Part 1 out of 3
Scanned and typed by Eric Hutton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Noto, an unexplored corner of Japan
by Percival Lowell
From you, my dear Basil, the confidant of my hopes toward Noto, I
know I may look for sympathy now that my advances have met with such
happy issue, however incomplete be my account. And so I ask you to
be my best man in the matter before the world.
Basil Hall Chamberlain, Esq.
I. An Unknown.
II. Off and On.
III. The Usui Pass.
VI. On a New Cornice Road.
VII. Oya Shiradzu, Ko Shiradzu.
VIII. Across the Etchiu Delta.
IX. Over the Arayama Pass.
X. An Inland Sea.
XII. At Sea Again.
XIII. On the Noto Highway.
XIV. The Harinoki Toge.
XV. Toward the Pass.
XVII. Over the Snow.
XVIII. A Genial Inkyo.
XIX. Our Passport and the Basha.
XX. Down the Tenriugawa.
XXI. To the Sea.
NOTO: an unexplored corner of Japan.
I. An Unknown.
The fancy took me to go to Noto.
It seemed a strange fancy to my friends.
Yet I make no apology for it; for it was a case of love at first sight.
Scanning, one evening, in Tokyo, the map of Japan, in a vague, itinerary
way, with the look one first gives to the crowd of faces in a ballroom,
my eye was caught by the pose of a province that stood out in graphic
mystery from the western coast. It made a striking figure there,
with its deep-bosomed bays and its bold headlands. Its name, it
appeared, was Noto; and the name too pleased me. I liked its vowel
color; I liked its consonant form, the liquid n and the decisive t.
Whimsically, if you please, it suggested both womanliness and will.
The more I looked the more I longed, until the desire carried me not
simply off my feet, but on to them.
Nobody seemed to know much about my inamorata. Indeed, those I asked
asked me, in their own want of information, why I went, and what
there was to see: of which questions, the second itself did for
answer to the first. Why not in fact have set my heart on going to
Noto just because it was not known! Not that it is well to believe
all the unseen to be much worth the seeing, but that I had an itching
sole to tread what others had not already effacingly betrodden.
Privately, I was delighted with the general lack of knowledge on the
subject. It served admirably to put me in conceit with my choice;
although I will own I was rather at a loss to account for it, and I
can only explain it now by the fact that the place was so out of the
way, and not very unlike others, after all. Being thus candid, I
ought perhaps to go a step farther and renounce the name. But, on
the two great principles that the pursuit is itself the prize and
that the means justifies the end, I prefer to keep it. For there was
much of interest to me by the way; and I cling to the name out of a
kind of loyalty to my own fancy. I like to think that Xenophon felt
as much in his Anabasis, though but one book out of seven deals with
the going up, the other six being occupied with the getting safely
away again. It is not told that Xenophon regretted his adventure.
Certainly I am not sorry I was wedded to my idea.
To most of my acquaintance Noto was scarcely so much as a name, and
its local habitation was purely cartographic. I found but one man
who had been there, and he had dropped down upon it, by way of harbor,
from a boat. Some sympathetic souls, however, went so far toward it
as to ask where it was.
To the westward of Tokyo, so far west that the setting sun no longer
seems to lose itself among the mountains, but plunges for good and
all straight into the shining Nirvana of the sea, a strangely shaped
promontory makes out from the land. It is the province of Noto,
standing alone in peninsular isolation.
It was partly in this position that the fascination lay. Withdrawn
from its fellows, with its back to the land, it faced the glory of
the western sky, as if in virginal vision gazing out upon the deep.
Doubly withdrawn is it, for that the coast from which it stands apart
is itself almost unvisited by Europeans,--an out-of-the-world state,
in marked contrast to the shore bordering the Pacific, which is now a
curbstone on the great waterway round the earth, and incidentally
makes a happy parenthesis of promenade for the hasty globe-trotter.
The form, too, of the peninsula came in for a share in its attraction.
Its coast line was so coquettishly irregular. If it turned its back
on the land, it stretched its hands out to the sea, only to withdraw
them again the next moment,--a double invitation. Indeed, there is
no happier linking of land to water. The navigator in such parts
becomes himself a delightfully amphibious creature, at home in both
elements. Should he tire of the one, he can always take to the other.
Besides, such features in a coast suggest a certain clean-cut
character of profile,--a promise, in Japan at least, rarely unkept.
To reach this topographically charming province, the main island had
to be crossed at its widest, and, owing to lofty mountain chains,
much tacking to be done to boot. Atmospherically the distance is
even greater than afoot. Indeed, the change in climate is like a
change in zone; for the trend of the main island at this point,
being nearly east and west, gives to the one coast a southerly
exposure, and to the other a northerly one, while the highest wall of
peaks in Japan, the Hida-Shinshiu range, shuts off most meteorological
communication. Long after Tokyo is basking in spring, the west coast
still lies buried in deep drifts of snow.
It was my misfortune to go to this out-of-the-way spot alone. I was
duly sensible of my commiserable state at times. Indeed, in those
strange flashes of dual consciousness when a man sees his own
condition as if it were another's, I pitied myself right heartily;
for I hold that travel is like life in this, at least, that a
congenial companion divides the troubles and doubles the joys.
To please one's self is so much harder than to be pleased by another;
and when it comes to doubt and difficulty, there are drawbacks to
being one's own guide, philosopher, and friend. The treatment is too
homoeopathic by half.
An excuse for a companion existed in the person of my Japanese boy,
or cook. He had been boy to me years before; and on this return of
his former master to the land of the enlightened, he had come back to
his allegiance, promoting himself to the post of cook. During the
journey he acted in both capacities indifferently,--in one sense,
not in the other. In addition to being capable he was willing and of
great endurance. Besides, he was passionately fond of travel.
He knew no more about Noto than I, and at times, on the road, he could
not make out what the country folk said, for the difference in dialect;
which lack of special qualification much increased his charm as a
fellow-traveler. He neither spoke nor understood English, of course,
and surprised me, after surprising himself, on the last day but one
of our trip, by coming out with the words "all right." His surname,
appropriately enough, meant mountain-rice-field, and his last name
--which we should call his first name--was Yejiro, or
lucky-younger-son. Besides cooking excellently well, he made paper
plum blossoms beautifully, and once constructed a string telephone
out of his own head. I mention these samples of accomplishment to
show that he was no mere dabbler in pots and pans.
In addition to his various culinary contrivances we took a large and
motley stock of canned food, some of his own home-made bread, and a
bottle of whiskey. We laid in but a small supply of beer; not that
I purposed to forego that agreeable beverage, but because, in this
Europeanized age, it can be got in all the larger towns. Indeed,
the beer brewed in Yokohama to-day ranks with the best in the world.
It is in great demand in Tokyo, while its imported, or professedly
imported, rivals have freely percolated into the interior, so popular
with the upper and upper middle classes have malt liquors become.
Nowadays, when a Japanese thinks to go in for Capuan dissipation
regardless of expense, he treats himself to a bottle of beer.
These larder-like details are not meant to imply that I made a god of
my palate, but that otherwise my digestion would have played the
devil with me. In Japan, to attempt to live off the country in the
country is a piece of amateur acting the average European bitterly
regrets after the play, if not during its performance. We are not
inwardly contrived to thrive solely on rice and pickles.
It is best, too, for a journey into the interior, to take with you
your own bedding; sheets, that is, and blankets. The bed itself
Yejiro easily improvised out of innumerable futons, as the quilts
used at night by the Japanese are called. A single one is enough for
a native, but Yejiro, with praiseworthy zeal, made a practice of
asking for half-a-dozen, which he piled one upon the other in the
middle of the room. Each had a perceptible thickness and a rounded
loglike edge; and when the time came for turning in on top of the
lot, I was always reminded of the latter end of a Grecian hero,
the structure looked so like a funeral pyre. When to the above
indispensables were added clothes, camera, dry plates, books,
and sundries, it made a collection of household gods quite appalling
to consider on the march. I had no idea I owned half so much in the
world from which it would pain me to be parted. As my property lay
spread out for packing, I stared at it aghast.
To transport all these belongings, native ingenuity suggested a thing
called a yanagigori; several of them, in fact. Now the construction
of a kori is elementally ingenious. It consists simply of two wicker
baskets, of the same shape, but of slightly different size, fitting
into each other upside down. The two are then tied together with cord.
The beauty of the idea lies in its extension; for in proportion as
the two covers are pulled out or pushed home will the pair hold from
a maximum capacity of both to a minimum capacity of one. It is
possible even to start with more than a maximum, if the contents be
such as are not given to falling out by the way. The contrivance is
simply invaluable when it comes to transporting food; for then, as
you eat your way down, the obliging covers shrink to meet the vacuum.
If more than one kori be necessary, an easy step in devices leads to
a series of graded sizes. Then all your baskets eventually collapse
The last but most important article of all was my passport, which
carefully described my proposed route, and which Yejiro at once took
charge of and carried about with him for immediate service; for a
wise paternal government insisted upon knowing my intentions before
permitting me to visit the object of my choice.
Off and On.
It was on the day but one before the festival of the fifth moon that
we set out, or, in English, the third of May; and those emblems of
good luck, the festival fishes, were already swimming in the air
above the house eaves, as we scurried through the streets in
jinrikisha toward the Uyeno railway station. We had been a little
behindhand in starting, but by extra exertions on the part of the
runners we succeeded in reaching the station just in time to be shut
out by the gatekeeper. Time having been the one thing worthless in
old Japan, it was truly sarcastic of fate that we should reach our
first goal too late. As if to point chagrin, the train still stood
in waiting. Remonstrances with the wicket man about the imported
five-minute regulation, or whatever it was, proved of no avail.
Not one jot or tittle of the rule would he yield, which perhaps was
natural, inasmuch as, however we might have managed alone, our
companions the baskets never could have boarded the train without
offical help. The intrinsic merits of the baggage failed, alas,
to affect its mobility. Then the train slowly drew out.
To be stopped on the road is the common lot of travelers; but to be
stopped before one has fairly started is nothing less than to be
mocked at. It is best, however, to take such gibes in good part.
Viewing the situation in this light, the ludicrousness of the
disconnection struck me so forcibly as very nearly to console me for
my loss, which was not trifling, since the next train did not leave
for above three hours; too late to push on beyond Takasaki that night,
a thing I had most firmly purposed to do. Here I was, the miserable
victim of a punctuality my own people had foisted on a land only too
happy without it! There was poetic justice in the situation, after all.
Besides, the course of one's true love should not run too smooth.
Judicious difficulty whets desire.
There was nothing to turn to on the spot, and I was ashamed to go home.
Then I opportunely remembered something.
I have always thought we limited our pharmacopoeia. We prescribe
pills enough for the body, while we leave the mind to look after itself.
Why should not the spirit also have its draughts and mixtures,
properly labeled and dispensed! For example, angling appears to be a
strong mental opiate. I have seen otherwise normal people stupefied
beyond expression when at the butt of a rod and line. Happening to
recall this effect, I instantly prescribed for my perturbed state of
mind a good dose of fishing, to be taken as suited the day. So I
betook me down a by-street, where the aerial carp promised the
thickest, and, selecting a house well placed for a view, asked
permission to mount upon the roof. It chanced to be a cast-off
clothing shop, along whose front some fine, if aged, garments were
hung to catch the public eye. The camera and I were inducted up the
ascent by the owner, while my boots, of course, waited dog-like in
the porch below.
The city made a spectacle from above. On all sides superb paper carp
floated to the breeze, tugging at the strings that held them to the
poles quite after the manner of the real fish. One felt as though,
by accident, he had stepped into some mammoth globe of goldfish.
The whole sky was alive with them. Eighty square miles of finny folk
inside the city, and an untold company without. The counterfeit
presentments were from five to ten feet long, and painted to mimic
life. The breeze entered at the mouth and passed out somewhat less
freely at the tail, thus keeping them well bellied and constantly in
motion. The way they rose and dove and turned and wriggled was
worthy of free will. Indeed, they had every look of spontaneity,
and lacked only the thing itself to turn the sky into an ocean,
and Tokyo into a sea bottom with a rockery of roof. Each fish
commemorates the birth of a boy during the year. It would thus be
possible to take a census of the increase of the male population
yearly, at the trifling cost of scaling a housetop,--a set of
statistics not without an eventual value.
While we were strolling back, Yejiro and I, we came, in the way,
upon another species of fish. The bait, which was well designed to
captivate, bade for the moment to exceed even the angler's
anticipations. It was a sort of un-Christmas tree with fishing-pole
branches, from which dangled articulated figures, bodied like men,
but with heads of foxes, tortoises, and other less likelybeasts,
--bewitching objects in impossible evolution to a bald-pated
urchin who stood gazing at it with all his soul. The peddler sat with
his eyes riveted on the boy, visions of a possible catch chasing
themselves through his brain. I watched him, while the crowd behind
stared at me. We made quite a tail of curiosity. The opiate was
having its effect; I began to feel soporifically calm. Then I went
up to the restaurant in the park and had lunch as quietly as
possible, in fear of friendly discovery.
Sufficiently punctual passengers being now permitted to board the
next train, I ensconced myself in a kind of parlor compartment, which,
fortunately, I continued to have all to myself, and was soon being
rolled westward across the great Musashi plain, ruminating. My chief
quarrel with railway rules is, I am inclined to think, that they
preach to the public what they fail to practice themselves. After
having denied me a paltry five minutes' grace at the station, the
officials proceeded to lose half an hour on the road in a most
exasperating manner. Of course the delay was quite exceptional.
Such a thing had never happened before, and would not happen
again--till the next time. But the phenomenal character of the
occurrence failed to console me, as it should no doubt have done.
My delay, too, was exceptional--on this line. Nor was I properly
mollified by repeated offers of hard-boiled eggs, cakes, and oranges,
which certain enterprising peddlers hawked up and down the platforms,
when we stopped, to a rhythmic chant of their own invention.
The only consolation lay in the memory of what travel over the
Musashi plain used to be before trains hurried one, or otherwise,
into the heart of the land. In those days the journey was done in
jinrikisha, and a question of days, not hours, it was in the doing,
--two days' worth of baby carriage, of which the tediousness lay
neither in the vehicles nor in the way, but in the amount of both.
Or, if one put comparative speed above comparative comfort, he rose
before the lark, to be tortured through a summer's day in a basha,
or horse vehicle, suitable only for disembodied spirits. My joints
ached again at the thought. Clearly, to grumble now was to sin
Besides, the weather was perfect: argosies of fleecy cloud sailing
slowly across a deep blue sky; a broad plain in all its spring
freshness of color, picked out here and there with fruit trees
smothered in blossom, and bearing on its bosom the passing shadows of
the clouds above; in the distance the gradually growing forms of the
mountains, each at first starting into life only as a faint wash of
color, barely to be parted from the sky itself, pricking up from out
the horizon of field. Then, slowly, timed to our advance, the tint
gathered substance, grew into contrasts that, deepening minute by
minute, resolved into detail, until at last the whole stood revealed
in all its majesty, foothill, shoulder, peak, one grand chromatic
rise from green to blue.
One after the other the points came out thus along the southern sky:
first the summits behind Ome; then Bukosan, like some sentinel,
half-way up the plain's long side; and then range beyond range
stretching toward the west. Behind Bukosan peeped Cloud's Rest, the
very same outline in fainter tint, so like the double reflection
from a pane of glass that I had to shift to an open window to make
sure it was no illusion. Then the Nikko group began to show on the
right, and the Haruna mass took form in front; and as they rose
higher and the sunbeams slanted more, gilding the motes in the heavy
afternoon air, they rimmed the plain in front into one great bowl
of fairy eau de vie de Dantzic. Slowly above them the sun dipped to
his setting, straight ahead, burnishing our path as we pursued in
two long lines of flashing rail into the west-northwest. Lower he
sank, luring us on, and lower yet, and then suddenly disappeared
beyond the barrier of peaks.
The train drew up, panting. It was Takasaki, now steeped in saffron
afterglow. The guards passed along, calling out the name and
unfastening the doors. Everybody got out and shuffled off on their
clogs. The baskets, Yejiro, and I followed, after a little, through
It was not far to the inn. It was just far enough, at that hour, to
put us in heart for a housing. Indeed, twilight is the time of
times to arrive anywhere. Any spot, be it ever so homely, seems
homelike then. The dusk has snatched from you the silent
companionship of nature, to leave you poignantly alone. It is the
hour when a man draws closer to the one he loves, and the hour when
most he shrinks from himself, though he want another near. It is
then the rays of the house lights wander abroad and appear to beckon
the houseless in; and that must be, in truth, a sorry hostelry to
seem such to him.
Even Takasaki bore a look of welcome alike to the foreign and the
native stranger, which was certainly wonderful for Takasaki. The
place used not to fancy foreigners, and its inns bandied the European
traveler about like a bale of undesirable merchandise with the duties
still due. But now, what a change! The innkeeper not only received
us, but led the way at once to the best room,--a room in the second
story of the fireproof storehouse at the back, which he hoped would
be comfortable. Comfortable! The room actually proffered us a table
and chairs. No one who has not, after a long day's tramp, sought in
vain to rest his weary body propped up against a side beam in a
Japanese inn can enter into the feeling a chair inspires, even long
afterward, by recollection.
I cannot say I loved Takasaki in former days. Was it my reception or
was it sentiment that made me see it all now through a mist of glamour?
Unsuspected by us, that atmosphere of time tints everything. Few
things but look lovelier seen down the vista of the years. Indeed,
sentiment is a kind of religion; or is it religion that is a kind of
sentiment? Both are so subtly busy canonizing the past, and crowning
with aureoles very every-day things as well as very ordinary people.
Not men alone take on a sanctity when they are no more.
The Usui Pass.
The first object to catch my eye, when the shoji were pushed apart,
the next morning, was a string of the ubiquitous paper fish, dangling
limp in the motionless May air from a pole in a neighboring yard;
highly suggestive of having just been caught for breakfast. The
sight would have been painfully prophetic but for the food we had
brought with us; for, of all meals, a Japanese breakfast is the most
cold, the most watery, and the most generally fishy in the world.
As it was, breakfast consisted of pathetic copies of consecrated
originals. It might have been excellent but for the canned milk.
No doubt there are persons who are fond of canned milk; but, for my
part, I loathe it. The effect of the sweetish glue upon my inner man
is singularly nauseating. I have even been driven to drink my
matutinal coffee in all its after-dinner strength rather than
adulterate it with the mixture. You have, it is true, the choice of
using the stuff as a dubious paste, or of mixing it with water into a
non-committal wash; and, whichever plan you adopt, you wish you had
adopted the other. Why it need be so unpalatably cloying is not
clear to my mind. They tell me the sugar is needed to preserve the
milk. I never could make out that it preserved anything but the
sugar. Simply to see the stuff ooze out of the hole in the can is
deterrent. It is enough to make one think seriously at times of
adding a good milch cow to his already ample trip encumberment, at
the certain cost of delaying the march, and the not improbable chance
of being taken for an escaped lunatic. Indeed, to the Japanese mind,
to be seen solemnly preceding a caravan of cattle for purposes of
diet would certainly suggest insanity. For cows in Japan are never
milked. Dairy products, consequently, are not to be had on the road,
and the man who fancies milk, butter, or cheese must take them with
It used to be the same in Tokyo, but in these latter days a dairy has
been started at Hakone, which supplies fresh butter to such Tokyoites
as like it. One of my friends, who had been many years from home,
was much taken with the new privilege, and called my attention to it
with some pride. The result was a colorless lardy substance that
looked like poor oleomargarine (not like good oleomargarine, for that
looks like butter), but which was held in high esteem, nevertheless.
My friend, indeed, seriously maintained to me once that such was the
usual color of fresh butter, and insisted that the yellow hue common
elsewhere must be the result of dyes. He was so positive on the
point that he almost persuaded me, until I had left him and reason
returned. It took me some time to recover from the pathos of the
thing: a man so long deprived of that simple luxury that he had quite
forgotten how it looked, and a set of cows utterly incapable, from
desuetude, of producing it properly.
After I had duly swallowed as much as I could of the doubtful dose
supposed to be cafe au lait, the cans were packed up again, and we
issued from the inn to walk a stone's throw to the train.
Takasaki stands well toward the upper end of the plain, just below
where the main body of it thrusts its arms out into the hills.
Up one of these we were soon wending. Every minute the peaks came
nearer, frowning at us from their crumbling volcanic crags. At last
they closed in completely, standing round about in threatening
pinnacles, and barring the way in front. At this, the train,
contrary to the usual practice of trains in such seemingly impassable
places, timidly drew up.
In truth, the railway comes to an end at the foot of the Usui toge
(toge, meaning "pass"), after having wandered up, with more zeal than
discretion, into a holeless pocket. Such untimely end was far from
the original intention; for the line was meant for a through line
along the Nakasendo from Tokyo to Kioto, and great things were
expected of it. But the engineering difficulties at this point, and
still more at the Wada toge, a little farther on, proving too great,
the project was abandoned, and the through line built along the
Tokaido instead. The idea, however, had got too much headway to be
stayed. So it simply jumped the Usui toge, rolled down the Shinano
valley, climbed another divide, and came out, at last, on the sea of
The hiatus caused by the Usui pass is got over by a horse railroad!
Somehow, the mere idea seemed comic. A horse railroad in the heart
of Japan over a pass a mile high! To have suddenly come upon the
entire Comedie Francaise giving performances in a teahouse at the top
could hardly have been more surprising. The humor of the thing was
not a whit lessened by its looks.
To begin with, the cars were fairly natural. This was a masterly
stroke in caricature, since it furnished the necessary foil to all
that followed. They were not, to my eye, of any known species, but,
with the exception of being evidently used to hard lines, they looked
enough like trams to pass as such. Inside sat, in all seriousness,
a wonderful cageful of Japanese. To say that they were not to the
horse-car born conveys but a feeble notion of their unnaturalness.
They were propped, rather than seated, bolt upright, with a decorum
which would have done more than credit to a funeral. They did not
smile; they did not even stir, except to screw their heads round to
stare at me. They were dummies pure and simple, and may pass for the
second item in the properties.
The real personnel began with the horses. These were very sorry-looking
animals, but tough enough admirably to pull through the performance.
Managing them with some difficulty stood the driver on the front
platform, arrayed in a bottle-green livery, with a stiff military cap
which gave him the combined look of a German officer and of a
musician from a street band. His energy was spent in making about
three times as much work for himself as was needed. On the tail of
the car rode the guard, also notably appareled, whose importance
outdid even his uniform. He had the advantage of the driver in the
matter of a second-class fish-horn, upon which he tooted vigorously
whenever he thought of it; and he was not a forgetful man.
Comedie Francaise, indeed! Why, here it all was in Japanese farce!
From the passivity of the passengers to the pantomime of the driver
and guard, it could hardly have been done better; and the actors all
kept their countenances, too, in such a surprising manner.
A captious critic might have suggested that they looked a thought too
much at the audience; but, on the whole, I think that rather added to
the effect. At all events, they were excellently good, especially
the guard, whose consequential airs could not have been happier if
they had been studied for years.
There was no end of red tape about the company. Though the cars were
some time in starting, so that I got well ahead of them, they could
not admit me on the road, when my baggage kuruma turned out to be too
slow, because I had not bought a ticket at the office. So I was
obliged to continue to tramp afoot, solacing myself with short cuts,
by which I gained on them, to my satisfaction, and by which I gained
still more on my own baggage, to my disgust, in that I ceased to be
near enough to hasten it.
I had to wait for the latter at the parting of the ways; for the tram
had a brand-new serpentine track laid out for it, while the old trail
at this point struck up to the right, coming out eventually at a
shrine that crowned the summit of the pass. Horse-railroads not
being as new to me as to the Japanese, I piously chose the narrow way
leading to the temple, to the lingering regret of the baggage
trundlers, who turned sorry eyes down upon the easier secular road at
every bend in our own.
A Japanese pass has one feature which is invariable: it is always
longer than you think it is going to be. I can, of my own
experience, recall but two exceptions to this distressing family
likeness, both of which were occasions of company which no doubt
forbade proper appreciation of their length, and vitiates them as
scientific observations. When toiling up a toge I have been tempted
to impute acute ascentomania to the Japanese mind, but sober second
thought has attributed this inference to an overheated imagination.
It seems necessary, therefore, to lay the blame on the land, which,
like some people, is deceptive from very excess of uprightness.
There is so much more soil than can possibly be got in by simple
directness of purpose, or even by one, more or less respectable,
It was cold enough at the summit to cool anything, imaginary or
otherwise. Even devotion shivered, as, in duty bound, it admired the
venerable temple and its yet more venerable tree. The roofs of the
chalets stood weighted with rocks to keep them there, and the tree,
raised aloft on its stone-girded parapet, stretched bare branches
imploringly toward the sky. So much for being a mile or so nearer
heaven, while still of the earth and earthy.
Half-way down the descent, Asamayama came out from behind the brow of
a hill, sending his whiffs of smoke dreamily into the air; and a
little lower still, beyond a projecting spur on the opposite side,
the train appeared, waiting in the plain, with its engine puffing a
sort of antiphonal response. The station stood at the foot of the
tramway, which tumbled to it after the manner of a cascade over what
looked to be a much lower pass, thus apparently supporting the theory
of "supererogatory climb." The baggage passed on, and Yejiro and I
followed leisurely, admiring the view.
Either the old trail failed to connect with the railway terminus,
which I suspect, or else we missed the path, for we had to supply a
link ourselves. This resulted in a woefully bad cut across a
something between a moor and a bog, supposed to be drained by
ditches, most of which lay at right angles to our course. We were
not much helped, half-way over, by a kindly intentioned porter, who
dawned upon us suddenly in the distance, rushing excitedly out from
behind the platform, gesticulating in a startling way and shouting
that time was up. We made what sorry speed was possible under the
circumstances, getting very hot from exertion, and hotter still from
anxiety, and then waited impatiently ten good minutes in our seats in
the railway carriage for the train to start. I forget whether I
tipped that well-meaning but misguided man.
The tram contingent had already arrived,--had in fact finished
feeding at the many mushroom teahouses gathered about the station,--
and were now busy finding themselves seats. Their bustle was most
pleasing to witness, till suddenly I discovered that there were no
first-class carriages; that it was my seat, so to speak, for which
they were scrambling. The choice, it appeared, began with
second-class coaches, doomed therefore to be doubly popular.
Second-class accommodation, by no means merely nominal, was evidently
the height of luxury to the patrons of the country half of this
disjointed line, which starts so seductively from Tokyo. Greater
comfort is strictly confined to the more metropolitan portion.
The second-class coaches had of course the merit of being cheaper,
but this was more than offset by the fact that in place of panes of
glass their windows had slats of wood with white cotton stretched
over them,--an ingenious contrivance for shutting out the view and a
good bit of the light, both of which are pleasing, and for letting in
the cold, which is not.
"If you go with the crowd, you will be taken care of," as a shrewd
financier of my acquaintance used to say about stocks. This occurred
to me by way of consolation, as the guard locked us into the carriage,
in the approved paternal government style. Fortunately the
locking-in was more apparent than real, for it consisted solely in
the turning of a bar, which it was quite possible to unturn, as all
travelers in railway coaches are aware, by dropping the window into
its oubliette and stretching the arm well down outside,--a trick of
which I did not scruple to avail myself. My fellow-passengers the
Japanese were far too decorous to attempt anything of the kind, which
compelled me to do so surreptitiously, like one who committeth a crime.
These fellow-passengers fully made up for the room they took by their
value as scientific specimens. I would willingly have chloroformed
them all, and presented them on pins to some sartorial museum;
for each typified a stage in a certain unique process of evolution,
at present the Japanese craze. They were just so many samples of
unnatural development in dress, from the native Japanese to the
imitated European. The costume usually began with a pot-hat and
ended in extreme cases with congress boots. But each man exhibited a
various phase of it according to his self-emancipation from former
etiquette. Sometimes a most disreputable Derby, painfully
reminiscent of better bygone days, found itself in company with a
refined kimono and a spotless cloven sock. Sometimes the metamorphosis
embraced the body, and even extended down the legs, but had not yet
attacked the feet, in its creeping paralysis of imitation. In another
corner, a collarless, cravatless semiflannel shirt had taken the
place of the under tunic, to the worse than loss of looks of its
wearer. Opposite this type sat the supreme variety which evidently
prided itself upon its height of fashion. In him the change had gone
so far as to recall the East End rough all over, an illusion
dispelled only by the innocence of his face.
While still busy pigeonholing my specimens, I chanced to look through
the open window, and suddenly saw pass by, as in the shifting background
of some scenic play, the lichenveiled stone walls and lotus-mantled
moats of the old feudal castle of Uyeda. Poor, neglected, despised
bit of days gone by!--days that are but yesterdays, aeons since as
measured here. Already it was disappearing down the long perspective
of the past; and yet only twenty years before it had stood in all the
pride and glory of the Middle Ages. Then it had been
A daimyo's castle, wont of old to wield
Across the checkerboard of paddyfield
A rook-like power from its vantage square
On pawns of hamlets; now a ruin, there,
Its triple battlements gaze grimly down
Upon a new-begotten bustling town,
Only to see self-mirrored in their moat
An ivied image where the lotus float.
Some subtle sense of fitness within me was touched as it might have
been a nerve; and instantly the motley crew inside the car became not
merely comic, but shocking. It seemed unseemly, this shuffling off
the stage of the tragic old by the farce-like new. However little
one may mourn the dead, something forbids a harlequinade over their
graves. The very principle of cosmic continuity has a decency about
it. Nature holds with one hand to the past even as she grasps at the
future with the other. Some religions consecrate by the laying on of
hands; Nature never withdraws her touch.
We were now come more than half-way from sea to sea, and we were
still in the thick of Europeanization. So far we had traveled in the
track of the comic. For if Japan seems odd for what it is, it seems
odder for what it is no longer.
One of the things which imitation of Western ways is annihilating is
distance. Japan, like the rest of the world, is shrinking. This was
strikingly brought home that afternoon. A few short hours of shifting
panorama, a varying foreground of valley that narrowed or widened
like the flow of the stream that had made it, peaks that opened and
shut on one another like the changing flies in some spectacular play,
and we had compassed two days' worth of old-time travel when a man
made every foot of ground his own, and were drawing near Zenkoji.
I was glad to be there; hardly as glad to be there so soon.
There are lands made to be skimmed, tame samenesses of plain or weary
wastes of desert, where even the iron horse gallops too slow. Japan
is not one of them. A land which Nature herself has already crumpled
into its smallest compass, and then covered with vegetation rich as
velvet, is no land to hurry over. One may well linger where each
mile builds the scenery afresh. And in this world, whose civilization
grows at the expense of the picturesque, it is something to see a
culture that knows how least to mar.
Upon this mood of unsatisfied satisfaction my night fell, and shortly
after the train rolled into the Zenkoji station, amid a darkness
deepened by falling rain. The passengers bundled out. The station
looked cheerless enough. But from across the open space in front
shone a galaxy of light. A crowd of tea-houses posted on the farther
side had garlanded themselves all over with lanterns, each trying to
outvie its neighbor in apparent hospitality. The display was
perceptibly of pecuniary intent; but still it was grateful. To be
thought worth catching partakes, after all, of the nature of a
compliment. What was not so gratifying was the embarrassment of
choice that followed; for each of these gayly beckoning caravansaries
proved to be a catch-pilgrim for its inn up-town. Being on a hill,
Zenkoji is not by way of easy approach by train; and the pilgrims to
it are legion. In order, therefore, to anticipate the patronage of
unworthy rivals, each inn has felt obliged to be personally
represented on the spot.
The one for which mine host of Takasaki had, with his blessing,
made me a note turned out so poorly prefaced that I hesitated.
The extreme zeal on the part of its proprietor to book me made me still
more doubtful. So, sending Yejiro off to scout, I walked to and fro,
waiting. I did not dare sit down on the sill of any of the booths,
for fear of committing myself.
While he was still away searching vainly for the proper inn, the
lights were suddenly all put out. At the same fatal moment the
jinrikisha, of which a minute before there had seemed to be plenty,
all mysteriously vanished. By one fell stroke there was no longer
either end in sight nor visible means of reaching it.
"In the street of by and by
Stands the hostelry of never,"
as a rondel of Henley's hath it; but not every one has the chance to
see the Spanish proverb so literally fulfilled. There we were--nowhere.
I think I never suffered a bitterer change of mood in my life.
At last, after some painful groping in the dark, and repeated resolves
to proceed on foot to the town and summon help, I chanced to stumble
upon a stray kuruma, which had incautiously returned, under cover of
the darkness, to the scene of its earlier exploits. I secured it on
the spot, and by it was trundled across a bit of the plain and up the
long hill crowned by the town, to the pleasing jingle of a chime of
rings hung somewhere out of sight beneath the body of the vehicle.
When the trundler asked where to drop me, I gave at a venture the
name that sounded the best, only to be sure of having guessed awry
when he drew up before the inn it designated. The existence of a
better was legible on the face of it. We pushed on.
Happily the hostelries were mostly in one quarter, the better to keep
an eye on one another; for in the course of the next ten minutes I
suppose we visited nearly every inn in the place. The choice was not
a whit furthered by the change from the outposts to the originals.
At last, however, I got so far in decision as to pull off my boots,
--an act elsewhere as well, I believe, considered an acquiescence in
fate,--and suffered myself to be led through the house, along the
indoor piazza of polished board exceeding slippery, up several
breakneck, ladder-like stairways even more polished and frictionless,
round some corners dark as a dim andon (a feeble tallow candle
blinded by a paper box), placed so as not to light the turn, could
make them, until finally we emerged on the third story, a height that
itself spoke for the superiority of the inn, and I was ushered into
what my bewildered fancy instantly pictured a mediaeval banqueting
hall. It conjured up the idea on what I must own to have been
insufficient grounds, namely, a plain deal table and a set of
questionably made, though rather gaudily upholstered chairs.
But chairs, in a land whose people have from time immemorial found
their own feet quite good enough to sit on, were so unexpected a
luxury, even after our Takasaki experience, that they may be pardoned
for suggesting any flight of fancy.
The same might formerly have been said of the illumination next
introduced. Now, however, common kerosene lamps are no longer so
much of a sight even in Japan. Indeed, I had the assurance to ask
for a shade to go with the one they set on the table in all the glaring
nudity of a plain chimney. This there was some difficulty in finding,
the search resulting in a green paper visor much too small, that sat
on askew just far enough not to hide the light. The Japanese called
it a hat, without the least intention of humor.
By the light thus given the room stood revealed, an eyrie, encased on
all sides except the one of approach by shoji only. Into these had
been let a belt of glass eighteen inches wide all the way round the
room, at the height at which a person sitting on the mats could see
out. It is much the fashion now thus to graft a Western window upon
a Far-Eastern wall. The idea is ingenious and economical, and has but
two drawbacks,--that you feel excessively indoors if you stand up,
and strangely out-of-doors if you sit down.
I pushed the panels apart, and stepped out upon the narrow balcony.
Below me lay the street, the lanterns of the passers-by flitting like
fireflies through the dark; and from it stole up to me the hum of
pleasure life, a perfume of sound, strangely distinct in the still
Accredited pilgrim though one be not, to pass by so famous a shrine
as Zenkoji without the tribute of a thought were to be more or less
than human, even though one have paid his devoirs before. Sought
every year by thousands from all parts of Japan, it serves but to
make the pilgrimage seem finer that the bourne itself should not be
fine. Large and curious architecturally for its roof, the temple is
otherwise a very ordinary structure, more than ordinarily besoiled.
There is nothing rich about it; not much that is imposing. Yet in
spite of poverty and dirt it speaks with a certain grandeur to the
heart. True shrine, whose odor of sanctity is as widespread as the
breeze that wanders through its open portals, and which comes so near
the wants of the world that the very pigeons flutter in to homes
among its rafters. The air-beats of their wings heighten the hush
they would seem to break, and only enhance the sacred quiet of the
nave,--a stillness such that the coppers of the faithful fall with
exaggerated ring through the lattice of the almsbox, while the
swiftly mumbled prayers of the givers rise in all simplicity straight
In and about the courtyard live the sacred doves, and he who will may
have their company for the spreading of a feast of crumbs. And the
rush of their wings, as they descend to him from the sky, seems like
drawing some strange benediction down.
My quest still carrying me westward along the line of the new railway,
I took the train again, and in the compartment of the carriage I found
two other travelers. They were a typical Japanese couple in middle
life, and in something above middle circumstances. He affected
European clothes in part, while she still clung to the costume of her
ancestors. Both were smoking,--she her little pipe, and he the
fashionable cigarette. Their mutual relations were those of substance
to shadow. She followed him inevitably, and he trod on her feelings
regardless of them. She had been pretty when he took her to wife,
and though worn and withered she was happy still. As for him, he was
quite satisfied with her, as he would have been quite satisfied
The roadbed soon left the Shinano plain, across which peered the
opposite peaks, still hooded with snow, and wound up through a narrow
valley, to emerge at last upon a broad plateau. Three mountains
flanked the farther side in file, the last and highest of the three,
Myokosan, an extinct volcano; indeed, hardly more than the ruins of one.
Time has so changed its shape, and the snow whitens its head so
reverently, it would be possible to pass it by without a suspicion of
its wild youth. From the plateau it rose proudly in one long sweep
from moor to shoulder, from shoulder to crag, from crag to snow, up
into the leaden sky, high into its second mile of air. Subtly the
curve carried fancy with it, and I found myself in mind slowly
picking my way upward, threading an arete here and scaling a slope
there, with all the feelings of a genuine climb. While I was still
ascending in this insubstantial manner, clouds fell upon the summit
from the sky, and from the summit tumbled down the ravines into the
valley, and met me at Naoyetsu in a drizzling rain.
Naoyetsu is not an enlivening spot to be landed at in a stress of
weather; hardly satisfactory, in fact, for the length of time needed
to hire jinrikisha. It consisted originally of a string of fishermen's
huts along the sea. To these the building of the railway has
contributed a parallel row of reception booths, a hundred yards
in-shore; and to which of the two files to award the palm for
cheerlessness it would be hard to know. The huts are good of a kind
which is poor, and the booths are poor of a kind which is good.
To decide between such rivals is a matter of mood. For my part,
I hasted to be gone in a jinrikisha, itself not an over-cheerful
conveyance in a pour.
The rain shut out the distance, and the hood and oil-paper apron
eclipsed the foreground. The loss was not great, to judge by what
specimens of the view I caught at intervals. The landscape was a
geometric pattern in paddyfields. These, as yet unplanted, were
swimming in water, out of which stuck the stumps of last year's crop.
It was a tearful sight. Fortunately the road soon rose superior to
it, passed through a cutting, and came out unexpectedly above the
sea,--a most homesick sea, veiled in rain-mist, itself a
disheartening drab. The cutting which ushered us somewhat proudly
upon this inhospitable outlook proved to be the beginning of a pass
sixty miles long, between the Hida-Shinshiu mountains and the sea of
I was now to be rewarded for my venture in an unlooked-for way; for I
found myself introduced here to a stretch of coast worth going many
miles to see.
The provinces of Hida and Etchiu are cut off from the rest of Japan
by sets of mountain ranges, impassable throughout almost their whole
length. So bent on barring the way are the chains that, not content
with doing so in mid-course, they all but shut it at their ocean end;
for they fall in all their entirety plumb into the sea. Following
one another for a distance of sixty miles, range after range takes
thus its header into the deep. The only level spots are the deltas
deposited by the streams between the parallels of peak. But these
are far between. Most of the way the road belts the cliffs, now near
their base, now cut into the precipice hundreds of feet above the
tide. The road is one continuous observation point. Along it our
jinrikisha bowled. In spite of the rain, the view had a grandeur
that compensated for much discomfort. It was, moreover, amply
diversified. Now we rushed out to the tip of some high cape, now we
swung round into the curve of the next bay; now we wound slowly
upward, now we slipped merrily down. The headlands were endless, and
each gave us a seascape differing from the one we folded out of sight
behind; and a fringe of foam, curving with the coast, stretched like
a ribbon before us to mark the way.
We halted for the night at a fishing village called No: two lines of
houses hugging the mountain side, and a single line of boats drawn
up, stern on, upon the strand; the day and night domiciles of the
amphibious strip of humanity, in domestic tiff, turning their backs
to one another, a stone's throw apart. As our kuruma men knew the
place, while we did not, we let them choose the inn. They pulled up
at what caused me a shudder. I thought, if this was the best inn,
what must the worst be like! However, I bowed my head to fate in the
form of a rafter lintel, and passed in. A dim light, which came in
part from a hole in the floor, and in part from an ineffective lamp,
revealed a lofty, grotto-like interior. Over the hole hung a sort of
witches' caldron, swung by a set of iron bars from the shadowy form
of a soot-begrimed rafter. Around the kettle crouched a circle of
Our entrance caused a stir, out of which one of the gnomes came forward,
bowing to the ground. When he had lifted himself up enough to be seen,
he turned out quite human. He instantly bustled to fetch another light,
and started to lead the strangers across the usual slippery sill and
up the nearly perpendicular stairs. Why I was not perpetually
falling down these same stairways, or sliding gracefully or otherwise
off the corridors in a heap, will always be a mystery to me. Yet,
with the unimportant exception of sitting down occasionally to put on
my boots, somewhat harder than I meant, I remember few such mishaps.
It was not the surface that was unwilling; for the constant scuffle
of stocking feet has given the passageways a polish mahogany might
The man proved anything but inhuman, and very much mine host.
How courteous he was, and in what a pleased mind with the world,
even its whims of weather, his kind attentions put me! He really did
so little, too. Beside numberless bows and profuse politeness,
he simply laid a small and very thin quilt upon the mats for me to
sit on, and put a feeble brazier by my side. So far as mere comfort
went, the first act savored largely of supererogation, as the mats
were already exquisitely clean, and the second of insufficiency,
since the brazier served only to point the cold it was powerless to
chase. But the manner of the doing so charmed the mind that it
almost persuaded the grumbling body of content.
As mine host bowed himself out, a maid bowed herself in, with a tray
of tea and sugar-plums, and a grace that beggared appreciation.
"His Augustness is well come," she said, as she sank on her knees and
bowed her pretty head till it touched the mats; and the voice was
only too human for heaven. Unconsciously it made the better part of
"Would his Augustness deign to take some tea? Truly he must be very
tired;" and, pouring out a cup, she placed it beside me as it might
have been some beautiful rite, and then withdrew, leaving me, beside
the tea, the perfume of a presence, the sense that something
exquisite had come and gone.
I sat there thinking of her in the abstract, and wondering how many
maids outside Japan were dowried with like grace and the like voice.
With such a one for cupbearer, I could have continued to sip tea, I
thought, for the rest of my natural, or, alas, unnatural existence.
There I stayed, squatting on my feet on the mats, admiring the mimic
volcano which in the orthodox artistic way the charcoal was arranged
to represent, and trying my best to warm myself over the idea.
But the idea proved almost as cold comfort as the brazier itself.
The higher aesthetic part of me was in paradise, and the bodily half
somewhere on the chill confines of outer space. The spot would no
doubt have proved wholly heaven to that witty individual who was so
anxious to exchange the necessities of life for a certainty of its
luxuries. For here, according to our scheme of things, was everything
one had no right to expect, and nothing that one had. My European
belongings looked very gross littering the mats; and I seemed to
myself a boor beside the unconscious breeding of those about me.
Yet it was only a poor village inn, and its people were but peasants,
I pondered over this as I dined in solitary state; and when I had
mounted my funeral pyre for the night, I remember romancing about it
as I fell asleep.
I was still a knight-errant, and the princess was saying all manner
of charming things to me in her still more charming manner, when I
became aware that it was the voice of the evening before wishing me
good-morning. I opened my eyes to see a golden gleam flooding the
still-shut shoji, and a diamond glitter stealing through the cracks
that set the blood dancing in my veins. Then, with a startling
clatter, my princess rolled the panels aside.
Windows are but half-way shifts at best. The true good-morning comes
afield, and next to that is the thrill that greets the throwing your
whole room wide to it. To let it trickle in at a casement is to wash
in a dish. The true way is to take the sunshine with the shock of a
plunge into the sea, and feel it glow and tingle all over you.
The rain had taken itself off in the night, and the air sparkled with
freshness. The tiny garden court lay in cool, rich shadow, flecked
here and there with spots of dazzle where a ray reflected found a
pathway in, while the roofs above glistened with countless
Nor was mine host less smiling than the day, though he had not
overcharged me for my room. I was nothing to him, yet he made me
feel half sorry to go. A small pittance, too, the tea money seemed,
for all that had gone with it. We pay in this world with copper for
things gold cannot buy. Humanities are so cheap--and so dear.
The whole household gathered in force on its outer sill to wish us
good luck as we took the street, and threw sayonaras ("if it must be
so") after us as we rolled away.
There is a touch of pathos in this parting acquiescence in fate.
If it must be so, indeed! I wonder did mine host suspect that I did
not all leave,--that a part of me, a sort of ghostly lodger, remained
with him who had asked me so little for my stay? Probably in body I
shall never stir him again from beside his fire, nor follow as he
leads the way through the labyrinth of his house; but in spirit, at
times, I still steal back, and I always find the same kind welcome
awaiting me in the guest room in the ell, and the same bright smile
of morning to gild the tiny garden court. The only things beyond the
grasp of change are our own memories of what once was.
On a New Cornice Road.
The sunshine quickened us all, and our kuruma took the road like a
flock of birds; for jinrikisha men in company run as wild geese fly,
crisscross. It is an artistic habit, inculcated to court ladies in
books on etiquette. To make the men travel either abreast or in
Indian file, is simply impossible. After a moment's conformity, they
invariably relapse into their own orderly disorder.
This morning they were in fine figure and bowled us along to some
merry tune within; while the baby-carriages themselves jangled the
bangles on their axles, making a pleasing sort of cry. The village
folk turned in their steps to stare and smile as we sped past.
It was a strange-appearing street. On both sides of it in front of
the houses ran an arcade, continuous but irregular, a contribution of
building. Each house gave its mite in the shape of a covered portico,
which fitted as well as could be expected to that of its next door
neighbor. But as the houses were not of the same size, and the
ground sloped, the roofs of the porticos varied in level. A similar
terracing held good of the floors. The result was rather a
federation than a strict union of interests. Indeed, the object in
view was communal. For the arcades were snow galleries, I was told,
to enable the inhabitants in winter to pass from one end of the
village to the other, no inconsiderable distance. They visored both
sides of the way, showing that then in these parts even a crossing of
the street is a thing to be avoided. Indeed, by all report the
drifts here in the depth of winter must be worth seeing. Even at
this moment, May the 6th, there was still neve on some of the lowest
foothills, and we passed more than one patch of dirt-grimed snow
buttressing the highway bank. The bangles on the axles now began to
have a meaning, a thing they had hitherto seemed to lack. With the
snow arcades by way of introduction they spoke for themselves.
Evidently they were first cousins of our sleighbells. Here, then,
as cordially as with us man abhors an acoustic vacuum, and when Nature
has put her icy bell-glass over the noises of the field, he must
needs invent some jingle to wile his ears withal.
Once past the houses we came upon a strip of paddyfields that bordered
the mountain slope to the very verge of the tide. Some of these
stood in spots where the tilt of the land would have seemed to have
precluded even the thought of such cultivation. For a paddyfield
must be perfectly level, that it may be kept under water at certain
seasons of the year. On a slope, therefore, a thing a paddyfield
never hesitates to scale, they rise in terraces, skyward. Here the
drop was so great that the terraces made bastions that towered
proudly on the very knife-edge of decision between the seaweed and
the cliffs. A runnel tamed to a bamboo duct did them Ganymede service.
For a paddyfield is perpetually thirsty.
It was the season of repairing of dykes and ditches in rice chronology,
a much more complicated annal than might be thought. This initial
stage of it has a certain architectural interest. Every year before
planting begins the dykes have all to be re-made strictly in place,
for they serve for both dams and bounds to the elaborately
partitioned fields. Adjacent mud is therefore carefully plastered
over the remains of the old dyke, which, to the credit of the former
builders, is no small fraction of it, and the work then finished off
with a sculptor's care. An easier-going peasantry might often forego
renewal. Indeed, I cannot but think the farmers take a natural
delight in this exalted form of mud pies; they work away on already
passable specimens with such a will. But who does quite outgrow his
childish delights? And to make of the play of childhood the work of
middle life, must be to foil the primal curse to the very letter.
What more enchanting pastime than to wade all day in viscous mud,
hearing your feet plash when you put them in, and suck as you draw
them out; while the higher part of you is busied building a parapet
of gluey soil, smoothing it down on the sides and top, and crowning
your masterpiece with a row of sprigs along the crest? And then in
the gloaming to trudge homeward, feeling that you have done a
meritorious deed after all! When I come to my second childhood,
I mean to turn paddyfield farmer myself.
Though the fields took to the slopes so kindly, they had a preference
for plains. In the deltas, formed by the bigger streams, they
expanded till they made chesswork of the whole. Laborers knee deep
in the various squares did very well for pawns. The fields being
still in their pre-natal stage, were not exactly handsome. There was
too much of one universal brown. This was relieved only by the
nurseries of young plants, small fields here and there just showing a
delicate downy growth of green, delightful to the eye. They were not
long sown. For each still lay cradled under its scarecrow, a pole
planted in the centre of the rectangle with strings stretched to the
four corners, and a bit of rag fluttering from the peak. The
scarecrows are, no doubt, useful, since they are in general use; but
I counted seven sparrows feeding in reckless disregard of danger
under the very wings of one of the contrivances.
The customs of the country seemed doomed that day to misunderstanding,
whether by sparrows or by bigger birds of passage. Those which
should have startled failed of effect, and those which should not
have startled, did. For, on turning the face of the next bluff,
we came upon a hamlet apparently in the high tide of conflagration.
From every roof volumes of smoke were rolling up into the sky, while
men rushed to and fro excitedly outside. I was stirred, myself, for
there seemed scant hope of saving the place, such headway had the
fire, as evidenced by the smoke, already acquired. The houses were
closed; a wise move certainly on the score of draft, but one that
precluded a fighting of the fire. I was for jumping from the
jinrikisha to see, if not to do something myself, when I was stopped
by the jinrikisha men, who coolly informed me that the houses were
It appeared that lime-making was a specialty of these parts, being,
in fact, the alternative industry to fishing, with the littoral
population; the farming of its strip of ricefields hardly counting as
a profession, since such culture is second nature with the Far Oriental.
Lime-making may labor under objections, considered generically, but
this method of conducting the business is susceptible of advantageous
imitation. It should commend itself at once to theatrical managers
for a bit of stage effect. Evidently it is harmless. No less
evidently it is cheap; and in some cases it might work a double
benefit. Impresarios might thus consume all the public statuary
about the town to the artistic education of the community, besides
producing most realistic results in the theatre.
Through the courtesy of some of the laborers I was permitted to enter
a small kiln in which they were then at work. I went in cautiously,
and came out with some haste, for the fumes of the burning, which
quite filled the place, made me feel my intrusion too poignantly.
I am willing to believe the work thoroughly enjoyable when once you
become used to it. In the meantime, I should choose its alternative,
--the pleasures of a dirty fishing boat in a nasty seaway,--if I were
unfortunate enough to make one of the population. I like to breathe
without thinking of it.
The charcoal used in the process came, they told me, from Noto.
I felt a thrill of pride in hearing the land of my courting thus
distinctively spoken of, although the mention were not by way of any
remarkable merit. At least the place was honorably known beyond its
own borders; had in fact a certain prestige. For they admitted there
was charcoal in their own province, but the best, they all agreed,
came from their neighbor over the sea. They spoke to appreciative
ears. I was only too ready to believe that the best of anything came
from Noto. Did they lay my interest to the score of lime-making,
I wonder, or were they in part undeceived when I asked if Noto were
visible from where we were?
"It was," they said, "on very clear days." "Did I know Noto?" What
shall a man say when questioned thus concerning that on which he has
set his heart? He cannot say yes; shall he say no and put himself
without the pale of mere acquaintance? There is a sense of nearness
not to be justified to another, and the one to whom a man may feel
most kin is not always she of whom he knows the most.
"I am by way of knowing it," I said, as my eyes followed my thoughts
horizonward. Was it all mirage they saw or thought to see, that
faint coastline washed a little deeper blue against the sky? I fear
me so, for the lime-burners failed to make it out. The day was not
clear enough, they said.
But the little heap of charcoal at least was real, and it had once
been a tree on that farther shore. Charcoal to them, it was no
longer common charcoal to me; for, looking at it, was I not face to
face with something that had once formed part of Noto, the unknown!
Oya Shiradzu, Ko Shiradzu.
Toward the middle of the afternoon we reached a part of the coast
locally famous or infamous, for the two were one; a stretch of some
miles where the mountains made no apology for falling abruptly into
the sea. Sheer for several hundred feet, the shore is here unscalable.
Nor did it use to be possible to go round by land, for the cliffs are
merely the ends of mountain-chains, themselves utterly wild and
tractless. A narrow strip of sand was the sole link between Etchiu
on the one hand and Echigo on the other. The natives call the place
Oya shiradzu, ko shiradzu, that is, a spot where the father no longer
knows the child, nor the child the father; so obliterating to sense
of all beside is the personal danger. Refuge there is none of any
kind. To have been caught here in a storm on the making tide, must
indeed have been to look death in the face.
Between the devil of a precipice and the deep sea, he who ventured on
the passage must have hurried anxiously along the thread of sand,
hoping to reach the last bend in time. As he rounds the ill-omened
corner he sees he is too late; already the surf is breaking against
the cliff. He turns back only to find retreat barred behind by
rollers that have crept in since he passed. His very footprints have
all been washed away. Caged! Like the walls of a deep-down dungeon
the perpendicular cliff towers at his side, and in the pit they rim,
he and the angry ocean are left alone together. Then the sea begins
to play with him, creeping catlike up. Her huge paws, the breakers,
buffet his face. The water is already about his feet, as he backs
desperately up against the rock. And each wave comes crushing in
with a cruel growl to strike--short this time. But the next breaks
closer, and the next closer still. He climbs a boulder. The spray
blinds him. He hears a deafening roar; feels a shock that hurls him
into space, and he knows no more.
Now the place is fearful only to fancy. For a road has been built,
belting the cliffs hundreds of feet above the tide. It is a part of
what is known as the new road, a name it is likely long to keep.
Its sides are in places so steep that it fails of its footing and is
constantly slipping off into the sea. Such sad missteps are the
occasion for bands of convicts to appear on the scene under the
marshaling of a police officer and be set to work to repair the slide
by digging a little deeper into the mountain-side. The convicts wear
clothes of a light brick-color which at a distance looks a little
like couleur de rose, while the police are dressed in sombre
blue. It would seem somewhat of a satire on the facts!
The new road is not without its sensation to such as dislike looking
down. Fortunately, the jinrikisha men have not the instinct of
packmules to be persistently trifling with its outer edge.
In addition to the void at the side, another showed every now and then
in front, where a dip and a turn completely hid the road beyond.
The veritable end of the world seemed to be there just ahead, close
against the vacancy of space. A couple of rods more and we must step
off--indeed the end of the world for us if we had.
When the road came to face the Oya shiradzu, ko shiradzu, it attacked
the rise by first running away from it up a stream into the mountains;
a bit of the wisdom of the serpent that enabled it to gain much
height on the bend back. Trees vaulted the way tapestrying it with
their leaves, between which one caught peeps at the sea, a shimmer of
blue through a shimmer of green. The path was strung with pedlars
and pilgrims; the latter of both sexes and all ages, under mushroom
hats with their skirts neatly tucked in at the waist, showing their
leggings; the former doing fulcrum duty to a couple of baskets swung
on a pole over their shoulders. The pilgrims were on their way back
from Zenkoji. Some of them would have tramped over two hundred miles
on foot before they reached home again. A rich harvest they brought
back, religion, travel, and exercise all in one, enough to keep them
happy long. I know of nothing which would more persuade me to be a
Buddhist than these same delightful pilgrimages. Fresh air, fresh
scenes on the road, and fresh faith at the end of it. No desert
caravan of penance to these Meccas, but a summer's stroll under a
summer's sky. An end that sanctifies the means and a means that no
less justifies its end.
While we were still in the way with these pious folk we touched our
midday halt, a wayside teahouse notched in a corner of the road
commanding a panoramic view over the sea. The place was kept by a
deaf old lady and her tailless cat. The old lady's peculiarity was
personal; the cat's was not. No self-respecting cat in this part of
Japan could possibly wear a tail. The northern branch of the family
has long since discarded that really useless feline appendage. A dog
in like circumstance would be sadly straitened in the expression of
his emotions, but a cat is every whit a cat without a continuation.
With the deaf old lady we had, for obvious reasons, no sustained
conversation. She busied herself for the most part in making dango,
a kind of dumpling, but not one calculated to stir curiosity, since
it is made of rice all through. These our men ate with more relish
than would seem possible. Meanwhile I sat away from the road where I
could look out upon the sea over the cliffs, and the cat purred about
in her offhand way and used me incidentally as a rubbing post. Trees
fringed the picture in front, and the ribbon of road wound off through
it into the distance, beaded with folk, and shot with sunshine and
I was sorry when lunch was over and we took leave of our gentle
hostesses; tabbies both of them, yet no unpleasing pair. A few more
bends brought us to where the path culminated. The road had for some
time lain bare to the sea and sky, but at the supreme point some fine
beeches made a natural screen masking the naked face of the precipice.
On the cutting above, four huge Chinese characters stood graved in
"Ya no gotoku, to no gotoshi."
"Smooth as a whetstone, straight as an arrow," meaning the cliff.
Perhaps because of their pictorial descent, the characters did not
shock one. Unlike the usual branding of nature, they seemed not out
of keeping with the spot. Not far beyond, the butts of the winter's
neve, buried in dirt, banked the path.
For miles along the raod the view off was superb. Nothing bordered
one side of the way and the mountain bordered the other. Far below
lay the sea, stretching away into blue infinity, a vast semicircle of
ultramarine domed by a hemisphere of azure; and it was noticeable how
much vaster the sea looked than the sky. We were so high above it that
the heavings of its longer swells were leveled to imperceptibility,
while the waves only graved the motionless surface. Here and there
the rufflings of a breeze showed in darker markings, like the changes
on watered silk. The most ephemeral disturbance made the most show.
Dotted over the blue expanse were black spots, fishing boats; and a
steamer with a long trail of smoke showed in the offing, stationary
to the eye, yet shifting its place like the shadow of a style when
you forgot to look. And in long perspective on either hand stretched
the battlement of cliff. Visual immensity lay there before us, in
each of its three manifestations; of line, of surface, and of space.
We stood still, the better to try to take it in--this grandeur
tempered by sunshine and warmth. Do what he will, man is very much
the creature of his surroundings yet. In some instant sense, the
eyes fashion the feelings, and we ourselves grow broader with our
horizon's breadth. The Chaldean shepherds alone with the night had
grander thoughts for the companionship, and I venture to believe that
the heart of the mountaineer owes quite as much to what he is forced
to visage as to what he is compelled to do.
We tucked ourselves into our jinrikisha and started down. By virtue
of going, the speed increased, till the way we rolled round the
curves was intoxicating. The panorama below swung to match, and we
leaned in or out mechanically to trim the balance. Occasionally, as
it hit some stone, the vehicle gave a lurch that startled us for a
moment into sobriety, from which we straightway relapsed into
exhilaration. Curious this, how the body brings about its own
forgetting. For I was conscious only of mind, and yet mind was the
one part of me not in motion. I suppose much oxygen made me tipsy.
If so, it is a recommendable tipple. Spirits were not unhappily
named after the natural article.
It was late afternoon when we issued at last from our two days
Thermopylae upon the Etchiu plain. As we drew out into its expanse,
the giant peaks of the Tateyama range came into view from behind
their foothills, draped still in their winter ermine. It was last
year yet in those upper regions of the world, but all about us below
throbbed with the heartbeats of the spring. At each mile, amid the
ever lengthening shadows, nature seemed to grow more sentient.
Through the thick air the peaks stood out against the eastern sky, in
saffron that flushed to rose and then paled to gray. The ricefields,
already flooded for their first working, mirrored the glow overhead
so glassily that their dykes seemed to float, in sunset illusion,
a mere bar tracery of earth between the sky above and a sky beneath.
Upon such lattice of a world we journeyed in mid-heaven. Stealthily
the shadows gathered; and as the hour for confidences drew on, nature
took us into hers. The trees in the twilight, just breaking into
leaf, stood in groups among the fields and whispered low to one
another, nodding their heads; and then from out the shadow of the May
evening came the croaking of the frogs. Strangely the sound fitted
the hour, with its like touch of mysterious suggestion. As the
twilight indefinite, it pervaded everything, yet was never anywhere.
Deafening at a distance, it hushed at our approach only to begin
again behind us. Will-o'-the-wisp of the ear, infatuating because
forever illusive! And the distance and the numbers blended what had
perhaps been harsh into a mellow whole that filled the gloaming with
a sort of voice. I began to understand why the Japanese are so fond
of it that they deem it not unworthy a place in nature's vocal
pantheon but little lower than the song of the nightingale, and echo
its sentiment in verse. And indeed it seems to me that his soul must
be conventionally tuned in whom this even-song of the ricefields
stirs no responsive chord.
Across the Etchiu Delta.
The twilight lingered, and the road threaded its tortuous course for
miles through the rice plain, bordered on either hand by the dykes of
the paddyfields. Every few hundred feet, we passed a farmhouse
screened by clipped hedgerows and bosomed in trees; and at longer
intervals we rolled through some village, the country pike becoming
for the time the village street. The land was an archipelago of
homestead in a sea of rice. But the trees about the dwellings so cut
up the view, that for the moments of passing the mind forgot it was
all so flat and came back to its ocean in surprise, when the next
vista opened on the sides.
Things had already become silhouettes when we dashed into
lantern-lighted Mikkaichi. We took the place in form, and a fine
sensation we made. What between the shouts of the runners and the
clatter of the chaises men, women and children made haste to clear a
track, snatching their little ones back and then staring at us as we
swept past. Indeed, the teams put their best feet foremost for local
effect, and more than once came within an ace of running over some
urchin who either would not or could not get out of the way.
Fortunately no casualties occurred. For it would have been
ignominious to have been arrested by the police during our first ten
minutes in the town, not to speak of the sad dampening to our
feelings an accident would have caused.
In this mad manner we dashed up the long main street. We were forced
to take the side, for the village aqueduct or gutter--it served both
purposes--monopolized the middle. At short intervals, it was spanned
by causeways made of slabs of stone. Over one of these we made a
final swirl and drew up before the inn. Then our shafts made their
obeisance to the ground.
A warm welcome greeted the appeal. A crowd of servants came rushing
to the front of the house with an eye to business, and a crowd of
village folk with an eye to pleasure closed in behind. Between the
two fires we stepped out and entered the side court, to the
satisfaction of the one audience and the chagrin of the other.
But it is impossible to please everybody.
Fortunately it was not so hard to please us, and certainly the inn
people did their best; for they led the way to what formerly were the
state apartments, that part of the house where the daimyo of Kaga had
been wont to lodge when he stopped here over night on his journey
north. Though it had fallen somewhat into disrepair, it was still
the place of honor in the inn, and therefore politely put at the
service of one from beyond sea. There I supped in solitary state,
and there I slept right royally amid the relics of former splendor,
doubting a little whether some unlaid ghost of bygone times might not
come to claim his own, and oust me at black midnight by the rats, his
But nothing short of the sun called me back to consciousness and bade
me open to the tiny garden, where a pair of ducks were preening their
feathers after an early bath in their own little lake. On the
veranda my lake already stood prepared; a brass basin upon a wooden
stand, according to the custom of the country. So ducks and I
dabbled and prinked in all innocence in the garden, which might well
have been the garden of Eden for any hint it gave of a world beyond.
It was my fate, too, to leave it after the same manner.
For breakfast over we were once more of the road.
We had a long day of it before us, for I purposed to cross the Etchiu
delta and sleep that night on the threshold of my hopes. The day,
like all days that look long on the map, proved still longer on the
march. Its itinerary diversified discomfort. First seventeen miles
in kuruma, then a ferry, then a tramp of twelve miles along the beach
through a series of sand dunes; then another ferry, and finally a
second walk of seven miles and a half over some foothills to top off
with. The inexpensiveness of the transport was the sole relieving
feature of the day. Not, I mean, because the greater and worse half
of the journey was done on our own feet, but because of the cheap
charges of the chaises and even of the porters. To run at a dogtrot,
trundling another in a baby carriage, seventeen miles for twenty
cents is not, I hold, an extortionate price. Certain details of the
tariff, however, are peculiar. For instance, if two men share the
work by running tandem, the fare is more than doubled; a ratio in the
art of proportion surprising at first. Each man would seem to charge
for being helped. The fact is, the greater speed expected of the
pair more than offsets the decreased draft.
Otherwise, as I say, the day was depressing. It was not merely the
tramp through the sand dunes that was regrettable, though heaven
knows I would not willingly take it again. The sand had far too
hospitable a trick of holding on to you at every step to be to my
liking. Besides, the sun, which had come out with summer insistence,
chose that particular spot for its midday siesta, and lay there at
full length, while the air was preternaturally still. It was a
stupidly drowsy heat that gave no fillip to the feet.
But such discomfort was merely by the way. The real trouble began at
Fushiki, the town on the farther side of the second ferry. In the
first place the spot had, what is most uncommon in Japan, a very
sorry look, which was depressing in itself. Secondly, its inhabitants
were much too busy or much too unemployed, or both, to be able to
attend to strangers at that hour of the afternoon. Consequently it
was almost impossible to get any one to carry the baggage.
We dispatched emissaries, however. By good luck we secured some beer,
and then argued ourselves dry again on the luggage question.
The emissaries were at work, we were assured, and at last some one
who had been sent for was said to be coming. Still time dragged on,
until finally the burden bearers turned up, and turned out to
At this I rebelled. The situation was not new, but it was none the
less impossible. In out-of-the-way districts I had refused offers of
the kind before. For Japanese beasts of burden run in a decreasing
scale as follows, according to the poverty of the place: jinrikisha,
horses, bulls, men, women. I draw my line at the last. I am well
aware how absurd the objects themselves regard such a protective
policy, but I cling to my prejudices. To the present proffer I was
adamant. To step jauntily along in airy unencumberedness myself,
while a string of women trudged wearily after, loaded with my heavy
personal effects, was more than an Anglo-Saxon attitude towards the
sex could stand. I would none of them, to the surprise and dismay of
the inn landlord, and to the no slight wonder of the women.
The discarding was not an easy piece of work. The fair ones were
present at it, and I have no doubt misinterpreted the motive.
For women have a weakness for a touch of the slave-master in a man.
Beside, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," though it be only
in the capacity of a porter. There was nothing for it, however, but
to let it go at that. For to have explained with more insistence
would infallibly have deepened their suspicions of wounded vanity.
But it did seem hard to be obliged to feel a brute for refusing to be
The landlord, thanks to my importunities, managed after some further
delay to secure a couple of lusty lads, relatives, I suspect, of the
discarded fair ones, and with them we eventually set out. We had not
gone far, when I came to consider, unjustly, no doubt, that they
journeyed too slow. I might have thought differently had I carried
the chattels and they the purse. I shuddered to think what the
situation would have been with women, for then even the poor solace
of remonstrance would have been denied. As it was, I spent much
breath in trying to hurry them, and it is pleasanter now than it was
then to reflect how futilely. For I rated them roundly, while they
accepted my verbal goadings with the trained stolidity of folk who
were used to it.
When at last we approached the village of our destination, which bore
the name of Himi, it was already dusk, and this with the long May
twilight meant a late hour before we should be comfortably housed.
Indeed, I had been quartered in anticipation for the last few miles,
and was only awaiting arrival to enter into instant possession of my
fancied estate. Not content even with pure insubstantiality, I had
interviewed various people through Yejiro on the subject. First, the
porters had been exhaustively catechized, and then what wayfarers we
chanced to meet had been buttonholed beside; with the result of much
contradictory information. There seemed to be an inn which was,
I will not say good, but the best, but no two informants could agree
in calling it by name. One thought he remembered that the North Inn
was the place to go to; another that he had heard the Wistaria House
All doubts, however, were set at rest when we reached the town.
For without the slightest hesitation, every one of the houses in
question refused to take us in. The unanimity was wonderful
considering the lack of collusion. Yejiro and I made as many
unsuccessful applications together as I could stand. Then I went
and sat down on the sill of the first teahouse for a base of
operations--I cannot say for my headquarters, because that is just
what we could not get--and gave myself up to melancholy. Meanwhile
Yejiro ransacked the town, from which excursions he returned every
few minutes with a fresh refusal, but the same excuse. It got so at
last I could anticipate the excuse. The inn was full already--of
assessors and their victims. The assessors had descended on the
spot, it seemed, and the whole country-side had come to town to lie
about the value of its land. I only wished the inhabitants might
have chosen some other time for false swearing. For it was a sad tax
on my credulity.
We did indeed get one offer which I duly went to inspect, but the
outside of the house satisfied me. At last I adopted extreme
measures. I sent Yejiro off to the police station. This move
produced its effect.
Even at home, from having contrived to keep on the sunny side of the
law and order, my feelings toward the police are friendly enough for
all practical purposes; but in no land have I such an affectionate
regard for the constabulary as in Japan. Members of the force there,
if the term be applicable to a set of students spectacled from
over-study, whose strength is entirely moral, never get you into
trouble, and usually get you out of it. One of their chief charms to
the traveler lies in their open-sesame effect upon obdurate
landlords. In this trick they are wonderfully successful.
Having given ourselves up to the police, therefore, we were already
by way of being lodged, and that quickly. So indeed it proved.
In the time to go and come, Yejiro reappeared with an officer in
civilian's clothes, who first made profuse apologies for presenting
himself in undress, but it seemed he was off duty at the moment,--and
then led the way a stone's throw round the corner; and in five minutes
I was sitting as snugly as you please in a capital room in an inn's
third story, sipping tea and pecking at sugar plums, a distinctly
Here fate put in a touch of satire. For it now appeared that all our
trouble was quite gratuitous. Most surprisingly the innkeepers'
story on this occasion proved to be entirely true, a possibility I
had never entertained for a second; and furthermore it appeared that
our present inn was the one in which I had been offered rooms but had
refused, disliking its exterior.
Such is the reward for acting on general principles.
Over the Arayama Pass.
The morning that was to give me my self-promised land crept on tiptoe
into the room on the third story, and touched me where I slept, and
on pushing the shoji apart and looking out, I beheld as fair a day as
heart could wish. A faint misty vapor, like a bridal veil, was just
lifting from off the face of things, and letting the sky show through
in blue-eyed depths. It was a morning of desire, bashful for its
youth as yet, but graced with a depth of atmosphere sure to expand
into a full, warm, perfect noon; and I hastened to be out and become
a part of it.
Three jinrikishas stood waiting our coming at the door, and amidst a
pelting of sayonara from the whole household, we dashed off as
proudly as possible down the main street of the town, to the
admiration of many lookers-on. The air, laden with moisture, left
kisses on our cheeks as we hurried by, while the sunshine fell in
long scarfs of gauzy shimmer over the shoulders of the eastern hills.
The men in the shafts felt the fillip of it all and encouraged one
another with lusty cries, a light-heartedness that lent them heels.
Even the peasants in the fields seemed to wish us well, as they
looked up from their work to grin good-humoredly.
We value most what we attain with difficulty. It was on this
principle no doubt that the road considerately proceeded to give out.
It degenerated indeed very rapidly after losing sight of the town,
and soon was no more than a collection of holes strung on ruts, that
made travel in perambulators tiring alike to body and soul. At last,
after five miles of floundering, it gave up all pretence at a
wheel-way, and deposited us at a wayside teahouse at the foot of a
little valley, the first step indeed up the Arayama pass. Low hills
had closed in on the right, shutting off the sea, and the ridge
dividing Noto from Etchiu rose in higher lines upon the left.
Here we hired porters, securing them from the neighboring fields,
for they were primarily peasants, and were porters only as we were
tramps, by virtue of the country. Porterage being the sole means of
transport, they came to carry our things as they would have carried
their own, in skeleton hods strapped to their backs. In this they
did not differ from the Japanese custom generally; but in one point
they showed a strange advance over their fellows. They were
wonderfully methodical folk. They paid no heed to our hurry, and
instead of shouldering the baggage they proceeded to weigh it, each
manload by itself, on a steelyard of wood six feet long; the results
they then worked out conscientiously on an abacus. After which I
paid accordingly. Truly an equitable adjustment between man and man,
at which I lost only the time it took. Then we started.
From the teahouse the path rose steadily enough for so uneducated a
way, leaving the valley to contract into an open glen. The day,
in the mean time, came out as it had promised, full and warm, fine
basking weather, as a certain snake in the path seemed to think. So,
I judge, did the porters. If it be the pace that kills, these simple
folk must be a long-lived race. They certainly were very careful not
to hurry themselves. Had they been hired for life, so thrifty a
husbanding of their strength would have been most gratifying to
witness; unluckily they were mine only for the job. They moved, one
foot after the other, with a mechanical precision, exhausting even to
look at. To keep with them was practically impossible for an ordinary
pedestrian. Nothing short of a woman shopping could worthily have
matched their pace. In sight their speed was snail-like; out of it
they would appear to have stopped, so far did they fall behind.
Once I thought they had turned back.
The path we were following was the least traveled of the only two
possible entrances into Noto by land. It was a side or postern gate
to the place, over a gap on the northern end of a mountain wall;
the main approach lying along its other flank. For a high range of
uninhabited hills nearly dams the peninsula across, falling on the
right side straight into the sea, but leaving on the other a lowland
ligature that binds Noto to Kaga. To get from Kaga into Etchiu, the
range has to be crossed lower down. Our dip in the chain was called
the Arayama toge or Rough Mountain pass, and was perhaps fifteen
hundred feet high, but pleasingly modeled in its lines after one ten
times its height.
Half-way up the tug of the last furlong, where the ascent became
steep enough for zig-zags, I turned to look back. Down away from me
fell the valley, slipping by reason of its own slope out into the
great Etchiu plain. Here and there showed bits of the path in
corkscrew, from my personal standpoint all perfectly porterless.
Over the low hills, to the left, lay the sea, the crescent of its
great beach sweeping grandly round into the indistinguishable
distance. Back of it stretched the Etchiu plain, but beyond that,
nothing. The mountains that should have bounded it were lost to
sight in the spring haze.
Mechanically my eyes followed up into the languid blue, when suddenly
they chanced upon a little cloud, for cloud I took it to be.
Yet something about it struck me as strange, and scanning it more
closely, by this most natural kind of second sight, I marked the
unmistakable glisten of snow. It was a snow peak towering there in
isolated majesty. As I gazed it grew on me with ineffable grandeur,
sparkling with a faint saffron glamour of its own. Shifting my look
a little I saw another and then another of the visions, like puffs of
steam, rising above the plain. Half apparitions, below a certain
line, the snow line, they vanished into air, for between them and the
solid earth there looked to be blue sky. The haze of distance, on
this soft May day, hid their lower slopes and left the peaks to tower
alone into the void. They were the giants of the Tateyama range,
standing there over against me inaccessibly superb.
A pair of teahouses, rivals, crowned the summit of the pass, which,
like most Japanese passes, was a mere knife-edge of earth. With a
quickened pulse if a slackened gait, I topped the crest, walked
--straight past the twin teahouses and their importunities to stop--
another half-dozen paces to the brink, and in one sweep looked down
over a thousand feet on the western side. Noto, eyelashed by the
branches of a tree just breaking into leaf, lay open to me below.
After the first glow of attainment, this initial view was, I will
confess, disillusioning. Instead of what unfettered fancy had led me
to expect, I saw only a lot of terraced rice-fields backed by ranges
of low hills; for all the world a parquet in green and brown tiles.
And yet, as the wish to excuse prompted me to think, was this not,
after all, as it should be? For I was looking but at the entrance to
the land, its outer hallway, as it were; Nanao, its capital, its
inland sea, all its beyond was still shut from me by the nearer
hills. And feeling thus at liberty to be amused, I forthwith saw it
as a satire on panoramas generally.
Panoramic views are painfully plain. They must needs be mappy at
best, for your own elevation flattens all below it to one topographic
level. Field and woodland, town or lake, show by their colors only
as if they stood in print; and you might as well lay any good atlas
on the floor and survey it from the lofty height of a footstool.
Such being the inevitable, it was refreshing to see the thing in
caricature. No pains, evidently, had been spared by the inhabitants
to make their map realistic. There the geometric lines all stood in
ludicrous insistence; any child could have drawn the thing as
The two teahouses were well patronized by wayfarers of both sexes,
resting after their climb. Some simply sipped tea, chatting; others
made a regular meal of the opportunity. The greater number sat, as
we did, on the sill, for the trouble of taking off their straw sandals.
Our landlady was the model of what a landlady should be, for it was
apparently a feminine establishment. If there was a man attached to
it, he kept himself discreetly in the background. She was a kind,
sympathetic soul, with a word for every one, and a deliberateness of
action as effective as it was efficient. And in the midst of it all,
she kept up a refrain of welcomes and good-bys, as newcomers appeared
or old comers left. The unavoidable preliminary exercise and the
crisp air whetted all our appetites. So I doubt not she drove a
thriving trade, although to Western ideas of value her charges were
Midday halts for lunch are godsends to tramps who travel with porters.
They compel the porters to catch up, and give the hirer opportunity
to say things which at least relieve him, if they do no good. I had
begun to fear ours would deprive me of this pleasure, and indeed had
got so far on in my meal as to care little whether they did, when
automatically they appeared. Fortunately they needed but a short rest,
and as the descent on the Noto side was much steeper than on the other,
half an hour's walk brought us to the level of kuruma once more.
A bit of lane almost English in look, bowered in trees and winding
delightfully like some human stream, led us to a teahouse. While we
were ordering chaises a lot of children gathered to inspect us, thus
kindly giving us our first view of the natives. They looked more
open-eyed than Japanese generally, but such effect may have been due
to wonder. At all events, the stare, if it was a stare, seemed like
a silent sort of welcome.
Leaving the children still gazing after us we bowled away toward
Nanao, and in the course of time caught our first glimpse of it from
the upper end of a sweep of meadows. It sat by the water's edge at
the head of a landlocked bay, the nearer arm of the inland sea; and
an apology for shipping rode in the offing. It seemed a very
fair-sized town, and altogether a more lively place than I had
thought to find. Clearly its life was as engrossing to it as if no
wall of hills notching the sky shut out the world beyond. Having
heard, however, that a watering-place called Wakura was the sight of
the province, and learning now that it was but six miles further, we
decided, as it was yet early in the afternoon, to push on, and take
the capital later. We did take it later, very much later the next
night, than was pleasing.
Wakura, indeed, was the one thing in Noto, except the charcoal, which
had an ultra-Noto-rious reputation. Rumors of it had reached us as
far away as Shinshiu, and with every fresh inquiry we made as we
advanced the rumors had gathered strength. Our informants spoke of
it with the vague respect accorded hearsay honor. Clearly, it was no
place to pass by.
The road to it from Nanao was not noteworthy, but for two things; one
officially commended to sight-seers, the other not. The first was a
curious water-worn rock upon the edge of the bay, some waif of a
boulder, doubtless, since it stuck up quite alone out of the sand.
A shrine perched atop, and a larger temple encircled it below, to which
its fantastic cuttings served as gateway and garden. The uncommended
sight was a neighboring paddyfield, in which a company of frogs,
caught trespassing, stood impaled on sticks a foot high, as awful
warnings to their kind. Beyond this the way passed through a string
of clay cuttings following the coast, and in good time rolled us into
the midst of a collection of barnlike buildings which it seemed was
The season for the baths had not yet begun, so that the number of
people at the hotels was still quite small. Not so the catalogue of
complaints for which they were visited. The list appalled me as I
sat on the threshold of my prospective lodging, listening to mine
host's encomiums on the virtues of the waters. He expatiated
eloquently on both the quantity and quality of the cures, quite
unsuspicious that at each fresh recommendation he was in my eyes
depreciating his own wares. Did he hope that among such a handsome
choice of diseases I might at least have one! I was very near to
beating a hasty retreat on the spot. For the accommodation in
Japanese inns is of a distressingly communistic character at best,
and although at present there were few patients in the place, the
germs were presumably still there on the lookout for a victim.
Immediate comfort, however, getting the better of problematical risk,
I went in. The room allotted me lay on the ground floor just off the
garden, and I had not been there many minutes before I became aware,
as one does, that I was being stared at. The culprit instantly
pretended, with a very sheepish air, to be only taking a walk. He
was the vanguard of an army of the curious. The people in the next
room were much exercised over the new arrival, and did all decency
allowed to catch a glimpse of me; for which in time they were
rewarded. Visitors lodged farther off took aimless strolls to the
verandas, and looked at me when they thought I was not looking at
them. All envied the servants, who out-did Abra by coming when I
called nobody, and then lingering to talk. Altogether I was more of
a notoriety than I ever hope to be again; especially as any European
would have done them as well. My public would have been greater, as
I afterwards learned, if Yejiro had not been holding rival court in
Between us we were given a good deal of local information. One bit
failed to cause me unmitigated delight. We were not, it appeared,
the first foreigners to set foot in Wakura. Two Europeans had, in a
quite uncalled-for way, descended upon the place the summer before,
up to which time, indeed, the spot had been virgin to Caucasians.
Lured by the fame of the springs, these men had come from Kanazawa in
Kaga, where they were engaged in teaching chemistry, to make a test
of the waters. I believe they discovered nothing startling. I could
have predicted as much had they consulted me beforehand. They
neglected to do so, and the result was they came, saw and conquered
what little novelty the place had. I was quite chagrined. It simply
showed how betrodden in these latter days the world is. There is not
so much as a remote corner of it but falls under one of two heads;
those places worth seeing which have already been seen, and those
that have not been seen but are not worth seeing. Wakura Onsen
struck me as falling into the latter halves of both categories.
While discussing my solitary dinner I was informed by Yejiro that
some one wished to speak with me, and on admitting to be at home,
the local prefect was ushered in. He came ostensibly to vise my
passport, a duty usually quite satisfactorily performed by any
policeman. The excuse was transparent. He really came that he might
see for himself the foreigner whom rumor had reported to have
arrived. As a passport on his part he presented me with some pride
the bit of autobiography that he had himself once been in Tokyo;
a fact which in his mind instantly made us a kind of brothers,
and raised us both into a common region of superiority to our
surroundings. He asked affectionately after the place, and I
answered as if it had been the one thought in both our hearts.
It was a pleasing little comedy, as each of us was conscious of
its consciousness by the other. Altogether we were very friendly.
Between two such Tokyoites it was, of course, the merest formality to
vise a passport, but being one imposed by law he kindly ran his eye
over mine. As it omitted to describe my personal appearance in the
usual carefully minute manner, as face oval, nose ordinary,
complexion medium, and so forth, identification from mere looks was
not striking. So he had to take me on trust for what I purported to
be, an assumption which did not disconcert him in the least. With
writing materials which he drew from his sleeve, he registered me
then and there, and, the demands of the law thus complied with to the
letter, left me amid renewed civilities to sleep the sleep of the
An Inland Sea.
They had told us overnight that a small steamer plied every other day
through Noto's unfamed inland sea, leaving the capital early in the
morning, and touching shortly after at Wakura. As good luck would
have it, the morrow happened not to be any other day, so we embraced
the opportunity to embark in her ourselves. On her, it would be more
accurate to say, for she proved such a mite that her cabin was barely
possible and anything but desirable. By squatting down and craning
my neck I peered in at the entrance, a feat which was difficult
enough. She was, in truth, not much bigger than a ship's gig; but
she had a soul out of all proportion to her size. The way it
throbbed and strained and set her whole little frame quivering with
excitement, made me think every moment that she was about to explode.
The fact that she was manned exclusively by Japanese did not entirely
There was an apology for a deck forward, to which, when we were well
under way, I clambered over the other passengers. I was just sitting
down there to enjoy a comfortable pipe when I was startlingly
requested by a voice from a caboose behind to move off, as I was
obscuring the view of the man at the wheel. After that I perched on
We steamed merrily out into the middle of the bay. The water was
slumberously smooth, and under the tawny haze of the morning it shone
with the sheen of burnished brass. From the gentle plowing of our
bow it rolled lazily to one side, as if in truth it were molten metal.
Land, at varying picturesque distances, lay on all sides of us.
In some directions the shore was not more than a mile and a half off;
in others, the eye wandered down a vista of water framed by low
headlands for ten miles or more. But the atmosphere gave the
dominant thought, a strange slumber-like seclusion. So rich and
golden, it shut this little corner of the world in a sort of happy
valley of its own, and the smoke from my pipe drifted dreamily
astern, a natural incense to the spirits of the spot.
The passengers suggested anything, from a public picnic to an early
exploration party. There were men, women and children of all ages
and kinds, some stowed away in the cabin behind, some gathered in
groups amidships; and those in the cabin thought small fry of those
on deck. The cabin was considered the place of honor because the
company made one pay a higher price for the privilege of its
discomfort. Altogether it was a very pretty epitome of a voyage.
Just as the steamer people were preparing for their first landing,
there detached itself from the background of trees along the shore
the most singular aquatic structure I think I have ever seen.
It looked like the skeleton of some antediluvian wigwam which a
prehistoric roc had subsequently chosen for a nest. Four poles
planted in the water inclined to one another at such an angle that
they crossed three-quarters of the way up. The projecting quarters
held in clutch a large wicker basket like the car of a balloon.
Peering above the car was a man's head. As the occupant below slowly
turned the head to keep an eye on us, it suggested, amid its web of
poles, some mammoth spider lying in wait for its prey.
It was a matter of some wonder at first how the man got there, until
the motion of the steamer turned the side and disclosed a set of
cross poles lashed between two of the uprights, forming a rude sort
of ladder. Curiosity, satisfied on this primary point, next asked
why he got there. As this was a riddle to me, I propounded it to
Yejiro, who only shook his head and propounded it to somebody else;
a compliment to the inquiry certainly, if not to my choice of informant.
This somebody else told him the man was fishing. Except for the
immobility of the figure, I never saw a man look less like it in my
Such, however, was the fact. The wigwam was connected by strings to
the entrance of a sort of weir, and the man who crouched in the basket
was on the lookout for large fish, of a kind called bora. As soon as
one of them strayed into the mouth of the net, the man pulled the
string which closed the opening. The height of his observatory above
the level of the water enabled him to see through it to the necessary
depth. I am a trifle hazy over the exact details of the apparatus,
as I never saw a fish inquisitive enough to go in; but I submit the
existence of the fishermen in proof that it works.
Having deposited such wights as wished to go ashore--for the place
was of no pretension--our steam fish once more turned its tail and
darted us through some narrows into another bay. It must have been a
favorite one with bora, as its shores were dotted with fish-lookouts.
The observatories stood a few stone-throws out in deepish water, at
presumably favorable points, and never very near one another, lest
they should interfere with a possible catch. Some were inhabited,
This bay was further remarkable for a solar halo which I chanced to
see on glancing up at the sun. I suppose it was the singular quality
of the light that first caused me to look overhead. For a thin veil
of cloud had drawn over the blue and tempered the sunshine peculiarly.
Of course one is familiar with caricatures of the thing in
meteorological books; but the phenomenon itself is not so common,
and the effect was uncanny. At the first glance it seemed a bit of
Noto witchery, that strangely luminous circle around the sun.
To admire the moon thus bonneted, as the Japanese say, is common enough,
and befits the hour. But to have the halo of the night hung aloft in
broad day is to crown sober noon with enchantment.
The sheet of water was sparsely dotted with sail. One little craft
in particular I remember, whose course bore her straight down upon us.
She dilated slowly out of the distance, and then passed so close I
might have tossed a flower aboard of her. So steady her motion she
seemed oblivious to our presence, as she glided demurely by at
relatively doubled speed.
Only after we had passed did she show signs of noticing us at all.
For, meeting our wake, the coquette, she suddenly began dropping us
curtseys in good-by.
We seemed bound that day to meet freaks in fishing-tackle. The next
one to turn up was a kind of crinoline. This strange thing confronted
us as we disembarked at Anamidzu. Anamidzu was the last port in the
inland sea. After touching here the steamer passed out into the sea
of Japan and tied up for the night at a small port on the eastern
side of the nose of the peninsula.
As the town lay away from the shore up what looked like a canal, we
were transferred to a small boat to be rowed in. Just as we reached
the beginnings of the canal we saw squatting on the bank an old crone
contemplating, it seemed, the forlorn remains of a hoopskirt which
dangled from a pole before her, half in and half out of water. The