Part 2 out of 3
chief difference between this and the more common article of commerce
was merely one of degree, since here the ribs by quite meeting at the
top entirely suppressed the waist. Their lower extremities were hid
in the water and were, I was informed, baited with hooks.
The old lady's attitude was one of inimitable apathy; nor did she so
much as blink at us, as we passed. A little farther up, on the
opposite bank, sat a similar bit of still life. A third beyond
completed the picture. These good dames bordered the brink like so
many meditative frogs. Though I saw them for the first time in the
flesh, I recognized them at once. Here were the identical fisherfolk
who have sat for centuries in the paintings of Tsunenobu, not a whit
more immovable in kakemono than in real life. I almost looked to
find the master's seal somewhere in the corner of the landscape.
The worthy souls were, I was told, inkyos; a social, or rather
unsocial state, which in their case may be rendered unwidowed
dowagers; since, in company with their husbands, they had renounced
all their social titles and estates. Their daughters-in-law now did
the domestic drudgery, while they devoted their days thus to sport.
Whether it were the dames, or the canal, or more likely still, some
touch of atmosphere, but I was reminded of Holland. Indeed, I know
not what the special occasion was. It is a strange fabric we are so
busy weaving out of sensations. Let something accidentally pick up
an old thread, and behold, without rhyme or reason, we are treated to
a whole piece of past experience. Stranger yet when but the
background is brought back. For we were unconscious of the warp
while the details were weaving in. Yet reproduce it and all the woof
starts suddenly to sight. For atmosphere, like a perfume, does
ghostly service to the past.
There is something less mediate in my remembrance of Anamidzu. The
place has to me a memory of its own that hangs about the room they
made mine for an hour. It was certainly a pretty room; surprisingly
so, for such an out-of-the-way spot. I dare say it was only that to
my fellow-voyager of the steamer, hurrying homeward to Wakamatsu.
I could hear him in the next apartment making merry over his midday
meal. To him the place stood for the last stage on the journey home.
But to me, it meant more. It marked both the end of the beginning,
and the beginning of the end. For I had fixed upon this spot for my
It was high noon in my day of travel, like the high noon there
outside the open shoji. The siesta of sensation had come. Thus far,
the coming events had cast their shadows before and I had followed;
now they had touched their zenith here in mid-Noto. Henceforth I
should see them moving back again toward the east. The dazzling
sunshine without pointed the shade within, making even the room seem
more shadowy than it was. I began to feel creeping over me that
strange touch of sadness that attends the supreme moment of success,
though fulfillment be so trifling a thing as a journey's bourne.
Great or little, real or fancied, the feeling is the same in kind.
The mind seems strangely like the eye. Satisfy some emotion it has
been dwelling on, and the relaxed nerves at once make you conscious
of the complementary tint.
Then other inns in Japan came up regretfully across the blue distance
of the intervening years, midday halts, where an hour of daydream lay
sandwiched in between two half days of tramp. And I thought of the
companions now so far away. Having heard the tune in a minor key,
these came in as chords of some ampler variation, making a kind of
symphony of sentiment, where I was brought back ever and anon to the
simple motif. And the teahouse maidens entered and went out again
like mutes in my mind's scene.
I doubt not the country beyond is all very commonplace, but it might
be an Eldorado from the gilding fancy gave it then. I was told the
hills were not high, and that eighteen miles on foot would land the
traveler at Wakamatsu on the sea of Japan, fronting Korea, but seeing
only the sea, and I feel tolerably sure there is nothing there to
repay the tramp. When a back has bewitched you in the street, it is
a fatal folly to try to see the face. You will only be disillusioned
if you do.
At Sea Again.
I was roused from my mid-Noto reverie by tidings that our boat was
ready and waiting just below the bridge. This was not the steamer
which had long since gone on its way, but a small boat of the country
we had succeeded in chartering for the return voyage. The good
inn-folk, who had helped in the hiring, hospitably came down to the
landing to see us off.
The boat, like all Japanese small boats, was in build between a
gondola and a dory, and dated from a stage in the art of rowing prior
to the discovery that to sit is better than to stand even at work.
Ours was a small specimen of its class, that we might the quicker
compass the voyage to Nanao, which the boatmen averred to be six ri
(fifteen miles). My estimate, prompted perhaps by interest, and
certainly abetted by ignorance, made it about half that distance.
My argument, conclusive enough to myself, proved singularly unshaking
to the boatmen, who would neither abate the price in consequence nor
diminish their own allowance of the time to be taken.
The boat had sweeps both fore and aft, each let in by a hole in the
handle to a pin on the gunwale. She was also provided with a sail
hoisting on a spar that fitted in amidships. The sail was laced
vertically: a point, by the way, for telling a Japanese junk from a
Chinese one at sea, for Cathay always laces horizontally.
Whatever our private beliefs on the probable length of the voyage,
both crew and passengers agreed charmingly in one hope, namely, that
there might be as little rowing about it as possible. Our reasons
for this differed, it is true; but as neither side volunteered
theirs, the difference mattered not. So we slipped down the canal.
The hoopskirt fisher-dames were just where we had left them some
hours before, and were still too much absorbed in doing nothing to
waste time looking at us. I would gladly have bothered them for a
peep at their traps, but that it seemed a pity to intrude upon so
engrossing a pursuit. Besides, I feared their apathy might infect
the crew. Our mariners, though hired only for the voyage, did not
seem averse to making a day of it, as it was.
One thing, however, I was bent on stopping to inspect, cost what it
might in delay or discipline; and that was a fish-lookout. To have
seen the thing from a steamer's deck merely whetted desire for nearer
acquaintance. To gratify the wish was not difficult; for the shore
was dotted with them like blind light-houses off the points. I was
for making for the first visible, but the boatmen, with an eye to
economy of labor, pointed out that there was one directly in our path
round the next headland. So I curbed my curiosity till on turning
the corner it came into view. As good luck would have it, it was
We pulled up alongside, gave its occupants good-day, and asked leave
to mount. The fishermen, hospitable souls, offered no objection.
This seemed to me the more courteous on their part, after I had made
the ascent, for there were two of them in the basket, and a visitor
materially added to the already uneasy weight. But then they were
used to it. The rungs of what did for ladder were so far apart as to
necessitate making very long legs of it in places, which must have
been colossal strides for the owners. The higher I clambered, the
flimsier the structure got. However, I arrived, not without
unnecessary trepidation, wormed my way into the basket and crouched
down in some uneasiness of mind. The way the thing swayed and
wriggled gave me to believe that the next moment we should all be
shot catapultwise into the sea. To call it topheavy will do for a
word, but nothing but experience will do for the sensation. This
oscillation, strangely enough, was not apparent from the sea; which
reminds me to have noticed differences due the point of view before.
I was greeted by an extensive outlook. The shore, perhaps a hundred
yards away, ran shortly into a fisher hamlet, and then into a long
line of half submerged rocks, like successive touches of a skipping
stone. Beyond the end of this indefinite point, and a little to the
right of it, stood another lookout. This was our only near neighbor,
though others could be seen in miniature in the distance, faint
cobwebs against the coast. The bay stretched away on all sides,
landlocked at last, except where to the east an opening gave into the
sea of Japan.
To a dispassionate observer the basket may have been twenty feet
above the water. To one in the basket, it was considerably higher
--and its height was emphasized by its seeming insecurity.
The fishermen were very much at home in it, but to me the sensation
was such as to cause strained relations between my will to stay and
my wish to be gone.
But strong feelings are so easily changed into their opposites! I can
imagine one of these eyries a delightful setting to certain moods.
A deserted one should be the place of places for reading a romance.
The solitude, the strangeness, and the cradle-like swing, would all
compose to shutting out the world. To paddle there some May morning,
tie one's boat out of sight beneath, and climb up into the nest to
sit alone half poised in the sky in the midst of the sea, should
savor of a new sensation. After a little acclimatization it would
probably become a passion. Certainly, with a pipe, it should induce
a most happy frame of mind for a French novel. The seeming risk of
the one situation would serve to point those of the other.
The fishermen received my thanks with amiability, watched us with
stolid curiosity as we pulled off, and then relapsed into their
former semi-comatose condition. Their eyrie slipped perspectively
astern, sank lower and lower, and suddenly was lost against the
background of the coast.
The favoring breeze we were always hoping for never came. This was a
bitter disappointment to the boatmen, who thus found themselves
prevented from more than occasional whiffs of smoking. Once we had
out the spar and actually hoisted the sail, a godsend of an excuse to
them for doing nothing for the next few minutes; but it shortly had
to come down again and on we rowed.
Our surroundings made a pretty sight. A foreground of water, smooth
as one could wish had he nowhere to go, with illusive cat's-paws of
wind playing coyly all around, marking the great shield with dark
scratches, and never coming near enough to be caught except when the
sail was down. Fold upon fold of low hills in the distance, with
hamlets showing here and there at their bases by the sea. And then,
almost like a part of the picture, so subtly did the sensations
blend, the slow cadenced creak of the sweeps on the gunwale, a
rhythmic undercurrent of sound.
At intervals, a wayfarer under sail, bound the other way, crept
slowly by, carrying, as it seemed to our envious eyes, his own capful
of wind with him; and once a boat, bound our way and not under sail,
passed us not far off. Our boatmen were beautifully blind to this
defeat till their attention had been specifically called to it for an
explanation. They then declared the victor to be lighter than we,
and this in face of our having chosen their craft for just that
quality. What per cent of such statements, I wonder, do the makers
expect to have credited? And if any appreciable amount, which is the
more sold, the artless deceiver or his less simple victim?
But we always headed in the direction of Nanao, and the shores
floated by through the long spring afternoon. At last they began to
contract upon us till, by virtue of narrowing, they shot us through
the straits in water clear as crystal, and then widening again,
dropped us adrift in Wakura bay. Though not so beloved of bora, the
bay was most popular with other fish. Schools of porpoises turned
cart-wheels for our amusement, and in spots the water was fairly
alive with baby jelly-fish. On the left lay Monkey island, so called
from a certain old gentleman who had had a peculiar fondness for
those animals. His family of poor relations had disappeared at his
death, and the island was now chiefly remarkable for a curious clay
formation, which time had chiseled into cliffs so mimicking a folding
screen that they were known by the name. They were perfectly level
on top and perpendicular on the sides, and as double-faced as the
most matter-of-fact nicknamer could desire. Sunset came, found us
still in the bay and left us there. Then the dusk crept up from the
black water beneath, like an exhalation. It grew chilly.
Just as we were turning the face of Screen cliff a sound of singing
reached us, ricochetting over the water. It had a plaintive ring
such as peasant songs are wont to have, and came, as we at length
made out, from a boat homeward bound from the island, steering a
course at right angles to our own. The voices were those of women,
and as our courses swept us nearer each other, we saw that women
alone composed the crew. They had been faggot-cutting, and the
bunches lay piled amidships, while fore and aft they plied their
oars, and sang. The gloaming hid all but sound and sex, and threw
its veil of romance over the trollers, who sent their hearts out thus
across the twilight sea. The song, no doubt some common ditty,
gathered a pathos over the water through the night. It swept from
one side of us to the other, softened with distance, lingered in
detached strains, and then was hushed, leaving us once more alone
with the night.
Still we paddled on. It was now become quite dark, quite cold, quite
calm, and we were still several good miles off from Nanao. At length
on turning a headland the lights of the town and its shipping came
out one by one from behind a point, the advance guards first, then
the main body, and wheeling into line took up their post in a long
parade ahead. We began to wonder which were the nearer. There is a
touch of mystery in making a harbor at night. In the daytime you see
it all well-ordered by perspective. But as you creep slowly in
through the dark, the twinkles of the shipping only doubtfully point
their whereabouts. The most brilliant may turn out the most remote,
and the faintest at first the nearest after all. Your own motion
alone can sift them into place. If we could voyage through the sea
of space, it would be thus we might come upon some star-cluster and
have the same delightful doubt which should become our sun the first.
In half an hour they were all about us; the nearer revealing by their
light the dark bodies connected with them; the farther still showing
only themselves. The teahouses along the water-front made a
milky-way ahead. We threaded our course between the outlying lights
while the milky-way resolved itself into star-pointed silhouettes.
Then skirting along it, we drew up at last at a darksome quay, and
landed Yejiro to hunt up an inn. I looked at my watch; it was ten
o'clock. We had not only passed my estimate of time somewhere in the
middle of the bay; we had exceeded even the boatmen's excessive
allowance. Somehow we had put six hours to the voyage. I began to
realize I had hired the wrong men. Nor was the voyage yet over, if
remaining attached to the boat for fully an hour more be entitled to
count. For Yejiro did not return, and the boatmen and I waited.
I was glad enough to make pretence at arrival by getting out of the
boat on to the quay. The quay was a dismal place. I walked out to
the farther end, where I found an individual haunting it with an idea
to suicide apparently. His course struck me as so appropriate that I
felt it would be hollow mockery to argue the point with him. He must
have become alarmed at the possibility, however, for he made off.
Heaven knows he had small cause to fear; I was certainly at that
moment no unsympathetic soul.
Having only come to grief on the quay, I next tried a landward stroll
with much the same effect. The street or place that gave upon the
wharf was as deserted as the wharf itself. Half the houses about it
were dark as tombs; the other half showed only glimmering shoji
taunting me by the sounds they suffered to escape, or by a chance
silhouette thrown for a moment upon the paper wall by some one
within. And now and then, as if still further to enhance the
solitude, a pair passed me by in low self-suited talk.
Still no sign of the boy. Every few minutes I would walk back to the
boat and linger beside it till I could no longer stand the mute
reproach of the baskets huddled in a little pile on the stones, poor,
houseless immigrants that they were. And from time to time I made a
touching spectacle of myself, by pulling out my watch and peering, by
what feeble light I could find, anxiously at its face to make out the
At last Yejiro turned up in the company of a policeman. This official,
however, proved to be accompanying him in a civil capacity, and,
changing into a guide, led the way through several dark alley-waysto
an inn of forbidding face, but better heart. There did we eventually
dine, or breakfast, for by that time it was become the next day.
On the Noto Highway.
On the morrow morning we took the road in kuruma, the road proper,
as Yejiro called it; for it was the main bond between Noto and the rest
of Japan. This was the nearest approach it had to a proper name,
a circumstance which showed it not to be of the first importance.
For in Japan, all the old arteries of travel had distinctive names,
the Nakasendo or Mid-Mountain road, the Tokaido or Eastern Sea road,
and so forth. Like certain other country relations, their importance
was due to their city connections, not to their own local magnitude.
For, when well out of sight of the town, they do not hesitate to
shrink to anything but imposing proportions. In mid career you might
often doubt yourself to be on so celebrated a thoroughfare. But they
are always delightful to the eye, as they wander through the country,
now bosomed in trees among the mountains, now stalking between their
own long files of pine, or cryptomeria, across the well-tilled plains.
This one had but few sentinels to line it in the open, but lost
little in picturesqueness for its lack of pomp. It was pretty enough
to be very good company itself.
It was fairly patronized by wayfarers to delight the soul; cheerful
bodies, who, though journeying for business, had plenty of time to be
happy, and radiated content. Take it as you please, the Japanese
people are among the very happiest on the face of the globe, which
makes them among the most charming to meet.
Nothing notable beyond such pleasing generalities of path and people
lay in our way, till we came to a place where a steep and perfectly
smooth clay bank shot from a spur of the hills directly into the
thoroughfare. Three urchins were industriously putting this to its
proper use, coasting down it, that is, on the seats of what did them
for breeches. An over-grown-up regard for my own trousers alone
deterred me from instantly following suit. No such scruples
prevented my abetting them, however, to the extent of a trifling
bribe for a repetition. For they had stopped abashed as soon as they
found they had a public. Regardless of maternal consequences, I thus
encouraged the sport. But after all, was it so much a bribe as an
entrance fee to the circus, or better yet, a sort of subsidy from an
ex-member of the fraternity? Surely, if adverse physical circumstances
preclude profession in person, the next best thing is to become a
noble patron of art.
From this accidental instance, I judged that boys in Noto had about
as good a time of it as boys elsewhere; the next sight we chanced
upon made me think that possibly women did not. We had hardly parted
from the coasters on dry ground when we met in the way with a lot of
women harnessed to carts filled with various merchandise, which they
were toilsomely dragging along towards Nanao. It was not so
picturesque a sight as its sex might suggest. For though the women
were naturally not aged, and some had not yet lost all comeliness of
feature, this womanliness made the thing the more appealing. Noto
was evidently no Eden, since the local Adam had thus contrived to
shift upon the local Eve so large a fraction of the primal curse.
It was as bad as the north of Germany. The female porters we had been
offered on the threshold of the province were merely symptomatic of
the state of things within. I wonder what my young Japanese friend,
the new light, to whom I listened once on board ship, while he launched
into a diatribe upon the jinrikisha question, the degrading practice,
as he termed it, of using men for horses,--I wonder, I say, what he
would have said to this! He was a quixotic youth, at the time
returning from abroad, where he had picked up many new ideas.
His proposed applications of them did him great credit, more than
they are likely to win among the class for whom they were designed.
A cent and two thirds a mile, to be had for the running for it, is as
yet too glittering a prize to be easily foregone.
Of the travel in question, we were treated to forty-three miles'
worth that day, by relays of runners. The old men fell off
gradually, to be replaced by new ones, giving our advance the
character of a wave, where the particles merely oscillated, but the
motion went steadily on. The oscillations, however, were not
insignificant in amount. Some of the men must have run their
twenty-five miles or more, broken only by short halts; and this at a
dog-trot, changed of course to a slower pull on bad bits, and when
going up hill. A fine show of endurance, with all allowances.
In this fashion we bowled along through a smiling agricultural
landscape, relieved by the hills upon the left, and with the faintest
suspicion, not amounting to a scent, of the sea out of sight on the
right. The day grew more beautiful with every hour of its age.
The blue depths above, tenanted by castles of cloud, granted fancy
eminent domain to wander where she would. Even the road below gave
free play to its caprice, and meandered like any stream inquisitively
through the valley, visiting all the villages within reach, after a
whimsical fashion of its own. All about it, meadows were tilling,
and the whole landscape breathed an air of well-established age, amid
the lustiness of youth. The very farmhouses looked to have grown
where they stood, as indeed the upper part of them had. For from the
thatch of their roofs, deep bedded in mud, sprang all manner of
plants that made of the eaves gardens in the air. The ridgepoles
stood transformed into beds of flowers; their long tufts of grass
waved in the wind, the blossoms nodding their heads amicably to the
passers-by. What a contented folk this should be whose very homes
can so vegetate! Surely a pretty conceit it is for a peasantry thus
to sleep every night under the sod, and yet awake each morning to
At the threshold of Kaga we turned abruptly to the left, and attacked
the pass leading over into Etchiu. As we wound our way up the narrow
valley, day left the hollows to stand on rosy tiptoe on the sides of
the hills, the better to take flight into the clouds. There it
lingered a little, folding the forests about with its roseate warmth.
Even the stern old pines flushed to the tips of their shaggy branches,
while here and there a bit of open turned a glowing cheek full to the
good-night kiss of the sun. And over beyond it all rose the twilight
bow, in purplish insubstantiality creeping steadily higher and
higher, above the pine-clad heights.
I reached the top before the jinrikisha, and as a sort of reward of
merit scrambled a little farther up the steep slope to the left.
From here I commanded the pass, especially that side of it I had not
come up. The corkscrew of the road carried the eye most pleasingly
down with it. I could see a teahouse a few hundred feet below, and
beyond it, at a much lower level, a bridge. Beyond this came a
comparatively flat stretch, and then the road disappeared into a
gorge. Here and there it was pointed with people toiling slowly up.
Of the encircling hills the shoulders alone were visible. While I
was still surveying the scene, the jinrikisha men, one after the
other, emerged from the gulf out of sight on the right and proceeded
to descend into the one on the left. When the last had well passed,
and I had tickled myself with the sense of abandonment, I scrambled
back, took a jump into the road and slipped down after them. The
last had waited for me at the teahouse, and stowing me in started to
rattle down the descent. The road, unlike us, seemed afraid of its
own speed, and brought itself up every few hundred feet with a round
turn. About each of these we swung, only to dash down the next bend,
and begin the oscillation over again. The men were in fine excitement,
and kept up a shouting out of mere delight. In truth we all enjoyed
the dissipated squandering in a few minutes of the energy of position
we had so laboriously gained by toiling up the other side. Over the
bridge we rattled, bowled along the level stretch, and then into the
gorge and once more down, till in another ten minutes the last fall
had shot us out into the plain with mental momentum enough to carry
us hilariously into Imaisurugi, where we put up for the night.
At breakfast the next morning the son of the house, an engaging lad,
presented me with an unexpected dish, three fossil starfish on a
platter. They were found, he said, in numbers, on the sides of the
hill hard by; a fact which would go to prove that this part of Japan
has been making in later geologic time. Indeed, I take it the better
part of Etchiu has thus been cast up by the sea, and now lies between
its semicircle of peaks and its crescent of beach, like a young moon
in the western sky, a new bay of ricefield in the old bay's arms.
We had come by way of its ocean terminator along its fringe of sand;
we were now to cross its face.
As we pulled out from the town and entered the great plain of
paddyfields it was like adventuring ourselves in some vast expanse of
ocean, cut up only by islets of trees. So level the plain and so
still the air on this warm May morning, the clumps shimmered in
mirage in the distance like things at sea. Farmhouses and peasants
at work in the fields loomed up as ships, past which we slowly tacked
and then dropped them out of sight behind. And still no end of the
same infinite level. New clumps rose doubtfully afar, took on form
and vanished in their turn. Our men rolled along at a good six-knot
gait, and mile went to join mile with little perceptible effect on
the surroundings. Only the misty washes of the mountains, glistening
in spots with snow, came out to the south and then swung slowly round
like the sun himself. Occasionally, we rolled into a village of
which I duly inquired the distance from the last known point. One of
these, Takaoka, was a very large place and stretched a mile or more
along the road, with ramifications to the side.
At last we neared some foothills which we crossed by a baby pass, and
from the farther side looked off against the distant Tateyama range.
Descending again, another stretch of plain brought us to Toyama,
the old feudal capital of the province. It is still a bustling town,
and does a brisk business, I was told, in patent medicine, which is
hawked over Japan generally and cures everything. But the former
splendor of the place has left it forever. The rooms in the inn,
where neighboring daimyos were wont to rest on their journeys
through, are still superb with carving, lacquer and paintings, but no
daimyo will ever again hold his traveling court before their tokonoma.
The man perchance may again tarry there, but the manner of it all has
gone to join the past. Now he who wills may ensconce himself in the
daimyo's corner, and fancy himself a feudal lord; nor will the
breeding of those about him disillusion his midday dream.
The castle they have turned into a public school; and as I strolled
into its close I met bands of boys in foreign lycee-like uniform
trooping out; chubby-faced youngsters in stiff visored caps. Girls
there were too, in knots of twos and threes, pretty little things in
semi-European dress, their hair done a la grecque, stuck with a
single flower, who stopped in their chatter to stare at me. To think
that the feudal times are to them as much a tale as the making of the
plain itself where its ruins stand already mantled with green!
The Harinoki Toge.
There now befell us a sad piece of experience, the result of misplaced
confidence in the guidebook. Ours was the faith a simple public pins
upon print. Le journal, c'est un jeune homme, as Balzac said, and
even the best of guidebooks, as this one really was, may turn out--a
cover to many shortcomings.
Its description of the crossing of the Harinoki toge implied a
generality of performances that carried conviction. If he who read
might not run, he had, at least, every assurance given him that he
would be able to walk. That the writer might not only have been the
first to cross, but the last, as well, was not evident from the text.
Nor was it there apparent that the path which was spoken of as
difficult and described as "hanging to the precipitous side of the
cliff," might have become tired of hanging thus for the sake of
travelers who never came, and have given itself over at last to the
In the book, the dead past still lived an ever-youthful present.
In truth, however, the path at the time of the account, some twelve
years before, had just been made by the samurai of Kaga to join them
to the capital. Since then the road by the sea had been built, and
the Harinoki pass had ceased to be in practice what it purported to
be in print. It had in a double sense reverted to type. There was
small wonder at this, for it was a very Cerberus of a pass at best,
with three heads to it. The farthest from Etchiu was the Harinoki
The guidebook and a friend had gone over one season, and the guidebook
had induced another friend to accompany him again the year after.
Whether there were any unpersonally conducted ascents I am not sure.
But at any rate, all this happened in the early days; for years the
Harinoki toge had had rest.
We ought to have taken warning from the general skepticism we met
with at Toyama, when we proposed the pass. But with the fatal faith
of a man in his guidebook, we ignored the native forebodings.
Besides, there were just people enough who knew nothing about it, and
therefore thought it could be done, to encourage us in our delusion.
Accordingly we left Toyama after lunch in the best of spirits, in
jinrikisha, for Kamidaki, or Upper Fall, to which there professed to
be a jinrikisha road. The distance was three ri, seven miles and a
half. Before we had gone one of them the road gave out, and left us
to tack on foot in paths through the rice-fields, which in one long
inclination kept mounting before us. Just before reaching the village,
a huge tree in full faint purple bloom showed up a little to the left.
Under a sudden attack of botanical zeal, I struck across lots to
investigate, and after much tacking among the paddy dykes found,
to my surprise, on reaching it, that the flowers came from a huge
wistaria that had coiled itself up the tree. The vine must have been
at least six feet round at the base, and had a body horribly like an
enormous boa that swung from branches high in air. The animal look
of the vegetable parasite was so lifelike that one both longed and
loathed to touch it at the same time.
At Kamidaki, after the usual delay, we found porters, who echoed the
doubts of the people of Toyama, and went with us protesting. Half an
hour after this we came to the Jindogawa, a river of variable
importance. It looked to have been once the bed of a mighty glacier
that should have swept grandly round from unseen fastnesses among the
hills. At the time of our visit, it was, for the most part, a waste
of stones through which two larger and several lesser streams were in
much worry to find their way to the sea. The two larger were just
big enough to be unfordable; so a Charon stationed at each ferried
the country folk across. At the smaller, after picking out the
likeliest spots, we took off our shoes and socks and waded, and then,
upon the other side, sat some time on stones, ill-modeled to that
end, to draw our things on again.
Our way now led up the left bank--the right bank, according to
aquatic convention, which pleasingly supposes you to be descending
the stream. It lay along a plateau which I doubt not to have been
the river's prehistoric bed, so evidently had the present one been
chiseled out of it to a further depth of over fifty feet. At first
the path struck inland, astutely making a chord to the river's bow,
an unsuspected sign of intelligence in a path. It was adventurous,
too, for soon after coming out above the brink, it began upon
acrobatic feats in which it showed itself nationally proficient.
A narrow aqueduct had been cut out of the side of the cliff, and along
its outer embankment, which was two feet wide, the path proceeded to
balance. The aqueduct had given way in spots, which caused the path
to take to some rickety boards put there for its benefit. After this
exhibition of daring, it descended to the stream, to rise again later.
Meanwhile night came on and the river bottom began to fill with what
looked to be mist, but was in reality smoke. This gave a weird
effect to the now mountainous settings. Into the midst of it we
descended to a suspension bridge of twisted strands of the wistaria
vine, ballasted at the ends with boulders piled from the river's bed.
The thing swayed cheerfully as we passed over.
On the top of the opposite bank stood perched a group of houses, not
enough to make a village, and far too humble to support an inn.
But in their midst rose a well-to-do temple, where, according to the
guidebook, good lodging was to be had. It may indeed be so. For our
part we were not so much as granted entry. An acolyte, who parleyed
with us through the darkness, reported the priest away on business,
and refused to let us in on any terms. Several bystanders gathered
during the interview, and had it not been for one of them we might
have been there yet. From this man we elicited the information that
another hamlet lay half a mile further up, whose head-man, he thought,
might be willing to house us. We followed straight on until some
buildings showed in still blacker silhouette against the black sky,
and there, after some groping in the dark and a second uncanny
conversation through a loophole,--for the place was already boarded
up for the night,--we were finally taken in.
The house was a generous instance of a mountain farmhouse.
The floors were innocent of mats, and the rooms otherwise pitiably
barnlike. Yet an air of largeness distinguished the whole. It was
clearly the home of a man of standing in his community, one who lived
amply the only life he knew. You felt you already knew the man from
his outer envelope. And this in some sort prepared me for a little
scene I was shortly to witness. For while waiting for Yejiro to get
dinner ready I became aware that something was going on in what stood
for hall; and on pushing the shoji gently apart I beheld the whole
household at evening prayers before an altar piece, lighted by
candles and glittering with gilded Buddhas and bronze lotus flowers.
The father intoned the service from a kind of breviary, and the
family joined from time to time in the responses. There was a
sincerity and a sweet simplicity about the act that went to my heart
and held me there. At the close of it the family remained bowed
while the intoner reverently put out the lights and folded the doors
upon the images within. Locked in that little case lay all the
luxury which the family could afford, and to which the rest of the
house was stranger. There is something touching in any heartfelt
belief, and something pathetic too.
This peaceful parenthesis was hardly past before the trials of travel
intruded themselves again. The porters proved refractory. They had
agreed to come only as far as they could, and now they refused to
proceed further. Here was a pretty pass. To turn back now was worse
than not to have set out at all. Besides, we had not yet even come
in sight of the enemy. Yejiro reasoned with them for some hours in
the kitchen, occasionally pausing for lack of further argument to
report his want of progress. It seemed the men valued their lives
above a money consideration, strangely enough. They made no bones
about it; the thing was too dangerous. The streams they declared
impassable, and the charcoal burners the only men who knew the path.
Yejiro at once had these witnesses subpoenaed, and by good luck one of
them came, who, on being questioned, repeated all the porters had
said. But Yejiro's blood was up, and he boldly played his last
trump. He threatened them with the arm of the law, a much more
effective weapon in Japan than elsewhere. He proposed, in fine, to
walk three ri down the valley to the nearest police station and fetch
a policeman who should compel them to move on. It is perhaps open to
doubt whether even a Japanese policeman's omnipotence would have
extended so far. But the threat, though not conclusive, had some
effect. This strategic stroke I only learnt of later, and I laughed
heartily when I did. That night, however, it was no laughing matter,
and I began to have doubts myself. But it was no time for
misgivings, so I went in to help. The circle round the kitchen fire
was not a cheerful sight. To have the courage of one's convictions
is rare enough in this weak world, but to have the courage of one's
doubts is something I uncover to. To furnish pluck for a whole
company including one's self; to hearten others without letting them
see how sore in need of heartening is the heartener, touches my
utmost admiration. If only another would say to him that he might
believe the very things he does not believe, as he says them to that
other; they then might at least seem true. Ignorance saved me. Had
I known what they did, I should have agreed with them on the spot.
As it was, I did what I could, and went back to my own room, the prey
of somewhat lonely thoughts.
Toward the Pass.
I was waked by good news. The porters had, to a certain extent,
come round. If we would halve their burdens by doubling their number,
they would make an attempt on the pass, or, rather, they would go on
as far as they could. This was a great advance. To be already
moving implies a momentum of the mind which carries a man farther
than he means. I acquiesced at once. The recruits consisted of the
master of the house--his father, the officiator at family prayers,
had retired from the cares of this world--and a peasant of the
neighborhood. The charcoal burners were too busy with their own
affairs. From the sill, as I put on my boots, I watched with
complacence the cording of the loads, and then, with quite a
lightsome gait, followed the lengthened file out into the street.
One after the other we tramped forth past the few houses of the
place, whose people watched us go, with the buoyant tread of those
about to do great things, and so out into the open.
The path appeared very well. It trotted soberly along across a
mountain moor until it came out above the river. It then wound up
stream, clinging to the slope several hundred feet above the valley
bottom. It was precipitous in places, but within reason, and I was
just coming to consider the accounts exaggerated when it descended to
the river bed at a point where a butt of neve stuck a foot into the
shingle. The stream, which had looked a thread from above, turned
out a torrent when we stood upon its brink. The valley was nothing
but river bed, a mass of boulders of all sizes, through the midst of
which the stream plunged with deafening roar, and so deep that
fording was out of the question. A man's life would not have been
worth a rush in it.
We followed up the boulder bank in search of a more propitious spot.
Then we followed down again. Each place promised at a distance, and
baulked hope at hand. At last, in despair, we came to a halt
opposite the widest and shallowest part, and after no end of urging,
one of the porters stripped, and, armed with his pole, ventured in.
The channel lay well over to the farther side; thrice he got to its
nearer edge and thrice he turned back, as the rush of water became
too great. His life was worth too much to him, he said, not
unnaturally, for him to throw it away. Yet cross the stream we must,
or return ignominiously; for the path we had so far followed had
fallen over the cliff in front.
We improved the moments of reflection to have lunch. While we were
still discussing viae and viands, and had nearly come to the end of
both, we suddenly spied a string of men defiling slowly down through
the wide boulder desert on the other side. We all rose and hailed
them. They were so far away that at first they failed to hear us,
and even when they heard they stared vacantly about them like men who
hear they know not what. When at last they caught sight of us, we
beckoned excitedly. They consulted, apparently, and then one of them
came down to the edge of the stream. The torrent made so much noise
that our men could make themselves intelligible only in part, and
that by bawling at the top of their lungs. Through the envoy, they
invited the band to string themselves across the stream and so pass
our things over. The man shook his head. We rose to fabulous sums
and still he repeated his pantomime. It then occurred to Yejiro that
a certain place lower down might possibly be bridged, and beckoning
to the man to follow, he led the way to the spot in mind. A boulder,
two-thirds way in stream, seemed to offer a pier. He tried to shout
his idea, but the roar of the torrent, narrow though it was, drowned
his voice; so, writing on a piece of paper: "What will you take to
build us a bridge?" he wrapped the paper round a stone and flung it
over. After reading this missive, the spokesman held a consultation
with his friends and a bargain was struck. For the huge sum of two
yen (a dollar and a half), they agreed to build us a bridge, and at
once set off up the mountain side for a tree.
The men, it seemed, were a band of wood-cutters who had wintered,
as was their custom, in a hut at Kurobe, which was this side of the
Harinoki toge, and were just come out from their hibernation.
They were now on their way to Ashikura, where they belonged, to
report to their headman, obtain supplies and start to return on the
after-morrow. It was a two-days' journey either out or in.
Bridges, therefore, came of their trade. The distance across the
boulder bed was considerable, and as they toiled slowly up the face
of the opposite mountain, they looked like so many ants. Picking out
a trunk, they began to drag it down. By degrees they got it to the
river bed, and thence eventually to the edge of the stream. To lay
it was quite a feat of engineering. With some pieces of drift-wood
which they found lying about, they threw a span to the big boulder,
and from the boulder managed to get the trunk across. Then, with
rope which they carried at their girdles, they lashed the whole
together until they had patched up a very workmanlike affair.
We trod across in triumph. With praiseworthy care lest it should
be swept away they then took the thing all down again.
Such valuable people were not idly to be parted with. Here was a
rare chance to get guides. When, however, we approached them on the
point, they all proved so conscientious about going home first, that
the attempt failed. But they gave us some important information on
the state of the streams ahead and the means of crossing them, and we
separated with much mutual good-will.
For my part I felt as if we had already arrived somewhere. I little
knew what lay beyond. While I was plodding along in this blissfully
ignorant state of mind, communing with a pipe, the path, which had
frisked in and out for some time among the boulders, suddenly took it
into its head to scale a cliff on the left. It did this, as it
seemed to me, without provocation, after a certain reckless fashion
of its own. The higher it climbed, the more foolhardy it got, till
the down-look grew unpleasant. Then it took to coquetting with the
gulf on its right until, as I knew would happen, it lost its head
completely and fell over the edge. The gap had been spanned by a few
loose boards. Over the makeshift we all, one after the other,
gingerly crawled, each waiting his turn, with the abyss gaping on his
side, for the one in front to move on.
We had not yet recovered from the shock when we came to another place
not unlike the first. Here again the path had given way, and a
couple of logs had been lashed across the inner elbow of the cliff.
We crossed this by balancing ourselves for the first two steps by the
stump of a bush that jutted out from a crevice in the rock; for the
next two we touched the cliff with the tips of our fingers; for the
last two we balanced ourselves alone.
For the time being the gods of high places had tempted us enough, for
the path now descended again to the dry bed of the stream, and there
for a certain distance tripped along in all soberness, giving me the
chance to look about me. The precipitous sides of the mountains that
shut in the narrow valley were heavily masked in forest; and for some
time past, the ravines that scored their sides had been patched with
snow. With each new mile of advance the patches grew larger and
merged into one another, stretching toward the stream. We now began
to meet snow on the path. In the mean time, from one cause and
another, insensibly I fell behind. The others passed on out of
The path, having lulled me into a confiding unconcern, started in
seeming innocence of purpose to climb again. Its ingenuousness but
prefaced a malicious surprise. For of a sudden, unmasking a corner,
it presented itself in profile ahead, a narrow ledge notched in naked
simplicity against the precipice. Things look better slightly
veiled; besides, it is more decent, even in a path. In this case the
shamelessness was earnest of the undoing. For on reaching the point
in view and turning it I stood confronted by a sight sorry indeed.
The path beyond had vanished. Far below, out of sight over the edge,
lay the torrent; unscalable the cliff rose above; and a line of
fossil footprints, leading across the face of the precipice in the
debris, alone marked where the path had been. Spectres they seemed
of their former selves. Crusoe could not have been more horrified
than was I.
Not to have come suggested itself as the proper solution, unfortunately
an impracticable one, and being there, to turn back was inadmissible.
So I took myself in hand and started. For the first few steps I was
far too much given up to considering possibilities. I thought how a
single misstep would end. I could see my footing slip, feel the
consciousness that I was gone, the dull thuds from point to point as
what remained of me bounded beyond the visible edge down, down. . .
And after that what! How long before the porters missed me and came
back in search? Would there be any trace to tell what had befallen?
And then Yejiro returning alone to Tokyo to report--lost on the
Dragon peak! Each time I almost felt my foot give way as I put it
down, right before left, left before right.
Then I realized that this inopportune flirting with fate must stop;
that I must give over dallying with sensations, or it would soon be
all over with me. I was falling a prey to the native Lorelei--for
all these spots in Japan have their familiar devils--subjectively, as
befits a modern man. I numbed sensibility as best I could and cared
only to make each step secure. Between the Nirvana within and the
Nirvana below, it was a sorry hell.
In mid-career the path made an attempt to recover, but relapsed to
further footprints in the sand. At last it descended to a brook.
I knelt to drink, and on getting up again saw my pocket-handkerchief
whisking merrily away down stream. I gave chase, but in vain; for
though it came to the surface once or twice to tantalize me it was
gone before I could seize it. So I gave over the pursuit, reflecting
that, after all, it might have fared worse with me. If the Lorelei
had hoped to turn my head, I was well quit of my handkerchief for her
Shortly after this, the main stream divided into two, and the left
branch, which we followed, led up to a gorge,--beyond a doubt the
abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet. I do not
remember a landscape more ghastly. Not a tree, not a blade of grass,
not even decent earth in the whole prospect. Apparently, the place
had been flayed alive and sulphur had then been poured into the sore.
Thirty years before a cataclysm had occurred here. The side of one
of the mountains had slid bodily into the valley. The debris, by
damming up the stream, caused a freshet, which swept everything
before it and killed quantities of folk lower down the valley.
The place itself has never recovered to this day.
Although the stream here was a baby to the one below, it was large
enough to be impassable to the natural man. From our woodcutter
friends, however, we had learned of the leavings of a bridge, upon
which in due time we came, and putting the parts of it in place, we
passed successfully over.
We now began to enter the snow in good earnest, incipient glacier
snow, treacherously honeycombed. It made, however, more agreeable
walking than the boulders. The path had again become precipitous,
and kept on mounting, till of a sudden it landed us upon an
amphitheatral arena, dominated by high, jagged peaks. One unbroken
stretch of snow covered the plateau, and at the centre of the wintry
winding-sheet a cluster of weather-beaten huts appealed pitiably to
the eye. They were the buildings of the Riuzanjita hot-springs; in
summer a sort of secular monastery for pilgrims to the Dragon peak.
They were tenanted now, we had been told, by a couple of watchmen.
We struck out with freer strides, while the moon, which had by this
time risen high enough to overtop the wall of peaks, watched us with
an ashen face, as in single file we moved across the waste of level
We made for the main hut, a low, mouse-colored shanty fast asleep and
deep drifted in snow. The advance porter summoned the place, and the
summons drew to what did for door a man as mouselike as his mansion.
He had about him a subdued, monkish demeanor that only partially hid
an alertness within,--a secular monk befitting the spot. He showed
himself a kindly body, and after he had helped the porters off with
their packs, led the way into the room in which he and his mate
hibernated. It was a room very much in the rough; boards for walls,
for ceiling, for floor, its only furnishing a fire. It was the best
of furnishing in our eyes, and we hasted to squat round it in a
circle, in attitudes of extreme devotion, for it was bitter cold.
The monkish watchman threw a handful more twigs on the embers, out of
a cheerful hospitality to his guests.
The fireplace was merely a hole in the floor, according to Japanese
custom, and the smoke found its way out as best it could. But there
was very little of it; usually, indeed, there is none, for charcoal
is the common combustible. A cauldron hung, by iron bars jointed
together, from the gloom above. It was twilight in the room.
Already the day without was fading fast, and even at high noon, none
too much of it could find a way into the building, now half buried
under the snow. A second watchman sat muffled in shadow on the
farther side of the fire. He made his presence known, from time to
time, by occasional sympathetic gutturals, or by the sudden glow of a
bit of charcoal, which he took out of the embers with a pair of
chopstick fire-irons to relight his pipe. The talk naturally turned
upon our expedition, with Yejiro for spokesman, and from that easily
slid into the all-important question of guides. Our inquiries on
this head elicited nothing but doubt. We tried at first to get the
watchmen to go. But this they positively refused to do. They could
not leave their charge, in the first place, they said; and for the
second, they did not know the path. We asked if there was no one who
did. There was a hunter, they said, near by who was by way of
knowing the road. A messenger was sent at once to fetch him.
In the mean time, if they showed themselves skeptical about our
future, they proved most sympathetic over our past. Our description
of the Friday footprints especially brought out much fellow-feeling.
They knew the spot well, they said, and it was very bad. In fact it
was called the Oni ga Jo, or place of many devils, for its fearfulness.
It would be better, they added, after the mountain opening on the
tenth of June.
"Mountain opening!" said I to Yejiro; "what is that? Is it anything
like the 'river opening'?" For the Japanese words seemed to imply not
a physical, but a formal unlocking of the hills, like the annual
religious rite upon the Sumidagawa in Tokyo. Such, it appeared, it
was. For the tenth of June, he said, was the date of the
mountain-climbing festival. Yearly on that day all the sacred peaks
are thrown open to a pious public for ascent. A procession of
pilgrims, headed by a flautist and a bellman, wend their way to the
summit, and there encamp. For three days the ceremony lasts, after
which the mountains are objects of pilgrimage till the twenty-eighth
day of August. For the rest of the year the summits are held to be
shut, the gods being then in conclave, to disturb whom were the
height of impiety. A pleasing coincidence of duty and pleasure, that
the scaling of the peaks should be enjoined to pilgrims at the times
of easiest ascent! Preparatory to the procession all the paths of
approach are repaired. It was this repairing to which the watchmen
referred and which concerned our secular selves.
Our difficulties began to be explained. We were very close to
committing sacrilege. We had had, it is true, no designs on the
peaks, but were we wholly guiltless in attempting so much as the
passes in this the close season? Apparently not. At all events,
we were a month ahead of time in our visit, which in itself was of
At this point the messenger sent to find the hunter returned without
his man. Evidently the hunter was a person who meant to stand well
with his gods, or else he was himself a myth.
Distraught in mind and restless in body, I got up and went out into
the great snow waste. The sunset afterglow was just fading into the
moonshine. The effect upon the pure white sheet before me was
indescribably beautiful. The warm tint of the last of day, as it
waned, dissolved imperceptibly into the cold lustre of the night as
if some alchemist were subtly changing the substance while he kept
the form. For a new spirit was slowly possessing itself of the very
shapes that had held the old, and the snow looked very silent, very
cold, very ghostly, glistening in its silver sheen.
The sky was bitterly clear, inhumanly cold. To call it frosty were
to humanize it. Its expanse stretched far more frozen than the
frozen earth. Indeed, the night sky is always awful. For the most
part, we forget it for the kindlier prospect of the cradling trees,
and the whispers of the wind, and the perfumes of the fields, the
sights and sounds that even in slumber stir with life; and the nearer
thrust away the real horror of the far. But the awe speaks with
insistence when the foreground itself is dead.
Shivering, I returned to the fire and human companionship.
The conversation again rolled upon precipices, which it appeared
were more numerous before than behind, and casualties among the
woodcutters not unknown in consequence. There was one place, they
said, where, if you slipped, you went down a ri (two miles and a half).
It was here a woodcutter had been lost three days before. The ri
must have been a flight of fancy, since it far exceeded the height of
the pass above the sea. But a handsome discount from the statement
left an unpleasant balance to contemplate.
This death had frightened one of the watchmen badly, as it may well
have done. The facts were these. Separated from the hot springs of
Riuzanjita by two passes lay a valley, uninhabited except for two
bands of woodcutters, who had built themselves a couple of huts, one
on either side the stream, in which they lived the year round.
It was these huts that went by the name of Kurobe. During the winter
they were entirely cut off from the outside world. As soon as
practicable in the spring, a part of each band was accustomed to come
out over the passes, descend to Ashikura, and return with provisions
Now this year, before the men in the valley had thought it time to
attempt the passes, a solitary woodcutter came up to the hot springs
from below, and, in spite of warning from the watchmen, started alone
for Kurobe. On the afternoon of the third day after his departure,
the regular band turned up at Riuzanjita, having left Kurobe, it
seemed, that morning. They passed the night at the hot springs hut,
and on being questioned by the watchmen about the man of three days
before, they said they had heard of no such person. It turned out,
to the horror of both parties, that he had never reached Kurobe.
It was only the night before we arrived that the woodcutters had been
there, and the affair was still terribly fresh in the watchman's
thoughts; in fact, it was the identical band that had built us our
bridge. These men were thoroughly equipped for snow-climbing and had
come over safely; and yet, as it was, the head man of the other band
at Kurobe had been afraid to cross with them, and had, instead, gone
all the way round by the river and the sea, a very long and rough
journey. Fatal accidents, the watchmen said, were of yearly
occurrence on the passes.
And all this was only the way to Kurobe. Beyond it lay the Harinoki
toge. That pass no one had yet crossed this year. And at intervals
during the talk the watchman repeated excitedly, as a sort of
refrain, "It is impossible to go on,--it is impossible to go on."
This talk, a part of which I understood, was not very heartening,
following as it did the personal experience of the Oni ga Jo.
The prospect began to look too uncertain in its conclusion and too
certain in its premises to be inviting. If professionals, properly
accoutred, found crossing so dangerous a matter, the place was hardly
one for unprovided amateurs. These mountaineers were not tied
together, but wore over their waraji, or straw sandals, a set of
irons called kanakajiki. We were shown some of them which had been
left by the woodcutters against their return. They were skeleton
sandals, iron bands shod with three spikes. They looked like
instruments of torture from the Middle Ages, and indeed were said to
be indispensable against backsliding.
On the other hand, one Blondin feat over the Devil Place was enough
for me. To take it on the road rather than turn back was one thing,
to start to take it in cold blood another. I had had quite enough of
balancing and doubt. So I asked if there was no other way out.
We might, they said, go to Arimine.
"And how was the road?"
"Oh, the road was good," they answered cheerily.
"Could we get a guide?"
Apparently we could not, for an awkward pause ensued until, after
some suspense, the bigger of the two watchmen, he that sat in the
shadow of the corner, volunteered to pilot us himself; and, he added,
we should not have to start betimes, as the snow would not be fit to
travel on till the sun had melted the crust.
Upon this doubly comforting conclusion I bade them good-night,
and betook me to the cell-like room allotted me to sleep.
Over the Snow.
When Yejiro pushed the shoji and the amado (night shutters) apart in
the morning, he disclosed a bank of snow four feet deep; not a
snowfall over night, but the relic of the winter. I found myself in
a snow grotto beyond which nothing was visible. He then imparted to
me the cheerful news that the watchman had changed his mind, and now
refused to set out with us. It was too late in the day to start, the
man said, which, in view of his having informed us only the night
before that the snow would not be fit to travel on till this very
hour, was scarcely logical. The trouble lay not in the way, but in
the will. The man had repented him of his promise. Things look
differently as certainties in the morning from what they do as
possibilities overnight. Fortunately he proved amenable to
importunity, and finally consented to go. His fellow was much
worried, and followed him distressfully to the outer threshold;
whence in perturbation of spirit he watched us depart, calling out
pathetically to his mate to be very careful of himself. His almost
motherly solicitude seemed to me more comical at the time than it
came to seem later.
The sky was without a fleck of cloud, and, as we struck out across
the snow, I feared at first for my eyes, so great was the glare.
For I had neither goggles nor veil. In fact, we were as unprepared a
troop as ever started on such an expedition. We had not a pair of
foot spikes nor a spiked pole to the lot of us.
The jagged peaks of the valley's wall notched the sky in vivid
relief, their sharp teeth biting the blue. We below were blinking.
Luckily before very long we had crossed the level and were attacking
the wall, and once on it the glare lessened, for we were facing the
south, and the slant of the slope took off from the directness of the
sun's rays. The higher we rose, the greater the tilt became. The
face of the slope was completely buried in snow except where the
aretes stuck through, for the face was well wrinkled. The angle soon
grew unpleasant to visage, and certainly looked to have exceeded the
limit of stable equilibrium. In mid-ascent, as we were winding
cautiously up, a porter slipped. He stopped himself, however, and
was helped on to his feet again by his fellow behind. The bad bit
was preface to a worse effect round the corner, for on turning the
arete, we came upon a snow slope like a gigantic house-roof. It was
as steep as you please, and disappeared a few hundred feet below over
the edge into the abyss. Across and up this the guide, after looking
about him, struck out, and I followed. The snow was in a plastic
state, and at each step I kicked my toes well in, so wedging my
footing. The view down was very unnerving. It soon grew so bad I
fixed my thought solely on making each step secure, and went slowly,
which was much against my inclination. In this manner we tacked
gradually upward in zigzags, some forty feet apart, each of us
improving the footprints of his predecessor.
After a short eternity, we came out at the top. I threw myself upon
the snow, and when I had sufficiently recovered my breath asked the
guide, with what I meant for sarcasm, whether that was his idea of
"a good road." He owned that it was the worst bit on the way, but he
somewhat grudgingly conceded it a "gake." I sat corrected, but in the
interest of any future wanderer I submit the following definition of
a "gake," which, if not strictly accurate, at least leans to the
right side. If the cliff overhang, it is a "gake;" but if a plumb
line from the top fall anywhere within the base, it is no longer a
"gake," but "a good road."
On the other side the slope was more hospitable. Even trees wintered
just below the crest, their great gaunt trunks thrust deep into the
snow. We glissaded down the first few hundred feet, till we brought
up standing at the head of an incipient gorge, likewise smothered in
snow. Round the boles of the trees the snow had begun to thaw, which
gave me a chance to measure its depth, by leaning over the rim of the
cup and thrusting my pole down as far as I could reach. The point of
it must have been over seven feet from the surface, and it touched no
bottom. My investigations took time enough to put a bend of the
hollow between me and the others, and when at last I looked up they
were nowhere to be seen. As I trudged after them alone I felt like
that coming historical character, the last man on our then frozen
For some minutes past a strange, far-away musical note, like the
murmur of running water, had struck my ear, and yet all about
everything looked dead. Of animate or even inanimate pulsation there
was no sign. One unbroken sheet of snow stretched as far as I could
see, in which stood the great trees like mummies. Still the sound
continued, seeming to come from under my feet. I stopped, and,
kneeling down, put my ear to the crust, and there, as distinct as
possible, I heard the wimpling of a baby brook, crooning to itself
under its thick white blanket. Here then was the cradle of one of
those streams that later would become such an ugly customer to meet.
It was babily innocent now, and the one living thing beside myself on
this May day in the great snow-sheeted solitude.
Perhaps it was the brook that had undermined the snow. At all events,
soon after I overtook the others, the guide, fearing to trust to it
farther, suddenly struck up again to the left. We all followed,
remonstrating. We had no sooner got up than we went down again the
other side, and this picket-fence style of progress continued till we
emerged upon the top of a certain spur, which commanded a fine view
of gorges. Unfortunately we ourselves were on top of some of them.
The guide reconnoitered both sides for a descent, pushing his way
through a thick growth of dwarf bamboo, and brought up each time on
the edge of an impassable fall to the stream below. At last he took
to the arete. It was masked by trees for some distance, and then
came out as a bare knife edge of rock and earth. Down it we
scrambled, till the slope to the side became passable. This was now
much less steep, although still steep enough for the guide to make me
halt behind a tree, for fear of the stones dislodged by those behind.
These came down past us like cannon-balls, ricochetting by big
At the bottom we reached the stream, and beside it we halted for
lunch. Just below our resting place another stream joined our own,
both coming down forbidding-looking valleys, shut in by savage peaks.
On the delta, between the waters, we made out a band of hunters,
three of them, tarrying after an unsuccessful chase. This last was a
general inference, rather than an observed fact.
The spot was ideal for picturesque purposes,--the water clear as
crystal, and the sunshine sparkling. But otherwise matters went ill
with us. Our extempore guide had promised us, over his own fire the
evening before, a single day of it to Arimine. On the road his
estimate of the time needed had increased alarmingly. From direct
questioning it now appeared that he intended to camp out on the
mountain opposite, whose snowy slopes were painfully prophetic of
what that night would be. Besides, this meant another day of it to
Arimine; and even when we reached Arimine, we were nowhere, and I was
scant of time. We had already lost three days; if we kept on, I
foresaw the loss of more. It was very disheartening to turn back,
but it had to be done.
Our object now was to strike the Ashikura trail and follow it down.
The guide, however, was not sure of the path, so we hailed the
hunters. One of them came across the delta to the edge of the stream
within shouting distance, and from him we obtained knowledge of the
At first the path was unadventurous enough, though distressingly
rough. In truth, it was no path at all; it was an abstract
direction. It led straight on, regardless of footing, and we
followed, now wading through swamps, now stumbling over roots, now
ducking from whip-like twigs that cut us across the face, until at
last we emerged above the stream, and upon a scene as grandly
desolate as the most morbid misanthrope might wish. A mass of
boulders of all sizes, from a barn to a cobblestone, completely
filled a chasm at the base of a semicircular wall of castellated clay
cliffs. Into the pit we descended. The pinnacles above were
impressively high, and between them were couloirs of debris that
looked to us to be as perpendicular as the cliffs. Up one of these
breakneck slides the guide pointed for our path. Porters and all,
we demurred. Path, of course, there was none; there was not even an
apology for a suspicion that any one had ever been up or down the
place. We felt sure there must be some other way out. The more we
searched, however, the less we found. The stream, which was an
impassable torrent, barred exit below on our side by running straight
into the wall of rock. The slide was an ugly climb to contemplate,
yet we looked at it some time before we accepted the inevitable.
When in desperation we finally made up our minds, we began picking
our dubious way up among a mass of rocks that threatened to become a
stone avalanche at any moment. None of us liked it, but none of us
knew how little the others liked it till that evening. In the
expansion of success we admitted our past feelings. One poor porter
said he thought his last hour had come, and most of us believed a
near future without us not improbable. It shows how danger unlocks
the heart that just because, halfway up, I had relieved this man of
his stick, which from a help had become a hindrance, he felt toward
me an exaggerated gratitude. It was nothing for me to do, for I was
free, while he had his load, but had I really saved his life he could
not have been more beholden. Indeed, it was a time to intensify
As we scrambled upward on all fours, the ascent, from familiarity,
grew less formidable. At least the stones decreased in size,
although their tilt remained the same, but the angle looked less
steep from above than from below.
At last, one after the other, we reached a place to the side of the
neck of the couloir, and scrambling round the coping of turf at the
top emerged, to our surprise, upon a path, or rather upon the ghost
of one. For we found ourselves upon a narrow ridge of soil between
two chasms, ending in a pinnacle of clay, and along this ribbon of
land ran a path, perfectly preserved for perhaps a score of paces
out, when it broke off bodily in mid-air. The untoward look of the
way we had come stood explained. Here clearly had been a cataclysm
within itinerary times. Some gigantic landslide must have sliced the
mountain off into the gorge below, and instead of a path we had been
following its still unlaid phantom. The new-born character of the
chasm explained its shocking nakedness. But it was an uncomfortable
sight to see a path in all its entirety vanish suddenly into the
The uncut end of the former trail led back to a little tableland
supporting a patch of tilling and tenanted by an uninhabited hut.
The Willow Moor they called it, though it seemed hardly big enough to
bear a name. On reconnoitring for the descent, we found the farther
side fallen away like the first; so that the plateau was now cut off
from all decent approach. One of us, at last, struck the butt end of
a path; but we had not gone far down it before it broke off, and
delivered us to the gullies. This side, however, was much better
than the other, and it took none of us very long to slip down the
slope, repair the bridge, and join the Ashikura trail.
We were now once more on the path we had come up, with the certainty
of bad places instead of their uncertainty ahead of us, a doubtful
betterment. The Oni ga Jo lay in wait round the corner, and the rest
of the familiar devils would all appear in due course of time.
Tied over my boots were the straw sandals of the country. They were
not made to be worn thus, and showed great uneasiness in their new
position, do what we might with the thongs. Everybody tried his hand
at it, first and last; but the fidgety things always ended by coming
off at the toe or the heel, or sluing round to the side till they
were worse than useless. They were supposed to prevent one from
slipping, which no doubt they would have done had they not begun by
slipping off themselves. They wore themselves out by their nervousness,
and had to be renewed every little while from the stock the porters
carried. In honor of the Oni ga Jo I had a fresh pair put on beside
the brook sacred to the memory of my pocket-handkerchief. We then
rose to the Devil Place, and threaded it in single file. Whether it
were the companionship, or familiarity, or simply that my right side
instead of my left next the cliff gave greater seeming security, I
got over it a shade more comfortably this time, though it was still
far from my ideal of an afternoon's walk. The road to the next world
branched off too disturbingly to the left.
At last the path descended to the river bottom for good. I sat down
on a stone, pulled out my tobacco pouch, and lit a pipe. The porters
passed on out of sight. Then I trudged along myself. The tension of
the last two days had suddenly ceased, and in the expansion of spirit
that ensued I was conscious of a void. I wanted some one with me then,
perhaps, more than I ever craved companionship before. The great
gorge about me lay filled to the brim with purple shadow. I drank in
the cool shade-scented air at every breath. The forest-covered
mountain sides, patched higher up with snow in the gullies, shut out
the world. Only a gilded bit here and there on some lofty spur
lingered to hint a sun beyond. The strip of pale blue sky far
overhead bowed to meet the vista of the valley behind, a vista of
peaks more and more snow-clad, till the view was blocked at last by
a white, nun-veiled summit, flushed now, in the late afternoon light,
to a tender rose. Past strain had left the spirit, as past fatigue
leaves the body, exquisitely conscious; and my fancy came and walked
with me there in that lonely valley, as it gave itself silently into
the arms of night.
Probably none I know will ever tread where I was treading then, nor I
ever be again in that strange wild cleft, so far out of the world;
and yet, if years hence I should chance to wander there alone once
more, I know the ghost of that romance will rise to meet me as I pass.
I own I made no haste to overtake the caravan.
Darkness fell upon us while we were yet a long way from Ashikura,
with an uncertain cliff path between us and it: for the path, like a
true mountain trail, had the passion for climbing developed into a
mania, and could never rest content with the river's bed whenever it
spied a chance to rise. It had just managed an ascent up a zigzag
stairway of its own invention, and had stepped out in the dark upon a
patch of tall mountain grass, as dry as straw, when Yejiro conceived
the brilliant idea of torches. He had learned the trick in the
Hakone hills, where it was the habit, he told the guide, when caught
out at night; and he proceeded to roll some of the grass into long
wisps for the purpose. The torches were remarkably picturesque, and
did us service beside. Their ruddy flare, bowing to the breeze, but
only burning the more madly for its thwarting, lighted the path like
noonday through a circle of fifteen feet, and dropped brands, still
flaring, into the stubble, which we felt it a case of conscience to
stop and stamp out. The circle, small as it was, sufficed to
disclose a yawning gulf on the side, to which the path clung with the
persistency of infatuation.
The first thing to tell us of approach to human habitation was the
croaking of the frogs. After the wildness of our day it sounded like
some lullaby of Mother Earth, speaking of hearth and home, and we
knew that we were come back to ricefields and man. It was another
half hour, however, before our procession reached the outskirts of
the village. Here we threw aside our torches, and in a weary,
drawn-out file found our way, one by one, into the courtyard of the
inn. It was not an inn the year round; it became such only at
certain seasons, of which the present was not one. It had the habit
of putting up pilgrims on their way to the Dragon Peak; between the
times of its pious offices it relapsed into a simple farmhouse.
But the owner received us none the less kindly for our inopportune
appearance, and hasted to bring the water-tubs for our feet. Never
was I more willing to sit on the sill a moment and dabble my toes;
for I was footsore and weary, and glad to be on man's level again.
I promise you, we were all very human that evening, and felt a deal
A Genial Inkyo.
The owner of the farmhouse had inherited it from his father. There
was nothing very odd about this even to our other-world notions of
property, except that the father was still living, as hale and hearty
as you please, in a little den at the foot of the garden. He was, in
short, what is known as an inkyo, or one "dwelling in retirement,"--a
singular state, composed of equal parts of this world and the next;
like dying in theory, and then undertaking to live on in practice.
For an inkyo is a man who has formally handed in his resignation to
the community, and yet continues to exist most enjoyably in the midst
of it. He has abdicated in favor of his eldest son, and, having put
off all responsibilities, is filially supported in a life of ease and
In spite of being no longer in society, the father was greedily social.
As soon as he heard a foreigner had arrived, he trotted over to call,
and nothing would do but I must visit his niche early in the morning,
before going away.
After breakfast, therefore, the son duly came to fetch me, and we
started off through the garden. For his sire's place of retirement
lay away from the road, toward the river, that the dear old gentleman
might command a view of the peaks opposite, of one of which, called
the Etchiu Fuji, from its conical form, he was dotingly fond.
It was an expedition getting there. This arose, not from any special
fault in the path, which for the first half of the way consisted of a
string of stepping-stones neatly laid in the ground, and for the
latter fraction of no worse mud than could easily be met with
elsewhere. The trouble came from a misunderstanding in foot-gear.
It seemed too short a walk to put one's boots twice on and off for
the doing of it. On the other hand, to walk in stocking-feet was out
of the question, for the mud. So I attempted a compromise,
consisting of my socks and the native wooden clogs, and tried to make
the one take kindly to the other. But my mittenlike socks would have
none of my thongs, and, failing of a grip for my toes, compelled me
to scuffle along in a very undignified way. Then every few steps one
or the other of the clogs saw fit to stay behind, and I had to halt
to recover the delinquent. I made a sorry spectacle as I screwed
about on the remaining shoe, groping after its fellow. Once I was
caught in the act by my cicerone, who turned round inopportunely to
see why I was not following; and twice in attempting the feat I all
but lost my balance into the mud.
The worthy virtuoso, as he was, met us at the door, and escorted us
upstairs to see his treasures. The room was tapestried with all
manner of works of art, of which he was justly proud, while the house
itself stood copied from a Chinese model, for he was very classic.
But I was pleased to find that above all his heart was given to the
view. It was shared, as I also discovered, by the tea-ceremonies, in
which he was a proficient; such a mixture is man. But I believe the
view to have been the deeper affection. While I was admiring it, he
fetched from a cupboard a very suspicious-looking bottle of what
turned out to be honey, and pressed a glass of it upon me. I duly
sipped this not inappropriate liquor, since cordials savor of
asceticism, and this one being of natural decoction peculiarly
befitted a secular anchorite. Then I took my leave of one who,
though no longer in the world, was still so charmingly of it.
The good soul chanced to be a widower, but such bereavement is no
necessary preliminary to becoming a "dweller in retirement."
Sometimes a man enters the inkyo state while he still has with him
the helpmate of his youth, and the two go together to this aftermath
of life. Surely a pretty return, this, of the honeymoon! Darby and
Joan starting once more hand in hand, alone in this Indian summer of
their love, as they did years ago in its spring-tide, before other
generations of their own had pushed them on to less romantic parts;
Darby come back from paternal cares to be once more the lover, and
Joan from mother and grandam again become his girl.
We parted from our watchman-guide and half our porters with much
feeling, as did they from us. As friendships go we had not known one
another long, but intimacy is not measured by time. Circumstances
had thrown us into one another's arms, and, as we bade good-by first
to one and then to another, we seemed to be severing a tie that
touched very near the heart.
Two of the porters came on with us, as much for love as for money,
as far as Kamiichi, where we were to get kuruma. A long tramp we had
of it across leagues of ricefields, and for a part of the way beside a
large, deep canal, finely bowered in trees, and flowing with a swift,
dark current like some huge boa winding stealthily under the bamboo.
It was the artery to I know not how many square miles of field.
We came in for a steady drizzle after this, and it was long past noon
before we touched our noontide halt, and stalked at last into the inn.
With great difficulty we secured three kuruma,--the place stood on
the limits of such locomotion,--and a crowd so dense collected about
them that it blocked the way out. Everybody seemed smitten with a
desire to see the strangers, which gave the inn servants, by virtue
of their calling, an enviable distinction to village eyes. But the
porters stood highest in regard, both because of their more intimate
tie to us and because we here parted from them. It was severing the
final link to the now happy past. We all felt it, and told our
rosary of memories in thought, I doubt not, each to himself, as we
went out into the world upon our different ways.
Eight miles in a rain brought us to the road by which we had entered
Etchiu some days before, and that night we slept at Mikkaichi once
more. On the morrow morning the weather faired, and toward midday we
were again facing the fringe of breakers from the cliffs.
The mountain spurs looked the grimmer that we now knew them so well by
repulse. The air was clearer than when we came, and as we gazed out
over the ocean we could see for the first half day the faint coast
line of Noto, stretching toward us like an arm along the horizon.
We watched it at intervals as long as it was recognizable, and when
at last it vanished beyond even imagination's power to conjure up,
felt a strange pang of personal regret. The sea that snatches away
so many lands at parting seems fitly inhuman to the deed.
In the course of these two days two things happened which pointed
curiously to the isolation of this part of Japan. The first was the
near meeting with another foreigner, which would seem to imply
precisely the contrary. But the unwonted excitement into which the
event threw Yejiro and me was proof enough of its strangeness.
It was while I was sipping tea, waiting for a fresh relay of kuruma at
Namerigawa, that Yejiro rushed in to announce that another foreigner
was resting at an inn a little further up town. He had arrived
shortly before from the Echigo side, report said. The passing of
royalty or even a circus would have been tame news in comparison.
Of course I hastened into my boots and sallied forth. I did not call
on him formally, but I inspected the front of the inn in which he was
said to be, with peculiar expectation of spirit, in spite of my
affected unconcern. He was, I believe, a German; but he never took
The second event occurred the next evening, and was even more singular.
Like the dodo it chronicled survival. It was manifested in the
person of a policeman.
Some time after our arrival at the inn Yejiro reported that the
police officer wished to see me. The man had already seen the
important part of me, the passport, and I was at a loss to imagine
what more he could want. So Yejiro was sent back to investigate.
He returned shortly with a sad case of concern for consideration,
and he hardly kept his face as he told it. The conscientious officer,
it seemed, wished to sleep outside my room for my protection.
From the passport he felt himself responsible for my safety, and had
concluded that the least he could do would be not to leave me for a
moment. I assured him, through Yejiro, that his offer was most
thoughtful, but unnecessary. But what an out-of-the-world corner the
thought implied, and what a fine fossil the good soul must have been!
Here was survival with an emphasis! The man had slept soundly through
twenty years or more of change, and was still in the pre-foreign days
of the feudal ages.
The prices of kuruma, too, were pleasingly behind the times. They
were but two-fifths of what we should have had to pay on the southern
coast. As we advanced toward Shinshiu, however, the prices advanced
too. Indeed, the one advance accurately measured the other. We were
getting back again into the world, it was painfully evident. At last
fares rose to six cents a ri. Before they could mount higher we had
taken refuge in the train, and were hurrying toward Zenkoji by steam.
Our objective point was now the descent of the Tenriugawa rapids.
It was not the shortest way home, but it was part of our projected
itinerary and took us through a country typical of the heart of
Japan. It began with a fine succession of passes. These I had once
taken on a journey years before with a friend, and as we started now
up the first one, the Saru ga Bamba no toge, I tried to make the new
impression fit the old remembrance. But man had been at work upon
the place without, and imagination still more upon its picture
within. It was another toge we climbed in the light of that
latter-day afternoon. With the companion the old had passed away.
Leaving the others to follow, I started down the zigzags on the
farther side. It was already dusk, and the steepness of the road and
the brisk night air sent me swinging down the turns with something of
the anchor-like escapement of a watch. Midway I passed a solitary
pedestrian, who was trolling to himself down the descent; and when in
turn he passed me, as I was waiting under a tree for the others to
catch up, he eyed me suspiciously, as one whose wanderings were
questionable. They were certainly questionable to myself, for by
that time we were come to habitations, and each fresh light I saw I
took for the village where we were to stop for the night, in spite of
Overhead, the larger stars came out and winked at me, and then, as
the fields of space became more and more lighted with star-points,
the hearth-fires to other homes of worlds, I thought how local, after
all, is the great cone of shadow we men call night; for it is only
nature's nightcap for the nodding earth, as she turns her head away
from the sun to lie pillowed in space.
The next day was notable chiefly for the up-and-down character of the
country even for Japan; which was excelled only by the unhesitating
acceptance of it on the part of the road, and this in its turn only
by the crowds that traveled it. It seemed that the desire to go
increased inversely as the difficulty in going. The wayfarers were
most sociable folk, and for a people with whom personality is at a
discount singularly given to personalities. Not a man who had a
decent chance but asked whither we were going and whence we had come.
To the first half of the country-side we confided so much of our
private history; to the second we contented ourselves in saying, with
elaborate courtesy, "The same as six years ago," an answer which
sounded polite, and rendered the surprised questioner speechless for
the time we took to pass.
Especially the women added to the picturesqueness of the landscape.
Their heads done up in gay-colored kerchiefs, framing their round and
rosy faces, their kit slung over their shoulders, and their kimono
tucked in at their waists, they trudged along on useful pairs of
ankles neatly cased in lavender gaiters. Some followed dutifully
behind their husbands; others chatted along in company with their
kind,--members these last of some pilgrim association.
There were wayfarers, too, of less happy mind. For over the last
pass the authorities were building a new road, and long lines of
pink-coated convicts marched to and fro at work upon it, under the
surveillance of the dark-blue police; and the sight made me think how
little the momentary living counts in the actual life. Here we were,
two sets of men, doing for the time an identical thing, trudging
along a mountain path in the fresh May air; and yet to the one the
day seemed all sunshine, to the other nothing but cloud.
Our Passport and the Basha.
It was bound to come, and we knew it; it was only a question of time.
But then we had braved the law so far so well, we had almost come to
believe that we should escape altogether. I mean the fatal detection
by the police that we were violating my passport. That document had
already outrun the statute of limitations, and left me no better than
an outlaw. For practical purposes my character was gone, and being
thus self-convicted I might be arrested at any moment!
In consequence of pending treaty negotiations the government had
become particular about the privileges it granted. One of the first
counter-moves to foreign insistence on exterritoriality was the
restricting of passports to a fortnight's time. You might lay out
any tour you chose, and if granted by the government, the provinces
designated would all be duly inscribed in your passport, but you had
to compass them all in the fortnight or be punished. Of course this
could be evaded, and a Japanese friend in the foreign office had
kindly promised to send me an extension on telegraph. But the
dislike of being tied to times and places made me sinfully prefer the
risk of being marched back to Tokyo under the charge of a policeman,
a fate I had seen overtake one or two other malefactors caught at
somewhat different crimes, whom we had casually met on the road.
The Harinoki toge was largely to blame for the delay, it is true.
But then unluckily the Harinoki toge could not be arrested, and I could.
The bespectacled authorities who examined my credentials every night
had hitherto winked at my guilt, so that the bolt fell upon us from a
clear sky. It is almost questionable whether it had a right to fall
at that moment at all. It was certainly a case of officious
officialdom. For we had stopped simply to change kuruma, and the
unwritten rule of the road runs that so long as the traveler keeps
moving he is safe. To catch him napping at night is the recognized
Besides, the police might have chosen, even by day, some other
opportunity to light upon us than in the very thick of our wrestle
with the extortionate prices of fresh kuruma. It was inconsiderate
of them, to say the least; for the attack naturally threw us into a
certain disrepute not calculated to cheapen fares. Then, too, our
obvious haste helped furnish circumstantial evidence of crime.
Nevertheless, in the very midst of these difficult negotiations at
Matsumoto, evil fate presented itself, clothed as a policeman, and
demanded our papers. Luckily they were not at the very bottom of the
baggage, but in Yejiro's bosom; for otherwise our effects would have
become a public show, and collected an even greater crowd than
actually gathered. The arm of the law took the passport, fell at
once on the indefensible date, and pointed it out to us. There we
were, caught in the act. We sank several degrees instantly in
How we escaped is a secret of the Japanese force; for escape we did.
We admitted our misfortune to the policeman, and expressed ourselves
as even more desirous of getting back to Tokyo than he could be to
have us there. But we pointed out that now the Tenriugawa was to all
intents as short a way as any, and furthermore that it was the one
expressly nominated in the bond. The policeman stood perplexed.
Out of doubt or courtesy, or both, he hesitated for some moments,
and then reluctantly handed the passport back. We stood acquitted.
Indeed we were not only suffered to proceed, and that in our own way,
but he actually accelerated matters himself, for he turned to against
the kuruma, to their instant discomfiture. Indeed, this was quite as
it should be, for he was as anxious to be rid of us as we were to be
quit of him.
On the road the kuruma proved unruly. The exposure we had sustained
may have helped to this, or the coercion of the policeman may have
worked revolt. They jogged along more and more reluctantly, till,
at last, the worst of them refused to go on at all. After some quite
useless altercation, we made what shift we might with the remainder,
but had not got far when we heard the toot of a fish-horn behind,
and the sound gradually overhauled us. Now, a fish-horn on a country
road in Japan means a basha, and a basha means the embodiment of the
objectionable. It is a vehicle to be avoided; both externally like a
fire-engine, and internally like an ambulance or a hearse. Indeed,
so far as its victim is concerned, it usually ends by becoming a
cross between the latter two. It is a machine absolutely devoid of
recommendations. I speak from experience, for in a moment of
adventure I once took passage in one, some years ago, and I never
mean to do so again. Even the sound of its fish-horn now provokes me
to evil thoughts. But we were in a bad way, and, to my wonder,
I found my sentiments perceptibly softening. Before the thing caught
up with us, I had actually resolved to take it.
We made signals of distress, and, rather contrary to my expectation,
the machine stopped. The driver pulled up, and the guard, a
half-grown boy, who sat next him on the seat in front, making melody
on the horn, jumped down, a strange bundle of consequence and
courtesy, and helped us and our belongings in. He then swung himself
into his seat, as the basha set off again, and fell to tooting
vociferously. We had scarce got settled before the vehicle was
dashing along at what seemed, to our late perambulator experience,
a perfectly breakneck speed. The pace and the enthusiasm of the boy
infected us. Yejiro and I fell to congratulating each other, with
some fervor, on our change of conveyance, and each time we spoke,
the boy whisked round in his seat and cried out, with a knowing wag of
his head, "I tell you, it's fast, a basha! He!" and then as suddenly
whisked back again, and fell to tooting with renewed vigor, like one
who had been momentarily derelict in duty. The road was quite deserted,
so that so much noise would have seemed unnecessary. The boy thought
otherwise. Meanwhile, we were being frightfully jolted, and
occasionally slung round corners in a way to make holding on a
I suppose the unwonted speed must have intoxicated us. There is
nothing else that will account for our loss of head. For, before we
were well out of the machine, we had begun negotiations for its
exclusive possession on the morrow; and by the time we were fairly
installed in the inn at Shiwojiri, the bargain stood complete.
In consideration of no exorbitant sum, the vehicle, with all
appertaining thereto, was to be taken off its regular route and
wander, like any tramp, at our sweet will, in quite a contrary
direction. The boy with the horn was expressly included in the
lease. By this arrangement we hoped to compass two days' journey in
one, and reach by the morrow's night the point where boats are taken
for the descent of the Tenriugawa rapids. We knew the drive would be
painful, but we had every promise that it would be fast.
The inn at Shiwojiri possessed a foreign table and chairs; a bit of
furnishing from which the freshness of surprise never wore off. What
was even less to be looked for, the son of the house was proficient
in English, having studied with a missionary in Tokyo. I had some
talk with him later, and lent him an English classic which he showed
great desire to see.
Betimes the next morning the basha appeared, both driver and guard
got up in a fine dark-green uniform, a spruceness it much tickled our
vanity to mark. With a feeling akin to princely pride we stepped in,
the driver cracked his whip, and, amid the bows of the inn household,
we went off up the street. Barring the loss of an umbrella, which
had happened somewhere between the time we boarded the basha on the
yestereen and the hour of departure that morning, and an exhaustive
but vain hunt for the same, first in the vehicle and then at the
stables, nothing marred the serenity of our first half hour. The sky
was dreamy; a delicate blue seen through a golden gauze. I fancy it
was such a sky with which Danae fell in love. We rose slowly up the
Shiwojiri pass, which a new road enabled even the basha to do quite
comfortably; and the southern peaks of the Hida-Shinshiu range rose
to correspond across the valley, the snow line distinctly visible,
though the nearer ranges did their best to cut it off. Norikura, the
Saddle, especially, showed a fine bit of its ten thousand feet,
wrapped in the indistinctness of the spring haze. The heavy air gave
a look of slumber to the peaks, as if those summits, waked before the
rest of the world, had already grown drowsy. We had not yet ceased
gazing at them when a turn of the road shut them out. A rise of a
few feet, a dip, a turn, and the lake of Suwa lay below us on the
other side, flanked by its own mountains, through a gap in which
showed the just perceptible cone of Fuji.
The Shiwojiri toge is not a high pass, and yet it does duty as part
of a great divide. A drop of water, falling on the Shiwojiri side,
if it chance to meet with other drops before it be snatched up again
into the sky, wanders into the sea of Japan; while its fellow, coming
to earth not a yard away, ends at last in the Pacific ocean. Our way
now lay with the latter. For the Tenriugawa, or River of the
Heavenly Dragon, takes its rise in the lake of Suwa, a bowl of water
a couple of miles or more across. It trickles out insignificantly
enough at one end; gathers strength for fifty miles of flow, and then
for another hundred cuts its way clean across a range of mountains.
How it ever got through originally, and why, are interesting
mysteries. Its gorge is now from one to two thousand feet deep,
cleft, not through a plateau, but through the axis of a mountain
chain. In most places there is not a yard to spare.
We were still a doubtful day off from where it is customary to take a
boat. We had started somewhat late, stopped for the lack of umbrella,
and now were committed to a digression for letters I expected at
Shimonosuwa. I never order my letters to meet me on the line of
march but I bitterly repent having chosen that special spot.
There is always some excellent reason why it turns out most
inconvenient. But as yet I was hopeful, for I thought I knew the
speed of the basha, and the day was still young.
The day had grown older and I wiser by the time my letters were read,
with their strange perfume from outre-mer, the horses harnessed
afresh, and we under way once more, clattering down the main street
of the village. It was not only in the village that we made a stir.
A basha is equal to the occasion anywhere. The whole countryside
stopped in its tracks to turn and stare as we passed, and at one
point we came in for a perfect ovation; for our passage and the
noonday recess of a school happening to coincide, the children,
at that moment let loose, instantly dashed after us pell-mell, in a
mass, shouting. One or two of them were so eager in the chase that
they minded not where they went, and, tripping over stones or ruts,
fell headlong in the mud. The rest pursued us panting, each
according to his legs, and gave over at last only for want of wind.
The guard was supremely happy. What time the upper half of him was
too tired to toot the lower half spent in hopping off his seat and on
again upon imaginary duty. Meanwhile, in spite of enlivenments not
included in the bill, my old dislike was slowly but surely coming
back. I began to be uneasy on the score of time. The speed was not
what hope and the company had led me to expect. I went through some
elaborate rule-of-three calculation between the distance, the speed,
and the time; and, as far as I could make out, it began to look
questionable whether we should arrive that night at all. I had
already played the part of goad out of precaution; I now had to take
to it in good earnest,--futiley, to boot. Meanwhile my body was as
uneasy as my mind. In the first place, the seats faced sideways, so
that we progressed after the fashion of crabs. Secondly, the vehicle
hardly made apologies for springs. We were rattled about like
parched corn in a hopper.
What a blessed trick of memory that, of winnowing the joys of travel
from its discomforts, and letting the latter slip unconsciously away!
The dust and the heat and the thousand petty annoyances pass with the
fact to be forgotten, while the snow-hooded mountains and the deep
blue sky and the smiling fields stay with us, a part of ourselves.
That drive seems golden as I look back upon it; yet how sadly
discomforting it was at the time!
Toward afternoon a rumor became current that the road had been washed
away ahead, and that the basha would have to stop some miles short of
where we had hoped to be that night. This was disheartening.
For with all its shortcomings the basha was undeniably faster than
perambulators. The rumor gathered substance as we advanced, until in
consequence we ceased to advance at all. At a certain village,
called Miyada, the basha drew up, and we were informed that it was
impossible to proceed further.
There was nothing for it but to hire kuruma. The men were a rascally
lot, and made gain of our necessity. But we were not as sorry to
leave the basha as we might have been, and the reports of
impassability substantiated themselves before we had got a mile out.
In further consolation, the kuruma men turned out well on the road,
and bowled us along right merrily. The road ran along the skirts of
the mountains on the right, which fell in one long sweep to the
river, a breadth of plain unexpectedly gored by streams. The canons
were startlingly abrupt, and the darkness which now came on took
nothing from the effect. A sudden zigzag down to a depth of a
hundred feet, a careful hitching over a decrepit bridge, and a zigzag
up the other side, and we were off at a good trot again. This
dispatch on the part of the men brought us in much-improved spirits
and in very good time into Iijima, our hoped-for goal.
Down the Tenriugawa.
We had made arrangements overnight for a boat, not without difficulty,
and in the morning we started in kuruma for the point of embarkation.
We were eager to be off upon our voyage, else we should have strolled
afoot down the long meadow slope, such invitation lay in it, the dew
sparkling on the grass blades, the freshly tilled earth scenting the
air, and the larks rising like rockets up into the sky and bursting
into song as they went. It seemed the essence of spring, and we had
a mile or more of it all before we reached the brink of the canon.
For even here the river had begun a gorge for itself through the
plain. We left our jinrikisha at the top and zigzagged on foot down
the steep descent, and straightway departed the upper life of fields
and larks and sunshine for a new and semi-subterranean one. It was
not simply a change of scene; it was a complete change of sphere.
The world with its face open to the day in a twinkling had ceased to
be, and another world, a world of dark water girt by shadowed walls
of rock and trees, had taken its place.
Amid farewell wavings from the jinrikisha men we pushed off into the
stream. In spite of the rush of the water and the creaking of the
oars, a strange stillness had fallen on everything. The swirling,
inky flood swept us on past the hushed banks, heights of motionless
leaves nearly hiding the gray old rock. Occasionally some puff of
wind more adventurous than its fellows swooped down to make the
leaves quiver a moment, and then died away in awe, while here and
there a bird flew in and out among the branches with strangely
Although this part of the river could show its gorge and its rapids,
it made only the preface to that chapter of its biography we had come
to read. At Tokimata, some hours further down, begins the voyage
proper. But even the preface was imposing. The black water glided
sinuous along, its stealthy course every now and again interrupted by
rapids, where the sullen flood lashed itself to a passion of whitecaps
with a kind of hissing roar. Down these we shot, the boat bowing
first in acquiescence, and then plunging as madly as the water
itself. It was hard to believe that both boat and river were not
At intervals we met other boats toiling slowly up stream, pulled
laboriously by men who strained along the bank at the ends of
hundreds of feet of tow-rope, the ropes themselves invisible at first
for distance; so that we were aware only of men walking along the
shore in attitudes of impossible equilibrium, and of boats that
followed them doglike from pure affection. It would seem weary work
even for canal-boating. It takes weeks to toil up what it once took
only hours to float down. As we sped past the return convoys,
we seemed sad profligates, thus wantonly to be squandering such
dearly-won vantage of position. The stream which meant money to them
was, like money, hard come and easy go.
Still the stream hurried us on. We hugged the cliffs, now on one
side, now on the other, only to have them slip by us the quicker.
Bend after bend opened, spread out, and closed. The scene changed
every minute, and yet was always the same. Then at times we were
vouchsafed openings in the surrounding hills, narrow bits of
foreground, hints of a something that existed beyond.
For three hours and more we kept on in our serpentine course, for the
river meandered as whimsically as if it still had a choice of its own
in the matter. Then gradually the land about began to make overtures
toward sociability. The trees on the banks disappeared, the banks
themselves decreased in height; then the river took to a more genial
flow, and presently we were ware of the whole countryside to the
right coming down in one long sweep to the water's edge.
The preface was over. The stream was to have a breathing spell of
air and sunlight before its great plunge into sixty miles of twilight
canon. With a quick turn of his rudder oar the boatman in the stern
brought the flat-bottomed craft round, and in a jiffy she lay beached
on the shingle at Tokimata. It was now high noon.
The greater part of the village kindly superintended the operation of
disembarking, and then the more active of its inhabitants trotted
before as guides to the inn. For our boat would go no further, and
therefore all our belongings had to come out. It was only when we
inquired for further conveyance that the crowd showed signs of
satiety and edged off. To our importunities on this head the
populace were statuesque or worse. A Japanese assent is not always
the most encouraging of replies, and a Japanese "No" touches in you a
depth not unlike despair. They have a way of hinting the utter
hopelessness of your wish, past, present, and to come, an eternity of
impossibility to make you regret that you ever were born. After we
had reached the inn, and had stated our wants to a more informed
audience, we were told that the nautical part of the inhabitants were
in the fields, gathering mulberry leaves for the silkworms. From the
bribe we offered to induce a change in pursuit, we judged money to be
no object to them. There remained nothing, therefore, but the police.
It is good policy never to invoke the law except in the last
extremity, for you are pretty safe to have some flaw shown up in
you before you are through with it. The law in this case was
represented, Yejiro found, by a person still yellow with the
jaundice. He met the demand for boatmen with the counter demand for
the passport, and when this was produced his official eye at once
detected its anachronism.
"This," said he, "is not in order. I do not see how you can go on at
To add artificial impossibility to natural, was too much. Yejiro
answered that he had better come to the inn; which he accordingly
did. Poor man! I pitied him. For, in the first place, he was still
jaundiced; and, in the second, although conscious of guilt as I was,
I was much the less disturbed of the two. I was getting used to
being a self-smuggler; while he, as the Japanese say, was "taihen
komarimasu" (exceedingly "know not what to do"), a phrase which is a
national complaint. In this instance he had cause. What to do with
so hardened a sinner was a problem passing his powers. Here was a
law-breaker who by rights should at once be bundled back to Tokyo
under police surveillance. But he could not go himself, he had no
one to send, and furthermore the delinquent seemed only too willing
to escort himself there, free of government expense, as speedily as
possible. All I had to do was to whet his perception that the sooner
boatmen were got the sooner I should be on the right side of the law
again. After some conflict with himself he went in search of men.
I was left to study the carp-pond, with its gold and silver fish,
the pivot of attention of the pretty little garden court which stood
handy to the kitchen. This juxtaposition was no accident; for such
ponds are landscape and larder in one. Between meals the fish are
scenery; at the approach of the dinner hour they turn into game.
The inn guest having sufficiently enjoyed the gambols of future repasts,
picks out his dish to suit his taste or capacity, and the fish is
instantly netted and translated to the gridiron. The survivors, none
the wiser, continue to steamboat about, intent on their own dinners,
flashing their colors as they turn their armored sides in and out of
the light. Eccentric nature has fitted these prototypes of navigation
with all the modern improvements. Double and even triple sets of
screws are common things in tails, and sometimes the fins, too, are
duplex. As for me, I had neither the heart nor the stomach to help
depopulate the pond. But I took much mechanical delight in their
motions; so I fed them instead of they me.
I had my choice between doing this and watching the late boatmen at
their dinner in the distance. No doubt moods have an aesthetic
conscience of their own,--they demand appropriate setting; for I was
annoyed at the hilarity of these men over their midday meal. I bore
them no malice, but I own I should have preferred not to have seen
them thus making free with time they had declared themselves unable
to sell to me.
Thanks in part to my quality of outlaw, and in part to four hours'
propitiation of the gods of delay, the jaundiced policeman finally
succeeded in beating up a crew. There were four conscripts in all,
kerchiefed, not to say petticoated, in the native nautical costume;
a costume not due to being fresh-water sailors, since their salt-water
cousins are given to a like disguise of sex. These mariners made us
wait while they finished their preparations. It meant a long voyage
to them,--a facilis descensus Averni; sed revocare gradum,--a very
long pull. Then the bow was poled off, the current took us in its
arms and swung us out into the stream, and the crowd on the shingle
dropped perspectively astern.
While I was still standing gazing at lessening Tokimata, I heard a
cry from behind me, and, turning, ducked just in time to escape being
unceremoniously somersaulted into the water by a hawser stretched
from bank to bank at a level singularly suited to such a trick.
The rope was the stationary half of a ferry to which I had neglected
to make timely obeisance. It marked, indeed, an incipient stage in
the art of suspension bridges, the ferryboat itself supporting a part
of the weight, while the ferryman pulled it and himself across.
We met several more in the course of the next few minutes, before
which we all bowed down into the bottom of the boat, while the hawser
scraped, grumbling impotently, overhead.
Our boat was of adaptive build. It was forty-five feet long, not quite
four feet wide, and somewhat over two feet deep. These proportions
and the character of the wood made it exceeding lithe, so that it
bent like a willow before necessity. In the stern stood the head
man, wielding for rudder an oar half as long again as those the
others used. There was very little rowing done, nor was there need;
the current itself took us along at racing speed.
Shortly after ducking under the last ferry rope we reached the
gateway to the canon. Some rapids made an introduction, rocks in
places jutting out of the foam, and while we were still curveting to
the waves the hills suddenly closed in upon the stream in two
beetling cliffs, spanned surprisingly by a lofty cantalever bridge.
An individual who chanced to cross at the moment stopped in mid path
to watch us through. The stream swept us in, and the countryside
contracted to a vanishing vista behind. We were launched on our long
canon voyage. The change was as sudden as a thunderstorm of a
smiling summer afternoon. It was an eclipse of the earth by the
earth itself. Dark rocks picketed with trees rose in still darker
shadow on either hand, higher than one could see. The black river
swirled beside us, silent, sullen, swift. At the bottom of that
gorge untrodden by man, borne by the dark flood that untouched by
sunlight coiled snakelike along, we seemed adventured on some
For some time we had voyaged thus with a feeling not unlike awe, when
all at once there was a bustle among the boatmen, and one of them
went forward and stood up in the bow. We swept round a corner, and
saw our first great rapids three hundred yards ahead. We could mark