The Chief City of the Province of the Gods
THE first of the noises of a Matsue day comes to the sleeper like the throbbing of a slow, enormous pulse exactly under his ear. It is a great, soft, dull buffet of sound, like a heartheat in its regularity, in its muffled depth, in the way it quakes up through one’s pillow so as to be felt rather than heard. It is simply the pounding of the ponderous pestle of the kometsuke, the cleaner of rice, — a sort of colossal wooden mallet with a handle about fifteen feet long horizontally balanced on a pivot. By treading with all his force on the end of the handle, the naked kometsuke elevates the pestle, which is then allowed to fall back by its own weight into the rice-tub. The measured muffled echoing of its fall seems to me the most pathetic of all sounds of Japanese life; it is the beating, indeed, of the Pulse of the Land.
Then the boom of the great bell of Tokoji, the Zen-shu temple, shakes over the town ; then come melancholy echoes of drumming from the tiny little temple of Jizo in the street Zaimokucho, near my house, signaling the Buddhist hour of morning prayer. And finally the cries of the earliest itinerant venders begin, — “ Daikoyai ! kabuya-kabu ! ” — the sellers of daikon and other strange vegetables. “ Moya-moya! ” — the plaintive call of the women who sell little thin slips of kindling-wood for the lighting of charcoal fires.
Roused thus by these earliest sounds of the city’s wakening life, I slide open my little Japanese paper window to look out upon the morning over a soft green cloud of spring foliage rising from the river-bounded garden below. Before me, tremulously mirroring everything upon its further side, glimmers the broad glassy mouth of the Ōhashigawa, opening into the grand Shinji Lake, which spreads out broadly to the right in a dim gray frame of peaks. Just opposite to me, across the stream, the blue-pointed Japanese dwellings have their to1 all closed ; they are still shut up like boxes, for it is not yet sunrise, although it is day.
But oh the charm of the vision, — those first ghostly love-colors of a morning steeped in mist soft as sleep itself, resolved into a visible exhalation ! Long reaches of faintly tinted vapor cloud the far lake verge, — long nebulous bands such as you may have seen in old Japanese picture - books, and must have deemed only artistic whimsicalities unless you had previously looked upon the real phenomena. All the bases of the mountains are veiled fey them, and they stretch athwart the loftier peaks at different heights like immeasurable lengths of gauze (this singular appearance the Japanese term “shelving”), so that the lake appears incomparably larger than it really is, and not an actual lake, but a beautiful spectral sea of the same tint as the dawn - sky and mixing with it, while peak-tips rise like islands from the brume, and visionary strips of hillranges figure as league-long causeways stretching out of sight, — an exquisite chaos, ever changing aspect as the delicate fogs rise, slowly, very slowly. As the sun’s yellow rim comes into sight, fine thin lines of warmer tone — spectral violets and opalines — shoot across the flood, treetops take tender fire, and the unpainted facades of high edifices across the water change their wood-color to vapory gold through the delicious haze.
Looking sunward, up the long Ōhashigawa, beyond the many-pillared wooden bridge, one high-pooped junk, just hoisting sail, seems to me the most fantastically beautiful craft I ever saw, — a dream of Orient seas, so idealized by the vapor is it; the ghost of a junk, but a ghost that catches the light as clouds do ; a shape of gold mist, seemingly semidiaphanous, and suspended in pale blue light.
And now from the river-front touching my garden there rises to me a sound of clapping of hands, — one, two, three, four claps, — but the owner of the hands is screened from view by the shrubbery. At the same time, however, I see men and women descending the stone steps of the wharves on the opposite side of the Ōhashigawa, all with little blue towels tucked into their girdles. They wash their faces and hands and rinse their mouths, — the customary ablution preliminary to Shintō prayer. Then they turn their faces to the sunrise and clap their hands four times and pray. From the long high white bridge come other clappings, like echoes, and others again from far, light, graceful craft, curved like new moons, — extraordinary boats, in which I see bare-limbed fishermen standing with foreheads bowed to the golden East. Now the clappings multiply, — multiply at last into an almost continuous volleying of sharp sounds. For all the population are saluting the rising sun, — O - Hi - San, the Lady of Fire, —Ama-terasu-oho-mi-Kami, the Lady of the Great Light.2 “ Konnichi Sama ! Hail this day to thee, divinest Day-Maker ! Thanks unutterable unto thee for this thy sweet light, making beautiful the world ! ” So, doubtless, the thought, if not the utterance, of countless hearts. Some turn to the sun only, clapping their hands; yet many turn also to the West, to holy Kitzuki, the immemorial shrine; and not a few turn their faces successively to all the points of heaven, murmuring the names of a hundred gods ; and others, again, after having saluted the Lady of Fire, look toward high Ichibata, toward the place of the great temple of YakushiNyorai, who giveth sight to the blind, — not clapping their hands as in Shintō worship, but only rubbing the palms softly together after the Buddhist manner. But all — for in this most antique province of Japan all Buddhists are Shintōists likewise — utter the archaic words of Shinto prayer: “Harai tamai Kiyome tamai to Kami imi tami.”
Prayer to the most ancient gods who reigned before the coming of the Buddha, and who still reign here in their own Izumo-land, — in the Land of Reed Plains, in the Place of the Issuing of Clouds ; prayer to the deities of primal chaos and primeval sea and of the beginnings of the world, — strange gods with long weird names, kindred of U-hiji-nino-Kami, the First Mud-Lord, kindred of Su-hiji-ni-no-Kami, the First SandLady ; prayer to those who came after them, — the gods of strength and beauty, the world-fashioners, makers of the mountains and the isles, ancestors of those sovereigns whose lineage still is named “The Sun’s Succession ; ” prayer to the Three Thousands Gods “residing within the provinces,” and to the Eight Hundred Myriads who dwell in the azure Takama - no - hara,— in the blue Plain of High Heaven. “ Nipponkoku - chū - yaoyorozu - no -Kami - gamisama ! ”
“ Ho—ke-kyō! ”
My uguisu is awake at last, and utters his morning prayer. You do not know what an uguisu is ? An uguisu is a holy little bird that professes Buddhism. All uguisu have professed Buddhism from time immemorial; all uguisu preach alike to men the excellence of the divine Sutra.
“ Ho—ke-kyō ! ”
In the Japanese tongue, Ho-ke-kyō in Sanscrit, Saddharma -Pundarika : ” The Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law,” the divine book of the Nichiren sect. Very brief indeed is my little feathered Buddhist’s confession of faith, — only the sacred name reiterated over and over again like a litany, with liquid bursts of twittering between.
Only this one phrase, but how deliciously he utters it ! With what slow amorous ecstasy he dwells upon its golden syllables!
It hath been written : " He who shall keep, read, teach, or write this Sutra shall obtain eight hundred good qualities of the Eye. He shall see the whole Triple Universe down to the great hell Aviki, and up to the extremity of existence. He shall obtain twelve hundred good qualities of the Ear. He shall hear all sounds in the Triple Universe,—sounds of gods, goblins, demons, and beings not human.”
“ Ho—ke-kyō ! ”
A single word only. But it is also written: “He who shall joyfully accept but a single word from this Sutra, incalculably greater shall be his merit than the merit of one who should supply all beings in the four hundred thousand Asankhyeyas of worlds with all the necessaries for happiness.”
“ Ho—ke-kyd ! ”
Always he makes a reverent little pause after uttering it and before shrilling out his ecstatic warble, — his birdhymn of praise. First the warble ; then a pause of about five seconds; then a slow, sweet, solemn utterance of the holy name in a tone as of meditative wonder; then another pause; then another wild, rich, passionate warble. Could you see him, you would marvel how so powerful and penetrating a soprano could ripple from so minute a throat ; for he is one of the very tiniest of all feathered singers, yet his chant can be heard far across the broad river, and children going to (school pause daily on the bridge, a whole cho away, to listen to his song. And uncomely withal: a neutral-tinted mite, almost lost in his immense box-cage of hinokl wood, darkened with paper screens over its little wire-grated windows, for he loves the gloom.
Delicate he is and exacting even to tyranny. All his diet must be laboriously triturated and weighed in scales, and measured out to him at precisely the same hour each day. It demands all possible care and attention merely to keep him alive. He is precious nevertheless. " Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of him,” so rare he is. Indeed, I could not have afforded to buy him. He was sent to me by one of the sweetest ladies in Japan, daughter of the governor of Izumo, who, thinking the foreign teacher might feel lonesome during a brief illness, made him the exquisite gift of this dainty creature.
The clapping of hands has ceased; the toil of the day begins ; continually louder and louder the pattering of getas over the bridge. It is a sound never to be forgotten, this pattering of getas over the Ōhashi, — rapid, merry, musical, like the sound of an enormous dance; and a dance it veritably is. The whole population is moving on tiptoe, and the multitudinous twinkling of feet over the verge of the sunlit roadway is an astonishment. All those feet are small, symmetrical,— light as the feet of figures painted on Greek vases, — and the step is always taken toes first; indeed, with getas it could be taken no other way, for the heel touches neither the geta nor the ground, and the foot is tilted forward by the wedge-shaped wooden sole. Merely to stand upon a pair of getas is difficult for one unaccustomed to their use, yet you see Japanese children running at full speed in getas with soles at least two inches high, held to the foot only by a forestrap fastened between the great toe and the other toes, and they never trip and the geta never falls off. Still more curious is the spectacle of men walking in bokkuri or takageta, a wooden sole with wooden supports at least five inches high fitted underneath it so as to make the whole structure seem the lacquered model of a wooden bench. But the wearers stride as freely as if they had nothing upon their feet.
Now children begin to appear, hurrying to school. The undulation of the wide sleeves of their pretty speckled robes, as they run, looks precisely like a fluttering of extraordinary butterflies. The junks spread their great white or yellow wings, and the funnels of the little steamers which have been slumbering all night by the wharves begin to smoke.
One of the tiny lake steamers lying at the opposite wharf has just opened its steam-throat to utter the most unimaginable, piercing, desperate, furious howl. When that cry is heard everybody laughs. The other little steamboats utter only plaintive mooings, but unto this particular vessel —newly built and launched by a rival company — there has been given a voice expressive to the most amazing degree of reckless hostility and savage defiance. The good people of Matsue, upon hearing its voice for the first time, gave it forthwith a new and just name, — Ōkami-Marn. “Marn” signifies a steamship. “ Ōkami ” signifies a wolf.
A very curious little object now comes slowly floating down the river, and I do not think that you could possibly guess what it is.
The Hotoke, or Buddhas, and the beneficent Kami are not the only divinities worshiped by the Japanese of the poorer classes. The deities of evil, or at least some of them, are duly propitiated upon certain occasions, and requited by offerings whenever they graciously vouchsafe to inflict a temporary ill instead of an irremediable misfortune. (After all, this is no more irrational than the thanksgiving prayer at the close of the hurricane season in the West Indies, after the destruction by storm of twenty - two thousand lives.) So men sometimes pray to Ekibiogami, the God of Pestilence, and to Kaze-noKami, the God of Wind and of Bad Colds, and to Hoso-no-Kami, the God of Smallpox, and to divers evil genii.
Now when a person is certainly going to get well of smallpox a feast is given to the Hoso-no-Kami, much as a feast is given to the Fox-God when a possessing fox has promised to allow himself to be cast out. Upon a sandowara, or small straw mat, such as is used to close the end of a rice-bale, one or more kawaraki, or small earthenware vessels, are placed. These are filled with a preparation of rice and red beans called adzukimeshi, whereof both InariSama and Hoso-no-Kami are supposed to be very fond. Little bamboo wands with gohei (paper cuttings) fastened to them are then planted either in the mat or in the adzukimeshi, and the color of these gohei must be red. (Be it observed that the gohei of other Kami are always white.) This offering is then either suspended to a tree, or set afloat in some running stream at a considerable distance from the home of the convalescent. This is called “seeing the God off.”
The long white bridge with its pillars of iron is recognizably modern. It was, in fact, opened to the public only last spring with great ceremony. According to some most ancient custom, when a new bridge has been built the first persons to pass over it must be the happiest of the community. So the authorities of Matsue sought for the happiest folk, and selected two aged men who had both been married for more than half a century, and who had had not less than twelve children, and had never lost any of them. These good patriarchs first crossed the bridge, accompanied by their venerable wives, and followed by their grown-up children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, amidst a great clamor of rejoicing, the showering of fireworks, and the firing of cannon.
But the ancient bridge so recently replaced by this structure was much more picturesque, curving across the flood and supported upon multitudinous feet, like a long-legged centipede of the innocuous kind. For three hundred years it had stood over the stream firmly and well, and it had its particular tradition.
When Horiō Yoshiharu, the great general who became daimio of Izumo in the Keichō era, first undertook to put a bridge over the mouth of this river the builders labored in vain; for there appeared to be no solid bottom for the pillars of the bridge to rest upon. Millions of great stones were cast into the river in vain, for the work constructed by day was swept away or swallowed up by night. Nevertheless at last the bridge was built, but the pillars began to sink soon after it was finished ; then a flood carried half of it away, and as often as it was repaired so often it was wrecked. Then a human sacrifice was made to appease the vexed spirits of the flood. A man was buried alive in the river-bed below the place of the middle pillar, where the current is most treacherous, and thereafter the bridge remained immovable for three hundred years.
This victim was one Gensuke, who had lived in the street Saikamachi; for it had been determined that the first man who should cross the bridge wearing hakamas without a machi should be put under the bridge; and Gensuke sought to pass over not having a machi in his hakamas, so they sacrificed him. Wherefore the midmost pillar of the bridge was for three hundred years called by his name, — Gensuke-bashira. It is averred that upon moonless nights a ghostly fire flitted about that pillar, — always in the dead watch-hour between two and three; and the color of the light was red, though I am assured that in Japan, as in other lands, the fires of the dead are most often blue.
Now some say that Gensuke was not the name of a man, but the name of an era, corrupted by local dialect into the semblance of a personal appellation. Yet so profoundly is the legend believed that when the new bridge was being built thousands of country folk were afraid to come to town ; for a rumor arose that a new victim was needed, who was to be chosen from among them, and that it had been determined to make the choice from those who still wore their hair in cues after the ancient manner. Wherefore hundreds of aged men cut off their cues. Then another rumor was circulated to the effect that the police had been secretly instructed to seize the one thousandth person of those who crossed the new bridge the first day, and to treat him after the manner of Gensuke. And at the time of the great festival of the Rice-God, when the city is usually thronged by farmers coming to worship at the many shrines of Inari, this year there came but few ; and the loss to local commerce was estimated at several thousand yen.
The vapors have vanished, sharply revealing a beautiful little islet in the lake, lying scarcely half a mile away, — a low, narrow strip of land with a Shintō shrine upon it, shadowed by giant pines ; not pines like ours, but huge, gnarled, shaggy, tortuous shapes, vast - reaching like ancient oaks. Through a glass one can easily discern a torii, and before it two symbolic lions of stone (Karashishi), one with its head broken off, doubtless by its having been overturned and dashed about by heavy waves during some great storm. This islet is sacred to Benten, the Goddess of Eloquence and Beauty, wherefore it is called Bentennoshima. But it is more commonly called Yomegashima, or “ The Island of the Young Wife,”by reason of a legend. It is said that it arose in one night, noiselessly as a dream, bearing up from the depths of the lake the body of a drowned woman who had been very lovely, very pious, and very unhappy. The people, deeming this a sign from heaven, consecrated the islet to Benten, and therein built a shrine unto her, planted trees about it, set a torii before it, and made a rampart about it with great euriously shaped stones ; and there they buried the drowned woman.
Now the sky is blue down to the horizon, the air is a caress of spring. I go forth to wander through the queer old city.
I perceive that upon the sliding doors, or immediately above the principal entrance of nearly every house, are pasted oblong white papers bearing ideographic inscriptions; and overhanging every threshold I see the sacred emblem of Shintō, the little rice-straw rope with its long fringe of pendent stalks. The white papers at once interest me; for they are mamori, or holy texts and charms, of which I am a devout collector. Nearly all are from temples in Matsue or its vicinity; and the Buddhist ones indicate by the sacred words upon them to what particular shu, or sect, the family belongs. — for well - nigh every soul in this community professes some form of Buddhism as well as the alldominant and more ancient faith of Shintō. And even one quite ignorant of Japanese ideographs can nearly always distinguish at a glance the formula of the great Nichiren sect from the peculiar appearance of the column of characters composing it, all bristling with long sharp points and banneret zigzags, like an army with banners ; the famous text Namu-myō-hō-ren-ge-kyō, inscribed of old upon the banner of the great captain Kato Kiomasa, the extirpator of Spanish Christianity, the glorious " vir ter execrandus ” of the Jesuits. Any pilgrim belonging to this sect has the right to call at whatever door bears the above formula and ask for alms or food.
But by far the greater number of the mamori are Shintō. Upon almost every door there is one mamori especially likely to attract the attention of a stranger, because at the foot of the column of ideographs composing its text there are two small figures of foxes, a black and a white fox, facing each other in a sitting posture, each with a little bunch of rice-straw in its mouth, instead of the more usual emblematic key. These mamori are from the great Inari temple of Oshiroyama,3 within the castle grounds, and are charms against fire. They represent, indeed, the only form of assurance against fire yet known in Matsue, — so far, at least, as wooden dwellings are concerned. And although a single spark and a high wind are sufficient in combination to obliterate a larger city in one day, great fires are unknown in Matsue, and small ones are of rare occurrence.
The charm is peculiar to the city ; and of the Inari in question this tradition exists: —
When Naomasu, the grandson of Iyeyasu, first came to Matsue to rule the province, there entered into his presence a beautiful boy, who said: “I came hither from the home of your august father in Echizen, to protect you from all harm. But I have no dwelling-place, and am staying therefore at the Buddhist temple of Fu-mon-in. Now if you will make for me a dwelling within the castle grounds, I will protect from fire the buildings there and the houses of the city, and your other residence likewise which is in the capital. For I am Inari Shinyemon.”With these words he vanished from sight. Therefore Naomasu dedicated to him the great temple which still stands in the castle grounds, surrounded by one thousand foxes of stone.
I now turn into a narrow little street, which, although so ancient that its dwarfed two-story houses have the look of things grown up from the ground, is called the Street of the New Timber. New the timber may have been one hundred and fifty years ago ; but the tints of the structures would ravish an artist, — the sombre ashen tones of the woodwork, the furry browns of old thatch, ribbed and patched and edged with the warm soft green of those velvety herbs and mosses which flourish upon Japanese roofs.
However, the perspective of the street frames in a vision more surprising than any details of its mouldering homes. Between very lofty bamboo poles, higher than any of the dwellings, and planted on both sides of the street in lines, extraordinary black nets are stretched, like prodigious cobwebs against the sky, evoking sudden memories of those monster spiders which figure in Japanese mythology and in the picture-books of the old artists. But these are only fishingnets of silken thread ; and this is the street of the fishermen. I take my way to the great bridge.
A stupendous ghost !
Looking eastward from the great bridge over those sharply beautiful mountains, green and blue, which tooth the horizon, I see a glorious spectre towering to the sky. Its base is effaced by far mists : out of the air the thing would seem to have shaped itself, — a phantom cone, diaphanously gray below, vaporously white above, with a dream of perpetual snow, — the mighty mountain of Daisen.
At the first approach of winter it will in one night become all blanched from foot to crest; and then its snowy pyramid so much resembles that Sacred Mountain, often compared by poets to a white inverted fan, half opened, hanging in the sky, that it is called IzumoFuji, " the Fuji of Izumo.” But it is really in Hoki, not in Izumo, though it cannot be seen from any part of Hoki to such glorious advantage as from here. It is the one sublime spectacle of this charming land ; but it is visible only when the air is very pure. Many are the marvelous legends related concerning it, and somewhere upon its mysterious summit the Tonga are believed to dwell.
At the further end of the bridge, close to the wharf where the little steamboats are, is a very small Jizo temple (Jizodō). Here are kept many bronze drags ; and whenever any one has been drowned and the body not recovered, these are borrowed from the little temple and the river is dragged. If the body be thus found, a new drag must be presented to the temple.
From here, half a mile southward to the great Shintō temple of Tenjin, deity of scholarship and calligraphy, broadly stretches Tenjinmachi, the Street of the Rich Merchants, all draped on either side with dark blue hangings, over which undulate with every windy palpitation from the lake white wondrous ideographs, which are names and signs, while down the wide way, in white perspective, diminishes a long line of telegraph poles.
Beyond the temple of Tenjin the city is again divided by a river, the Shindotegawa, over which arches the bridge Tenjin-bashi. Again beyond this other large quarters extend to the hills and curve along the lake shor. But in the space between the two rivers is the richest and busiest life of the city, and also the vast and curious quarter of the temples. In this islanded district are also the theatres, and the place where wrestling-matches are held, and most of the resorts of pleasure.
Parallel with Tenjinmachi runs the great street of the Buddhist temples, or Teramachi, of which the eastern side is one unbroken succession of temples, — a solid front of court walls tile-capped, with imposing gateways at regular intervals. Above this long stretch of tilecapped wall rise the beautiful tilted massive lines of gray-blue temple roofs against the sky. Here all the sects dwell side by side in harmony,— Nichiren-shu, Shingon-shu, Zen-shu, Tendaishu, even that Shin-shu, unpopular in Izumo because those who follow its teaching strictly must not worship the Kami. Behind each temple court there is a cemetery, or hakaba ; and eastward beyond these are other temples, and beyond them yet others, — masses of Buddhist architecture mixed with shreds of gardens and miniature homesteads, a huge labyrinth of mouldering courts and fragments of streets.
To-day, as usual, I find I can pass a few hours very profitably in visiting the temples ; in looking at the ancient images seated within the cups of golden lotus flowers under their aureoles of gold ; in buying curious mamori ; in examining the sculptures of the cemeteries, where I can nearly always find some dreaming Kwannon or smiling Jizo well worth the visit.
The great courts of Buddhist temples are places of rarest interest for one who loves to watch the life of the people ; for these have been for unremembered centuries the playing-places of the children. Generations of happy infants have been amused in them. All the nurses, and little girls who carry tiny brothers or sisters upon their backs, go thither every morning that the sun shines ; hundreds of others join them ; and they play at strange, funny games. — Onigokko, or the game of Devil, Kage-Oni, which signifies the Shadow and the Demon, and Mekusangokko, which is a sort of “ blindman’s buff.”
Also, during the long summer evenings, these temples are wrestling-grounds, free to all who love wrestling ; and in many of them there is a dohyō-ba, or wrestling-ring. Robust young laborers and sinewy artisans come to these courts to test their strength after the day’s tasks are done, and here the fame of more than one now noted wrestler was first made. When a youth has shown himself able to overmatch at wrestling all others in his own district, he is challenged by champions of other districts ; and if he can overcome these also, he may hope eventually to become a skilled and popular professional wrestler.
It is also in the temple courts that the sacred dances are performed and that public speeches are made. It is in the temple courts, too, that the most curious toys are sold, on the occasion of the great holidays,—toys most of which have a beautiful religious signification. There are grand old trees, and ponds full of tame fish, which put up their heads to beg for food when your shadow falls upon the water. The holy lotus is cultivated therein.
“ Though growing in the foulest slime, the flower remains pure and undefiled.
“ And the soul of him who remains ever pure in the midst of temptation is likened unto the lotus.
“ Therefore is the lotus carven or painted upon the furniture of temples; therefore also does it appear in all the representations of our Lord Buddha.
“ In Paradise the blessed shall sit at ease enthroned upon the cups of golden lotus flowers.”4
A bugle-call rings through the quaint street; and round the corner of the last temple come marching a troop of handsome young riflemen, uniformed somewhat like French light infantry, marching by fours so perfectly that all the gaitered legs move as if belonging to a single body, and every sword-bayonet catches the sun at exactly the same angle, as the column wheels into view. These are the students of the Shihan-Gakkō, the College of Teachers, performing their daily military exercises. Their professors give them lectures upon the microscopic study of cellular tissues, upon the segregation of developing nerve structure, upon spectrum analysis, upon the evolution of the color sense, and upon the cultivation of bacteria in glycerine infusions. And they are none the less modest and knightly in manner for all their modern knowledge, nor the less reverentially devoted to their dear old fathers and mothers whose ideas were shaped in the era of feudalism.
Here come a band of pilgrims, with yellow straw overcoats, “ rain - coats" (mino), and enormous yellow straw hats, mushroom-shaped, of which the downcurving rim partly hides the face. All carry staffs, and wear their robes well girded up so as to leave free the lower limbs, which are inclosed in white cotton loggings of a peculiar and indescribable kind. Precisely the same sort of costume was worn by the same class of travelers many centuries ago; and just as you now see them trooping by, — whole families wandering together, the pilgrim child clinging to the father’s hand, — so may you see them pass in quaint procession across the faded pages of Japanese picture-books many hundred years old.
At intervals they halt before some shop-front to look at the many curious things which they greatly enjoy seeing, but which they have no money to buy.
I myself have become so accustomed to surprises, to interesting or extraordinary sights, that when a day happens to pass during which nothing remarkable has been heard or seen I feel vaguely discontented. But such blank days are rare: they occur in my own case only when the weather is too detestable to permit of going out-of-doors. For with ever so little money one can always obtain the pleasure of looking at curious things. And this has been one of the chief pleasures of the people in Japan for centuries and centuries, for the nation has passed its generations of lives in making or seeking such things. To divert one’s self seems, indeed, the main purpose of Japanese existence, beginning with the opening of the baby’s pretty oblique eyes. The faces of the people have an indescribable look of patient expectancy, — the air of waiting for something interesting to make its appearance. If it fail to appear, they will travel to find it: they are astonishing pedestrians and tireless pilgrims, and I think they make pilgrimages not more for the sake of pleasing the gods than of pleasing themselves by the sight of rare and pretty things. For every temple is a museum, and every hill and valley throughout the land has its temple and its wonders.
Even the poorest farmer, one so poor that he cannot afford to eat a grain of his own rice, can afford to make a pilgrimage of a month’s duration ; and during that season when the growing rice needs least attention hundreds of thousands of the poorest go on pilgrimages. This is possible, because from ancient times it has been the custom for everybody to help pilgrims a little ; and they can always find rest and shelter at particular inns (kichinyado) which receive pilgrims only, and where they are charged merely the cost of the wood used to cook their food.
But multitudes of the poor undertake pilgrimages requiring much more than a month to perforin, such as the pilgrimage to the thirty-three great temples of Kwannon, or that to the eightyeight temples of Kōbōdaishi ; and these, though years be needed to accomplish them, are as nothing compared to the enormous Sengaji, the pilgrimage to the thousand temples of the Nichiren sect. The time of a generation may pass ere this can be made. One may begin it in early youth, and complete it only when youth is long past. Yet there are several in Matsue, men and women, who have made this tremendous pilgrimage, seeing all Japan, and supporting themselves not merely by begging, but by some kinds of itinerant peddling.
The pilgrim who desires to perform this pilgrimage carries on his shoulders a small box, shaped like a Buddhist shrine, in which he keeps his spare clothes and food. He also carries a little brazen gong, which he constantly sounds while passing through a city or village, at the same time chanting the Namu-myō-hō-ren-ge-kyō ; and he always bears with him a little blank book, in which the priest of every temple visited stamps the temple seal in red ink. The pilgrimage over, this book with its one thousand seal-impressions becomes an heirloom in the family of the pilgrim.
I too must make divers pilgrimages, for all about the city, beyond the waters or beyond the hills, lie holy places immemorially old.
Kitzuki, founded by the ancient gods, who “ made broad the foundations upon the nethermost rock bottom, and made high the cross-beams to the Plain of High Heaven,” — Kitzuki, the Holy of Holies, whose high priest claims descent from the Goddess of the Sun; and Ichibata, famed shrine of Yakushi-Nyorai, who giveth sight to the blind, — Ichibata-no-Yakushi,— whose lofty temple is approached by six hundred and forty steps of stone ; and Kiomidzu, shrine of Kwannon of the Eleven Faces, before whose altar the sacred fire has burned without ceasing for a thousand years ; and Sada, where the Sacred Snake lies coiled forever on the sambo of the gods ; and Oba, with its temples of Izanami and Izanagi, parents of gods and men, the makers of the world ; and Yaegaki, whither lovers go to pray for unions with the beloved ; and Kaka, Kaka-ura, Kakano-Kukezo San, — all these I hope to see.
But of all places, Kaka-ura ! Assuredly I must go to Kaka.
Few pilgrims go thither by sea, and boatmen are forbidden to go there if there be even wind enough “ to move three hairs.”So that whosoever wishes to visit Kaka must either wait for a period of dead calm — very rare upon the coast of the Japanese Sea — or journey thereunto by land ; and by land the way is difficult and wearisome. But I must see Kaka; for at Kaka, in a great cavern by the sea, there is a famous Jizo of stone; and each night, it is said the ghosts of little children climb to the high cavern and pile up before the statue small heaps of pebbles ; and every morning, in the soft sand, there may be seen the fresh prints of tiny naked feet, the feet of the infant ghosts. It is also said that in the cavern there is a rock out of which comes a stream of milk, as from a woman’s breast; and the white stream flows forever, and the phantom children drink of it. Pilgrims bring with them gifts of small straw sandals, — the zori that children wear, — and leave them before the cavern, that the feet of the little ghosts may not be wounded by the sharp rocks. And the pilgrim treads with caution, lest his foot should overturn any of the many heaps of stones; for if this be done the children cry.
The city proper is as level as a table, but is bounded on two sides by low demilunes of charming hills shadowed with evergreen foliage and crowned with temples or shrines. There are thirty-five thousand souls dwelling in ten thousand houses forming thirty - three principal and many smaller streets; and from each end of almost every street, beyond the hills, the lake, or the eastern ricefields, a mountain summit is always visible, — green, blue, or gray according to distance. One may ride, walk, or go by boat to any quarter of the town ; for it is not only divided by two rivers, but is also intersected by numbers of canals crossed by queer little bridges curved like a well-bent bow. Architecturally (despite such constructions in European style as the College of Teachers, the great public school, the Ken-chō, the new post-office), it is much like other quaint Japanese towns ; the structure of its temples, taverns, shops, and private dwellings is the same as in other cities of the western coast. But doubtless owing to the fact that Matsue remained a feudal stronghold until a time within the memory of thousands still living, those feudal distinctions of caste so sharply drawn in ancient times are yet indicated with singular exactness by the varying architecture of different districts. The city can be definitely divided into three architectural quarters : the district of the merchants and shopkeepers, forming the heart of the settlement, where all the houses are two stories high ; the district of the temples, including nearly the whole southeastern part of the town ; and the district or districts of the shizoku (formerly called samurai), comprising a vast number of large, roomy, garden-girt, one-story dwellings. From these elegant homes, in feudal days, could be summoned at a moment’s notice five thousand " twosworded men with their armed retainers, making a fighting total for the city alone of probably not less than thirteen thousand swordsmen. More than one third of all the city buildings were then samurai homes; for Matsue was the military centre of the most ancient province of Japan. At both ends of the town, which curves in a crescent along the lake shore, were the two main settlements of samurai; but just as some of the most important temples are situated outside of the temple district, so were many of the finest homesteads of this knightly warrior caste situated in other quarters. They mustered most thickly, however, about the castle, which stands to-day on the summit of its citadel hill — the Oshiroyama — solid as when first built four hundred years ago, a vast and sinister shape, all iron-gray, rising against the sky from a cyclopean foundation of stone. Fantastically grim the thing is, and grotesquely complex in detail; looking somewhat like a huge pagoda, of which the second, third, and fourth stories have been squeezed down and telescoped into one another by their own weight. Chested at its summit, like a feudal helmet, with two colossal fishes of bronze lifting their curved bodies skyward from either angle of the roof, and bristling with horned gables and gargoyled eaves and tilted puzzles of tiled roofing at every story, the creation is a veritable architectural dragon, made up of magnificent monstrosities, a dragon, moreover, fell of eyes set at all conceivable angles, above, below, and on every side. From under the black scowl of the loftiest eaves, looking east and south, the whole city can be seen at a single glance, as in the vision of a soaring hawk; and from the northern angle the view plunges down three hundred feet to the castle road, where walking figures of men appear no larger than flies.
The grim castle has its legend.
It is related that, in accordance with some primitive and barbarous custom, precisely like that of which so terrible a souvenir has been preserved for us in the most pathetic of Servian ballads, The Foundation of Skadra, a maiden of Matsue was interred alive under the walls of the castle at the time of its erection, as a sacrifice to some forgotten gods. Her name has never been recorded; nothing concerning her is remembered except that she was beautiful and very fond of dancing.
Now after the castle had been built, it is said that a law had to be passed forbidding that any girl should dance in the streets of Matsue. For whenever any maiden danced the hill Oshiroyama would shudder, and the great castle quiver from basement to summit.
One may still sometimes hear in the streets a very humorous song, which every one in town formerly knew by heart, celebrating the Seven Wonders of Matsue. For Matsue was formerly divided into seven quarters, in each of which some extraordinary object or person was to be seen. It is now divided into five religious districts, each containing a temple of the state religion. People living within those districts are called ujiko, and the temple the ujiyami, or dwelling - place of the tutelary god. The ujiko must support the ujigami. (Every village and town has at least one ujigami.)
There is probably not one of the multitudinous temples of Matsue which has not some marvelous tradition attached to it; each of the districts has many legends; and I think that each of the thirty-three streets has its own special ghost story. Of these ghost stories I cite two specimens : they are quite representative of one variety of Japanese folklore.
Near to the Fu-mon-in temple, which is in the northeastern quarter, there is a bridge called Adzuki - togi - bashi, or The Bridge of the Washing of Peas. For it was said in other years that nightly a phantom woman sat beneath that bridge washing phantom peas. There is an exquisite Japanese iris flower, of rainbow - violet color, which flower is named Kaki - tsubata ; and there is a song about that flower called Kaki - tsubata-no-uta. Now this song must never be sung near the Adzuki-togi-bashi, because, for some strange reason winch seems to have been forgotten, the ghosts haunting that place become so angry upon hearing it that to sing it there is to expose one’s self to the most frightful calamities. There was once a samurai who feared nothing, who one night went to that bridge and loudly sang the song. No ghost appearing, he laughed and went home. At the gate of his house he met a beautiful tall woman whom he had never seen before, and who, bowing, presented him with a little lacquered box (fumi-bako) such as women keep their letters in. He bowed to her in his knightly way ; but, she said,
“ I am only the servant, — this is my mistress’s gift,” and vanished out of his sight. Opening the box, he saw the bleeding head of a young child. Entering his house, he found upon the floor of the guest-room the dead body of his own infant son with the head torn off.
Of the cemetery Dai-Oji, which is in the street called Nakabaramachi, this story is told : —
In Nakabaramachi there is an ameya, or little shop in which midzu-ame is sold, — the amber-tinted syrup, made of malt, which is given to children when milk cannot be obtained for them. Every night at a late hour there came to that shop a very pale woman, all in white, to buy one rin5 worth of midzuame. The ame-seller wondered that she was so thin and pale, and often questioned her kindly ; but she answered nothing. At last one night he followed her, out of curiosity. She went to the cemetery ; and he became afraid and returned.
The next night the woman came again, but bought no midzu-ame, and only beckoned to the man to go with her. He followed her, with friends, into the cemetery. She walked to a certain tomb, and there disappeared ; and they heard, under the ground, the crying of a child. Opening the tomb, they saw within it the corpse of the woman who nightly visited the ameya, with a living infant, laughing to see the lantern light, and beside the infant a little cup of midzuame. For the mother had been prematurely buried; the child was born in the tomb, and the ghost of the mother had thus provided for it, — love being stronger than death.
Over the Tenjin-bashi, or Bridge of Tenjin, and through small streets and narrow of densely populated districts, and past many a tenantless and mouldering feudal homestead. I make my way to the extreme southwestern end of the city, to watch the sunset from a little sobaya6 facing the lake. For to see the sun sink from this sobaya is one of the delights of Matsue.
There are no such sunsets in Japan as in the tropics : the light is gentle as a light of dreams; there are no furies of color; there are no chromatic violences in nature in the Orient. All in sea or sky is tint rather than color, and tint vapor-toned. I think that the exquisite taste of the race in the matter of colors and of tints, as exemplified in the dyes of their marvelous textures, is largely attributable to the sober and delicate beauty of nature’s tones in this all - temperate world where nothing is garish.
Before me the fair vast lake sleeps, softly luminous, far-ringed with chains of blue volcanic hills shaped like a sierra.
On my right, at its eastern end, the most ancient quarter of the city spreads its roofs of blue-gray tile ; the houses crowd thickly down to the shore, to dip their wooden feet into the flood. With a glass I can see my own windows and the far-spreading of the roofs beyond, and above all else the green citadel with its grim castle, grotesquely peaked. The sun begins to set, and exquisite astonishments of tinting appear in water and sky.
Dead rich purples cloud broadly behind and above the indigo blackness of the serrated hills — mist purples, fading upward smokily into faint vermilions and dim gold, which again melt up through ghostliest greens into the blue. I he deeper waters of the lake, far away, take a tender violet indescribable, and the silhouette of the pine - shadowed island seems to float in that sea of soft sweet color. But the shallower and nearer is cut from the deeper water by the current as sharply as by a line drawn, and all the surface on this side of that line is a shimmering bronze, — old rich ruddy gold-bronze.
All the fainter colors change every five minutes, — wondrously change and shift like tones and shades of fine shot-silks.
Often in the streets at night, especially on the nights of sacred festivals (matsuri), one’s attention will be attracted to some small booth by the spectacle of an admiring and perfectly silent crowd pressing before it. As soon as one can get a chance to look one finds there is nothing to look at but a few vases containing sprays of flowers, or perhaps some light gracious branches freshly cut from a blossoming tree. It is simply a little flower-show, or, more correctly, a free exhibition of master skill in the arrangement of flowers. For the Japanese do not brutally chop off flower-heads to work them up into meaningless masses of color, as we barbarians do: they love nature too well for that; they know how much the natural charm of the flower depends upon its setting and mounting, its relation to leaf and stem, and they select a single graceful branch or spray just as nature made it. At first you will not, as a Western stranger, comprehend such an exhibition at all : you are yet a savage in such matters compared with the commonest coolies about you. But even while you are still wondering at popular interest in this simple little show the charm of it will begin to grow upon you, will become a revelation to you; and despite your Occidental idea of selfsuperiority you will feel humbled by the discovery that all flower displays you have ever seen abroad were only monstrosities in comparison with the exquisite natural beauty of those few simple sprays. You will also observe how much the white or pale blue screen behind the flowers enhances the effect by lamp or lantern light. For the screen has been arranged with the special purpose of showing the exquisiteness of plant shadows; and the sharp silhouettes of sprays and blossoms cast thereon are beautiful beyond the imagining of any Western decorative artist.
It is still the season of mists in this land whose most ancient name signifies the Place of the Issuing of Clouds. With the passing of twilight a faint ghostly brume rises over lake and landscape, spectrally veiling surfaces, slowly obliterating distances. As I lean over the parapet of the Tenjin-bashi, on my homeward way, to take one last look eastward, I find that the mountains have already been effaced. Before me there is only a shadowy flood far vanishing into vagueness without a horizon, the phantom of a sea. And I become suddenly aware that little white things are fluttering slowly down into it from the fingers of a woman standing upon the bridge beside me, and murmuring something in a low, sweet voice. She is praying for her dead child. Each of those little papers she is dropping into the current bears a tiny picture of Jizo, and perhaps a little inscription. For when a child dies the mother buys a small woodcut (hanko) of Jizo, and with it prints the image of the divinity upon one hundred little papers. And she sometimes also writes upon the papers words signifying " For the sake of. . . ,” — inscribing never the living, but the kaimyo or soul-name only, which the Buddhist priest has given to the dead, and which is written also upon the little commemorative tablet kept within the Buddhist household shrine, or butsuma.
Then, upon a fixed day (most commonly the forty-ninth day after the burial), she goes to some place of running water and drops the little papers therein one by one; repeating, as each slips through her fingers, the holy invocation,
“ Namu Jizo, Dai Bosatsu !”
Doubtless this dear little woman, sobbing beside me in the dusk, is very poor. Were she not, she would hire a boat and scatter her tiny papers far away upon the bosom of the lake. (It is now only after dark that this may be done ; for the police — I know not why — have been instructed to prevent the pretty rite, just as in the open ports they have been instructed to prohibit the launching of the little straw boats of the dead, the shōyō-bune.)
But why should the papers be cast into running water? A good old Tendai priest tells me that originally the rite was only for the souls of the drowned. But now these gentle hearts believe that all waters flow downward to the Shadowworld and through the Saīno-Kawara, where Jizo is.
At home again, I slide open once more my little paper window, and look out upon the night. I see the paper lanterns flitting over the bridge, like a long shimmering of fireflies. I see the spectres of a hundred lights trembling upon the black flood. I see the broad shoji of dwellings beyond the river suffused with the soft yellow radiance of invisible lamps ; and upon those lighted spaces I can discern exquisite moving shadows, silhouettes of graceful women. Devoutly do I pray that glass may never become universally adopted in Japan, — there would be no more delicious shadows.
I listen to the voices of the city awhile.
I hear the great bell of Tokoji rolling its soft Buddhist thunder across the dark, and the songs of the night-walkers whose hearts have been made merry with wine, and the long sonorous chanting of the night-peddlers.
“ U-mu-don-yai-soba-yai ! ” It is the seller of hot soba, Japanese buckwheat, making his last round.
“ Umai handan, machibito endan, usemono ninsō kasō kichikyō no urainai! ” The cry of the itinerant fortuneteller.
“ Ame-yu ! ” The musical cry of the seller of midzu-ame, the sweet amber syrup which children love.
“ Amai !” The shrilling call of the seller of amazake, sweet rice wine.
“ Kaivachi-no-kuni - hioton-yama-koino-tsuji - ura ! ” The peddler of lovepapers, of divining - papers, pretty tinted things with little shadowy pictures upon them. When held near a fire or a lamp, words written upon them with invisible ink begin to appear. These are always about sweethearts, and sometimes tell one what he does not wish to know. The fortunate ones who read them believe themselves still more fortunate ; the unlucky abandon all hope; the jealous become even more jealous than they were before.
From all over the city there rises into the night a sound like the bubbling and booming of great frogs in a marsh,— the echoing of the tiny drums of the dancing-girls, of the charming geishas. Like the rolling of a waterfall continually reverberates the multitudinous pattering of getas upon the bridge. A new light rises in the east ; the moon is wheeling up from behind the peaks, very large and weird and wan through the white vapors. Again I hear the sounds of the clapping of many hands. For the wayfarers are paying obeisance to O-Tsuki-San: from the long bridge they are saluting the coming of the White Moon-Lady.7
I sleep, to dream of little children in some mouldering mossy temple court playing at the game of Shadows and Demons.
- Thick solid sliding shutters of unpainted wood, which in Japanese houses serve both as shutters and doors.↩
- Ama-terasu-oho-mi-Kami literally signifies “ the Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Divinity.”(See Professor Chamberlain’s translation of the Kojīki.)↩
- From an English composition by one of my Japanese pupils.↩
- Rin, one tenth of one cent. A small round copper coin with a square hole in the middle.↩
- An inn where soba is sold.↩
- According to the mythology of the Kojīki the Moon-Deity is a male divinity. But the common people know nothing of the Kojīki, written in an archaic Japanese which only the learned can read ; and they address the moon as O-Tsuki-San, or the Moon-Lady, just as the old Greek idyllists did.↩