FOR an instant he studies his face in the pool, then lets himself slip quickly between the great lumps of lava that make the back wall of the garden, darts in and out among the pines, and at last, with a spring that leaves his sandals behind him, mounts to where we kneel on the polished teak that runs round three sides of this quiet room. His dark eyes move from one to the other of us, move slowly and questioningly, as did they know something they would not reveal. Then he laughs loud, pushes his head between our two heads, speaks banteringly in Japanese, words I do not understand, words that send some swift doubt into his beautiful sister’s face. Like a sprite then, once more among the pines and once more above the pool.

His beautiful sister turns again to the old print. His beautiful sister might have stepped from an old print. Lightly she passes her fingers over the paper, as the blind would do. There is something she is trying to recall. She narrows her narrow eyes, and presses her thumb to her lips. ‘Ah — wis — wis — wisteria ? Yes ? Wisteria ? ’ These English words are very, very hard to find. She shapes certain Japanese ideographs in large strokes upon the air. ‘Purple flower? Summer time?’ Three years’ English in the middle school do not reach far if one is to speak the language with the foreigner. Nevertheless she is anxious to speak the language with the foreigner. And the foreigner would be anxious for ever and ever. Nothing living has come so straight out of the regions of poetry and fairy tale.

It grows dark. Only the dim end of twilight still lingers over the earth, and behind us in the room are the first stirs of night. The servant is placing the lacquered tables. The children are thinking of bowls of rice. Too late to look at the old prints now, and we turn, she and I, toward the garden.

A little garden, but one that all this sunny afternoon has given me the feeling of spaces immense, and that with the dwindling light gives me the feeling more and more. My eyes by one uninterrupted sweep move from where I kneel out to where they rest at last on the distant mountains, whose rim is even sharper now that day is blotted from the sky. What nonsense to speak of these gardens as gardens in miniature. The illusion is the very reverse, and illusion, in the art of gardens as in all art, is truth. Whatever the learned tomes in the Imperial Library say to the contrary, these trees were dwarfed exactly that they might seem miles and miles away. And these stone pagodas that are but toys, when set there where their spires rise above the pines, do of themselves push the imagination into the remote. ‘Lovely? Old picture? Evening time?' I should need not one word of her inimitable English to grasp every inimitable meaning. I tell her this garden is much, much more than lovely. It is majestical. It is poetical. It is — she smiles, and I think how the learned tomes will say I am only in the midst of a vast symbolism, a symbolism touching earth and Buddha and man, a symbolism so inextricably Oriental that no Occidental can ever hope to understand.

And now a yellow moon rises over the mountain and the wall. It rises precisely over the middle of the wall. Here indeed the learned tomes speak true. The August moon must rise over the middle of the wall. So did he see it, he who planned it — the August moon at its full precisely over the middle. He saw too this lava in the pale light. He saw too every slender shadow, every grotesque shadow, every strange shadow. ‘Tsuki,’ whispers the soft voice near me. Tsuki. The moon’s name is gentle in all languages, but never gentler than in the mouths of these little children as, one after another, they come to where we are sitting, and discover, each with a tiny burst of happiness, that she is there.

Eight children, and not but one a boy. Girls break the house, says the proverb, and it is therefore, the master assures me, that this house shall have more and more and more children, till the strain runs pure boys. The master chuckles at his words. The master grows shy. Then he repeats that there must be more and more and more children, up to twelve, even if all twelve come girls. Someone must have children nowadays! Someone must make up for the families where there are but six and seven! Hard by there lives a man who, when he had three, and all three boys, complained that three were too many. Then came a fourth, a girl, but soon after she came she died. ‘Many a bad half hour has that poor man had from then to this,’ says the master, as he slips into his kimono of the night, a fresh one, a plain one, of common kyarako.


The children begin their game. It is the same they played last night and the night before. Children of the West play it too, except that for the fan they drop a handkerchief as they run round the ring. Only Kuni does not play. Kuni never begins a game when the others begin. Some queer shyness intervenes. Kuni is like her father in that. Kuni is like her father in features too, — the mouth, the eyes, — I see it now as she leans against his knee.

Lazily she climbs over that knee, drops with a bump between the legs.

And, as she drops, that is the moment the dusky stately lady enters from the dark — one of those entrances that transform a place. I have seen the dusky stately lady before, marked her especially a little while ago as dreamily she watched the moon. Her long silver pipe she empties into the tobacco bon. Then she refills the pipe. Then she lights it on the charcoal. Then she draws a languid breath. The smoke idles from her nostrils. She draws another languid breath. Everyone in the room, I think, must be sensible of every move she makes, and at least everyone is sensible of what happens next. An insect, made dizzy by the smoke, circles slowly from the ceiling on to the dusky lady’s sleeve. The dusky lady watches the squirmings, watches them dreamily as she watched the moon, presently takes the bit of life between her two thin fingers and, quietly and leisurely, feeds it into the glowing charcoal. I shall remember till I die. The act rouses the stately lady. Tranquilly she looks about her, deftly finds the giddy creatures where they float in the air, and presses them, creature after creature, into the heat. Abruptly the master turns from her, and I join the master, and together we study the contours of the moon. He knows of what I am thinking. He speaks of his own accord. ‘We do not kill, do we, you and I?’ But immediately he has spoken he is visited by one of his fits of shyness and tersely concludes: ‘Perhaps only we are afraid we may not go to Buddha when we die.’

Kuni has deserted father’s leg. Kuni has let herself be drawn step by step toward the whirl of the ring, and now she breaks through the ring, drives out Massa, sober Massa who kneels in the middle. All eyes have left the stately lady. Kuni has gone with such a feminine directness at what she wanted that all laugh. Kuni does not know why they laugh. But they laugh. And it is enough that they laugh. She laughs too. She squats like an image of the mild and smiling Jizo. Soon, however, she is weary of the middle; flings herself in the path of her who flees with the fan. Again it is Massa. Massa yields the fan as had she known she would from the day she was born, and Kuni skips off helterskelter as a butterfly, opens the fan, closes it, opens it, closes it, tosses it with abandon into the air. Her own movements make her wild. She dashes through the ring. She dashes round the ring. She snatches the fan a second time, hides it in her kimono, runs with it, a quick short run, like the advance of a prima donna toward the centre of a stage, and, like the prima donna, terminates that run in a deep, deep bow. Art could not invent so exquisite a thing.

But to her sisters this charm has not the freshness that it has to me. Kuni has spoiled their game. Kuni spoils it every night, and one of them pushes her, gently, off to one side. It would take an older philosophy to suffer it, — thus in the middle of her pride, — and a small penetrating wail goes into the air. Quickly from the other room, mother. Kuni throws her arms round mother’s leg, as were that leg a post. Hara-hara-hara. Mother makes a noise like the rasping of some gigantic beetle. Kuni only wails the louder and falls despairingly on her back. Mother lightly taps the baby thigh. Taps and taps. Kuni wails and wails. Korakora-kora. Kuni’s wail thins to a shriek, but in the very quality of the shriek it is plain Kuni is fighting something invisible stealing on her from inside. Hara-hara-hara, kora-kora-kora. Mother taps and taps. Kuni wails and wails. The taps grow lighter and lighter. The taps cease. Mother throws a netting over the sleeping Kuni’s head.

Now the game might go on, but does not. Every evening it is the same. Every evening the children turn instead to dance and song. The little voices are tight at first, but they loosen, and the little bodies loosen too, begin to move, back and forth and in and out, and while the arms go one way the legs go another. My body does not work like these bodies. My body feels queer even to look at these bodies. I think of what I thought as a boy, of Chinamen — and all Japanese were Chinamen then — walking on the bottom of the earth with their heads into a sky that is underneath. A topsyturvy feeling. The tininess of the kimonos adds to the feeling, as the sky color adds to the tininess. Only Yone’s kimono is no sky color. Yone’s kimono is orange with a pattern of blood-red parasols.

And now Yone joins Massa and Iku, and together the three break into a fresh song: —

‘Kyoto no Godyo no hashi no uye
Dai no otoko no Benkei wa
Nagai naginata furiagete
Ushiwaka megakete kirikakaru
‘Ushiwaka maru wa tobinoite
Motta ogi wo nagetsukete
Koi-koi-koi to rankan no
Uyeye agatte tewo tataku
‘Mayeya ushiroya migi hidari
Kokoto omoyeba mata achira
Tsubame no yona hayawazani
Oni no Benkei ayamatta’
(In Kyoto on the bridge of Godyo,
Benkei, the huge,
Brandishing his sword,
Thrusting and slashing at little Ushiwaka.
Backward Ushiwaka Maru,
Backward cautiously to the end of the bridge.
Then claps his hands,
‘Come, come, come!'
Quick as the swallow,
Seems here, is there —
Before, behind, to right, to left —
Benkei, the demon, yields.)

On a hard high note the song breaks off and the stillness is over us again. The singers settle to their knees. A pause, then Massa rises and sings alone. She sings all for the song’s sake. The other children love the song too, and their lips follow the words. Only Iku continues stroking her doll, a doll like the women of the streets, deathly pale with the pallor of powder, a white so white that to our Western sense it wants all nuance.

‘Dokokara kitanoka tondekita konoha
Kuru-kuru mawatte kumonosue kakari
Kazenifukarete hira-hira sureba
Kumowa mushikato yottekuru
‘Dokokara kitanoka tondenkita konoha
Kira-kira mawatte kite ikenouyeni ochite
Naminiyurarete yura-yura sureba
Koiwa ye ka to uitekuru’
(From where comes the leaf
That totters, that reels, settles on the web,
Shimmers in the wind,
Till the spider creeps as on the living insect?
From where comes the leaf
That flutters, that dances, settles on the pond,
Is rocked by the ripples,
Till the carp approaches as on the living bait?)

A tender, moaning melody. Massa repeats the words a second time, and from all over the room float wisps of voice. Through the frail purity of the children I hear the falsetto of the mother.

Silently and adoringly Iku and Yone move up to Massa, take her hands, and begin another song:—

‘Soramo minatomo yogaharete
Tsukini kasumazu funenokage
Hashikeno kayo nigiyakani
Yosekuru namino koganenaru
Hayashi nashitaru hobashirani
Anato-funato no funezirushi
Tsumini utamo nigiyakani
Minato wa itsumo harunareya’
(Sky and port and blue clear night,
Moon without mist and shadows of ships,
Edges of waves like edges of coin,
The brisk singing of the stevedore —
Oh, in the port it is always spring.)

The servant has been listening. Now, however, she catches herself, takes up her work where she left it, hoists the huge tent of netting, — kaya they call it, — suspends it from the four corners of the ceiling, at last slips noiselessly under to make preparations for the night. Iku is watching the servant. Iku is watching from a point as far as possible from me, and, when she thinks the servant ready, still keeping as far as possible from me, lifts a fold of netting over the doll’s head, then over her own head, then, there where she enters the kaya, sleeps.

I am fond of little Iku, but I am not sure she is fond of me. This morning there came a wind, scattered my papers, and she, before she had had time to consider, hastened to fetch them. I thanked her in a few words of easiest Japanese. But she had not heard me speak Japanese before. She stood stock-still in the middle of her gracious act — that her very own tongue should issue from such lips as mine! Explosively she emitted a gush of words, then, as explosively, was mum again. Very seriously she handed me the papers. Very seriously she moved away. Vaguely she realized I had not understood, and was vaguely perplexed. Dear little Iku, her sleeping face is as placid as the Buddha’s.

Then a new song, a vigorous song that goes to the accompaniment of a pitter-patter, and not an ordinary pitter-patter, but a really marvelous crisscross weaving of the four flying hands. Massa and Iku sing alone. I think first I recognize the melody, but soon know it is only the rhythm. And strange too when in the song of the child one feels the rhythm of the geisha — a provoking rhythm that runs through the whole of these child bodies. Presently the two lay themselves end to end, continue the pitter-patter with their feet, the performance so mad it lures a smile even from their quiet mother’s face. The children all are inside the kaya. The elders are round the edge. The mosquitoes are gathered too. Japanese science tells us that the mosquito is a being infinitely sensitive to song.

The servant may be thinking of that, for she brings fresh sheaves of incense and moves the censers nearer in. This done, she quietly approaches the master, takes the fan from his hands, fans him. It is with a big free motion of both her arms, and, though a little act, it strikes me as one of the least Occidental that I know. The servant looks as if she had been servant in a thousand incarnations. The master looks as if he had been master in a thousand incarnations. There is something old, deep, unalterable — oh, would that it were unalterable!


The bodies lie pell-mell in the green dark. All are asleep. Mother slips from one to the other, tucks the kimonos round the legs, gives the kaya an occasional shake to shoo away any lingering mosquito, then herself disappears for the night. The master watches her, decides he will disappear too. Without a word, without a nod, he draws off from the servant, draws off as impersonally as a leviathan from a dock. For a time the fan continues its big free movements. Only gradually, like some mechanic thing, it comes to rest. Already the master’s heavier breathings are mingled with the children’s.

The hot night is indeed full of noises. Far away, the guttural rumble of masculine talk. Nearer by, a snatch of song, and on the road beyond the fields the scrape of geta. Once the masseur with his horn. The masseur is later than usual to-night. Once the fish boy with his whistle. Very like the trade, that whistle. I think almost I must see the bamboo tubs bobbing at the ends of the bending bamboo pole. Once the roll of the drum, like thunder in summer dying slowly away. Then a last call at the barracks, and, after the call, the hum of the crickets in the rice, a hum that swells and thins, has patches of silence in which I hear the wind in the pines on the other side of the river.

The servant is eyeing me. All this day the servant has been eyeing me. When I look up, instantly she slides off into the dark of the verandah, settles on her haunches, bends her dim body, bends it slowly, slowly, till her forehead touches her knees, then, in that extraordinary posture, rests.

I am alone at last. The moon is high. The shadows in the garden are short and black and of forms unearthly. Unearthly, but human too. Heads. Many, many heads. Numberless heads. Two ghouls sedately bow. A Buddha frowns. A Buddha smiles. How wondrous strange this lava is. Yet it needs moonlight and moon shadow to make it fully live. Fit it should but lately have come from the belly of the earth. What a place that belly must be. What forms undreamed of await us yet in heaven and hell.

But I am not alone. I have forgotten the stately lady. And never have I seen anyone in that paper-windowed space before. The stately lady too might have stepped from an old print. The old prints are strictest realism. Foolish of us always to be talking of the conventions of Japanese art. As if that art were further from life than our own. The stately lady’s fingers are swift over something in her lap, but nothing ever struck me more for its stillness.

I wish I might speak with the stately lady. I wish I might slide up close beside her. No Japanese gentleman would. I wish I might take the stately lady’s hand in mine. I wish I might, quietly and leisurely, press the thin fingers, press them till she screamed. And why, I hardly know. And I shall not, of course. I shall go simply and solemnly out of the room, and the stately lady will not so much as lift her head.