Fine Weather

THE Daibutsu casts a spell. It is quiet in his park. The tall pines frame his detachment. Even the pilgrims who, having bowed so devoutly, wander once about him and back to their buses for the next shrine cause him no embarrassment. And they carry off with them some fragment of his invincibility. Sit for a day in his park and it will be difficult to desire ever to do anything else. The cicadas hum in the pine trees. There is a pageant of pilgrims and tourists. If you stay late enough the full moon rises just where it can throw his silhouette clear and firm against the slanting pines.

Kamakura is more than the Daibutsu. She gave her name to an historical period; was the capital of the first Shogun (literally ‘Barbarian Subduing Great General, the ancient Japanese for the modern Führer); repulsed two invasions of Kublai Khan; witnessed the miracle by which a stroke of lightning smashed the sword descending to decapitate the priest Nichiren, who lived to father an energetic sect. Kamakura is a shrine for religious and historical treasures; a flourishing town; a popular summer resort; a fishing village. Kamakura has everything: temples with malicious gods, ancient and modern; shrines with bronze lions of a good period, and primitive stone foxes; ponds of lotus, white, rose, and lemon, with bundles of bread hanging on wires at the pool’s edge so that the pedestrian may pause and feed the fantailed goldfish which dart in exciting patterns among the lotus; pigeons dancing sedately before the grotesque gods of war at the Hachiman Shrine, while swarms of Japanese tourists in flowing kimonos and flowering parasols wander among them, scattering crumbs. There are woods studded with large white fragrant lilies and blue hydrangea. There are small paths that wander over pine-starred hills into gentle valleys where thatched cottages materialize from the rice paddies. There is the thriving Main Street where you may buy aisu-cream and shell animals, or catch one of the buses which scurry in all directions like disconcerted ants.

There is always some kind of festival in Kamakura: the streets hung with jagged white paper lightning; banners and lanterns; high bamboo pavilions housing orchestras of local youths who pound their flat drums and play their shrill flutes with intricate but infallibly rhythmic gyrations of arms and body.

The beach is Coney Island plus. By day in the height of the season it swarms with loungers and bathers; children making palaces of sand and seaweed; young men on surfboards; family parties picnicking under striped umbrellas; groups eating rice balls and drinking tea in the banner-bedecked pavilions — a typical vacation beach anywhere. But, stretching endlessly beyond these frivolous vacationers, the serious business of the sea goes on. The fishermen go out in the early morning in their heavy boats, and return in the late afternoon. And at evening the community gathers to watch them haul their rust-colored nets in from the green sea, to admire the kaleidoscopic sparkle and gleam of the silver and blue fish as they writhe on the dark sand.

At night ‘Coney Island’ offers the enticements of Japanese jazz; shooting galleries with bobbing ducks; booths in which you may pursue goldfish with a paper scoop which dissolves in your hand as soon as it touches the water, but which brings the fish back alive by the dozen when flipped by the proprietor. At night, beyond this glittering centre, on the dark fringes, more serious things go on. Under a flaring gas jet, small boys squat in a solemn circle awaiting their turn for the wrestling. The referee, a tall gentleman in a gray kimono, makes signals with a black fan, obeying the rules of the judo ring as meticulously as though the contestants were the great topknotted ones of the Tokyo arena. The small serious black-eyed youngsters, naked except for a loincloth, stamp furiously on the sand with bent knees in a formless imitation of their betters, and, when the match is over, receive as prize a blue-patterned scrap of white cotton cloth folded in tissue.

At night, the community assembles on the flat black sand to dance the Odori, in a triple circle of old and young, kimonoed arms waving, sandaled bare feet advancing and retreating, while flute and drum or a cracked victrola record marks a continuous rhythm, and an occasional whoop or snatch of song or clapping of hands accentuates the beat. Tochi and I hover on the outskirts of the onlookers, both of us dying to join the ring and both equally self-conscious: Tochi, because as an intellectual, brought up in a Christian-Japanese family, she has never taken part in any of these community affairs; I, because I know that my gestures will be angular where the Japanese are soft and flowing, because I know that without the mystery of the clinging kimono and the long fluttery sleeves the Odori will be simple calisthenics. At night, during the Obon season, the fishermen light candles in small paper lanterns which singly or in clusters flowering all over a bamboo frame drift softly out across the almost motionless black sea.

Mr. Nikko comes to call. We sit in our living room, which overlooks the roofs of the gay community on the shore. Some thirty feet down the beach from us is a bamboo pavilion perhaps twelve feet high, with a platform at the top under an arched roof. In the centre of the platform is a victrola, and all day long, from 6 A.M. on, Japanese gather there, sitting upon straight chairs, and solemnly listen to records scratching out ‘Oh, the Moon Shines Bright on Little Redwing’ and ‘M-A-R-Y, Mary, I Love You,’the most popular one of the lot. They think they are imbibing American culture, and perhaps they are. Mr. Nikko listens for an hour, politely making conversation. Tactfully he leads the conversation from temples to restaurants. Have we tried those delicious Atami crabs? No? Then we must come at once. His car is outside. We shall like the little restaurant. And if we are fond of music he will call the geisha and they will sing for us and play the samisen.