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I OUGHT not to write about Japan at all, for I was there but three short weeks, and rain or snow fell almost all the time, and I sailed for America on the very day that the cherry blossom festivities began. But—well, there is only one Fujiyama, and it is surpassingly beautiful and satisfying—the perfect mountain—and I should feel contemptible if I did not add my eulogy of it—my gratitude—to all the others.
Since, then, I am to say something of Fuji, let the way be paved.
ONE is immediately struck, on landing at Kobe—and continually after—by the littleness of Japan. The little flimsy houses, the little flimsy shops, the small men, the toylike women, the tiny children, as numerous and like unto each other as the pebbles on the shore—these are everywhere. But although small of stature the Japanese men are often very powerfully built and many of them suggest great strength. They are taking to games, too. While I was in the country baseball was a craze, and boys were practising pitching and catching everywhere, even in the streets of the cities.
Littleness—with which is associated the most delicate detail and elaborate finish—is the mark also of modern Japanese art. In the curiosity shops whatever was massive or largely simple was Chinese. Even the royal palaces at Kyoto are small, the rooms, exquisite as they are, with perfect joinery and ancient paintings, being seldom more than a few feet square, with very low ceilings. I went over two of these palaces, falling into the hands, at each, of English-speaking officials whose ciceronage was touched with a kind of rapture. At the Nijo, especially, was my guide an enthusiast, becoming lyrical over the famous cartoons of the "Wet Heron" and the "Sleeping Sparrows."
In India I had grown accustomed to removing my shoes at the threshold of mosques. There it was out of deference to Allah, but in Japan the concession is demanded solely in the interests of floor polish, and you take your shoes off not only in palaces and houses but in some of the shops. It gave one an odd burglarious feeling to be creeping noiselessly from room to room of the Nijo; but there was nothing to steal. The place was empty, save for decoration.
There is a certain amplitude in some of the larger Kyoto temples, with their long galleries and massive gateways, but these only serve to accentuate the littleness elsewhere. In the principal Kyoto temple I had for guide a minute Japanese with the ecstatic passion for trifles that seems to mark his race. A picture representing the miracle of the "Fly-away Sparrows," as he called them, was the treasure on which he concentrated, and next to that he drew my attention to the boards of the gangway uniting two buildings, which, as one stepped on them, emitted a sound that the Japanese believe to resemble the song of Philomela. To me it brought no such memory, and the fact that this effect, common in Japan, is technically known as "a nightingale squeak," perhaps supports my insensitiveness.
If old Japan is to be found anywhere it is in Kyoto—in spite of its huge factory chimneys. In Tokio, complete European dress is common in the streets, but in Kyoto it is the exception. Tokio also wears boots, but Kyoto is noisy with pattens night and day. Not only are there countless shops in Kyoto given up to porcelain, carvings, screens, bronzes, old armour, and so forth, but no matter how trumpery the normal stock in trade of the other shops, a number of them have a little glass case—a shop within a shop, as it were—in which a few rare and ancient articles of beauty are kept. A great deal of Japan is expressed in this pretty custom.
MY first experience of Japanese scenery of any wildness was gained while shooting the rapids of the Katsuragava, an exciting voyage among boulders in a shallow and often very turbulent stream in a steep and craggy valley a few miles from Kyoto. Previous to this expedition I had seen, from the train, only the trim rice fields,—each a tiny parallelogram with its irrigation channels as a boundary, so carefully tended that there is not a weed in the whole country. Japan is cut up into these absurd little squares, of which twenty and more would go into an ordinary English field. Often the terminal posts are painted a bright red; often a little row of family tombs is there too. The watermill is a common object of the country. But birds are few and animals one sees never. Indeed in all my three weeks I saw no four-footed animals, except a dead rat, two pigs and one cat. I am excluding of course beasts of draught—horses and bullocks—which are everywhere. Not a cow, not a sheep, not a dog! but that there are cattle is proved by the proverbial excellence of Kobe steaks, which I tested and can swear to. In all my three weeks, both in cities and the country, I saw only one crying child. Of children there were millions, mostly boys, but only one was unhappy.
IN spite of Kyoto's eight hundred temples I could not get any but a materialistic concept of its inhabitants; and elsewhere this impression was emphasised. A stranger cannot, of course, know; he can but record his feelings, without claiming any authority for them. But I am sure I was never in a country where I perceived fewer indications of any spiritual life. Every one is busy; every one seems to be happy or at any rate not discontented; every one chatters and laughs and is, one feels, a fatalist. Sufficient unto the day! After all, it is the women of a nation that chiefly keep burning the sacred flame and pass it on; but in Japan, I understand, the women are far too busy in pleasing the men to have time for such duties; Japan is run by men for men. It is an unwritten law that a woman must never be anything but gay in her lord's presence, must never for a moment claim the privilege of peevishness.
As an instance of the Japanese woman's indifference to fate and readiness to oblige, I may say that we had on our ship two or three hundred girls in charge of a duenna or so, who were bound for Honolulu to be married to Japanese settlers there, to whom their photographs had been forwarded. These girls arc known as "Picture Brides." At Honolulu their new proprietors awaited them, and I suppose identified and appropriated them, although to the European eye one face differed no whit from another.
The Japanese have the practical qualities that consort with materialism. They are quick to supply creature comforts; their hotels are well-managed; their cooks are excellent; their sign-posts are numerous and, I believe, very circumstantial; at the railway stations are lists of the show places in the neighbourhood; the telephone is general. But there are strange failings. The roads, for example, are often very bad, although so many motor-cars exist. Even in Tokio the puddles and mud are abominable. There is no fixed rule to force rickshaw men to carry bells. There is no rule of the road at all, so that the driver of a vehicle must be doubly alert, having to make up his mind not only as to what he is going to do himself, but also what the approaching driver is probably going to do. From time to time, I believe, a rule of the road has been tried, but it has always broken down.
The rickshaw bells are the more important, because the Japanese are not observant. They may see Fuji and stand for hours worshipping a spray of cherry blossom, but they do not see what is coming. Normally they look down.
The rickshaw is comfortable and speedy; but to be drawn about by a fellow-creature is a humiliating experience and I never ceased to feel too conspicuous and ashamed. I discovered also how easy it is to lose one's temper with these men. I used to sit and wonder if there had ever been a runaway, and I never hired a rickshaw without thinking of Mr. Anstey's story of the talking horse.
I LEFT Kyoto for Yokohama on Wednesday night, March 17, 1920, at eleven, and Thursday, March 18, 1920, thus remains with me as a red-letter day, for it was then, at about half-past seven in the morning, that, lifting the blind of my sleeping compartment, I saw—almost within reach, as it seemed, dazzlingly white under its snow against a clear blue sky, with the sun flooding it with glory—Fujiyama. I was to see it again several times—for I went to Myanoshita for that purpose—but never again so startlingly and wonderfully as this.
When I am asked to name in a word the most beautiful thing I saw on my travels I mention Fujiyama instantly. There is nothing else to challenge it. Perhaps had I seen Everest from Darjeeling I might have a different story to tell; but I missed it. The Taj? Yes, the Taj is a divine work of man; but it has not the serene lofty isolation of this sublime mountain, rising from the plain alone and immense with almost perfect symmetry.
I was not to see Fujiyama again for a week or so, but in the meanwhile I saw the Daibutsu, the giant figure of Buddha, at Kamakura, in all its bland placidity. These were the only big things I found in Japan.
YOKOHAMA is industrial and dirty everywhere but on the drive beside the harbour, and on the Bluff, where the rich foreigners live. I visited one house on this pleasant eminence and there was nothing in it to suggest that it was in Japan any more than in, say, Cheltenham. The form was English, the furniture was English, the pictures and books were English; photographs of school and college cricket elevens gave it the final home touch. Only in the garden were there exotic indications. The English certainly have the knack of carrying their atmosphere with them. I had noticed that often in India; but this Yokohama villa was the completest exemplification.
Wandering about the city I came one morning on a funeral procession that ought to have pleased Henry Ward Beecher, who, on the only occasion on which I heard him, when he was very old and I was very young, urged upon his hearers the importance of bright colours and flowers instead of the ordinary habiliments and accoutrements of woe. For when a soul is on its way to paradise, he said, we should be glad. The Yokohama cortege was headed by men bearing banners; then came girls all in white, riding in rickshaws; then the gaudy hearse; then priests in rickshaws; and finally the relations and friends. The effect conveyed was not one of melancholy; but even if every one had been in black, impressiveness would have been wanting, for no one can look dignified in a rickshaw.
Compared, however, with a funeral which I saw in Hong-Kong, the Yokohama ceremony was solemnity in essence. The Hong-Kong obsequies were those of a tobacco-magnate's wife and the widower had determined to spare no expense on their thoroughness. He had even offered, but without success, to compensate the tramway company for a suspension of the service, the result of his failure being that every few minutes the procession was held up to permit the cars to go by; which meant that instead of taking only two hours to pass any given point, it took three. The estimated cost of the funeral was one hundred thousand dollars and all Hong-Kong was there to see.
To Chinese eyes it doubtless had a sombre religious character, but to us it was merely a diverting spectacle of incredible prolongation. We were not wholly to blame in missing its sanctity, for the participants, who were more like mummers than mourners, had all been hired and were enjoying the day off. For the most part they merely wore their fancy dress and walked and talked or played instruments, but now and then there was a dragon and a champion boxing it and these certainly earned their money. At intervals came bearers with trays on which were comforts for the next world or symbolical devices, while, to infinity both in front and behind, banners and streamers and lanterns danced and jogged above all. A miracle-show of the middle ages can have been not unlike it.
I LEFT Japan, as I have said, just before the cherry-blossom festivities began, but I was able to see a number of the dances—which never change but are passed with exactitude, step for step, gesture for gesture and expression for expression, from one geisha to another—as performed by a child who was being educated for the profession. Although so young she knew accurately upwards of sixty dances, and the pick of these she executed for a few spectators, in a little fragile paper-walled house outside Yokohama, while her adoring aunt played the wistful repetitive accompaniments.
The little creature—a mere watch-chain ornament—had a typical Japanese face, half mask, half mischief, and a tiny high voice which now and then broke into the dance. But dances, strictly speaking, they are not. They are really posturing and the manoeuvres of a fan. To me they are strangely fascinating, and, with the music, almost more so than our Western ballets. But there is a difference between the ballet and the geisha dances, and it is so wide that there is no true comparison; for whereas the ballet stimulates and excites, these Japanese movements hypnotise and lull.
THE public manners of the Japanese are not good. In all my solitary walks about Myanoshita I met with no single peasant who passed the time of day, and in the streets of Tokio English people were being jostled and stared at and treated without respect. It was a moment when Americans were unpopular, and the theory was broached that for fear of missing the chance to be rude to an American the Japanese became rude to all outlanders indiscriminately. One indeed gathered the impression that, except in Kyoto, which is a backwater, foreigners are no longer wanted. "Japan for the Japanese" would seem to be the motto: one day, not far distant, to be amended to "The World for Japan." I shall never forget the humiliation I suffered in a stockbroker's office in Tokio, into which, seeing the words "English spoken" over the door, I had ventured in the hope of being directed to an address I was seeking. Not a word of English did any one know, but the whole staff left its typewriters and desks to come and laugh. I was always willing to remove the gravity of Japanese children by my grotesque Occidental-ism, but I have a very real objection to being a butt for the ridicule of grown-ups. Such an incident could not have occurred, I believe, anywhere else. But it is not only the foreigners to whom the Japanese are rude: they do nothing for their fellows either. The want of chivalry in trains and trams was conspicuous.
The ceremonial manners of the Japanese can, however, be more precise and formal than any I ever witnessed. A wedding reception chanced to be in progress in my Tokio hotel one afternoon, and through the open door I had glimpses of Japanese gentlemen in frock coats bowing to Japanese ladies and making perfect right angles as they did so. So elaborate indeed were the courtesies that to Western eyes they bordered dangerously on burlesque.
The destination that I was seeking when I entered the stockbroker's office was a certain book-store, and when I eventually found it I was asked a question by a Japanese youth that still perplexes me. It was in the English section, the principal volumes in which, as imported to supply Japanese demands, were American, and all bore either upon success in engineering and other professions and crafts, or on the rapid acquirement of wealth. "How to double your income in a week"; "How to get rich quickly"; "How to succeed in business"; and so forth; all preaching, in fact, the new gospel which is doing Japan no good. There were also, however, a certain number of novels, and one of the customers, a boy who looked as though he were still at school, noting my English appearance, brought a translation of Maupassant to me and asked me what "soul" meant—"A Woman's Soul" being the new title. Now I defy any one with no Japanese to make it clear to a Japanese boy with very little English what a woman's soul is.
AT Tokio I was present for an hour or so at a performance in a national theatre. It had been in progress for a long time when I entered and would continue long after I left, for that is the Japanese custom. In London people with too little to do are on occasion prepared to spend the whole day outside theatres waiting for the doors to open. They will then witness a two and a half hours' performance. But in Japan the plays go on from eleven a.m. to eleven p.m. and the audience bring their sustenance and tobacco with them. The seats are mats on the ground, and the actors reach the stage by a passage through the auditorium as well as from the wings. The scenery is very elementary, and there is always a gate which has to be opened when the characters pass through and closed after them, although it is isolated and has no contiguous wall or fence.
None of our Western morbid desire for novelty, I am told, troubles the Japanese playgoer, who is prepared to witness the same drama, usually based on an historical event or national legend thoroughly familiar to him, for ever and ever. It is as though the theatres in England were given up exclusively to, say, Shakespeare's Henry IV, V and VI sequence. On the occasion of my visit there was little of what we call acting, but endless elocution. During the performance the attendants walk about, with the persistence of constables during a London police-court hearing, carrying refreshments and little charcoal stoves. The signal for the next act is a deafening clicking noise made by one of the stage hands on two sticks, which gradually rises to a shattering crescendo as the curtain is drawn aside. It must be understood that the theatre that I am describing was set apart for national drama. In others there are topical farces and laughter is continuous; but I did not visit any. On board ship, however, we had a series of performances of such pieces by the Japanese cabin attendants and waiters, many of whom were professional actors. The Japanese passengers enjoyed them immensely.
A WHOLE week of my too short stay was given to Myanoshita, whither I was driven by the impossibility of retaining a room in either Yokohama or Tokio, and where I stayed willingly on, out of delight in the place itself. After being cooped up for so long on ships, and kept inactive under the heat of India, it was like a new existence to take immense walks among these mountains in the keen rarified air, even though there was both rain and snow. Myanoshita stands some four thousand feet high and is situated in a valley in which are many summer cottages and health resorts. The heart of this Alpine settlement is the Fujiya Hotel, where I was living, which is kept by an enterprising Americanised and Europeanised Japanese proprietor and his very charming wife, Madame Yamaguchi, whose father was. the founder of the house, and, I believe, the discoverer of the district, and who herself is famous as a gracious hostess throughout Japan. No hotel so well or so thoughtfully administered' have I ever stayed in; nor was I ever in another where the water for the bath gushes in from a natural hot spring. But hot springs are numerous in this region, while there is a gorge which I visited, some four miles distant, where boiling sulphur hisses and bubbles for ever and aye.
Many of the Myanoshita dishes were new to me and welcome. There is an excellent salad called "Slow," and the bamboo, which is Japan's best friend—serving the nation in scores of ways: as fences, as walls, as water-pipes, as supports, as carrying-poles, as thatch, as fishing-rods--here found its way into the salad bowl and was not distasteful. The custom of drinking a glass of orange juice before breakfast might well be adopted with us; but not the least of the oddities of England which I realised as I moved about the earth is our unwillingness to eat fruit. Japan also has a perfect mineral water, "Tansan."
When not making long expeditions to catch new glimpses of Fuji I roamed about the hillsides among the little villages, or leaned over crazy bridges to watch the waterfalls beneath; for there is water everywhere, tumbling down to the distant ocean, a wedge of which can be seen from the hotel windows. This Japanese valley might be in Switzerland, save for the absence of any but human life. Not a cow, not a goat.
The labourers wear blue linen smocks, usually with some device upon them, and they merge into the landscape as naturally as French or Belgian peasants. These men, whether working on the soil or the roads, or engaged in cutting bamboos or building houses, wear the large straw hats that one sees in the old Japanese prints. Nothing has changed in their dress. But the modernized Japanese, the dweller in the cities or casual visitor to the country, pins his faith to the bowler. The bowler is so much his favourite headgear that he wears it often with native costume on his body. Perhaps it is to Japan that all the bowlers have gone, now that London has taken to the soft Homburg. It was odd to meet groups of these bizarre little men among the precipices: even stranger perhaps were their little ladies, especially on Sunday, in the gayest Japanese clothes, their faces plastered with rice powder and cigarettes in their mouths. Too many of them are disfigured by gold teeth, which are so common in Japan as to be almost the rule. An English resident assured me that I must not assume that the Japanese teeth are therefore unusually defective: often the gold is merely ostentation, a visible sign that the owner of the auriferous mouth is both alive to American progress and can afford it.
EVEN in Myanoshita Fujiyama has to be sought for and climbed for, the walls of rock that form the valley being so high and enclosing. But the result is worth every effort. Immediately above the hotel is a hill from whose summit the upper part of the enchanted mountain can be seen, and I ascended tortuously to this point within an hour of my arrival. The next day I walked to Lake Hakone (where the Emperor has a summer palace), some eight miles away, in the hope of getting Fuji's white crest reflected on its surface; but a veil of mist enshrouded all. And then twice I went to the edge of the watershed at the head of the valley: once struggling through the snow to the Otome Pass, on an immemorial and nearly perpendicular bridle path, and once by the modern road to the tunnel which, with characteristic address, the Japanese have bored through the rock, thus reducing a very steep gradient.
In the tunnel the icicles were hanging several feet long and as big as masts, and the air was biting. But one emerged suddenly upon a prospect the wonder of which probably cannot be excelled—a vast plain far below, made up of verdure and villages and lakes, with distant surrounding heights, and immediately in front, filling half the sky, Fuji himself. It is from this point, and from the ancient Otome Pass, a mile or so away on the same ridge, that the symmetry of the mountain is most perfect; and here one can best appreciate the simplicity of it, the quiet natural ease with which it rises above its neighbours. There was more snow on the slopes than when I had seen it from the train a few days before; and the sky again was without a cloud. I have never been so conscious of majestic serenity, without any concomitant feeling of awe. Fuji is both sublime and human.
No other country has a symbol like this. When the Japanese think of Japan they visualise Fuji: returning exiles crowd the decks for the first glimpse of it; departing exiles with tears in their eyes watch it disappear. There is not a shop window but has Fuji in some representation; it is found in every house; its contours are engraved on teaspoons, embossed on ash-trays. You cannot escape from its counterfeits; but if you have seen it you do not mind.
When on my way home I found myself in an American picture gallery, either in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston or New York, I lingered longest in the rooms where the coloured prints of the Japanese masters hang —and America has very fine collections, particularly in Boston—and I stood longest before those landscapes by Hokusai and Hiroshige in which Fuji occurs. Hokusai in particular venerated the mountain, and in many of his most beautiful pictures people are calling to each other to admire some new and marvellous aspect of it. It was he who drew Fuji as seen through the arch of a breaking wave! I was looking at the British Museum's example of this daring print only a few days ago, and, doing so, living my Myanoshita days again.
There is much in Japan that is petty, much that is too material and not a little that is disturbing; but Fuji is there too, dominating all, calm and wise and lovely beyond description, and it would be Fuji that lured me back.