Part 3 out of 6
which is written in the Kojiki. Next observe that, although the
shimenawa may be of any thickness, it must be twisted so that the
direction of the twist is to the left; for in ancient Japanese
philosophy the left is the 'pure' or fortunate side: owing perhaps to
the old belief, common among the uneducated of Europe to this day, that
the heart lies to the left. Thirdly, note that the pendent straws, which
hang down from the rope at regular intervals, in tufts, like fringing,
must be of different numbers according to the place of the tufts,
beginning with the number three: so that the first tuft has three
straws, the second live, the third seven, the fourth again three, the
fifth five, and the sixth seven--and so on, the whole length of the
rope. The origin of the pendent paper cuttings (gohei), which alternate
with the straw tufts, is likewise to be sought in the legend of the
Sun-Goddess; but the gohei also represent offerings of cloth anciently
made to the gods according to a custom long obsolete.
But besides the gohei, there are many other things attached to the
shimenawa of which you could not imagine the signification. Among these
are fern-leaves, bitter oranges, yuzuri-leaves, and little bundles of
Why fern-leaves (moromoki or urajiro)? Because the fern-leaf is the
symbol of the hope of exuberant posterity: even as it branches and
branches so may the happy family increase and multiply through the
Why bitter oranges (daidai)? Because there is a Chinese word daidai
signifying 'from generation unto generation.' Wherefore the fruit called
daidai has become a fruit of good omen.
But why charcoal (sumi)? It signifies 'prosperous changelessness.' Here
the idea is decidedly curious. Even as the colour of charcoal cannot be
changed, so may the fortunes of those we love remain for ever unchanged
In all that gives happiness! The signification of the yuzuri-leaf I
explained in a former paper.
Besides the great shimenawa in front of the house, shimenawa or
shimekazari  are suspended above the toko, or alcoves, in each
apartment; and over the back gate, or over the entrance to the gallery
of the second story (if there be a second story), is hung a 'wajime,
which is a very small shimekazari twisted into a sort of wreath, and
decorated with fern-leaves, gohei, and yuzuri-leaves.
But the great domestic display of the festival is the decoration of the
kamidana--the shelf of the Gods. Before the household miya are placed
great double rice cakes; and the shrine is beautiful with flowers, a
tiny shimekazari, and sprays of sakaki. There also are placed a string
of cash; kabu (turnips); daikon (radishes); a tai-fish, which is the
'king of fishes,' dried slices of salt cuttlefish; jinbaso, of 'the
Seaweed of the horse of the God';  also the seaweed kombu, which is a
symbol of pleasure and of joy, because its name is deemed to be a
homonym for gladness; and mochibana, artificial blossoms formed of rice
flour and straw.
The sambo is a curiously shaped little table on which offer-ings are
made to the Shinto gods; and almost every well-to-do household in hzumo
has its own sambo--such a family sambo being smaller, however, than
sambo used in the temples. At the advent of the New Year's Festival,
bitter oranges, rice, and rice-flour cakes, native sardines (iwashi),
chikara-iwai ('strength-rice-bread'), black peas, dried chestnuts, and a
fine lobster, are all tastefully arranged upon the family sambo. Before
each visitor the sambo is set; and the visitor, by saluting it with a
prostration, expresses not only his heartfelt wish that all the good-
fortune symbolised by the objects upon the sambo may come to the family,
but also his reverence for the household gods. The black peas (mame)
signify bodily strength and health, because a word similarly pronounced,
though written with a different ideograph, means 'robust.' But why a
lobster? Here we have another curious conception. The lobster's body is
bent double: the body of the man who lives to a very great old age is
also bent. Thus the Lobster stands for a symbol of extreme old age; and
in artistic design signifies the wish that our friends may live so long
that they will become bent like lobsters--under the weight of years. And
the dried chestnut (kachiguri) are emblems of success, because the first
character of their name in Japanese is the homonym of kachi, which means
There are at least a hundred other singular customs and emblems
belonging to the New Year's Festival which would require a large volume
to describe. I have mentioned only a few which immediately appear to
even casual observation.
The other festival I wish, to refer to is that of the Setsubun, which,
according to the ancient Japanese calendar, corresponded with the
beginning of the natural year--the period when winter first softens into
spring. It is what we might term, according to Professor Chamberlain, 'a
sort of movable feast'; and it is chiefly famous for the curious
ceremony of the casting out of devils--Oni-yarai. On the eve of the
Setsubun, a little after dark, the Yaku-otoshi, or caster-out of devils,
wanders through the streets from house to house, rattling his shakujo,
 and uttering his strange professional cry: 'Oni wa soto!--fuku wa
uchi!' [Devils out! Good-fortune in!] For a trifling fee he performs his
little exorcism in any house to which he is called. This simply consists
in the recitation of certain parts of a Buddhist kyo, or sutra, and the
rattling of the shakujo Afterwards dried peas (shiro-mame) are thrown
about the house in four directions. For some mysterious reason, devils
do not like dried peas--and flee therefrom. The peas thus scattered are
afterward swept up and carefully preserved until the first clap of
spring thunder is heard, when it is the custom to cook and eat some of
them. But just why, I cannot find out; neither can I discover the origin
of the dislike of devils for dried peas. On the subject of this dislike,
however, I confess my sympathy with devils.
After the devils have been properly cast out, a small charm is placed
above all the entrances of the dwelling to keep them from coming back
again. This consists of a little stick about the length and thickness of
a skewer, a single holly-leaf, and the head of a dried iwashi--a fish
resembling a sardine. The stick is stuck through the middle of the
holly-leaf; and the fish's head is fastened into a split made in one end
of the stick; the other end being slipped into some joint of the timber-
work immediately above a door. But why the devils are afraid of the
holly-leaf and the fish's head, nobody seems to know. Among the people
the origin of all these curious customs appears to be quite forgotten;
and the families of the upper classes who still maintain such customs
believe in the superstitions relating to the festival just as little as
Englishmen to-day believe in the magical virtues of mistletoe or ivy.
This ancient and merry annual custom of casting out devils has been for
generations a source of inspiration to Japanese artists. It is only
after a fair acquaintance with popular customs and ideas that the
foreigner can learn to appreciate the delicious humour of many art-
creations which he may wish, indeed, to buy just because they are so
oddly attractive in themselves, but which must really remain enigmas to
him, so far as their inner meaning is concerned, unless he knows
Japanese life. The other day a friend gave me a little card-case of
perfumed leather. On one side was stamped in relief the face of a devil,
through the orifice of whose yawning mouth could be seen--painted upon
the silk lining of the interior--the laughing, chubby face of Otafuku,
joyful Goddess of Good Luck. In itself the thing was very curious and
pretty; but the real merit of its design was this comical symbolism of
good wishes for the New Year: 'Oni wa soto!--fuku wa uchi!'
Since I have spoken of the custom of eating some of the Setsubun peas at
the time of the first spring thunder, I may here take the opportunity to
say a few words about superstitions in regard to thunder which have not
yet ceased to prevail among the peasantry.
When a thunder-storm comes, the big brown mosquito curtains are
suspended, and the women and children--perhaps the whole family--squat
down under the curtains till the storm is over. From ancient days it has
been believed that lightning cannot kill anybody under a mosquito
curtain. The Raiju, or Thunder-Animal, cannot pass through a mosquito-
curtain. Only the other day, an old peasant who came to the house with
vegetables to sell told us that he and his whole family, while crouching
under their mosquito-netting during a thunderstorm, actually, saw the
Lightning rushing up and down the pillar of the balcony opposite their
apartment--furiously clawing the woodwork, but unable to enter because
of the mosquito-netting. His house had been badly damaged by a flash;
but he supposed the mischief to have been accomplished by the Claws of
The Thunder-Animal springs from tree to tree during a storm, they say;
wherefore to stand under trees in time of thunder and lightning is very
dangerous: the Thunder-Animal might step on one's head or shoulders. The
Thunder-Animal is also alleged to be fond of eating the human navel; for
which reason people should be careful to keep their navels well covered
during storms, and to lie down upon their stomachs if possible. Incense
is always burned during storms, because the Thunder-Animal hates the
smell of incense. A tree stricken by lightning is thought to have been
torn and scarred by the claws of the Thunder-Animal; and fragments of
its bark and wood are carefully collected and preserved by dwellers in
the vicinity; for the wood of a blasted tree is alleged to have the
singular virtue of curing toothache.
There are many stories of the Raiju having been caught and caged. Once,
it is said, the Thunder-Animal fell into a well, and got entangled in
the ropes and buckets, and so was captured alive. And old Izumo folk say
they remember that the Thunder-Animal was once exhibited in the court of
the Temple of Tenjin in Matsue, inclosed in a cage of brass; and that
people paid one sen each to look at it. It resembled a badger. When the
weather was clear it would sleep contentedly in its, cage. But when
there was thunder in the air, it would become excited, and seem to
obtain great strength, and its eyes would flash dazzlingly.
There is one very evil spirit, however, who is not in the least afraid
of dried peas, and who cannot be so easily got rid of as the common
devils; and that is Bimbogami.
But in Izumo people know a certain household charm whereby Bimbogami may
sometimes be cast out.
Before any cooking is done in a Japanese kitchen, the little charcoal
fire is first blown to a bright red heat with that most useful and
simple household utensil called a hifukidake. The hifukidake ('fire-
blow-bamboo') is a bamboo tube usually about three feet long and about
two inches in diameter. At one end--the end which is to be turned toward
the fire--only a very small orifice is left; the woman who prepares the
meal places the other end to her lips, and blows through the tube upon
the kindled charcoal. Thus a quick fire may be obtained in a few
In course of time the hifukidake becomes scorched and cracked and
useless. A new 'fire-blow-tube' is then made; and the old one is used as
a charm against Bimbogami. One little copper coin (rin) is put into it,
some magical formula is uttered, and then the old utensil, with the rin
inside of it, is either simply thrown out through the front gate into
the street, or else flung into some neighbouring stream. This--I know
not why--is deemed equivalent to pitching Bimbogami out of doors, and
rendering it impossible for him to return during a considerable period.
It may be asked how is the invisible presence of Bimbogami to be
The little insect which makes that weird ticking noise at night called
in England the Death-watch has a Japanese relative named by the people
Bimbomushi, or the 'Poverty-Insect.' It is said to be the servant of
Bimbogami, the God of Poverty; and its ticking in a house is believed to
signal the presence of that most unwelcome deity.
One more feature of the Setsubun festival is worthy of mention--the sale
of the hitogata ('people-shapes'). These: are little figures, made of
white paper, representing men, women, and children. They are cut out
with a few clever scissors strokes; and the difference of sex is
indicated by variations in the shape of the sleeves and the little paper
obi. They are sold in the Shinto temples. The purchaser buys one for
every member of the family--the priest writing upon each the age and sex
of the person for whom it is intended. These hitogata are then taken
home and distributed; and each person slightly rubs his body or her body
with the paper, and says a little Shinto prayer. Next day the hitogata
are returned to the kannushi, who, after having recited certain formulae
over them, burns them with holy fire.  By this ceremony it is hoped
that all physical misfortunes will be averted from the family during a
Chapter Six By the Japanese Sea
IT is the fifteenth day of the seventh month--and I am in Hokii.
The blanched road winds along a coast of low cliffs--the coast of the
Japanese Sea. Always on the left, over a narrow strip of stony land, or
a heaping of dunes, its vast expanse appears, blue-wrinkling to that
pale horizon beyond which Korea lies, under the same white sun.
Sometimes, through sudden gaps in the cliff's verge, there flashes to us
the running of the surf. Always upon the right another sea--a silent sea
of green, reaching to far misty ranges of wooded hills, with huge pale
peaks behind them--a vast level of rice-fields, over whose surface
soundless waves keep chasing each other under the same great breath that
moves the blue to-day from Chosen to Japan.
Though during a week the sky has remained unclouded, the sea has for
several days been growing angrier; and now the muttering of its surf
sounds far into the land. They say that it always roughens thus during
the period of the Festival of the Dead--the three days of the Bon, which
are the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth of the seventh month by
the ancient calendar. And on the sixteenth day, after the shoryobune,
which are the Ships of Souls, have been launched, no one dares to enter
it: no boats can then be hired; all the fishermen remain at home. For on
that day the sea is the highway of the dead, who must pass back over its
waters to their mysterious home; and therefore upon that day is it
called Hotoke-umi--the Buddha-Flood--the Tide of the Returning Ghosts.
And ever upon the night of that sixteenth day--whether the sea be calm
or tumultuous--all its surface shimmers with faint lights gliding out to
the open,--the dim fires of the dead; and there is heard a murmuring of
voices, like the murmur of a city far-off,--the indistinguishable speech
But it may happen that some vessel, belated in spite of desperate effort
to reach port, may find herself far out at sea upon the night of the
sixteenth day. Then will the dead rise tall about the ship, and reach
long hands and murmur: 'Tago, tago o-kure!--tago o-kure!'  Never may
they be refused; but, before the bucket is given, the bottom of it must
be knocked out. Woe to all on board should an entire tago be suffered to
fall even by accident into the sea!--for the dead would at once use it
to fill and sink the ship.
Nor are the dead the only powers invisible dreaded in the time of the
Hotoke-umi. Then are the Ma most powerful, and the Kappa. 
But in all times the swimmer fears the Kappa, the Ape of Waters, hideous
and obscene, who reaches up from the deeps to draw men down, and to
devour their entrails.
Only their entrails.
The corpse of him who has been seized by the Kappa may be cast on shore
after many days. Unless long battered against the rocks by heavy surf,
or nibbled by fishes, it will show no outward wound. But it will be
light and hollow--empty like a long-dried gourd.
Betimes, as we journey on, the monotony of undulating blue on the left,
or the monotony of billowing green upon the right, is broken by the grey
apparition of a cemetery--a cemetery so long that our jinricksha men, at
full run, take a full quarter of an hour to pass the huge congregation
of its perpendicular stones. Such visions always indicate the approach
of villages; but the villages prove to be as surprisingly small as the
cemeteries are surprisingly large. By hundreds of thousands do the
silent populations of the hakaba outnumber the folk of the hamlets to
which they belong--tiny thatched settlements sprinkled along the leagues
of coast, and sheltered from the wind only by ranks of sombre pines.
Legions on legions of stones--a host of sinister witnesses of the cost
of the present to the past--and old, old, old!--hundreds so long in
place that they have been worn into shapelessness merely by the blowing
of sand from the dunes, and their inscriptions utterly effaced. It is as
if one were passing through the burial-ground of all who ever lived on
this wind-blown shore since the being of the land.
And in all these hakaba--for it is the Bon--there are new lanterns
before the newer tombs--the white lanterns which are the lanterns of
graves. To-night the cemeteries will be all aglow with lights like the
fires of a city for multitude. But there are also unnumbered tombs
before which no lanterns are--elder myriads, each the token of a family
extinct, or of which the absent descendants have forgotten even the
name. Dim generations whose ghosts have none to call them back, no local
memories to love--so long ago obliterated were all things related to
Now many of these villages are only fishing settlements, and in them
stand old thatched homes of men who sailed away on some eve of tempest,
and never came back. Yet each drowned sailor has his tomb in the
neighbouring hakaba, and beneath it something of him has been buried.
Among these people of the west something is always preserved which in
other lands is cast away without a thought--the hozo-no-o, the flower-
stalk of a life, the navel-string of the newly-born. It is enwrapped
carefully in many wrappings; and upon its outermost covering are written
the names of the father, the mother, and the infant, together with the
date and hour of birth,--and it is kept in the family o-'mamori-bukuro.
The daughter, becoming a bride, bears it with her to her new home: for
the son it is preserved by his parents. It is buried with the dead; and
should one die in a foreign land, or perish at sea, it is entombed in
lieu of the body.
Concerning them that go down into the sea in ships, and stay there,
strange beliefs prevail on this far coast--beliefs more primitive,
assuredly, than the gentle faith which hangs white lanterns before the
tombs. Some hold that the drowned never journey to the Meido. They
quiver for ever in the currents; they billow in the swaying of tides;
they toil in the wake of the junks; they shout in the plunging of
breakers. 'Tis their white hands that toss in the leap of the surf;
their clutch that clatters the shingle, or seizes the swimmer's feet in
the pull of the undertow. And the seamen speak euphemistically of the
O-'bake, the honourable ghosts, and fear them with a great fear.
Wherefore cats are kept on board!
A cat, they aver, has power to keep the O-bake away. How or why, I have
not yet found any to tell me. I know only that cats are deemed to have
power over the dead. If a cat be left alone with a corpse, will not the
corpse arise and dance? And of all cats a mike-neko, or cat of three
colours, is most prized on this account by sailors. But if they cannot
obtain one--and cats of three colours are rare--they will take another
kind of cat; and nearly every trading junk has a cat; and when the junk
comes into port, its cat may generally be seen--peeping through some
little window in the vessel's side, or squatting in the opening where
the great rudder works--that is, if the weather be fair and the sea
But these primitive and ghastly beliefs do not affect the beautiful
practices of Buddhist faith in the time of the Bon; and from all these
little villages the shoryobune are launched upon the sixteenth day. They
are much more elaborately and expensively constructed on this coast than
in some other parts of Japan; for though made of straw only, woven over
a skeleton framework, they are charming models of junks, complete in
every detail. Some are between three and four feet long. On the white
paper sail is written the kaimyo or soul-name of the dead. There is a
small water-vessel on board, filled with fresh water, and an incense-
cup; and along the gunwales flutter little paper banners bearing the
mystic manji, which is the Sanscrit swastika.
The form of the shoryobune and the customs in regard to the time and
manner of launching them differ much in different provinces. In most
places they are launched for the family dead in general, wherever
buried; and they are in some places launched only at night, with small
lanterns on board. And I am told also that it is the custom at certain
sea-villages to launch the lanterns all by themselves, in lieu of the
shoryobune proper--lanterns of a particular kind being manufactured for
that purpose only.
But on the Izumo coast, and elsewhere along this western shore, the
soul-boats are launched only for those who have been drowned at sea, and
the launching takes place in the morning instead of at night. Once every
year, for ten years after death, a shoryobune is launched; in the
eleventh year the ceremony ceases. Several shoryobune which I saw at
Inasa were really beautiful, and must have cost a rather large sum for
poor fisher-folk to pay. But the ship-carpenter who made them said that
all the relatives of a drowned man contribute to purchase the little
vessel, year after year.
Near a sleepy little village called Kanii-ichi I make a brief halt in
order to visit a famous sacred tree. It is in a grove close to the
public highway, but upon a low hill. Entering the grove I find myself in
a sort of miniature glen surrounded on three sides by very low cliffs,
above which enormous pines are growing, incalculably old. Their vast
coiling roots have forced their way through the face of the cliffs,
splitting rocks; and their mingling crests make a green twilight in the
hollow. One pushes out three huge roots of a very singular shape; and
the ends of these have been wrapped about with long white papers bearing
written prayers, and with offerings of seaweed. The shape of these
roots, rather than any tradition, would seem to have made the tree
sacred in popular belief: it is the object of a special cult; and a
little torii has been erected before it, bearing a votive annunciation
of the most artless and curious kind. I cannot venture to offer a
translation of it--though for the anthropologist and folk-lorist it
certainly possesses peculiar interest. The worship of the tree, or at
least of the Kami supposed to dwell therein, is one rare survival of a
phallic cult probably common to most primitive races, and formerly
widespread in Japan. Indeed it was suppressed by the Government scarcely
more than a generation ago. On the opposite side of the little hollow,
carefully posed upon a great loose rock, I see something equally artless
and almost equally curious--a kitoja-no-mono, or ex-voto. Two straw
figures joined together and reclining side by side: a straw man and a
straw woman. The workmanship is childishly clumsy; but still, the woman
can be distinguished from the man by .the ingenious attempt to imitate
the female coiffure with a straw wisp. And as the man is represented
with a queue--now worn only by aged survivors of the feudal era--I
suspect that this kitoja-no-mono was made after some ancient and
strictly conventional model.
Now this queer ex-voto tells its own story. Two who loved each other
were separated by the fault of the man; the charm of some joro, perhaps,
having been the temptation to faithlessness.
Then the wronged one came here and prayed the Kami to dispel the
delusion of passion and touch the erring heart. The prayer has been
heard; the pair have been reunited; and she has therefore made these two
quaint effigies 'with her own hands, and brought them to the Kami of the
pine--tokens of her innocent faith and her grateful heart.
Night falls as we reach the pretty hamlet of Hamamura, our last resting-
place by the sea, for to-morrow our way lies inland. The inn at which we
lodge is very small, but very clean and cosy; and there is a delightful
bath of natural hot water; for the yadoya is situated close to a natural
spring. This spring, so strangely close to the sea beach, also
furnishes, I am told, the baths of all the houses in the village.
The best room is placed at our disposal; but I linger awhile to examine
a very fine shoryobune, waiting, upon a bench near the street entrance,
to be launched to-morrow. It seems to have been finished but a short
time ago; for fresh clippings of straw lie scattered around it, and the
kaimyo has not yet been written upon its sail. I am surprised to hear
that it belongs to a poor widow and her son, both of whom are employed
by the hotel.
I was hoping to see the Bon-odori at Hamamura, but I am disappointed. At
all the villages the police have prohibited the dance. Fear of cholera
has resulted in stringent sanitary regulations. In Hamamura the people
have been ordered to use no water for drinking, cooking, or washing,
except the hot water of their own volcanic springs.
A little middle-aged woman, with a remarkably sweet voice, comes to wait
upon us at supper-time. Her teeth are blackened and her eyebrows shaved
after the fashion of married women twenty years ago; nevertheless her
face is still a pleasant one, and in her youth she must have been
uncommonly pretty. Though acting as a servant, it appears that she is
related to the family owning the inn, and that she is treated with the
consideration due to kindred. She tells us that the shoryobune is to be
launched for her husband and brother--both fishermen of the village, who
perished in sight of their own home eight years ago. The priest of the
neighbouring Zen temple is to come in the morning to write the kaimyo
upon the sail, as none of the household are skilled in writing the
I make her the customary little gift, and, through my attendant, ask her
various questions about her history. She was married to a man much older
than herself, with whom she lived very happily; and her brother, a youth
of eighteen, dwelt with them. They had a good boat and a little piece of
ground, and she was skilful at the loom; so they managed to live well.
In summer the fishermen fish at night: when all the fleet is out, it is
pretty to see the line of torch-fires in the offing, two or three miles
away, like a string of stars. They do not go out when the weather is
threatening; but in certain months the great storms (taifu) come so
quickly that the boats are overtaken almost before they have time to
hoist sail. Still as a temple pond the sea was on the night when her
husband and brother last sailed away; the taifu rose before daybreak.
What followed, she relates with a simple pathos that I cannot reproduce
in our less artless tongue:
'All the boats had come back except my husband's; for' my husband and my
brother had gone out farther than the others, so they were not able to
return as quickly. And all the people were looking and waiting. And
every minute the waves seemed to be growing higher and the wind more
terrible; and the other boats had to be dragged far up on the shore to
save them. Then suddenly we saw my husband's boat coming very, very
quickly. We were so glad! It came quite near, so that I could see the
face of my husband and the face of my brother. But suddenly a great wave
struck it upon one side, and it turned down into the water and it did
not come up again. And then we saw my husband and my brother swimming
but we could see them only when the waves lifted them up. Tall like
hills the waves were, and the head of my husband, and the head of my
brother would go up, up, up, and then down, and each time they rose to
the top of a wave so that we could see them they would cry out,
"Tasukete! tasukete!"  But the strong men were afraid; the sea was
too terrible; I was only a woman! Then my brother could not be seen any
more. My husband was old, but very strong; and he swam a long time--so
near that I could see his face was like the face of one in fear--and he
called "Tasukete!" But none could help him; and he also went down at
last. And yet I could see his face before he went down.
'And for a long time after, every night, I used to see his face as I saw
it then, so that I could not rest, but only weep. And I prayed and
prayed to the Buddhas and to the Kami-Sama that I might not dream that
dream. Now it never comes; but I can still see his face, even while I
speak. . . . In that time my son was only a little child.'
Not without sobs can she conclude her simple recital. Then, suddenly
bowing her head to the matting, and wiping away her tears with her
sleeve, she humbly prays our pardon for this little exhibition of
emotion, and laughs--the soft low laugh de rigueur of Japanese
politeness. This, I must confess, touches me still more than the story
itself. At a fitting moment my Japanese attendant delicately changes the
theme, and begins a light chat about our journey, and the danna-sama's
interest in the old customs and legends of the coast. And he succeeds in
amusing her by some relation of our wanderings in Izumo.
She asks whither we are going. My attendant answers probably as far as
'Aa! Tottori! So degozarimasu ka? Now, there is an old story--the
Story of the Futon of Tottori. But the danna-sama knows that story?'
Indeed, the danna-sama does not, and begs earnestly to hear it. And the
story is set down somewhat as I learn it through the lips of my
9 Many years ago, a very small yadoya in Tottori town received its
first guest, an itinerant merchant. He was received with more than
common kindness, for the landlord desired to make a good name for his
little inn. It was a new inn, but as its owner was poor, most of its
dogu--furniture and utensils--had been purchased from the furuteya. 
Nevertheless, everything was clean, comforting, and pretty. The guest
ate heartily and drank plenty of good warm sake; after which his bed was
prepared on the soft floor, and he laid himself down to sleep.
[But here I must interrupt the story for a few moments, to say a word
about Japanese beds. Never; unless some inmate happen to be sick, do you
see a bed in any Japanese house by day, though you visit all the rooms
and peep into all the corners. In fact, no bed exists, in the Occidental
meaning of the word. That which the Japanese call bed has no bedstead,
no spring, no mattress, no sheets, no blankets. It consists of thick
quilts only, stuffed, or, rather, padded with cotton, which are called
futon. A certain number of futon are laid down upon the tatami (the
floor mats), and a certain number of others are used for coverings. The
wealthy can lie upon five or six quilts, and cover themselves with as
many as they please, while poor folk must content themselves with two or
three. And of course there are many kinds, from the servants' cotton
futon which is no larger than a Western hearthrug, and not much thicker,
to the heavy and superb futon silk, eight feet long by seven broad,
which only the kanemochi can afford. Besides these there is the yogi, a
massive quilt made with wide sleeves like a kimono, in which you can
find much comfort when the weather is extremely cold. All such things
are neatly folded up and stowed out of sight by day in alcoves contrived
in the wall and closed with fusuma--pretty sliding screen doors covered
with opaque paper usually decorated with dainty designs. There also are
kept those curious wooden pillows, invented to preserve the Japanese
coiffure from becoming disarranged during sleep.
The pillow has a certain sacredness; but the origin and the precise
nature of the beliefs concerning it I have not been able to learn. Only
this I know, that to touch it with the foot is considered very wrong;
and that if it be kicked or moved thus even by accident, the clumsiness
must be atoned for by lifting the pillow to the forehead with the hands,
and replacing it in its original position respectfully, with the word
'go-men,' signifying, I pray to be excused.]
Now, as a rule, one sleeps soundly after having drunk plenty of warm
sake, especially if the night be cool and the bed very snug. But the
guest, having slept but a very little while, was aroused by the sound of
voices in his room--voices of children, always asking each other the
same questions:--'Ani-San samukaro?' 'Omae samukaro?' The presence of
children in his room might annoy the guest, but could not surprise him,
for in these Japanese hotels there are no doors, but only papered
sliding screens between room and room. So it seemed to him that some
children must have wandered into his apartment, by mistake, in the dark.
He uttered some gentle rebuke. For a moment only there was silence; then
a sweet, thin, plaintive voice queried, close to his ear, 'Ani-San
samukaro?' (Elder Brother probably is cold?), and another sweet voice
made answer caressingly, 'Omae samukaro?' [Nay, thou probably art cold?]
He arose and rekindled the candle in the andon,  and looked about the
room. There was no one. The shoji were all closed. He examined the
cupboards; they were empty. Wondering, he lay down again, leaving the
light still burning; and immediately the voices spoke again,
complainingly, close to his pillow:
Then, for the first time, he felt a chill creep over him, which was not
the chill of the night. Again and again he heard, and each time he
became more afraid. For he knew that the voices were in the futon! It
was the covering of the bed that cried out thus.
He gathered hurriedly together the few articles belonging to him, and,
descending the stairs, aroused the landlord and told what had passed.
Then the host, much angered, made reply: 'That to make pleased the
honourable guest everything has been done, the truth is; but the
honourable guest too much august sake having drank, bad dreams has
seen.' Nevertheless the guest insisted upon paying at once that which he
owed, and seeking lodging elsewhere.
Next evening there came another guest who asked for a room for the
night. At a late hour the landlord was aroused by his lodger with the
same story. And this lodger, strange to say, had not taken any sake.
Suspecting some envious plot to ruin his business, the landlord answered
passionately: 'Thee to please all things honourably have been done:
nevertheless, ill-omened and vexatious words thou utterest. And that my
inn my means-of-livelihood is--that also thou knowest. Wherefore that
such things be spoken, right-there-is-none!' Then the guest, getting
into a passion, loudly said things much more evil; and the two parted in
But after the guest was gone, the landlord, thinking all this very
strange, ascended to the empty room to examine the futon. And while
there, he heard the voices, and he discovered that the guests had said
only the truth. It was one covering--only one--which cried out. The rest
were silent. He took the covering into his own room, and for the
remainder of the night lay down beneath it. And the voices continued
until the hour of dawn: 'Ani-San samukaro?' 'Omae samukaro?' So that he
could not sleep.
But at break of day he rose up and went out to find the owner of the
furuteya at which the futon had been purchased. The dlealer knew
nothing. He had bought the futon from a smaller shop, and the keeper of
that shop had purchased it from a still poorer dealer dwelling in the
farthest suburb of the city. And the innkeeper went from one to the
other, asking questions.
Then at last it was found that the futon had belonged to a poor family,
and had been bought from the landlord of a little house in which the
family had lived, in the neighbourhood of the town. And the story of the
futon was this:--
The rent of the little house was only sixty sen a month, but even this
was a great deal for the poor folks to pay. The father could earn only
two or three yen a month, and the mother was ill and could not work; and
there were two children--a boy of six years and a boy of eight. And they
were strangers in Tottori.
One winter's day the father sickened; and after a week of suffering he
died, and was buried. Then the long-sick mother followed him, and the
children were left alone. They knew no one whom they could ask for aid;
and in order to live they began to sell what there was to sell.
That was not much: the clothes of the dead father and mother, and most
of their own; some quilts of cotton, and a few poor household utensils--
hibachi, bowls, cups, and other trifles. Every day they sold something,
until there was nothing left but one futon. And a day came when they had
nothing to eat; and the rent was not paid.
The terrible Dai-kan had arrived, the season of greatest cold; and the
snow had drifted too high that day for them to wander far from the
little house. So they could only lie down under their one futon, and
shiver together, and compassionate each other in their own childish way
--'Ani-San, samukaro?' 'Omae samukaro?'
They had no fire, nor anything with which to make fire; and the darkness
came; and the icy wind screamed into the little house.
They were afraid of the wind, but they were more afraid of the house-
owner, who roused them roughly to demand his rent. He was a hard man,
with an evil face. And finding there was none to pay him, he turned the
children into the snow, and took their one futon away from them, and
locked up the house.
They had but one thin blue kimono each, for all their other clothes had
been sold to buy food; and they had nowhere to go. There was a temple of
Kwannon not far away, but the snow was too high for them to reach it. So
when the landlord was gone, they crept back behind the house. There the
drowsiness of cold fell upon them, and they slept, embracing each other
to keep warm. And while they slept, the gods covered them with a new
futon--ghostly-white and very beautiful. And they did not feel cold any
more. For many days they slept there; then somebody found them, and a
bed was made for them in the hakaba of the Temple of Kwannon-of-the-
And the innkeeper, having heard these things, gave the futon to the
priests of the temple, and caused the kyo to be recited for the little
souls. And the futon ceased thereafter to speak.
One legend recalls another; and I hear to-night many strange ones. The
most remarkable is a tale which my attendant suddenly remembers--a
legend of Izumo.
Once there lived in the Izumo village called Mochida-noura a peasant who
was so poor that he was afraid to have children. And each time that his
wife bore him a child he cast it into the river, and pretended that it
had been born dead. Sometimes it was a son, sometimes a daughter; but
always the infant was thrown into the river at night. Six were murdered
But, as the years passed, the peasant found himself more prosperous. He
had been able to purchase land and to lay by money. And at last his wife
bore him a seventh--a boy.
Then the man said: 'Now we can support a child, and we shall need a son
to aid us when we are old. And this boy is beautiful. So we will bring
And the infant thrived; and each day the hard peasant wondered more at
his own heart--for each day he knew that he loved his son more.
One summer's night he walked out into his garden, carrying his child in
his arms. The little one was five months old.
And the night was so beautiful, with its great moon, that the peasant
cried out--'Aa! kon ya med xurashii e yo da!' [Ah! to-night truly a
wondrously beautiful night is!]
Then the infant, looking up into his face and speaking the speech of a
man, said--'Why, father! the LAST time you threw me away the night was
just like this, and the moon looked just the same, did it not?'  And
thereafter the child remained as other children of the same age, and
spoke no word.
The peasant became a monk.
After the supper and the bath, feeling too warm to sleep, I wander out
alone to visit the village hakaba, a long cemetery upon a sandhill, or
rather a prodigious dune, thinly covered at its summit with soil, but
revealing through its crumbling flanks the story of its creation by
ancient tides, mightier than tides of to-day.
I wade to my knees in sand to reach the cemetery. It is a warm moonlight
night, with a great breeze. There are many bon-lanterns (bondoro), but
the sea-wind has blown out most of them; only a few here and there still
shed a soft white glow--pretty shrine-shaped cases of wood, with
apertures of symbolic outline, covered with white paper. Visitors beside
myself there are none, for it is late. But much gentle work has been
done here to-day, for all the bamboo vases have been furnished with
fresh flowers or sprays, and the water basins filled with fresh water,
and the monuments cleansed and beautified. And in the farthest nook of
the cemetery I find, before one very humble tomb, a pretty zen or
lacquered dining tray, covered with dishes and bowls containing a
perfect dainty little Japanese repast. There is also a pair of new
chopsticks, and a little cup of tea, and some of the dishes are still
warm. A loving woman's work; the prints of her little sandals are fresh
upon the path.
There is an Irish folk-saying that any dream may be remembered if the
dreamer, after awakening, forbear to scratch his head in the effort to
recall it. But should he forget this precaution, never can the dream be
brought back to memory: as well try to re-form the curlings of a smoke-
wreath blown away.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of a thousand dreams are indeed hopelessly
evaporative. But certain rare dreams, which come when fancy has been
strangely impressed by unfamiliar experiences--dreams particularly apt
to occur in time of travel--remain in recollection, imaged with all the
vividness of real events.
Of such was the dream I dreamed at Hamamura, after having seen and heard
those things previously written down.
Some pale broad paved place--perhaps the thought of a temple court--
tinted by a faint sun; and before me a woman, neither young nor old,
seated at the base of a great grey pedestal that supported I know not
what, for I could look only at the woman's face. Awhile I thought that I
remembered her--a woman of Izumo; then she seemed a weirdness. Her lips
were moving, but her eyes remained closed, and I could not choose but
look at her.
And in a voice that seemed to come thin through distance of years she
began a soft wailing chant; and, as I listened, vague memories came to
me of a Celtic lullaby. And as she sang, she loosed with one hand her
long black hair, till it fell coiling upon the stones. And, having
fallen, it was no longer black, but blue--pale day-blue--and was moving
sinuously, crawling with swift blue ripplings to and fro. And then,
suddenly, I became aware that the ripplings were far, very far away, and
that the woman was gone. There was only the sea, blue-billowing to the
verge of heaven, with long slow flashings of soundless surf.
And wakening, I heard in the night the muttering of the real sea--the
vast husky speech of the Hotoke-umi--the Tide of the Returning Ghosts.
CHAPTER SEVEN Of a Dancing-Girl
NOTHING is more silent than the beginning of a Japanese banquet; and no
one, except a native, who observes the opening scene could possibly
imagine the tumultuous ending.
The robed guests take their places, quite noiselessly and without
speech, upon the kneeling-cushions. The lacquered services are laid upon
the matting before them by maidens whose bare feet make no sound. For a
while there is only smiling and flitting, as in dreams. You are not
likely to hear any voices from without, as a banqueting-house is usually
secluded from the street by spacious gardens. At last the master of
ceremonies, host or provider, breaks the hush with the consecrated
formula: 'O-somatsu degozarimasu gal--dozo o-hashi!' whereat all present
bow silently, take up their hashi (chopsticks), and fall to. But hashi,
deftly used, cannot be heard at all. The maidens pour warm sake into the
cup of each guest without making the least sound; and it is not until
several dishes have been emptied, and several cups of sake absorbed,
that tongues are loosened.
Then, all at once, with a little burst of laughter, a number of young
girls enter, make the customary prostration of greeting, glide into the
open space between the ranks of the guests, and begin to serve the wine
with a grace and dexterity of which no common maid is capable. They are
pretty; they are clad in very costly robes of silk; they are girdled
like queens; and the beautifully dressed hair of each is decked with
mock flowers, with wonderful combs and pins, and with curious ornaments
of gold. They greet the stranger as if they had always known him; they
jest, laugh, and utter funny little cries. These are the geisha,  or
dancing-girls, hired for the banquet.
Samisen  tinkle. The dancers withdraw to a clear space at the farther
end of the banqueting-hall, always vast enough to admit of many more
guests than ever assemble upon common occasions. Some form the
orchestra, under the direction of a woman of uncertain age; there are
several samisen, and a tiny drum played by a child. Others, singly or in
pairs, perform the dance. It may be swift and merry, consisting wholly
of graceful posturing--two girls dancing together with such coincidence
of step and gesture as only years of training could render possible. But
more frequently it is rather like acting than like what we Occidentals
call dancing--acting accompanied with extraordinary waving of sleeves
and fans, and with a play of eyes and features, sweet, subtle, subdued,
wholly Oriental. There are more voluptuous dances known to geisha, but
upon ordinary occasions and before refined audiences they portray
beautiful old Japanese traditions, like the legend of the fisher
Urashima, beloved by the Sea God's daughter; and at intervals they sing
ancient Chinese poems, expressing a natural emotion with delicious
vividness by a few exquisite words. And always they pour the wine--that
warm, pale yellow, drowsy wine which fills the veins with soft
contentment, making a faint sense of ecstasy, through which, as through
some poppied sleep, the commonplace becomes wondrous and blissful, and
the geisha Maids of Paradise, and the world much sweeter than, in the
natural order of things, it could ever possibly be.
The banquet, at first so silent, slowly changes to a merry tumult. The
company break ranks, form groups; and from group to group the girls
pass, laughing, prattling--still pouring sake into the cups which are
being exchanged and emptied with low bows  Men begin to sing old
samurai songs, old Chinese poems. One or two even dance. A geisha tucks
her robe well up to her knees; and the samisen strike up the quick
melody, 'Kompira fund-fund.' As the music plays, she begins to run
lightly and swiftly in a figure of 8, and a young man, carrying a sake
bottle and cup, also runs in the same figure of 8. If the two meet on a
line, the one through whose error the meeting happens must drink a cup
of sake. The music becomes quicker and quicker and the runners run
faster and faster, for they must keep time to the melody; and the geisha
wins. In another part of the room, guests and geisha are playing ken.
They sing as they play, facing each other, and clap their hands, and
fling out their fingers at intervals with little cries and the samisen
Now, to play ken with a geisha requires a perfectly cool head, a quick
eye, and much practice. Having been trained from childhood to play all
kinds of ken--and there are many--she generally loses only for
politeness, when she loses at all. The signs of the most common ken are
a Man, a Fox, and a Gun. If the geisha make the sign of the Gun, you
must instantly, and in exact time to the music, make the sign of the
Fox, who cannot use the Gun. For if you make the sign of the Man, then
she will answer with the sign of the Fox, who can deceive the Man, and
you lose. And if she make the sign of the Fox first, then you should
make the sign of the Gun, by which the Fox can be killed. But all the
while you must watch her bright eyes and supple hands. These are pretty;
and if you suffer yourself, just for one fraction of a second, to think
how pretty they are, you are bewitched and vanquished. Notwithstanding
all this apparent comradeship, a certain rigid decorum between guest and
geisha is invariably preserved at a Japanese banquet. However flushed
with wine a guest may have become, you will never see him attempt to
caress a girl; he never forgets that she appears at the festivities only
as a human flower, to be looked at, not to be touched. The familiarity
which foreign tourists in Japan frequently permit themselves with geisha
or with waiter-girls, though endured with smiling patience, is really
much disliked, and considered by native observers an evidence of extreme
For a time the merriment grows; but as midnight draws near, the guests
begin to slip away, one by one, unnoticed. Then the din gradually dies
down, the music stops; and at last the geisha, having escorted the
latest of the feasters to the door, with laughing cries of Sayonara, can
sit down alone to break their long fast in the deserted hall.
Such is the geisha's rle But what is the mystery of her? What are her
thoughts, her emotions, her secret self? What is her veritable existence
beyond the night circle of the banquet lights, far from the illusion
formed around her by the mist of wine? Is she always as mischievous as
she seems while her voice ripples out with mocking sweetness the words
of the ancient song?
Kimi to neyaru ka, go sengoku toruka? Nanno gosengoku kimi to neyo? 
Or might we think her capable of keeping that passionate promise she
utters so deliciously?
Omae shindara tera ewa yaranu! Yaete konishite sake de nomu, 
'Why, as for that,' a friend tells me, 'there was O'-Kama of Osaka who
realised the song only last year. For she, having collected from the
funeral pile the ashes of her lover, mingled them with sake, and at a
banquet drank them, in the presence of many guests.' In the presence of
many guests! Alas for romance!
Always in the dwelling which a band of geisha occupy there is a strange
image placed in the alcove. Sometimes it is of clay, rarely of gold,
most commonly of porcelain. It is reverenced: offerings are made to it,
sweetmeats and rice bread and wine; incense smoulders in front of it,
and a lamp is burned before it. It is the image of a kitten erect, one
paw outstretched as if inviting--whence its name, 'the Beckoning
Kitten.'  It is the genius loci: it brings good-fortune, the
patronage of the rich, the favour of banquet-givers Now, they who know
the soul of the geisha aver that the semblance of the image is the
semblance of herself--playful and pretty, soft and young, lithe and
caressing, and cruel as a devouring fire.
Worse, also, than this they have said of her: that in her shadow treads
the God of Poverty, and that the Fox-women are her sisters; that she is
the ruin of youth, the waster of fortunes, the destroyer of families;
that she knows love only as the source of the follies which are her
gain, and grows rich upon the substance of men whose graves she has
made; that she is the most consummate of pretty hypocrites, the most
dangerous of schemers, the most insatiable of mercenaries, the most
pitiless of mistresses. This cannot all be true. Yet thus much is true--
that, like the kitten, the geisha is by profession a creature of prey.
There are many really lovable kittens. Even so there must be really
The geisha is only what she has been made in answer to foolish human
desire for the illusion of love mixed with youth and grace, but without
regrets or responsibilities: wherefore she has been taught, besides ken,
to play at hearts. Now, the eternal law is that people may play with
impunity at any game in this unhappy world except three, which are
called Life, Love, and Death. Those the gods have reserved to
themselves, because nobody else can learn to play them without doing
mischief. Therefore, to play with a geisha any game much more serious
than ken, or at least go, is displeasing to the gods.
The girl begins her career as a slave, a pretty child bought from
miserably poor parents under a contract, according to which her services
may be claimed by the purchasers for eighteen, twenty, or even twenty-
five years. She is fed, clothed, and trained in a house occupied only by
geisha; and she passes the rest of her childhood under severe
discipline. She is taught etiquette, grace, polite speech; she has daily
lessons in dancing; and she is obliged to learn by heart a multitude of
songs with their airs. Also she must learn games, the service of
banquets and weddings, the art of dressing and looking beautiful.
Whatever physical gifts she may have are; carefully cultivated.
Afterwards she is taught to handle musical instruments: first, the
little drum (tsudzumi), which cannot be sounded at all without
considerable practice; then she learns to play the samisen a little,
with a plectrum of tortoise-shell or ivory. At eight or nine years of
age she attends banquets, chiefly as a drum-player. She is then the
most charming little creature imaginable, and already knows how to fill
your wine-cup exactly full, with a single toss of the bottle and without
spilling a drop, between two taps of her drum.
Thereafter her discipline becomes more cruel. Her voice may be flexible
enough, but lacks the requisite strength. In the iciest hours of winter
nights, she must ascend to the roof of her dwelling-house, and there
sing and play till the blood oozes from her fingers and the voice dies
in her throat. The desired result is an atrocious cold. After a period
of hoarse whispering, her voice changes its tone and strengthens. She is
ready to become a public singer and dancer.
In this capacity she usually makes her first appearance at the age of
twelve or thirteen. If pretty and skilful, her services will be much in
demand, and her time paid for at the rate of twenty to twenty-five sen
per hour. Then only do her purchasers begin to reimburse themselves for
the time, expense, and trouble of her training; and they are not apt to
be generous. For many years more all that she earns must pass into their
hands. She can own nothing, not even her clothes.
At seventeen or eighteen she has made her artistic reputation. She has
been at many hundreds of entertainments, and knows by sight all the
important personages of her city, the character of each, the history of
all. Her life has been chiefly a night life; rarely has she seen the sun
rise since she became a dancer. She has learned to drink wine without
ever losing her head, and to fast for seven or eight hours without ever
feeling the worse. She has had many lovers. To a certain extent she is
free to smile upon whom she pleases; but she has been well taught, above
all else to use her power of charm for her own advantage. She hopes to
find Somebody able and willing to buy her freedom--which Somebody would
almost certainly thereafter discover many new and excellent meanings in
those Buddhist texts that tell about the foolishness of love and the
impermanency of all human relationships.
At this point of her career we may leave the geisha: there-. after her
story is apt to prove unpleasant, unless she die young. Should that
happen, she will have the obsequies of her class, and her memory will be
preserved by divers curious rites.
Some time, perhaps, while wandering through Japanese streets at night,
you hear sounds of music, a tinkling of samisen floating through the
great gateway of a Buddhist temple together with shrill voices of
singing-girls; which may seem to you a strange happening. And the deep
court is thronged with people looking and listening. Then, making your
way through the press to the temple steps, you see two geisha seated
upon the matting within, playing and singing, and a third dancing before
a little table. Upon the table is an ihai, or mortuary tablet; in front
of the tablet burns a little lamp, and incense in a cup of bronze; a
small repast has been placed there, fruits and dainties--such a repast
as, upon festival occasions, it is the custom to offer to the dead. You
learn that the kaimyo upon the tablet is that of a geisha; and that the
comrades of the dead girl assemble in the temple on certain days to
gladden her spirit with songs and dances. Then whosoever pleases may
attend the ceremony free of charge.
But the dancing-girls of ancient times were not as the geisha of to-day.
Some of them were called shirabyoshi; and their hearts were not
extremely hard. They were beautiful; they wore queerly shaped caps
bedecked with gold; they were clad in splendid attire, and danced with
swords in the dwellings of princes. And there is an old story about one
of them which I think it worth while to tell.
It was formerly, and indeed still is, a custom with young Japanese
artists to travel on foot through various parts of the empire, in order
to see and sketch the most celebrated scenery as well as to study famous
art objects preserved in Buddhist temples, many of which occupy sites of
extraordinary picturesqueness. It is to such wanderings, chiefly, that
we owe the existence of those beautiful books of landscape views and
life studies which are now so curious and rare, and which teach better
than aught else that only the Japanese can paint Japanese scenery. After
you have become acquainted with their methods of interpreting their own
nature, foreign attempts in the same line will seem to you strangely
flat and soulless. The foreign artist will give you realistic
reflections of what he sees; but he will give you nothing more. The
Japanese artist gives you that which he feels--the mood of a season, the
precise sensation of an hour and place; his work is qualified by a power
of suggestiveness rarely found in the art of the West. The Occidental
painter renders minute detail; he satisfies the imagination he evokes.
But his Oriental brother either suppresses or idealises detail--steeps
his distances in mist, bands his landscapes with cloud, makes of his
experience a memory in which only the strange and the beautiful survive,
with their sensations. He surpasses imagination, excites it, leaves it
hungry with the hunger of charm perceived in glimpses only.
Nevertheless, in such glimpses he is able to convey the feeling of a
time, the character of a place, after a fashion that seems magical. He
is a painter of recollections and of sensations rather than of clear-cut
realities; and in this lies the secret of his amazing power--a power not
to be appreciated by those who have never witnessed the scenes of his
inspiration. He is above all things impersonal. His human figures are
devoid of all individuality; yet they have inimitable merit as types
embodying the characteristics of a class: the childish curiosity of the
peasant, the shyness of the maiden, the fascination of the joro the
self-consciousness of the samurai, the funny, placid prettiness of the
child, the resigned gentleness of age. Travel and observation were the
influences which developed this art; it was never a growth of studios.
A great many years ago, a young art student was travelling on foot from
Kyoto to Yedo, over the mountains The roads then were few and bad, and
travel was so difficult compared to what it is now that a proverb was
current, Kawai ko wa tabi wo sase (A pet child should be made to
travel). But the land was what it is to-day. There were the same forests
of cedar and of pine, the same groves of bamboo, the same peaked
villages with roofs of thatch, the same terraced rice-fields dotted with
the great yellow straw hats of peasants bending in the slime. From the
wayside, the same statues of Jizo smiled upon the same pilgrim figures
passing to the same temples; and then, as now, of summer days, one might
see naked brown children laughing in all the shallow rivers, and all the
rivers laughing to the sun.
The young art student, however, was no kawai ko: he had already
travelled a great deal, was inured to hard fare and rough lodging, and
accustomed to make the best of every situation. But upon this journey he
found himself, one evening after sunset, in a region where it seemed
possible to obtain neither fare nor lodging of any sort--out of sight of
cultivated land. While attempting a short cut over a range to reach some
village, he had lost his way.
There was no moon, and pine shadows made blackness all around him. The
district into which he had wandered seemed utterly wild; there were no
sounds but the humming of the wind in the pine-needles, and an infinite
tinkling of bell-insects. He stumbled on, hoping to gain some river
bank, which he could follow to a settlement. At last a stream abruptly
crossed his way; but it proved to be a swift torrent pouring into a
gorge between precipices. Obliged to retrace his steps, he resolved to
climb to the nearest summit, whence he might be able to discern some
sign of human life; but on reaching it he could see about him only a
heaping of hills.
He had almost resigned himself to passing the night under the stars,
when he perceived, at some distance down the farther slope of the hill
he had ascended, a single thin yellow ray of light, evidently issuing
from some dwelling. He made his way towards it, and soon discerned a
small cottage, apparently a peasant's home. The light he had seen still
streamed from it, through a chink in the closed storm-doors. He hastened
forward, and knocked at the entrance.
Not until he had knocked and called several times did he hear any stir
within; then a woman 's voice asked what was wanted. The voice was
remarkably sweet, and the speech of the unseen questioner surprised him,
for she spoke in the cultivated idiom of the capital. He responded that
he was a student, who had lost his way in the mountains; that he wished,
if possible, to obtain food and lodging for the night; and that if this
could not be given, he would feel very grateful for information how to
reach the nearest village--adding that he had means enough to pay for
the services of a guide. The voice, in return, asked several other
questions, indicating extreme surprise that anyone could have reached
the dwelling from the direction he had taken. But his answers evidently
allayed suspicion, for the inmate exclaimed: 'I will come in a moment.
It would be difficult for you to reach any village to-night; and the
path is dangerous.'
After a brief delay the storm-doors were pushed open, and a woman
appeared with a paper lantern, which she so held as to illuminate the
stranger's face, while her own remained in shadow. She scrutinised him
in silence, then said briefly, 'Wait; I will bring water.' She fetched a
wash-basin, set it upon the doorstep, and offered the guest a towel. He
removed his sandals, washed from his feet the dust of travel, and was
shown into a neat room which appeared to occupy the whole interior,
except a small boarded space at the rear, used as a kitchen. A cotton
zabuton was laid for him to kneel upon, and a brazier set before him.
It was only then that he had a good opportunity of observing his
hostess, and he was startled by the delicacy and beauty of her features.
She might have been three or four years older than he, but was still in
the bloom of youth. Certainly she was not a peasant girl. In the same
singularly sweet voice she said to him: 'I am now alone, and I never
receive guests here. But I am sure it would be dangerous for you to
travel farther tonight. There are some peasants in the neighbourhood,
but you cannot find your way to them in the dark without a guide. So I
can let you stay here until morning. You will not be comfortable, but I
can give you a bed. And I suppose you are hungry. There is only some
shojin-ryori, --not at all good, but you are welcome to it.'
The traveller was quite hungry, and only too glad of the offer. The
young woman kindled a little fire, prepared a few dishes in silence--
stewed leaves of na, some aburage, some kampyo, and a bowl of coarse
rice--and quickly set the meal before him, apologising for its quality.
But during his repast she spoke scarcely at all, and her reserved manner
embarrassed him. As she answered the few questions he ventured upon
merely by a bow or by a solitary word, he soon refrained from attempting
to press the conversation.
Meanwhile he had observed that the small house was spotlessly clean, and
the utensils in which his food was served were immaculate. The few cheap
objects in the apartment were pretty. The fusuma of the oshiire and
zendana  were of white paper only, but had been decorated with large
Chinese characters exquisitely written, characters suggesting, according
to the law of such decoration, the favourite themes of the poet and
artist: Spring Flowers, Mountain and Sea, Summer Rain, Sky and Stars,
Autumn Moon, River Water, Autumn Breeze. At one side of the apartment
stood a kind of low altar, supporting a butsudan, whose tiny lacquered
doors, left open, showed a mortuary tablet within, before which a lamp
was burning between offerings of wild flowers. And above this household
shrine hung a picture of more than common merit, representing the
Goddess of Mercy, wearing the moon for her aureole.
As the student ended his little meal the young woman observed: I cannot
offer you a good bed, and there is only a paper mosquito-curtain The bed
and the curtain are mine, but to-night I have many things to do, and
shall have no time to sleep; therefore I beg you will try to rest,
though I am not able to make you comfortable.'
He then understood that she was, for some strange reason, entirely
alone, and was voluntarily giving up her only bed to him upon a kindly
pretext. He protested honestly against such an excess of hospitality,
and assured her that he could sleep quite soundly anywhere on the floor,
and did not care about the mosquitoes. But she replied, in the tone of
an elder sister, that he must obey her wishes. She really had something
to do, and she desired to be left by herself as soon as possible;
therefore, understanding him to be a gentleman, she expected he would
suffer her to arrange matters in her own way. To this he could offer no
objection, as there was but one room. She spread the mattress on the
floor, fetched a wooden pillow, suspended her paper mosquito-curtain,
unfolded a large screen on the side of the bed toward the butsudan, and
then bade him good-night in a manner that assured him she wished him to
retire at once; which he did, not without some reluctance at the thought
of all the trouble he had unintentionally caused her.
Unwilling as the young traveller felt to accept a kindness involving the
sacrifice of another's repose, he found the bed more than comfortable.
He was very tired, and had scarcely laid his head upon the wooden pillow
before he forgot everything in sleep.
Yet only a little while seemed to have passed when he was awakened by a
singular sound. It was certainly the sound of feet, but not of feet
walking softly. It seemed rather the sound of feet in rapid motion, as
of excitement. Then it occurred to him that robbers might have entered
the house. As for himself, he had little to fear because he had little
to lose. His anxiety was chiefly for the kind person who had granted him
hospitality. Into each side of the paper mosquito-curtain a small square
of brown netting had been fitted, like a little window, and through one
of these he tried to look; but the high screen stood between him and
whatever was going on. He thought of calling, but this impulse was
checked by the reflection that in case of real danger it would be both
useless and imprudent to announce his presence before understanding the
situation. The sounds which had made him uneasy continued, and were more
and more mysterious. He resolved to prepare for the worst, and to risk
his life, if necessary, in order to defend his young hostess. Hastily
girding up his robes, he slipped noiselessly from under the paper
curtain, crept to the edge of the screen, and peeped. What he saw
astonished him extremely.
Before her illuminated butsudan the young woman, magnificently attired,
was dancing all alone. Her costume he recognised as that of a
shirabyoshi, though much richer than any he had ever seen worn by a
professional dancer. Marvellously enhanced by it, her beauty, in that
lonely time and place, appeared almost supernatural; but what seemed to
him even more wonderful was her dancing. For an instant he felt the
tingling of a weird doubt. The superstitions of peasants, the legends of
Fox-women, flashed before his imagination; but the sight of the Buddhist
shrine, of the sacred picture, dissipated the fancy, and shamed him for
the folly of it. At the same time he became conscious that he was
watching something she had not wished him to see, and that it was his
duty, as her guest, to return at once behind the screen; but the
spectacle fascinated him. He felt, with not less pleasure than
amazement, that he was looking upon the most accomplished dancer he had
ever seen; and the more he watched, the more the witchery of her grace
grew upon him. Suddenly she paused, panting, unfastened her girdle,
turned in the act of doffing her upper robe, and started violently as
her eyes encountered his own.
He tried at once to excuse himself to her. He said he had been suddenly
awakened by the sound of quick feet, which sound had caused him some
uneasiness, chiefly for her sake, because of the lateness of the hour
and the lonesomeness of the place. Then he confessed his surprise at
what he had seen, and spoke of the manner in which it had attracted him.
'I beg you,' he continued, 'to forgive my curiosity, for I cannot help
wondering who you are, and how you could have become so marvellous a
dancer. All the dancers of Saikyo I have seen, yet I have never seen
among the most celebrated of them a girl who could dance like you; and
once I had begun to watch you, I could not take away my eyes.'
At first she had seemed angry, but before he had ceased to speak her
expression changed. She smiled, and seated herself before him.' 'No, I
am not angry with you,' she said. 'I am only sorry that you should have
watched me, for I am sure you must have thought me mad when you saw me
dancing that way, all by myself; and now I must tell you the meaning of
what you have seen.'
So she related her story. Her name he remembered to have heard as a boy
--her professional name, the name of the most famous of shirabyoshi, the
darling of the capital, who, in the zenith of her fame and beauty, had
suddenly vanished from public life, none knew whither or why. She had
fled from wealth and fortune with a youth who loved her. He was poor,
but between them they possessed enough means to live simply and happily
in the country. They built a little house in the mountains, and there
for a number of years they existed only for each other. He adored her.
One of his greatest pleasures was to see her dance. Each evening he
would play some favourite melody, and she would dance for him. But one
long cold winter he fell sick, and, in spite of her tender nursing,
died. Since then she had lived alone with the memory of him, performing
all those small rites of love and homage with which the dead are
honoured. Daily before his tablet she placed the customary offerings,
and nightly danced to please him, as of old. And this was the
explanation of what the young traveller had seen. It was indeed rude,
she continued, to have awakened her tired guest; but she had waited
until she thought him soundly sleeping, and then she had tried to dance
very, very lightly. So she hoped he would pardon her for having
unintentionally disturbed him.
When she had told him all, she made ready a little tea, which they drank
together; then she entreated him so plaintively to please her by trying
to sleep again that he found himself obliged to go back, with many
sincere apologies, under the paper mosquito-curtain.
He slept well and long; the sun was high before he woke. On rising, he
found prepared for him a meal as simple as that of the evening before,
and he felt hungry. Nevertheless he ate sparingly, fearing the young
woman might have stinted herself in thus providing for him; and then he
made ready to depart. But when he wanted to pay her for what he had
received, and for all the trouble he had given her, she refused to take
anything from him, saying: 'What I had to give was not worth money, and
what I did was done for kindness alone. So! pray that you will try to
forget the discomfort you suffered here, and will remember only the
good-will of one who had nothing to offer.'
He still endeavoured to induce her to accept something; but at last,
finding that his insistence only gave her pain, he took leave of her
with such words as he could find to express his gratitude, and not
without a secret regret, for her beauty and her gentleness had charmed
him more than he would have liked to acknowledge to any but herself. She
indicated to him the path to follow, and watched him descend the
mountain until he had passed from sight. An hour later he found himself
upon a highway with which he was familiar. Then a sudden remorse touched
him: he had forgotten to tell her his name. For an instant he hesitated;
then he said to himself, 'What matters it? I shall be always poor.' And
he went on.
Many years passed by, and many fashions with them; and the painter
became old. But ere becoming old he had become famous. Princes, charmed
by the wonder of his work, had vied with one another in giving him
patronage; so that he grew rich, and possessed a beautiful dwelling of
his own in the City of the Emperors. Young artists from many provinces
were his pupils, and lived with him, serving him in all things while
receiving his instruction; and his name was known throughout the land.
Now, there came one day to his house an old woman, who asked to speak
with him. The servants, seeing that she was meanly dressed and of
miserable appearance, took her to be some common beggar, and questioned
her roughly. But when she answered: 'I can tell to no one except your
master why I have come,' they believed her mad, and deceived her,
saying: 'He is not now in Saikyo, nor do we know how soon he will
But the old woman came again and again--day after day, and week after
week--each time being told something that was not true: 'To-day he is
ill,' or, 'To-day he is very busy,' or, 'To-day he has much company, and
therefore cannot see you.' Nevertheless she continued to come, always at
the same hour each day, and always carrying a bundle wrapped in a ragged
covering; and the servants at last thought it were best to speak to
their master about her. So they said to him: 'There is a very old woman,
whom we take to be a beggar, at our lord's gate. More than fifty times
she has come, asking to see our lord, and refusing to tell us why--
saying that she can tell her wishes only to our lord. And we have tried
to discourage her, as she seemed to be mad; but she always comes.
Therefore we have presumed to mention the matter to our lord, in order
that we may learn what is to be done hereafter.'
Then the Master answered sharply: 'Why did none of you tell me of this
before?' and went out himself to the gate, and spoke very kindly to the
woman, remembering how he also had been poor. And he asked her if she
desired alms of him.
But she answered that she had no need of money or of food, and only
desired that he would paint for her a picture. He wondered at her wish,
and bade her enter his house. So she entered into the vestibule, and,
kneeling there, began to untie the knots of the bundle she had brought
with her. When she had unwrapped it, the painter perceived curious rich
quaint garments of silk broidered with designs in gold, yet much frayed
and discoloured by wear and time--the wreck of a wonderful costume of
other days, the attire of a shirabyoshi.
While the old woman unfolded the garments one by one, and tried to
smooth them with her trembling fingers, a memory stirred in the Master's
brain, thrilled dimly there a little space, then suddenly lighted up. In
that soft shock of recollection, he saw again the lonely mountain
dwelling in which he had received unremunerated hospitality--the tiny
room prepared for his rest, the paper mosquito-curtain, the faintly
burning lamp before the Buddhist shrine, the strange beauty of one
dancing there alone in the dead of the night. Then, to the astonishment
of the aged visitor, he, the favoured of princes, bowed low before her,
and said: 'Pardon my rudeness in having forgotten your face for a
moment; but it is more than forty years since we last saw each other.
Now I remember you well. You received me once at your house. You gave up
to me the only bed you had. I saw you dance, and you told me all your
story. You had been a shirabyoshi, and I have not forgotten your name.'
He uttered it. She, astonished and confused, could not at first reply to
him, for she was old and had suffered much, and her memory had begun to
fail. But he spoke more and more kindly to her, and reminded her of many
things which she had told him, and described to her the house in which
she had lived alone, so that at last she also remembered; and she
answered, with tears of pleasure: 'Surely the Divine One who looketh
down above the sound of prayer has guided me. But when my unworthy home
was honoured by the visit of the august Master, I was not as I now am.
And it seems to me like a miracle of our Lord Buddha that the Master
should remember me.'
Then she related the rest of her simple story. In the course of years,
she had become, through poverty, obliged to part with her little house;
and in her old age she had returned alone to the great city, in which
her name had long been forgotten. It had caused her much pain to lose
her home; but it grieved her still more that, in becoming weak and old,
she could no longer dance each evening before the butsudan, to please
the spirit of the dead whom she had loved. Therefore she wanted to have
a picture of herself painted, in the costume and the attitude of the
dance, that she might suspend it before the butsudan. For this she had
prayed earnestly to Kwannon. And she had sought out the Master because
of his fame as a painter, since she desired, for the sake of the dead,
no common work, but a picture painted with great skill; and she had
brought her dancing attire, hoping that the Master might be willing to
paint her therein.
He listened to all with a kindly smile, and answered her: 'It will be
only a pleasure for me to paint the picture which you want. This day I
have something to finish which cannot be delayed. But if you will come
here to-morrow, I will paint you exactly as you wish, and as well as I
But she said: 'I have not yet told to the Master the thing which most
troubles me. And it is this--that I can offer in return for so great a
favour nothing except these dancer's clothes; and they are of no value
in themselves, though they were costly once. Still, I hoped the Master
might be willing to take them, seeing they have become curious; for
there are no more shirabyoshi, and the maiko of these times wear no such
'Of that matter,' the good painter exclaimed, 'you must not think at
all! No; I am glad to have this present chance of paying a small part
of my old debt to you. So to-morrow I will paint you just as you wish.'
She prostrated herself thrice before him, uttering thanks and then said,
'Let my lord pardon, though I have yet something more to say. For I do
not wish that he should paint me as I now am, but only as I used to be
when I was young, as my lord knew me.'
He said: 'I remember well. You were very beautiful.'
Her wrinkled features lighted up with pleasure, as she bowed her thanks
to him for those words. And she exclaimed: 'Then indeed all that I hoped
and prayed for may be done! Since he thus remembers my poor youth, I
beseech my lord to paint me, not as I now am, but as he saw me when I
was not old and, as it has pleased him generously to say, not uncomely.
O Master, make me young again! Make me seem beautiful that I may seem
beautiful to the soul of him for whose sake I, the unworthy, beseech
this! He will see the Master's work: he will forgive me that I can no
Once more the Master bade her have no anxiety, and said: 'Come tomorrow,
and I will paint you. I will make a picture of you just as you
were when I saw you, a young and beautiful shirabyoshi, and I will paint
it as carefully and as skilfully as if I were painting the picture of
the richest person in the land. Never doubt, but come.'
So the aged dancer came at the appointed hour; and upon soft white silk
the artist painted a picture of her. Yet not a picture of her as she
seemed to the Master's pupils but the memory of her as she had been in
the days of her youth, bright-eyed as a bird, lithe as a bamboo,
dazzling as a tennin  in her raiment of silk and gold. Under the
magic of the Master's brush, the vanished grace returned, the faded
beauty bloomed again. When the kakemono had been finished, and stamped
with his seal, he mounted it richly upon silken cloth, and fixed to it
rollers of cedar with ivory weights, and a silken cord by which to hang
it; and he placed it in a little box of white wood, and so gave it to
the shirabyoshi. And he would also have presented her with a gift of
money. But though he pressed her earnestly, he could not persuade her to
accept his help. 'Nay,' she made answer, with tears, 'indeed I need
nothing. The picture only I desired. For that I prayed; and now my
prayer has been answered, and I know that I never can wish for anything
more in this life, and that if I come to die thus desiring nothing, to
enter upon the way of Buddha will not be difficult. One thought .alone
causes me sorrow--that I have nothing to offer to the Master but this
dancer's apparel, which is indeed of little worth, though I beseech him
I to accept it; and I will pray each day that his future life may be a
life of happiness, because of the wondrous kindness which I he has done
'Nay,' protested the painter, smiling, 'what is it that I have done?
Truly nothing. As for the dancer's garments, I will accept them, if that
can make you more happy. They will bring back pleasant memories of the
night I passed in your home, when you gave up all your comforts for my
unworthy sake, and yet would not suffer me to pay for that which I used;
and for that kindness I hold myself to be still in your debt. But now
tell me where you live, so that I may see the picture in its place.' For
he had resolved within himself to place her beyond the reach of want.
But she excused herself with humble words, and would not tell him,
saying that her dwelling-place was too mean to be looked upon by such as
he; and then, with many prostrations, she thanked him again and again,
and went away with her treasure, weeping for joy.
Then the Master called to one of his pupils: 'Go quickly after that
woman, but so that she does not know herself followed, and bring me word
where she lives.' So the young man followed her, unperceived.
He remained long away, and when he returned he laughed in the manner of
one obliged to say something which it is not pleasant to hear, and he
said: 'That woman, O Master, I followed out of the city to the dry bed
of the river, near to the place where criminals are executed. There I
saw a hut such as an Eta might dwell in, and that is where she lives. A
forsaken and filthy place, O Master!'
'Nevertheless,' the painter replied, 'to-morrow you will take me to that
forsaken and filthy place. What time I live she shall not suffer for
food or clothing or comfort.'
And as all wondered, he told them the story of the shirabyoshi, after
which it did not seem to them that his words were strange.
On the morning of the day following, an hour after sun-rise, the Master
and his pupil took their way to the dry bed of the river, beyond the
verge of the city, to the place of outcasts.
The entrance of the little dwelling they found closed by a single
shutter, upon which the Master tapped many times without evoking a
response. Then, finding the shutter unfastened from within, he pushed it
slightly aside, and called through the aperture. None replied, and he
decided to enter. Simultaneously, with extraordinary vividness, there
thrilled back to him the sensation of the very instant when, as a tired.
lad, he stood pleading for admission to the lonesome little cottage
among the hills.
Entering alone softly, he perceived that the woman was lying there,
wrapped in a single thin and tattered futon, seemingly asleep. On a rude
shelf he recognised the butsudan of' forty years before, with its
tablet, and now, as then, a tiny lamp was burning in front of the
kaimyo. The kakemono of the Goddess of Mercy with her lunar aureole was
gone, but on the wall facing the shrine he beheld his own dainty gift
suspended, and an ofuda beneath it--an ofuda of Hito-koto-Kwannon --
that Kwannon unto whom it is unlawful to pray more than once, as she
answers but a single prayer. There was little else in the desolate
dwelling; only the garments of a female pilgrim, and a mendicant's staff
But the Master did not pause to look at these things, for he desired to
awaken and to gladden the sleeper, and he called her name cheerily twice
Then suddenly he saw that she was dead, and he wondered while he gazed
upon her face, for it seemed less old. A vague sweetness, like a ghost
of youth, had returned to it; the lines of sorrow had been softened, the
wrinkles strangely smoothed, by the touch of a phantom Master mightier
CHAPTER EIGHT From Hoki to Oki
I RESOLVED to go to Oki.
Not even a missionary had ever been to Oki, and its shores had never
been seen by European eyes, except on those rare occasions when men-of-
war steamed by them, cruising about the Japanese Sea. This alone would
have been a sufficient reason for going there; but a stronger one was
furnished for me by the ignorance of the Japanese themselves about Oki.
Excepting the far-away Riu-Kiu, or Loo-Choo Islands, inhabited by a
somewhat different race with a different language, the least-known
portion of the Japanese Empire is perhaps Oki. Since it belongs to the
same prefectural district as Izumo, each new governor of Shimane-Ken is
supposed to pay one visit to Oki after his inauguration; and the chief
of police of the province sometimes goes there upon a tour of
inspection. There are also some mercantile houses in Matsue and in other
cities which send a commercial traveller to Oki once a year.
Furthermore, there is quite a large trade with Oki--almost all carried
on by small sailing-vessels. But such official and commercial
communications have not been of a nature to make Oki much better known
to-day than in the medieval period of Japanese history. There are still
current among the common people of the west coast extraordinary stories
of Oki much like those about that fabulous Isle of Women, which figures
so largely in the imaginative literature of various Oriental races.
According to these old legends, the moral notions of the people of Oki
were extremely fantastic: the most rigid ascetic could not dwell there
and maintain his indifference to earthly pleasures; and, however wealthy
at his arrival, the visiting stranger must soon return to his native
land naked and poor, because of the seductions of women. I had quite
sufficient experiences of travel in queer countries to feel certain that
all these marvellous stories signified nothing beyond the bare fact that
Oki was a terra incognita; and I even felt inclined to believe that the
average morals of the people of Oki--judging by those of the common folk
of the western provinces--must be very much better than the morals of
our ignorant classes at home.
Which I subsequently ascertained to be the case.
For some time I could find no one among my Japanese acquaintances to
give me any information about Oki, beyond the fact that in ancient times
it had been a place of banishment for the Emperors Go-Daigo and Go-Toba,
dethroned by military usurpers, and this I already knew. But at last,
quite unexpectedly, I found a friend--a former fellow-teacher--who had
not only been to Oki, but was going there again within a few days about
some business matter. We agreed to go together. His accounts of Oki
differed very materially from those of the people who had never been
there. The Oki folks, he said, were almost as much civilised as the
Izumo folks: they, had nice towns and good public schools. They were
very simple and honest beyond belief, and extremely kind to strangers.
Their only boast was that of having kept their race unchanged since the
time that the Japanese had first come to Japan; or, in more romantic
phrase, since the Age of the Gods. They were all Shintoists, members of
the Izumo Taisha faith, but Buddhism was also maintained among them,
chiefly through the generous subscription of private individuals. And
there were very comfortable hotels, so that I would feel quite at home.
He also gave me a little book about Oki, printed for the use of the Oki
schools, from which I obtained the following brief summary of facts:
Oki-no-Kuni, or the Land of Oki, consists of two groups of small islands
in the Sea of Japan, about one hundred miles from the coast of Izumo.
Dozen, as the nearer group is termed, comprises, besides various islets,
three islands lying close together: Chiburishima, or the Island of
Chiburi (sometimes called Higashinoshima, or Eastern Island);
Nishinoshima, or the Western Island, and Nakanoshima, or the Middle
Island. Much larger than any of these is the principal island, Dogo,
which together with various islets, mostly uninhabited, form the
remaining group. It is sometimes called Oki--though the name Oki is
more generally used for the whole archipelago. 
Officially, Oki is divided into four kori or counties. Chiburi and
Nishinoshima together form Chiburigori; Nakanoshima, with an islet,
makes Amagori, and Dogo is divided into Ochigori and Sukigori.
All these islands are very mountainous, and only a small portion of
their area has ever been cultivated. Their chief sources of revenue are
their fisheries, in which nearly the whole population has always been
engaged from the most ancient times.
During the winter months the sea between Oki and the west coast is
highly dangerous for small vessels, and in that season the islands hold
little communication with the mainland. Only one passenger steamer runs
to Oki from Sakai in Hoki In a direct line, the distance from Sakai in
Hoki to Saigo, the chief port of Oki, is said to be thirty-nine ri; but
the steamer touches at the other islands upon her way thither.
There are quite a number of little towns, or rather villages, in Oki, of
which forty-five belong to Dogo. The villages are nearly all situated
upon the coast. There are large schools in the principal towns. The
population of the islands is stated to be 30,196, but the respective
populations of towns and villages are not given.
From Matsue in Izumo to Sakai in Hoki is a trip of barely two hours by
steamer. Sakai is the chief seaport of Shimane-Ken. It is an ugly little
town, full of unpleasant smells; it exists only as a port; it has no
industries, scarcely any shops, and only one Shinto temple of small
dimensions and smaller interest. Its principal buildings are warehouses,
pleasure resorts for sailors, and a few large dingy hotels, which are
always overcrowded with guests waiting for steamers to Osaka, to Bakkan,
to Hamada, to Niigata, and various other ports. On this coast no
steamers run regularly anywhere; their owners attach no business value
whatever to punctuality, and guests have usually to wait for a much
longer time than they could possibly have expected, and the hotels are
But the harbour is beautiful--a long frith between the high land of
Izumo and the low coast of Hoki. It is perfectly sheltered from storms,
and deep enough to admit all but the largest steamers. The ships can lie
close to the houses, and the harbour is nearly always thronged with all
sorts of craft, from junks to steam packets of the latest construction.
My friend and I were lucky enough to secure back rooms at the best
hotel. Back rooms are the best in nearly all Japanese buildings: at
Sakai they have the additional advantage of overlooking the busy wharves
and the whole luminous bay, beyond which the Izumo hills undulate in
huge green billows against the sky. There was much to see and to be
amused at. Steamers and sailing craft of all sorts were lying two and
three deep before the hotel, and the naked dock labourers were loading
and unloading in their own peculiar way. These men are recruited from
among the strongest peasantry of Hoki and of Izumo, and some were really
fine men, over whose brown backs the muscles rippled at every movement.
They were assisted by boys of fifteen or sixteen apparently--apprentices
learning the work, but not yet strong enough to bear heavy burdens. I
noticed that nearly all had bands of blue cloth bound about their calves
to keep the veins from bursting. And all sang as they worked. There was
one curious alternate chorus, in which the men in the hold gave the
signal by chanting 'dokoe, dokoel' (haul away!) and those at the hatch
responded by improvisations on the appearance of each package as it
Onnago no ko da.
Oya dayo, oya dayo.
Choi-choi da, choi-choi da.
Matsue da, Matsueda.
Koetsumo Yonago da,  etc.
But this chant was for light quick work. A very different chant
accompanied the more painful and slower labour of loading heavy sacks
and barrels upon the shoulders of the stronger men:--
Three men always lifted the weight. At the first yan-yui all stooped; at
the second all took hold; the third signified ready; at the fourth the
weight rose from the ground; and with the long cry of yoiyasa no
dokoeshi it was dropped on the brawny shoulder waiting to receive it.
Among the workers was a naked laughing boy, with a fine contralto that
rang out so merrily through all the din as to create something of a
sensation in the hotel. A young woman, one of the guests, came out upon
the balcony to look, and exclaimed: 'That boy's voice is RED'--whereat
everybody smiled. Under the circumstances I thought the observation very
expressive, although it recalled a certain famous story about scarlet
and the sound of a trumpet, which does not seem nearly so funny now as
it did at a time when we knew less about the nature of light and sound.
The Oki steamer arrived the same afternoon, but she could not approach
the wharf, and I could only obtain a momentary glimpse of her stern
through a telescope, with which I read the name, in English letters of
gold--OKI-SARGO. Before I could obtain any idea of her dimensions, a
huge black steamer from Nagasaki glided between, and moored right in the
I watched the loading and unloading, and listened to the song of the boy
with the red voice, until sunset, when all quit work; and after that I
watched the Nagasaki steamer. She had made her way to our wharf as the
other vessels moved out, and lay directly under the balcony. The captain
and crew did not appear to be in a hurry about anything. They all
squatted down together on the foredeck, where a feast was spread for
them by lantern-light. Dancing-girls climbed on board and feasted with
them, and sang to the sound of the samisen, and played with them the
game of ken. Late into the night the feasting and the fun continued; and
although an alarming quantity of sake was consumed, there was no
roughness or boisterousness. But sake is the most soporific of wines;
and by midnight only three of the men remained on deck. One of these had
not taken any sake at all, but still desired to eat. Happily for him
there climbed on board a night-walking mochiya with a box of mochi,
which are cakes of rice-flour sweetened with native sugar. The hungry
one bought all, and reproached the mochiya because there were no more,
and offered, nevertheless, to share the mochi with his comrades.
Whereupon the first to whom the offer was made answered somewhat after
'I-your-servant mochi-for this-world-in no-use-have. Sake alone this-
life-in if-there-be, nothing-beside-desirable-is.
'For me-your-servant,' spake the other, 'Woman this-fleeting-life-in
the-supreme-thing is; mochi-or-sake-for earthly-use have-I-none.'
But, having made all the mochi to disappear, he that had been hungry
turned himself to the mochiya, and said:--'O Mochiya San, I-your-servant
Woman-or-sake-for earthly-requirement have-none. Mochi-than things
better this-life-of-sorrow-in existence-have-not !'
Early in the morning we were notified that the Oki-Saigo would start at
precisely eight o'clock, and that we had better secure our tickets at
once. The hotel-servant, according to Japanese custom, relieved us of
all anxiety about baggage, etc., and bought our tickets: first-class
fare, eighty sen. And after a hasty breakfast the hotel boat came under
the window to take us away.
Warned by experience of the discomforts of European dress on Shimane
steamers, I adopted Japanese costume and exchanged my shoes for sandals.
Our boatmen sculled swiftly through the confusion of shipping and
junkery; and as we cleared it I saw, far out in midstream, the joki
waiting for us. Joki is a Japanese name for steam-vessel. The word had
not yet impressed me as being capable of a sinister interpretation.
She seemed nearly as long as a harbour tug, though much more squabby;
and she otherwise so much resembled the Lilliputian steamers of Lake
Shinji, that I felt somewhat afraid of her, even for a trip of one
hundred miles. But exterior inspection afforded no clue to the mystery
of her inside. We reached her and climbed into her starboard through a
small square hole. At once I found myself cramped in a heavily-roofed
gangway, four feet high and two feet wide, and in the thick of a
frightful squeeze--passengers stifling in the effort to pull baggage
three feet in diameter through the two-foot orifice. It was impossible
to advance or retreat; and behind me the engine-room gratings were
pouring wonderful heat into this infernal corridor. I had to wait with
the back of my head pressed against the roof until, in some unimaginable
way, all baggage and passengers had squashed and squeezed through. Then,
reaching a doorway, I fell over a heap of sandals and geta, into the
first-class cabin. It was pretty, with its polished woodwork and
mirrors; it was surrounded by divans five inches wide; and in the centre
it was nearly six feet high. Such altitude would have been a cause for
comparative happiness, but that from various polished bars of brass
extended across the ceiling all kinds of small baggage, including two
cages of singing-crickets (chongisu), had been carefully suspended.
Furthermore the cabin was already extremely occupied: everybody, of
course, on the floor, and nearly everybody lying at extreme length; and
the heat struck me as being supernatural. Now they that go down to the
sea in ships, out of Izumo and such places, for the purpose of doing
business in great waters, are never supposed to stand up, but to squat
in the ancient patient manner; and coast, or lake steamers are
constructed with a view to render this attitude only possible. Observing
an open door in the port side of the cabin, I picked my way over a
tangle of bodies and limbs--among them a pair of fairy legs belonging
to a dancing-girl--and found myself presently in another gangway, also
roofed, and choked up to the roof with baskets of squirming eels. Exit
there was none: so I climbed back over all the legs and tried the
starboard gangway a second time. Even during that short interval, it had
been half filled with baskets of unhappy chickens. But I made a reckless
dash over them, in spite of frantic cacklings which hurt my soul, and
succeeded in finding a way to the cabin-roof. It was entirely occupied
by water-melons, except one corner, where there was a big coil of rope.
I put melons inside of the rope, and sat upon them in the sun. It was
not comfortable; but I thought that there I might have some chance for
my life in case of a catastrophe, and I was sure that even the gods
could give no help to those below. During the squeeze I had got
separated from my companion, but I was afraid to make any attempt to
find him. Forward I saw the roof of the second cabin crowded with third-
class passengers squatting round a hibachi. To pass through them did not
seem possible, and to retire would have involved the murder of either
eels or chickens. Wherefore I sat upon the melons.
And the boat started, with a stunning scream. In another moment her
funnel began to rain soot upon me--for the so-called first-class cabin
was well astern--and then came small cinders mixed with the soot, and
the cinders were occasionally red-hot. But I sat burning upon the water-
melons for some time longer, trying to imagine a way of changing my
position without committing another assault upon the chickens. Finally,
I made a desperate endeavour to get to leeward of the volcano, and it
was then for the first time that I began to learn the peculiarities of
the joki. What I tried to sit on turned upside down, and what I tried to
hold by instantly gave way, and always in the direction of overboard.
Things clamped or rigidly braced to outward seeming proved, upon
cautious examination, to be dangerously mobile; and things that,
according to Occidental ideas, ought to have been movable, were fixed
like the roots of the perpetual hills. In whatever direction a rope or
stay could possibly have been stretched so as to make somebody unhappy,
it was there. In the midst of these trials the frightful little craft
began to swing, and the water-melons began to rush heavily to and fro,
and I came to the conclusion that this joki had been planned and
constructed by demons.
Which I stated to my friend. He had not only rejoined me quite
unexpectedly, but had brought along with him one of the ship's boys to
spread an awning above ourselves and the watermelons, so as to exclude
cinders and sun.
'Oh, no!' he answered reproachfully 'She was designed and built at
Hyogo, and really she might have been made much worse. . . ' 'I beg your
pardon,' I interrupted; 'I don't agree with you at all.'
'Well, you will see for yourself,' he persisted. 'Her hull is good
steel, and her little engine is wonderful; she can make her hundred
miles in five hours. She is not very comfortable, but she is very swift
'I would rather be in a sampan,' I protested, 'if there were rough
'But she never goes to sea in rough weather. If it only looks as if
there might possibly be some rough weather, she stays in port. Sometimes
she waits a whole month. She never runs any risks.'
I could not feel sure of it. But I soon forgot all discomforts, even the
discomfort of sitting upon water-melons, in the delight of the divine
day and the magnificent view that opened wider and wider before us, as
we rushed from the long frith into the Sea of Japan, following the Izumo
coast. There was no fleck in the soft blue vastness above, not one
flutter on the metallic smoothness of the all-reflecting sea; if our
little steamer rocked, it was doubtless because she had been overloaded.
To port, the Izumo hills were flying by, a long, wild procession of'
broken shapes, sombre green, separating at intervals to form mysterious
little bays, with fishing hamlets hiding in them. Leagues away to
starboard, the Hoki shore receded into the naked white horizon, an ever-
diminishing streak of warm blue edged with a thread-line of white, the
gleam of a sand beach; and beyond it, in the centre, a vast shadowy
pyramid loomed up into heaven--the ghostly peak of Daisen.
My companion touched my arm to call my attention to a group of pine-
trees on the summit of a peak to port, and laughed and sang a Japanese
song. How swiftly we had been travelling I then for the first time
understood, for I recognised the four famous pines of Mionoseki, on the
windy heights above the shrine of Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami. There used
to be five trees: one was uprooted by a storm, and some Izumo poet wrote
about the remaining four the words which my friend had sung:
Seki no gohon matsu
Ippun kirya, shihon;
Ato wa kirarenu Miyoto matsu.
Which means: 'Of the five pines of Seki one has been cut, and four
remain; and of these no one must now be cut--they are wedded pairs.' And
in Mionoseki there are sold beautiful little sake cups and sake bottles,
upon which are pictures of the four pines, and above the pictures, in
spidery text of gold, the verses, 'Seki no gohon matsu.' These are for
keepsakes, and there are many other curious and pretty souvenirs to buy
in those pretty shops; porcelains bearing the picture of the Mionoseki
temple, and metal clasps for tobacco pouches representing Koto-shiro-
nushi-no-Kami trying to put a big tai-fish into a basket too small for
it, and funny masks of glazed earthenware representing the laughing face
of the god. For a jovial god is this Ebisu, or Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami,
patron of honest labour and especially of fishers, though less of a
laughter-lover than his father, the Great Deity of Kitzuki, about whom
'tis said: 'Whenever the happy laugh, the God rejoices.'
We passed the Cape--the Miho of the Kojiki--and the harbour of Mionoseki
opened before us, showing its islanded shrine of Benten in the midst,
and the crescent of quaint houses with their feet in the water, and the
great torii and granite lions of the far-famed temple. Immediately a
number of passengers rose to their feet, and, turning their faces toward
the torii began to clap their hands in Shinto prayer.
I said to my friend: 'There are fifty baskets full of chickens in the
gangway; and yet these people are praying to Koto-shiro-nushi-no-Kami
that nothing horrible may happen to this boat.'
'More likely,' he answered, 'they are praying for good-fortune; though
there is a saying: "The gods only laugh when men pray to them for
wealth." But of the Great Deity of Mionoseki there is a good story told.
Once there was a very lazy man who went to Mionoseki and prayed to
become rich. And the same night he saw the god in a dream; and the god
laughed, and took off one of his own divine sandals, and told him to
examine it. And the man saw that it was made of solid brass, but had a
big hole worn through the sole of it. Then said the god: "You want to
have money without working for it. I am a god; but I am never lazy.
See! my sandals are of brass: yet I have worked and walked so much that
they are quite worn out."'
The beautiful bay of Mionoseki opens between two headlands: Cape Mio (or
Miho, according to the archaic spelling) and the Cape of Jizo (Jizo-
zaki), now most inappropriately called by the people 'The Nose of Jizo'
(Jizo-no-hana). This Nose of Jizo is one of the most dangerous points of
the coast in time of surf, and the great terror of small ships returning
from Oki. There is nearly always a heavy swell there, even in fair
weather. Yet as we passed the ragged promontory I was surprised to see
the water still as glass. I felt suspicious of that noiseless sea: its
soundlessness recalled the beautiful treacherous sleep of waves and
winds which precedes a tropical hurricane. But my friend said:
'It may remain like this for weeks. In the sixth month and in the
beginning of the seventh, it is usually very quiet; it is not likely to
become dangerous before the Bon. But there was a little squall last week
at Mionoseki; and the people said that it was caused by the anger of the
'Eggs?' I queried.
'No: a Kudan.'
'What is a Kudan?'
'Is it possible you never heard of the Kudan? The Kudan has the face of
a man, and the body of a bull. Sometimes it is born of a cow, and that
is a Sign-of-things-going-to-happen. And the Kudan always tells the
truth. Therefore in Japanese letters and documents it is customary to
use the phrase, Kudanno-gotoshi--"like the Kudan"--or "on the truth of
the Kudan."' 
'But why was the God of Mionoseki angry about the Kudan?'
'People said it was a stuffed Kudan. I did not see it, so I cannot tell
you how it was made. There was some travelling showmen from Osaka at
Sakai. They had a tiger and many curious animals and the stuffed Kudan;
and they took the Izumo Maru for Mionoseki. As the steamer entered the
port a sudden squall came; and the priests of the temple said the god
was angry because things impure--bones and parts of dead animals--had
been brought to the town. And the show people were not even allowed to
land: they had to go back to Sakai on the same steamer. And as soon as
they had gone away, the sky became clear again, and the wind stopped
blowing: so that some people thought what the priests had said was
Evidently there was much more moisture in the atmosphere than I had
supposed. On really clear days Daisen can be distinctly seen even from
Oki; but we had scarcely passed the Nose of Jizo when the huge peak
began to wrap itself in vapour of the same colour as the horizon; and in
a few minutes it vanished, as a spectre might vanish. The effect of this
sudden disappearance was very extraordinary; for only the peak passed
from sight, and that which had veiled it could not be any way
distinguished from horizon and sky.
Meanwhile the Oki-Saigo, having reached the farthest outlying point of
the coast upon her route began to race in straight line across the
Japanese Sea. The green hills of Izumi fled away and turned blue, and
the spectral shores of Hoki began to melt into the horizon, like bands
of cloud. Then was obliged to confess my surprise at the speed of the
horrid little steamer. She moved, too, with scarcely any sound, smooth
was the working of her wonderful little engine. But she began to swing
heavily, with deep, slow swingings. To the eye, the sea looked level as
oil; but there were long invisible swells--ocean-pulses--that made
themselves felt beneath the surface. Hoki evaporated; the Izumo hills
turned grey, a their grey steadily paled as I watched them. They grew
more and more colourless--seemed to become transparent. And then they
were not. Only blue sky and blue sea, welded together in the white
It was just as lonesome as if we had been a thousand leagues from land.
And in that weirdness we were told some very lonesome things by an
ancient mariner who found leisure join us among the water-melons. He
talked of the Hotoke-umi and the ill-luck of being at sea on the
sixteenth day of the seventh month. He told us that even the great
steamers never went to sea during the Bon: no crew would venture to take
ship out then. And he related the following stories with such simple
earnestness that I think he must have believed what said:
'The first time I was very young. From Hokkaido we had sailed, and the
voyage was long, and the winds turned against us. And the night of the
sixteenth day fell, as we were working on over this very sea.
'And all at once in the darkness we saw behind us a great junk--all
white--that we had not noticed till she was quite close to us. It made
us feel queer, because she seemed to have come from nowhere. She was so
near us that we could hear voices; and her hull towered up high above
us. She seemed to be sailing very fast; but she came no closer. We
shouted to her; but we got no answer. And while we were watching her,