the assurance to ask for a shade to go with the one they set on the table in all the glaring nudity of a plain chimney. This there was some difficulty in finding, the search resulting in a green paper visor much too small, that sat on askew just far enough not to hide the light. The Japanese called it a hat, without the least intention of humor.
By the light thus given the room stood revealed, an eyrie, encased on all sides except the one of approach by shoji only. Into these had been let a belt of glass eighteen inches wide all the way round the room, at the height at which a person sitting on the mats could see out. It is much the fashion now thus to graft a Western window upon a Far-Eastern wall. The idea is ingenious and economical, and has but two drawbacks,—that you feel excessively indoors if you stand up, and strangely out-of-doors if you sit down.
I pushed the panels apart, and stepped out upon the narrow balcony. Below me lay the street, the lanterns of the passers-by flitting like fireflies through the dark; and from it stole up to me the hum of pleasure life, a perfume of sound, strangely distinct in the still night air.
Accredited pilgrim though one be not, to pass by so famous a shrine as Zenkoji without the tribute of a thought were to be more or less than human, even though one have paid his devoirs before. Sought every year by thousands from all parts of Japan, it serves but to make the pilgrimage seem finer that the bourne itself should not be fine. Large and curious architecturally for its roof, the temple is otherwise a very ordinary structure, more than ordinarily besoiled. There is nothing rich about it; not much that is imposing. Yet in spite of poverty and dirt it speaks with a certain grandeur to the heart. True shrine, whose odor of sanctity is as widespread as the breeze that wanders through its open portals, and which comes so near the wants of the world that the very pigeons flutter in to homes among its rafters. The air-beats of their wings heighten the hush they would seem to break, and only enhance the sacred quiet of the nave,—a stillness such that the coppers of the faithful fall with exaggerated ring through the lattice of the almsbox, while the swiftly mumbled prayers of the givers rise in all simplicity straight to heaven.
In and about the courtyard live the sacred doves, and he who will may have their company for the spreading of a feast of crumbs. And the rush of their wings, as they descend to him from the sky, seems like drawing some strange benediction down.
My quest still carrying me westward along the line of the new railway, I took the train again, and in the compartment of the carriage I found two other travelers. They were a typical Japanese couple in middle life, and in something above middle circumstances. He affected European clothes in part, while she still clung to the costume of her ancestors. Both were smoking,—she her little pipe, and he the fashionable cigarette. Their mutual relations were those of substance to shadow. She followed him inevitably, and he trod on her feelings regardless of them. She had been pretty when he took her to wife, and though worn and withered she was happy still. As for him, he was quite satisfied with her, as he would have been quite satisfied without her.
The roadbed soon left the Shinano plain, across which peered the opposite peaks, still hooded with snow, and wound up through a narrow valley, to emerge at last upon a broad plateau. Three mountains flanked the farther side in file, the last and highest of the three, Myokosan, an extinct volcano; indeed, hardly more than the ruins of one. Time has so changed its shape, and the snow whitens its head so reverently, it would be possible to pass it by without a suspicion of its wild youth. From the plateau it rose proudly in one long sweep from moor to shoulder, from shoulder to crag, from crag to snow, up into the leaden sky, high into its second mile of air. Subtly the curve carried fancy with it, and I found myself in mind slowly picking my way upward, threading an arete here and scaling a slope there, with all the feelings of a genuine climb. While I was still ascending in this insubstantial manner, clouds fell upon the summit from the sky, and from the summit tumbled down the ravines into the valley, and met me at Naoyetsu in a drizzling rain.
Naoyetsu is not an enlivening spot to be landed at in a stress of weather; hardly satisfactory, in fact, for the length of time needed to hire jinrikisha. It consisted originally of a string of fishermen's huts along the sea. To these the building of the railway has contributed a parallel row of reception booths, a hundred yards in-shore; and to which of the two files to award the palm for cheerlessness it would be hard to know. The huts are good of a kind which is poor, and the booths are poor of a kind which is good. To decide between such rivals is a matter of mood. For my part, I hasted to be gone in a jinrikisha, itself not an over-cheerful conveyance in a pour.
The rain shut out the distance, and the hood and oil-paper apron eclipsed the foreground. The loss was not great, to judge by what specimens of the view I caught at intervals. The landscape was a geometric pattern in paddyfields. These, as yet unplanted, were swimming in water, out of which stuck the stumps of last year's crop. It was a tearful sight. Fortunately the road soon rose superior to it, passed through a cutting, and came out unexpectedly above the sea,—a most homesick sea, veiled in rain-mist, itself a disheartening drab. The cutting which ushered us somewhat proudly upon this inhospitable outlook proved to be the beginning of a pass sixty miles long, between the Hida-Shinshiu mountains and the sea of Japan.
I was now to be rewarded for my venture in an unlooked-for way; for I found myself introduced here to a stretch of coast worth going many miles to see.
The provinces of Hida and Etchiu are cut off from the rest of Japan by sets of mountain ranges, impassable throughout almost their whole length. So bent on barring the way are the chains that, not content with doing so in mid-course, they all but shut it at their ocean end; for they fall in all their entirety plumb into the sea. Following one another for a distance of sixty miles, range after range takes thus its header into the deep. The only level spots are the deltas deposited by the streams between the parallels of peak. But these are far between. Most of the way the road belts the cliffs, now near their base, now cut into the precipice hundreds of feet above the tide. The road is one continuous observation point. Along it our jinrikisha bowled. In spite of the rain, the view had a grandeur that compensated for much discomfort. It was, moreover, amply diversified. Now we rushed out to the tip of some high cape, now we swung round into the curve of the next bay; now we wound slowly upward, now we slipped merrily down. The headlands were endless, and each gave us a seascape differing from the one we folded out of sight behind; and a fringe of foam, curving with the coast, stretched like a ribbon before us to mark the way.
We halted for the night at a fishing village called No: two lines of houses hugging the mountain side, and a single line of boats drawn up, stern on, upon the strand; the day and night domiciles of the amphibious strip of humanity, in domestic tiff, turning their backs to one another, a stone's throw apart. As our kuruma men knew the place, while we did not, we let them choose the inn. They pulled up at what caused me a shudder. I thought, if this was the best inn, what must the worst be like! However, I bowed my head to fate in the form of a rafter lintel, and passed in. A dim light, which came in part from a hole in the floor, and in part from an ineffective lamp, revealed a lofty, grotto-like interior. Over the hole hung a sort of witches' caldron, swung by a set of iron bars from the shadowy form of a soot-begrimed rafter. Around the kettle crouched a circle of gnomes.
Our entrance caused a stir, out of which one of the gnomes came forward, bowing to the ground. When he had lifted himself up enough to be seen, he turned out quite human. He instantly bustled to fetch another light, and started to lead the strangers across the usual slippery sill and up the nearly perpendicular stairs. Why I was not perpetually falling down these same stairways, or sliding gracefully or otherwise off the corridors in a heap, will always be a mystery to me. Yet, with the unimportant exception of sitting down occasionally to put on my boots, somewhat harder than I meant, I remember few such mishaps. It was not the surface that was unwilling; for the constant scuffle of stocking feet has given the passageways a polish mahogany might envy.
The man proved anything but inhuman, and very much mine host. How courteous he was, and in what a pleased mind with the world, even its whims of weather, his kind attentions put me! He really did so little, too. Beside numberless bows and profuse politeness, he simply laid a small and very thin quilt upon the mats for me to sit on, and put a feeble brazier by my side. So far as mere comfort went, the first act savored largely of supererogation, as the mats were already exquisitely clean, and the second of insufficiency, since the brazier served only to point the cold it was powerless to chase. But the manner of the doing so charmed the mind that it almost persuaded the grumbling body of content.
As mine host bowed himself out, a maid bowed herself in, with a tray of tea and sugar-plums, and a grace that beggared appreciation.
"His Augustness is well come," she said, as she sank on her knees and bowed her pretty head till it touched the mats; and the voice was only too human for heaven. Unconsciously it made the better part of a caress.
"Would his Augustness deign to take some tea? Truly he must be very tired;" and, pouring out a cup, she placed it beside me as it might have been some beautiful rite, and then withdrew, leaving me, beside the tea, the perfume of a presence, the sense that something exquisite had come and gone.
I sat there thinking of her in the abstract, and wondering how many maids outside Japan were dowried with like grace and the like voice. With such a one for cupbearer, I could have continued to sip tea, I thought, for the rest of my natural, or, alas, unnatural existence.
There I stayed, squatting on my feet on the mats, admiring the mimic volcano which in the orthodox artistic way the charcoal was arranged to represent, and trying my best to warm myself over the idea. But the idea proved almost as cold comfort as the brazier itself. The higher aesthetic part of me was in paradise, and the bodily half somewhere on the chill confines of outer space. The spot would no doubt have proved wholly heaven to that witty individual who was so anxious to exchange the necessities of life for a certainty of its luxuries. For here, according to our scheme of things, was everything one had no right to expect, and nothing that one had. My European belongings looked very gross littering the mats; and I seemed to myself a boor beside the unconscious breeding of those about me. Yet it was only a poor village inn, and its people were but peasants, after all.
I pondered over this as I dined in solitary state; and when I had mounted my funeral pyre for the night, I remember romancing about it as I fell asleep.
I was still a knight-errant, and the princess was saying all manner of charming things to me in her still more charming manner, when I became aware that it was the voice of the evening before wishing me good-morning. I opened my eyes to see a golden gleam flooding the still-shut shoji, and a diamond glitter stealing through the cracks that set the blood dancing in my veins. Then, with a startling clatter, my princess rolled the panels aside.
Windows are but half-way shifts at best. The true good-morning comes afield, and next to that is the thrill that greets the throwing your whole room wide to it. To let it trickle in at a casement is to wash in a dish. The true way is to take the sunshine with the shock of a plunge into the sea, and feel it glow and tingle all over you.
The rain had taken itself off in the night, and the air sparkled with freshness. The tiny garden court lay in cool, rich shadow, flecked here and there with spots of dazzle where a ray reflected found a pathway in, while the roofs above glistened with countless starpoints.
Nor was mine host less smiling than the day, though he had not overcharged me for my room. I was nothing to him, yet he made me feel half sorry to go. A small pittance, too, the tea money seemed, for all that had gone with it. We pay in this world with copper for things gold cannot buy. Humanities are so cheap—and so dear.
The whole household gathered in force on its outer sill to wish us good luck as we took the street, and threw sayonaras ("if it must be so") after us as we rolled away.
There is a touch of pathos in this parting acquiescence in fate. If it must be so, indeed! I wonder did mine host suspect that I did not all leave,—that a part of me, a sort of ghostly lodger, remained with him who had asked me so little for my stay? Probably in body I shall never stir him again from beside his fire, nor follow as he leads the way through the labyrinth of his house; but in spirit, at times, I still steal back, and I always find the same kind welcome awaiting me in the guest room in the ell, and the same bright smile of morning to gild the tiny garden court. The only things beyond the grasp of change are our own memories of what once was.
On a New Cornice Road.
The sunshine quickened us all, and our kuruma took the road like a flock of birds; for jinrikisha men in company run as wild geese fly, crisscross. It is an artistic habit, inculcated to court ladies in books on etiquette. To make the men travel either abreast or in Indian file, is simply impossible. After a moment's conformity, they invariably relapse into their own orderly disorder.
This morning they were in fine figure and bowled us along to some merry tune within; while the baby-carriages themselves jangled the bangles on their axles, making a pleasing sort of cry. The village folk turned in their steps to stare and smile as we sped past.
It was a strange-appearing street. On both sides of it in front of the houses ran an arcade, continuous but irregular, a contribution of building. Each house gave its mite in the shape of a covered portico, which fitted as well as could be expected to that of its next door neighbor. But as the houses were not of the same size, and the ground sloped, the roofs of the porticos varied in level. A similar terracing held good of the floors. The result was rather a federation than a strict union of interests. Indeed, the object in view was communal. For the arcades were snow galleries, I was told, to enable the inhabitants in winter to pass from one end of the village to the other, no inconsiderable distance. They visored both sides of the way, showing that then in these parts even a crossing of the street is a thing to be avoided. Indeed, by all report the drifts here in the depth of winter must be worth seeing. Even at this moment, May the 6th, there was still neve on some of the lowest foothills, and we passed more than one patch of dirt-grimed snow buttressing the highway bank. The bangles on the axles now began to have a meaning, a thing they had hitherto seemed to lack. With the snow arcades by way of introduction they spoke for themselves. Evidently they were first cousins of our sleighbells. Here, then, as cordially as with us man abhors an acoustic vacuum, and when Nature has put her icy bell-glass over the noises of the field, he must needs invent some jingle to wile his ears withal.
Once past the houses we came upon a strip of paddyfields that bordered the mountain slope to the very verge of the tide. Some of these stood in spots where the tilt of the land would have seemed to have precluded even the thought of such cultivation. For a paddyfield must be perfectly level, that it may be kept under water at certain seasons of the year. On a slope, therefore, a thing a paddyfield never hesitates to scale, they rise in terraces, skyward. Here the drop was so great that the terraces made bastions that towered proudly on the very knife-edge of decision between the seaweed and the cliffs. A runnel tamed to a bamboo duct did them Ganymede service. For a paddyfield is perpetually thirsty.
It was the season of repairing of dykes and ditches in rice chronology, a much more complicated annal than might be thought. This initial stage of it has a certain architectural interest. Every year before planting begins the dykes have all to be re-made strictly in place, for they serve for both dams and bounds to the elaborately partitioned fields. Adjacent mud is therefore carefully plastered over the remains of the old dyke, which, to the credit of the former builders, is no small fraction of it, and the work then finished off with a sculptor's care. An easier-going peasantry might often forego renewal. Indeed, I cannot but think the farmers take a natural delight in this exalted form of mud pies; they work away on already passable specimens with such a will. But who does quite outgrow his childish delights? And to make of the play of childhood the work of middle life, must be to foil the primal curse to the very letter. What more enchanting pastime than to wade all day in viscous mud, hearing your feet plash when you put them in, and suck as you draw them out; while the higher part of you is busied building a parapet of gluey soil, smoothing it down on the sides and top, and crowning your masterpiece with a row of sprigs along the crest? And then in the gloaming to trudge homeward, feeling that you have done a meritorious deed after all! When I come to my second childhood, I mean to turn paddyfield farmer myself.
Though the fields took to the slopes so kindly, they had a preference for plains. In the deltas, formed by the bigger streams, they expanded till they made chesswork of the whole. Laborers knee deep in the various squares did very well for pawns. The fields being still in their pre-natal stage, were not exactly handsome. There was too much of one universal brown. This was relieved only by the nurseries of young plants, small fields here and there just showing a delicate downy growth of green, delightful to the eye. They were not long sown. For each still lay cradled under its scarecrow, a pole planted in the centre of the rectangle with strings stretched to the four corners, and a bit of rag fluttering from the peak. The scarecrows are, no doubt, useful, since they are in general use; but I counted seven sparrows feeding in reckless disregard of danger under the very wings of one of the contrivances.
The customs of the country seemed doomed that day to misunderstanding, whether by sparrows or by bigger birds of passage. Those which should have startled failed of effect, and those which should not have startled, did. For, on turning the face of the next bluff, we came upon a hamlet apparently in the high tide of conflagration. From every roof volumes of smoke were rolling up into the sky, while men rushed to and fro excitedly outside. I was stirred, myself, for there seemed scant hope of saving the place, such headway had the fire, as evidenced by the smoke, already acquired. The houses were closed; a wise move certainly on the score of draft, but one that precluded a fighting of the fire. I was for jumping from the jinrikisha to see, if not to do something myself, when I was stopped by the jinrikisha men, who coolly informed me that the houses were lime-kilns.
It appeared that lime-making was a specialty of these parts, being, in fact, the alternative industry to fishing, with the littoral population; the farming of its strip of ricefields hardly counting as a profession, since such culture is second nature with the Far Oriental. Lime-making may labor under objections, considered generically, but this method of conducting the business is susceptible of advantageous imitation. It should commend itself at once to theatrical managers for a bit of stage effect. Evidently it is harmless. No less evidently it is cheap; and in some cases it might work a double benefit. Impresarios might thus consume all the public statuary about the town to the artistic education of the community, besides producing most realistic results in the theatre.
Through the courtesy of some of the laborers I was permitted to enter a small kiln in which they were then at work. I went in cautiously, and came out with some haste, for the fumes of the burning, which quite filled the place, made me feel my intrusion too poignantly. I am willing to believe the work thoroughly enjoyable when once you become used to it. In the meantime, I should choose its alternative, —the pleasures of a dirty fishing boat in a nasty seaway,—if I were unfortunate enough to make one of the population. I like to breathe without thinking of it.
The charcoal used in the process came, they told me, from Noto. I felt a thrill of pride in hearing the land of my courting thus distinctively spoken of, although the mention were not by way of any remarkable merit. At least the place was honorably known beyond its own borders; had in fact a certain prestige. For they admitted there was charcoal in their own province, but the best, they all agreed, came from their neighbor over the sea. They spoke to appreciative ears. I was only too ready to believe that the best of anything came from Noto. Did they lay my interest to the score of lime-making, I wonder, or were they in part undeceived when I asked if Noto were visible from where we were?
"It was," they said, "on very clear days." "Did I know Noto?" What shall a man say when questioned thus concerning that on which he has set his heart? He cannot say yes; shall he say no and put himself without the pale of mere acquaintance? There is a sense of nearness not to be justified to another, and the one to whom a man may feel most kin is not always she of whom he knows the most.
"I am by way of knowing it," I said, as my eyes followed my thoughts horizonward. Was it all mirage they saw or thought to see, that faint coastline washed a little deeper blue against the sky? I fear me so, for the lime-burners failed to make it out. The day was not clear enough, they said.
But the little heap of charcoal at least was real, and it had once been a tree on that farther shore. Charcoal to them, it was no longer common charcoal to me; for, looking at it, was I not face to face with something that had once formed part of Noto, the unknown!
Oya Shiradzu, Ko Shiradzu.
Toward the middle of the afternoon we reached a part of the coast locally famous or infamous, for the two were one; a stretch of some miles where the mountains made no apology for falling abruptly into the sea. Sheer for several hundred feet, the shore is here unscalable. Nor did it use to be possible to go round by land, for the cliffs are merely the ends of mountain-chains, themselves utterly wild and tractless. A narrow strip of sand was the sole link between Etchiu on the one hand and Echigo on the other. The natives call the place Oya shiradzu, ko shiradzu, that is, a spot where the father no longer knows the child, nor the child the father; so obliterating to sense of all beside is the personal danger. Refuge there is none of any kind. To have been caught here in a storm on the making tide, must indeed have been to look death in the face.
Between the devil of a precipice and the deep sea, he who ventured on the passage must have hurried anxiously along the thread of sand, hoping to reach the last bend in time. As he rounds the ill-omened corner he sees he is too late; already the surf is breaking against the cliff. He turns back only to find retreat barred behind by rollers that have crept in since he passed. His very footprints have all been washed away. Caged! Like the walls of a deep-down dungeon the perpendicular cliff towers at his side, and in the pit they rim, he and the angry ocean are left alone together. Then the sea begins to play with him, creeping catlike up. Her huge paws, the breakers, buffet his face. The water is already about his feet, as he backs desperately up against the rock. And each wave comes crushing in with a cruel growl to strike—short this time. But the next breaks closer, and the next closer still. He climbs a boulder. The spray blinds him. He hears a deafening roar; feels a shock that hurls him into space, and he knows no more.
Now the place is fearful only to fancy. For a road has been built, belting the cliffs hundreds of feet above the tide. It is a part of what is known as the new road, a name it is likely long to keep. Its sides are in places so steep that it fails of its footing and is constantly slipping off into the sea. Such sad missteps are the occasion for bands of convicts to appear on the scene under the marshaling of a police officer and be set to work to repair the slide by digging a little deeper into the mountain-side. The convicts wear clothes of a light brick-color which at a distance looks a little like couleur de rose, while the police are dressed in sombre blue. It would seem somewhat of a satire on the facts!
The new road is not without its sensation to such as dislike looking down. Fortunately, the jinrikisha men have not the instinct of packmules to be persistently trifling with its outer edge. In addition to the void at the side, another showed every now and then in front, where a dip and a turn completely hid the road beyond. The veritable end of the world seemed to be there just ahead, close against the vacancy of space. A couple of rods more and we must step off—indeed the end of the world for us if we had.
When the road came to face the Oya shiradzu, ko shiradzu, it attacked the rise by first running away from it up a stream into the mountains; a bit of the wisdom of the serpent that enabled it to gain much height on the bend back. Trees vaulted the way tapestrying it with their leaves, between which one caught peeps at the sea, a shimmer of blue through a shimmer of green. The path was strung with pedlars and pilgrims; the latter of both sexes and all ages, under mushroom hats with their skirts neatly tucked in at the waist, showing their leggings; the former doing fulcrum duty to a couple of baskets swung on a pole over their shoulders. The pilgrims were on their way back from Zenkoji. Some of them would have tramped over two hundred miles on foot before they reached home again. A rich harvest they brought back, religion, travel, and exercise all in one, enough to keep them happy long. I know of nothing which would more persuade me to be a Buddhist than these same delightful pilgrimages. Fresh air, fresh scenes on the road, and fresh faith at the end of it. No desert caravan of penance to these Meccas, but a summer's stroll under a summer's sky. An end that sanctifies the means and a means that no less justifies its end.
While we were still in the way with these pious folk we touched our midday halt, a wayside teahouse notched in a corner of the road commanding a panoramic view over the sea. The place was kept by a deaf old lady and her tailless cat. The old lady's peculiarity was personal; the cat's was not. No self-respecting cat in this part of Japan could possibly wear a tail. The northern branch of the family has long since discarded that really useless feline appendage. A dog in like circumstance would be sadly straitened in the expression of his emotions, but a cat is every whit a cat without a continuation.
With the deaf old lady we had, for obvious reasons, no sustained conversation. She busied herself for the most part in making dango, a kind of dumpling, but not one calculated to stir curiosity, since it is made of rice all through. These our men ate with more relish than would seem possible. Meanwhile I sat away from the road where I could look out upon the sea over the cliffs, and the cat purred about in her offhand way and used me incidentally as a rubbing post. Trees fringed the picture in front, and the ribbon of road wound off through it into the distance, beaded with folk, and shot with sunshine and shadow.
I was sorry when lunch was over and we took leave of our gentle hostesses; tabbies both of them, yet no unpleasing pair. A few more bends brought us to where the path culminated. The road had for some time lain bare to the sea and sky, but at the supreme point some fine beeches made a natural screen masking the naked face of the precipice. On the cutting above, four huge Chinese characters stood graved in the rock.
"Ya no gotoku, to no gotoshi."
"Smooth as a whetstone, straight as an arrow," meaning the cliff. Perhaps because of their pictorial descent, the characters did not shock one. Unlike the usual branding of nature, they seemed not out of keeping with the spot. Not far beyond, the butts of the winter's neve, buried in dirt, banked the path.
For miles along the raod the view off was superb. Nothing bordered one side of the way and the mountain bordered the other. Far below lay the sea, stretching away into blue infinity, a vast semicircle of ultramarine domed by a hemisphere of azure; and it was noticeable how much vaster the sea looked than the sky. We were so high above it that the heavings of its longer swells were leveled to imperceptibility, while the waves only graved the motionless surface. Here and there the rufflings of a breeze showed in darker markings, like the changes on watered silk. The most ephemeral disturbance made the most show. Dotted over the blue expanse were black spots, fishing boats; and a steamer with a long trail of smoke showed in the offing, stationary to the eye, yet shifting its place like the shadow of a style when you forgot to look. And in long perspective on either hand stretched the battlement of cliff. Visual immensity lay there before us, in each of its three manifestations; of line, of surface, and of space.
We stood still, the better to try to take it in—this grandeur tempered by sunshine and warmth. Do what he will, man is very much the creature of his surroundings yet. In some instant sense, the eyes fashion the feelings, and we ourselves grow broader with our horizon's breadth. The Chaldean shepherds alone with the night had grander thoughts for the companionship, and I venture to believe that the heart of the mountaineer owes quite as much to what he is forced to visage as to what he is compelled to do.
We tucked ourselves into our jinrikisha and started down. By virtue of going, the speed increased, till the way we rolled round the curves was intoxicating. The panorama below swung to match, and we leaned in or out mechanically to trim the balance. Occasionally, as it hit some stone, the vehicle gave a lurch that startled us for a moment into sobriety, from which we straightway relapsed into exhilaration. Curious this, how the body brings about its own forgetting. For I was conscious only of mind, and yet mind was the one part of me not in motion. I suppose much oxygen made me tipsy. If so, it is a recommendable tipple. Spirits were not unhappily named after the natural article.
It was late afternoon when we issued at last from our two days Thermopylae upon the Etchiu plain. As we drew out into its expanse, the giant peaks of the Tateyama range came into view from behind their foothills, draped still in their winter ermine. It was last year yet in those upper regions of the world, but all about us below throbbed with the heartbeats of the spring. At each mile, amid the ever lengthening shadows, nature seemed to grow more sentient. Through the thick air the peaks stood out against the eastern sky, in saffron that flushed to rose and then paled to gray. The ricefields, already flooded for their first working, mirrored the glow overhead so glassily that their dykes seemed to float, in sunset illusion, a mere bar tracery of earth between the sky above and a sky beneath. Upon such lattice of a world we journeyed in mid-heaven. Stealthily the shadows gathered; and as the hour for confidences drew on, nature took us into hers. The trees in the twilight, just breaking into leaf, stood in groups among the fields and whispered low to one another, nodding their heads; and then from out the shadow of the May evening came the croaking of the frogs. Strangely the sound fitted the hour, with its like touch of mysterious suggestion. As the twilight indefinite, it pervaded everything, yet was never anywhere. Deafening at a distance, it hushed at our approach only to begin again behind us. Will-o'-the-wisp of the ear, infatuating because forever illusive! And the distance and the numbers blended what had perhaps been harsh into a mellow whole that filled the gloaming with a sort of voice. I began to understand why the Japanese are so fond of it that they deem it not unworthy a place in nature's vocal pantheon but little lower than the song of the nightingale, and echo its sentiment in verse. And indeed it seems to me that his soul must be conventionally tuned in whom this even-song of the ricefields stirs no responsive chord.
Across the Etchiu Delta.
The twilight lingered, and the road threaded its tortuous course for miles through the rice plain, bordered on either hand by the dykes of the paddyfields. Every few hundred feet, we passed a farmhouse screened by clipped hedgerows and bosomed in trees; and at longer intervals we rolled through some village, the country pike becoming for the time the village street. The land was an archipelago of homestead in a sea of rice. But the trees about the dwellings so cut up the view, that for the moments of passing the mind forgot it was all so flat and came back to its ocean in surprise, when the next vista opened on the sides.
Things had already become silhouettes when we dashed into lantern-lighted Mikkaichi. We took the place in form, and a fine sensation we made. What between the shouts of the runners and the clatter of the chaises men, women and children made haste to clear a track, snatching their little ones back and then staring at us as we swept past. Indeed, the teams put their best feet foremost for local effect, and more than once came within an ace of running over some urchin who either would not or could not get out of the way. Fortunately no casualties occurred. For it would have been ignominious to have been arrested by the police during our first ten minutes in the town, not to speak of the sad dampening to our feelings an accident would have caused.
In this mad manner we dashed up the long main street. We were forced to take the side, for the village aqueduct or gutter—it served both purposes—monopolized the middle. At short intervals, it was spanned by causeways made of slabs of stone. Over one of these we made a final swirl and drew up before the inn. Then our shafts made their obeisance to the ground.
A warm welcome greeted the appeal. A crowd of servants came rushing to the front of the house with an eye to business, and a crowd of village folk with an eye to pleasure closed in behind. Between the two fires we stepped out and entered the side court, to the satisfaction of the one audience and the chagrin of the other. But it is impossible to please everybody.
Fortunately it was not so hard to please us, and certainly the inn people did their best; for they led the way to what formerly were the state apartments, that part of the house where the daimyo of Kaga had been wont to lodge when he stopped here over night on his journey north. Though it had fallen somewhat into disrepair, it was still the place of honor in the inn, and therefore politely put at the service of one from beyond sea. There I supped in solitary state, and there I slept right royally amid the relics of former splendor, doubting a little whether some unlaid ghost of bygone times might not come to claim his own, and oust me at black midnight by the rats, his retinue.
But nothing short of the sun called me back to consciousness and bade me open to the tiny garden, where a pair of ducks were preening their feathers after an early bath in their own little lake. On the veranda my lake already stood prepared; a brass basin upon a wooden stand, according to the custom of the country. So ducks and I dabbled and prinked in all innocence in the garden, which might well have been the garden of Eden for any hint it gave of a world beyond. It was my fate, too, to leave it after the same manner. For breakfast over we were once more of the road.
We had a long day of it before us, for I purposed to cross the Etchiu delta and sleep that night on the threshold of my hopes. The day, like all days that look long on the map, proved still longer on the march. Its itinerary diversified discomfort. First seventeen miles in kuruma, then a ferry, then a tramp of twelve miles along the beach through a series of sand dunes; then another ferry, and finally a second walk of seven miles and a half over some foothills to top off with. The inexpensiveness of the transport was the sole relieving feature of the day. Not, I mean, because the greater and worse half of the journey was done on our own feet, but because of the cheap charges of the chaises and even of the porters. To run at a dogtrot, trundling another in a baby carriage, seventeen miles for twenty cents is not, I hold, an extortionate price. Certain details of the tariff, however, are peculiar. For instance, if two men share the work by running tandem, the fare is more than doubled; a ratio in the art of proportion surprising at first. Each man would seem to charge for being helped. The fact is, the greater speed expected of the pair more than offsets the decreased draft.
Otherwise, as I say, the day was depressing. It was not merely the tramp through the sand dunes that was regrettable, though heaven knows I would not willingly take it again. The sand had far too hospitable a trick of holding on to you at every step to be to my liking. Besides, the sun, which had come out with summer insistence, chose that particular spot for its midday siesta, and lay there at full length, while the air was preternaturally still. It was a stupidly drowsy heat that gave no fillip to the feet.
But such discomfort was merely by the way. The real trouble began at Fushiki, the town on the farther side of the second ferry. In the first place the spot had, what is most uncommon in Japan, a very sorry look, which was depressing in itself. Secondly, its inhabitants were much too busy or much too unemployed, or both, to be able to attend to strangers at that hour of the afternoon. Consequently it was almost impossible to get any one to carry the baggage. We dispatched emissaries, however. By good luck we secured some beer, and then argued ourselves dry again on the luggage question. The emissaries were at work, we were assured, and at last some one who had been sent for was said to be coming. Still time dragged on, until finally the burden bearers turned up, and turned out to be—women.
At this I rebelled. The situation was not new, but it was none the less impossible. In out-of-the-way districts I had refused offers of the kind before. For Japanese beasts of burden run in a decreasing scale as follows, according to the poverty of the place: jinrikisha, horses, bulls, men, women. I draw my line at the last. I am well aware how absurd the objects themselves regard such a protective policy, but I cling to my prejudices. To the present proffer I was adamant. To step jauntily along in airy unencumberedness myself, while a string of women trudged wearily after, loaded with my heavy personal effects, was more than an Anglo-Saxon attitude towards the sex could stand. I would none of them, to the surprise and dismay of the inn landlord, and to the no slight wonder of the women. The discarding was not an easy piece of work. The fair ones were present at it, and I have no doubt misinterpreted the motive. For women have a weakness for a touch of the slave-master in a man. Beside, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," though it be only in the capacity of a porter. There was nothing for it, however, but to let it go at that. For to have explained with more insistence would infallibly have deepened their suspicions of wounded vanity. But it did seem hard to be obliged to feel a brute for refusing to be one.
The landlord, thanks to my importunities, managed after some further delay to secure a couple of lusty lads, relatives, I suspect, of the discarded fair ones, and with them we eventually set out. We had not gone far, when I came to consider, unjustly, no doubt, that they journeyed too slow. I might have thought differently had I carried the chattels and they the purse. I shuddered to think what the situation would have been with women, for then even the poor solace of remonstrance would have been denied. As it was, I spent much breath in trying to hurry them, and it is pleasanter now than it was then to reflect how futilely. For I rated them roundly, while they accepted my verbal goadings with the trained stolidity of folk who were used to it.
When at last we approached the village of our destination, which bore the name of Himi, it was already dusk, and this with the long May twilight meant a late hour before we should be comfortably housed. Indeed, I had been quartered in anticipation for the last few miles, and was only awaiting arrival to enter into instant possession of my fancied estate. Not content even with pure insubstantiality, I had interviewed various people through Yejiro on the subject. First, the porters had been exhaustively catechized, and then what wayfarers we chanced to meet had been buttonholed beside; with the result of much contradictory information. There seemed to be an inn which was, I will not say good, but the best, but no two informants could agree in calling it by name. One thought he remembered that the North Inn was the place to go to; another that he had heard the Wistaria House specially commended.
All doubts, however, were set at rest when we reached the town. For without the slightest hesitation, every one of the houses in question refused to take us in. The unanimity was wonderful considering the lack of collusion. Yejiro and I made as many unsuccessful applications together as I could stand. Then I went and sat down on the sill of the first teahouse for a base of operations—I cannot say for my headquarters, because that is just what we could not get—and gave myself up to melancholy. Meanwhile Yejiro ransacked the town, from which excursions he returned every few minutes with a fresh refusal, but the same excuse. It got so at last I could anticipate the excuse. The inn was full already—of assessors and their victims. The assessors had descended on the spot, it seemed, and the whole country-side had come to town to lie about the value of its land. I only wished the inhabitants might have chosen some other time for false swearing. For it was a sad tax on my credulity.
We did indeed get one offer which I duly went to inspect, but the outside of the house satisfied me. At last I adopted extreme measures. I sent Yejiro off to the police station. This move produced its effect.
Even at home, from having contrived to keep on the sunny side of the law and order, my feelings toward the police are friendly enough for all practical purposes; but in no land have I such an affectionate regard for the constabulary as in Japan. Members of the force there, if the term be applicable to a set of students spectacled from over-study, whose strength is entirely moral, never get you into trouble, and usually get you out of it. One of their chief charms to the traveler lies in their open-sesame effect upon obdurate landlords. In this trick they are wonderfully successful.
Having given ourselves up to the police, therefore, we were already by way of being lodged, and that quickly. So indeed it proved. In the time to go and come, Yejiro reappeared with an officer in civilian's clothes, who first made profuse apologies for presenting himself in undress, but it seemed he was off duty at the moment,—and then led the way a stone's throw round the corner; and in five minutes I was sitting as snugly as you please in a capital room in an inn's third story, sipping tea and pecking at sugar plums, a distinctly honored guest.